Timeless Texts from Buddha

This is not the first time that people have individually and collectively been asked to inhibit their usual behaviors, sacrifice for one another, or find creative ways to reach out when reaching out itself is banned for our protection.

Isolation is strenuous daily practice. The old are lonely, the mid-lifers are stretched and stressed, the young are idled and eager to launch a new world, the children are typing and swiping through school. This is not the first time, nor the worst time. But it’s our time, and it’s hard, and we don’t know if seeing the local to global impact helps or overwhelms.

The lonely beach by our house: looking south to Mt. Rainer

And then I found this poem called Buddha’s Five Remembrances, spoken of by Thich Nhat Hanh. The stark truth of the words is sobering and yet their timelessness helps me in this somber season. So here it is, first in entirety and then with some of my thoughts after each stanza. Recite it as a litany of acknowledgement and exploration, for that is how Buddha’s teachings are offered.

I am of the nature to grow old.

There is no way I can escape growing old.

I am of the nature to have ill health.

There is no way to escape ill health.

I am of the nature to die.

There is no way I can escape death.

All that is dear to me, and everyone that I love, is of the nature to change.

There is no way I can escape being separated from them.

My actions are my only true belongings.

There is no way to escape the consequences of my actions.

My actions are the ground upon which I stand.

feather in sand

I am of the nature to grow old.

There is no way I can escape growing old.

What’s clear to me in this COVID time is that growing old, or at least older, is the goal. I’m alive. I have the moment. Like Scrooge throwing back the curtains on Christmas morning, I can shout out my presence and set about doing some act of reparation. And my personal lifetime is finite, there is a “deadline” and I don’t know when it is coming.

I am of the nature to have ill health.

There is no way to escape ill health.

This is the truism we have had to face in pandemic: we are contagious to one another. We are coping with our own vulnerability and the vulnerability of others— both people we love and complete strangers. We are dealing with our own denial and the denial of others— both people we love and complete strangers. Maybe my isolation, cleanliness protocols, adherence to mask-wearing, and overall health will get me through without catching Covid-19, but the lesson is—vulnerability is a universal experience and impacts everyone.

I am of the nature to die.

There is no way I can escape death.

We die because that is our nature. We live, then we die. Life/death is a cycle we have been learning our whole lives. The upturned goldfish, the family dog we take to the vet for assisted death, or a grandparent with cancer remind us that death is around us and in us throughout life. I don’t know what will be required of me between now and when this is over. The pandemic does terrify me in this regard. I know I could die of this. My death walks toward me and I toward it. That is what is.

All that is dear to me, and everyone that I love, is of the nature to change.

There is no way I can escape being separated from them.

My attention is heightened. I give thanks for every ordinary bit of comfort, privilege and stability. It will all change. I do not know how it will change, or when, only that it will.

(Oh, Buddha you are a hard teacher! In the midst of all this urging for me to accept impermanence, is there nothing that I can claim? Ah, when I read this closing stanza the whole poem lit up for me.)

My actions are my only true belongings.

There is no way to escape the consequences of my actions.

My actions are the ground upon which I stand.

I am flooded with excitement. I am empowered. My actions belong to me. My actions, imperfect as they may be, are the ground I stand on. I work to make amends, to grow, and to understand. Actions define my life and identity.

 

In the ongoing travails after the US election, I understand and count on the importance of our individual actions. It empowers me to look ahead to the January 20, 2021 inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

  • People have voted. Those votes have been counted and, in some cases, are being carefully recounted by committed election officials.
  • Votes represents courage. In many cases they required dedication to get out and stand in long lines, risking exposure to the pandemic. In some cases, revealing our votes has risked rupture in the family. In others our votes represent a shift in our communities of belonging.
  • We, the public, are standing now on our actions. We, the public, are sorting out truth and lies. The new government is forming and restoring norms, policies, and leadership in a thousand offices and cubicles. And we, the public, are awake and need to stay awake, to engage with our governments—from the neighborhood associations to the cities, counties, states, where we live. We, the public, and our governments, are in a conversation of profound importance in the midst of swirling hysteria. That hysteria is designed to create ineffectiveness, but we can focus through the noise.

And while I am focusing on the tangible empowerment of action, I remember:

  • I am going to die—but not just yet.
  • I am going to be ill—but today I am healthy.

    Meanwhile–tea.

  • I am going to face loss and change—and I will do my best to grieve and accept.
  • I am going to keep acting with the accrued skills of a lifetime.
  • And under these circumstances, we, the public, the collective, will prevail.

 

20 replies
  1. Bonnie Rae
    Bonnie Rae says:

    I so love the honesty of this. This year we have all become more intimately aware of our own vulnerabilities and more aware of what we can each do in the face of these new realities. Your words here are like a deep dive into the well of both. This simple Buddhist philosophy has gone from a soft glow to a bright beacon. Deep gratitude for this share. 

    Reply
  2. Meredith Jordan
    Meredith Jordan says:

    Having just put my dear dog down, and thinking a lot at almost 74 about my own mortality—how to use each day for bettering myself or something in my world—I’ve been giving this a lot of thought and more than a few tears. As Jack Kornfield says, “Everything that has a beginning also has an ending. Once we accept that, we awaken.” Stark truth, and so much better than living in illusion. Still, I am going to die…just not today. Thank you, love!

    Reply
  3. Elsie Ritzenhein
    Elsie Ritzenhein says:

    The honesty and sense of vulnerability in this post is wonderful. I have been immersed in all of this and do my best to remind those around me to embrace the expansion in the universe that is coming with the change. Thank you, Christina, for affirming and encouraging. It means a great deal,

    Reply
    • Glenda "GG" Goodrich
      Glenda "GG" Goodrich says:

      Thank you for this clarity and encouragement, Christina. It is helpful as I navigate these strange, chaotic times in our human history. I keep turning to Mother Earth for solace. Your words have that same grounding effect. Blessings and gratitude to you!

      Reply
  4. Jeanne Petrick
    Jeanne Petrick says:

    Christina, thanks for your dissection of this powerful and simply honest poem! I so love the last line and your comments about it. Thanks for taking the time to share this and your wisdom around it. Also, so nice to see you and Ann today, after cataract surgery while your eye is visibly in repair to full vision! May it serve you well. XXX

    Reply
  5. Cheryl Tomchin
    Cheryl Tomchin says:

    Dearest Christina and Ann,
    So good to hear your voices and be reminded of the power of words to slow my train of thought long enough to feel again. I look forward to the day we can sit in circle and quietly reflect until tears flow. Stay well, Cheryl

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.