By Tommy Harrison

Happy New Year.  My hope is that this finds all well with you and that your practice is thriving.  For many, this is a time to establish healthy intentions for the coming year.  Knowing that intentions arise and are nourished after contemplation, what if we turned to the Buddha’s teachings for inspiration?  Ultimately these teachings support happiness and wellbeing—rewarding considerations to work towards in 2012.

One teaching comes to mind that is rich in offering simple truth for contemplation.  It is said the Buddha frequently encouraged people to reflect on “Five Remembrances” every day.  I first came across this in The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh in the chapter titled “The Two Truths.” While this teaching may seem gloomy at first glance, recall that the Buddha’s teachings are intended to help us see things as they truly are, including our attachments that cause suffering.  Through a growing understanding and relinquishment of these attachments, there are beautiful possibilities of transformation leading to joy, true love, deep compassion, and balanced wisdom.  Understanding these intentions upfront is helpful.

These Five Remembrances go along these lines:

  1. I am of the nature to grow old.  There is no way to escape growing old.
  2. I am of the nature to have ill-health.  There is no way to escape having ill-health.
  3. I am of the nature to die.  There is no way to escape death.
  4. All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change.  There is no way to escape being separated from them.
  5. My actions are my only true belongings.  I cannot escape the consequences of my actions.  My actions are the ground on which I stand.

For a more traditional rendering of the Sutra this is based upon, please reference 5 Daily Contemplations.  An audio version of these contemplations can be found here.

These five simple truths apply to us all, without exception.  While contemplating these truths, practioners may bump into aspects of ignorance, the root of all suffering.  From a Buddhist perspective, ignorance is not seeing things as they truly are.  Ignorance can be broke down further into greed, hatred, and delusion.  Attachments that fuel clingings and cravings can all be sourced back to one of more of these three criteria.   Contemplating these five simple truths may take us to the “edge” of our practice where one may face various forms of greed, hatred, and/or delusion.

Everyone has an “edge” in their practice—a place where things get uncomfortable.  Working with our edges allows us to pursue, develop, and cultivate our practice.  Fetters can be identified, studied, understood, and abandoned.  Underlying tendencies can be eliminated.  Attachments that cause so much suffering can weaken and even vanish over time.  These edges are fertile ground for transformation.   Happiness and well being are possible as edges are explored and softened.

These Five Remembrances are frequently part of my practice.  I have recently begun to think of these five truths when I get grumpy, angry, frustrated, consumed with delusion, etc.  Bringing these contemplations into these moments has helped me see these mental states as nothing more than suffering based on some sort of attachment.  There is rarely anything substantial for me to hold on to in these moments.  This awareness brings joy to me at times because I realize at that very moment that I have started turning the wheel of the Four Noble Truths.  I know that happiness is available somewhere in the fray, maybe right around the corner, if I can just let something go.  While I can say with certainty that the fetters that fuel my suffering haven’t vanished, they have weakened over time and this has led to beautiful transformations in every aspect of my life.  It helps me work through my day to day experiences grounded and with more kindness.  I am very grateful for these teachings.

So, with 2012 upon us now, I hope contemplation of these Five Remembrances supports the cultivation of your practice too.  As you bump into your “edges” of uncomfort, I hope that you see that this is simply experiencing the First Noble Truth (there is suffering) and that this awareness is a first step towards of liberation.   With great kindness, the Buddha’s teachings, and your teachers and friends helping you along the way, I hope that 2012 unfolds in a manner allowing you to successfully soften into the edge of your practice, to relinquish that which may be unwholesome, and to generously support the arising of happiness and well being in your life.

Peace and joy both on and off the cushion…