Friday, December 14, 2007


From Forest Wisdom

“I am of the nature to sicken, I have not gone beyond sickness.”

The words above are part of a chant called *‘The Five Subjects for Frequent Recollection’, which are recited and contemplated on regularly by forest monks. Today, I have a chance to reflect on these words myself, as I have a sore throat and an achingly tired body, so here goes!

“I am of the nature to sicken” is true enough. Throughout my two score years, I’ve fallen victim to the usual list of minor ailments, some of which I’m suffering from today: a cold, a headache, and a stomachache. Like all other human beings, I am certainly prone to sickness, and have been occasionally ill on a regular basis since childhood. Not that I’m looking for sympathy you understand, as no doubt you could say much the same, and perhaps you have suffered from much worse illnesses in your life. But recognizing that I’m liable to be sick can reduce the amount of suffering experienced when I am ill, rather than hoping that I never am poorly and resenting the fact when it happens. Observing this body now, there’s an unpleasant series of feelings going on: soreness when swallowing, a vague throbbing in the head, and a general lethargy that seems to pervade its every cell. This is the way it is, and allowing feelings of resentment to arise won’t make the situation any better; they’re just going to exasperate matters. Taking note that there’s soreness in the throat, a throb in the head, and an aching all over is enough. Being aware of how the body is in this moment can lead to an acceptance of how things are, submitting to present circumstances. After all, Buddhism teaches that everything is impermanent, and that includes unpleasant sensations.

“I have not gone beyond sickness.” Reflecting on these words, it can be seen that no one has gone beyond being sick: it is part of the universal nature of living things that we’re subject to illness. Despite achieving some level of success on the Buddhist path, I have not become immune to sickness, unfortunately. Even highly realized beings such as the Buddha and the many Arahants (enlightened ones) described in Buddhist scripture were not above feeling sick: the Buddha died after becoming ill from eating spoilt food. Now if such a thing can happen to the Buddha, how could I be out of reach of any such ailment? The trick is not cutting oneself off from the way things are right now, but opening up to them, recognizing that it’s like this, and that’s that.

So, I’m sitting here at my computer, not feeling that great, typing out the various thoughts and feelings that are arising regarding my present predicament. Am I happy or humorous? No. Am I angry or frustrated? No. I’m just ill, and that’s the way it is, for now. Tomorrow: who knows?

*The five subjects in total are: Aging, sickness, death, separation and kamma.

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