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On the Five Constant Contemplations

The chief purpose of the Buddha’s Teaching is to help worldly people lead a better, meaningful, happy and blissful life. It is, of course, one of the natural instincts of people (beings) that they desire happiness and dislike suffering. But entangled in the tangle of illusion whatever ways/means they follow, they finally end up in dissatisfaction. Thus just as in the group of blind men, one holding the other’s hand moves around the same place without reaching the desired destination. Likewise, the worldlings too, blindly following different pathways to happiness, remain in the same cycle of sams?ra and experience untold suffering.

The Buddha is the Enlightened One with boundless compassion not only to the entire humanity but also to all the creatures – seen and unseen, born and yet to be born etc. For the benefit and well-being of the beings, he, throughout his life as a Buddha, preached the dhamma in many different ways according to different temperaments of the listeners.

Here is one of the most important as well as practical ways – known as the “Five Contemplations” that the Buddha teaches for both men and women and laity and monks. The five contemplations in the Word of the Buddha are:

1)    I am sure to become old, I cannot avoid aging,

2)    I am sure to become ill, I cannot avoid illness,

3)    I am sure to die, I cannot avoid death,

4)    I must be separated and departed from all that is dear and beloved to me,

5)    I am the owner of my actions, heir of my actions, actions are the womb (from which I am sprung), actions are my relations, actions are my protection. Whatever actions I do good or bad, of these I shall become the heir.

The Buddha then enumerates systematically the reasons why a person should contemplate on these five facts of life. He says that when people are young, healthy, they are very much alive ; when they have everything dear and near to them, they fail to understand the law of kamma. So, they take pride in their youth, in their health, in their lives. They become very attached to things that are dear to them and act accordingly. Thus when they are infatuated with such a state of being, they engage in various activities by way of body, speech, and mind. But when they are able to understand that the young age is not a permanent state of being; it is subject to change; everybody must gradually become old, then their pride in their youth either vanishes entirely or their self-confidence becomes weakened. And thus they engage in unwholesome activities.

In the same way they should understand that our health is subject to various diseases. Today we may be healthy, but, tomorrow sickness might affect us. So, our health is also not permanent. And, we though feel pride in our life; death may come at any time. The Buddha says, “Life is uncertain while death is certain” – (mara?a? niyata? j?vita? aniyata?). Thus uncertainty of the duration of life has been compared to the position of a dew drop on the plate of grass. In the fourth contemplation, we should think that everything in the world is subject to change. As the great saying of the Buddha goes: sabbe sa?kh?r? anicc?, and so is also the things that are dear and near to us. In the fifth and final contemplation, we should be aware of the fact that whatever action we perform, be it good or evil; we have to receive its result accordingly. Thus, contemplating on the abovementioned facts of life, their pride in their health and in their lives either vanishes or their self-confidence becomes weakened. They generate attachment to things which they think as dear and near to them. For finally the change in those things will bring immense suffering to them. So, when people understand thus, they give up performing evil activities and engage in wholesome ones.

However, if they, being infatuated by their youth, health, and lives and forgetting the ultimate nature of them, i.e. impermanence, suffering, and insubstantiality, they should remind themselves of the impermanence of things when they see old people, sick people and death people around them. Here I think I should make another point clear. That is, evil actions, according to Buddhism, are actions rooted in greed, hatred and delusion. They bring harmful consequences to oneself and others. On the contrary, good or wholesome actions are actions that are devoid of greed, hatred, and delusion and bring benefits to oneself and others.

Thus understanding clearly the distinction between good and evil and their respective consequences, they devote themselves in good activities only. They understand the real purpose of their lives. In the Buddha’s Word such people then think:

As I gazed towards Nibb?na, zeal arose in me,

“Now I can never pursue sensual pleasures!

Never again shall I turn back,

The holy life is now my highest goal.”

Editor’s Note:

Gotama Buddha’s conception of sensual desires not to be pursued refer to lusts or cravings or passions that are directed and empowered by self-centric ego. Every person can not live without sensual desires. Seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and thinking are sensual activities. As long as these sensual activities are directed and empowered by Anatt?, we purify our minds. Having purified our minds, we can utilize all the six sense faculties without attachment and aversion. The mind of Anatt? is the Buddha-mind of mental liberation (cetovimutti).

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