The Five Daily Recollections

A few months back I got into a conversation about under-appreciated meditation techniques.   A man told me about one practice done in Asia, which is to repeat   “The Five Daily Recollections” (Upajjhatthana Sutta: Subjects for Contemplation ) every day.

The accesstoinsight.org translation, is clunky, so these are the words he uses:

  1. “I am of the nature to decay”
  2. “I am of the nature to get sick”
  3. “I am of the nature to die”
  4. “All that is mine, beloved and dear to me, will one day leave me”
  5. “I am the owner of my kamma, heir to my kamma, abide supported by my kamma, if I do good I receive good, if I do bad I receive bad”

I am a firm believer in the power of brief daily reviews of  new ideas to create profound changes in the mind over time.

It looks like a few other people agree with me  and have been  one step or 2600 years ahead of me.

At least with people dispositions similar to my own,  I think there is a danger in doing  such daily recollections in a mechanical way without thought.   I think doing such recollections in that way, people with  particular dispositions can inadvertently cultivate  cynical attitudes  that may lead to them giving up on worthy things too easily.    Possibly giving them emotional health issues as well.

On the other hand,  I think such daily recollections, done the right way,  with thought and with looking at reality beyond just Buddhist observations  can have tremendous power for giving a person a more stable happiness.     I think the key is to accept each of the 5 recollections while also being aware that they will play out in each life a little bit differently.   For example,  instead of using recollections 1,2 & 3 as a rationalization to stop caring of yourself you can balance those recollections out with the observation that people who do take care of themselves get sick less, enjoy their later years more with better health and die easier.   The result?   A profound sense that your current good health is fleeting and a strong motivation not to push actions needed to preserve it aside.

Done in that way,  with active thought,  I think the 5 recollections can help a person extract more joy out of their daily lives by helping them to appreciate things previously not savored.    The 5 recollections can also help a person prepare their mind for changes that will likely come.  When that happens the impact of these changes may just feel a little bit lighter.

For further reading I recommend this excellent 21 page booklet on “Wise Reflection Meditation” in Buddhism, which includes not only The Five Daily Recollections, but other ancient reflection-meditations:

Buddhist Publication Society Wheel 463 : The Importance Of Wise Reflection

Here is an excellent talk on the subject from the Buddhist Society Of Western Australia:

 

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