Sunday, March 1, 2009

Daily Contemplation #4: The Contemplations for Everyone

In previous posts I have offered some Daily Contemplations for your consideration.

They were:

  • Kindness Contemplation
  • Warming the Heart
  • Metta

Today I want to share a fourth contemplation. This one, culled from the Buddha's Numerical Discourses and added to by my teacher, is called The Contemplations for Everyone. The contemplation I use goes like this:

Contemplations for Everyone

I take this moment to recall:

I am of a nature to grow old.
I am of a nature to become ill.
I am of a nature to die.
I am of a nature be separated from all
that I hold dear.
I am the heir of my own deeds.
I am of a nature to become enlightened.

I am not the only one to grow old;
All will grow old.
I am not the only one to become ill;
All will become ill.
I am not the only one to die;
All will die.
I am not the only one
who must be separated from all that I hold dear;
All must be separated from all that they hold dear.
I am not the only heir of my own deeds;
All are heirs of their own deeds.
I am not the only one to become enlightened;
All will become enlightened.

Knowing this, the way appears and the path emerges.


My teacher was once a prison chaplain in an institution for the criminally insane. He tried to teach the patients there how to meditate. Didn't work to well. So he tried teaching this contemplation, since, after all, the Buddha said it was a contemplation for everyone. Everyone would include the insane, too, right. To my teacher's satisfaction, the contemplation proved helpful to the patients he served.

Common to Other Traditions

When I first ran across this contemplation, I thought that it was unique to Buddhism. Not so.
I've since learned that very similar contemplations were taught in other traditions. Most recently, I've learned that Greek and Roman philosophers recommended contemplations like this.

The Paradox of Happiness

At first glance, these contemplations would seem to be depressing. "Who would want to start their day thinking about the inevitability of old age, sickness, and death?" I thought. "I'm just not up to that. It would wreck my day. My life's hard enough as it is!" In spite of my initial resistance to this contemplation, I gave it a try. (I credit my willingness to suspend my doubts to my faith in the Buddha's teachings.)

I discovered almost immediately that contrary to ruining my day, these contemplations paved the way to moments of great joy. Paradoxically, contemplating the fact that everything I hold dear is impermanent helped me to appreciate, savor, and, yes, love the world just as it is, even as it ages, rots, decays, and renews itself without end.

Inclusion of Karma

The fifth component of the contemplation includes the idea of reaping what one sows. Like many others who came of age with me in the late sixties and early seventies, I developed fairly strong allergies to moral directives.

Older and grayer now, I see that moral behavior is essential to happiness. Despite what advertisers tell us, we cannot buy enough stuff to be happy. Happiness is not relative; it's relational. The more reliable, robust, and resilient your relationships with friends, family and community, the happier you're likely to be.

To me ethical behavior implies at least the following: not to harm other living beings, not stealing, not lying, not being angry, not allowing your mindfulheart to become clouded with intoxicants, and not using sexuality in ways that might cause anyone to suffer.

Ethical behavior means to me at a minimum these ways of being:
  • protective of life,
  • generous,
  • truthful,
  • kind,
  • sober, and
  • faithful to your mate
So, I commend to you this contemplation. Give it a try and let me know how it works for you.


Sujatha said...

Dan, got here through your comment on B&B's blog. That was exactly what I thought except my thought was floating out in ether. I could not put a finger on it. Your comment hit the nail on the head.

Your Kindergarten blog contains interesting material. Being the mother of an 8-year-old and a 2-year-old I will read your posts with interest.

Am leaving a comment here because mindfulness is something I've been telling myself I should practice and am getting more successful - as long as I'm mindful about being mindful! :)

Dan Gurney said...

Sujatha, welcome to Mindfulheart! Thank you for your comment; I'm glad you liked my comment on semicolons at B&B.

Your blog is fantastic, Sujatha.

Delwyn said...

Thanks for the new contemplation Dan. I have copied it and will put it to use. I am walking around these days reciting silently the kindness and caring meditation. lovely...

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, Delwyn, I'm glad you'll give it a try. I'd be interested to know how it works for you after you've put it to use for a few days.