Many people spend their entire lives asking how we should live:
What is the best way?
How can we be happy when life is so difficult?
How can I accomplish all of my goals?
However, most of us never think to ask the important questions. Either that, or we’re too afraid of the answer:
What are the rules of the game?
What are the truths we need to face in order to realize a fulfilling life?
They’re not always pretty, but a funny thing happens when we face them fully with courage: we come out the other side happier and more at peace.
The Buddha laid forth a simple set of reminders based on these truths to help us live life to its fullest and never forget how precious life truly is.
The Buddha’s ‘5 Daily Remembrances’, sometimes more traditionally referred to as The Upajjhatthana Sutta, were laid forth by the Buddha over 2,500 years ago, are meant to remind us that certain inevitabilities exist in life which we can’t escape. However, by facing them we can realize the path to true happiness.
They’re also to meant to help us define being alive and what it truly means to be human. And, in doing so, empower us in each moment to craft the life we desire.
Here are the Buddha’s reminders for a happy and fulfilling life:
5 Things to remember every day according to the Buddha
1. I am of a nature to grow old; I cannot avoid aging.
We’ll do everything we can do avoid old age, or at least, the effects of it.
From anti-aging serums to plastic surgery, some of us seem hell-bent on avoiding the effects of aging altogether.
However, old age is something that can’t be avoided–no matter how hard you try. And, the reality is, you probably don’t want to avoid it.
According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, people in their 20’s and 30’s tend to have higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression as well as the lowest levels of happiness and satisfaction.
On the flip side, older people were the happiest. The study also reports that older people are better at brushing off life’s various stressors and show better emotional stability and social skills.
Maybe, just maybe, by embracing old age, it can become something to look forward to. The amassing of wisdom is something which can’t be overlooked, and this study is a clear sign that the process of acquiring wisdom as we grow older does have a real effect on our level of happiness.
This simple reminder, that every day you grow a little older, is a powerful message that helps remind us of the ever-changing nature of life. What is now won’t be the same 20, 30, or 40 years from now. So embrace this moment fully.
2. I am subject to illness and infirmity; I cannot avoid illness and infirmity.
The Buddha also sought to remind us of the nature of our body and mind as well.
As we grow older, we have the potential to become ill. Plus, infirmity, referring to physical or mental weakness, is a natural part of the aging process which we can’t avoid.
Both of these together are simply a fact of life. You might just be one of those lucky few to die of old age, but one thing is for certain: as time goes on, your body (and to some degree your mind as well) will weaken considerably.
In our youth, many of us use our sense of physical strength or fitness as a method for defining ourselves. And while it’s important to continue to take care of yourself and stay fit well into your golden years, the fact is you won’t be as strong or as fit when you’re 70 as you are or were in your 20’s or 30’s.
Is this a reason to be depressed? Not at all, as we saw from the last point this is clearly not a factor for happiness as older people actually tend to be happier than those who are younger.
It’s important to understand that these are facts of life and, in the case of illness especially, something that can happen to us at any moment.
But reflecting upon this fact can actually make us happier and more at peace. We’re not only facing this fact and coming to terms with it, we’re constantly reminded of it and seek to live our life to the fullest now, while we’re fortunate enough to be healthy.
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3. I am of a nature to die; I cannot avoid death.
Moving beyond our first two points of old age, illness, and weakness of body and mind is the ultimate fear: death.
Death is the greatest fear of all. Many fear death so much that they simply ignore the fact altogether and live in a way that assumes they’ll never die.
However, as difficult as it might be to reflect upon at first, meditating on death, even for but a few moments each day, is a powerful and fulfilling practice.
The truth is, you’re going to die. I hate to break it to you.
However, if you face that fact now and reflect upon it regularly (something some cultures, such as the Bhutanese, are adept at) it can become a great source of happiness.
Knowledge of your own impermanence can act as a reminder to appreciate every moment of life because you never know when it will end. And, in doing so, it becomes a powerful tool for realizing great peace and fulfillment.
4. I will be parted from all that is dear and beloved to me.
Moving beyond the physical body and our own life, it’s also important to reflect upon the fact that everything in life is just as we are.
That is, everything is impermanent. This includes living beings, physical structures, ideas, and even feelings.
Everything that you hold dear is likely to be completely different, if not gone, in the next 50 years. This may be difficult to reflect upon now, but just as reflecting on death is a powerful way to cultivate a deep sense of appreciation and enjoyment for life in the present moment, reflecting on the impermanence of all things you care about is a powerful reminder for the same reasons.
Think for a moment about the people you love. The places you visit every day that you call home. Your community, home, T.V. shows, and favorite places to visit. Whatever it is, think about how it might change over the next 50 years. Much of it will be completely changed and in many ways not at all the same thing as you know and love now. Many of the people you love will be dead, if you yourself aren’t by then.
Again, this might sound a little morbid, but remember why the Buddha spoke of these recollections. These are facts of life, truths which can’t be avoided.
You can either choose to face them or run from them. However, you’ll only find more pain and suffering by running from them. But by facing them you have a chance to realize a deep sense of appreciation, fulfillment, and ultimately happiness that you couldn’t otherwise have realized.
5. I am the owner of my actions and heir to my actions.
This reminder is distinctly different from the rest and can often be a bit confusing for that reason. However, it is more connected to the first 4 recollections than it at first may seem.
Being the owner of, and heir to, your actions means that you ultimately control what you do on a day-to-day basis. There’s a lot you can’t and won’t ever be able to control, but you’ll always be the owner and heir to your actions.
Each of the first 4 points are all about what you don’t have control over: aging, illness and the degradation of the physical body, mortality, and the impermanence of all things.
These are things you must either face or run from, the former being the wiser choice suggested by the Buddha. However, your actions are the complete opposite.
Your actions are the one thing you will now and always have control over.
When you look at this through the lens of these 4 principles, you see that your actions are all that you are.
You can’t control what happens now or in the future, you can’t keep things from changing (in some way, how they’ll change exactly is partly up to you), and you can’t dictate what will happen as a result of your actions.
But you can always act. And how you do so is always up to you.
Your actions are truly what define you, so you should be wise about what you choose to do in each moment and in everything you do.
This 5th recollection is distinctly different from the first 4, however, it offers its own great benefits.
To reflect upon the fact that you are the owner and heir of your actions is to remember that in each and every moment what you do–how you act–makes a difference. It alone defines you and it alone is the sole tool you have to dictate the quality of your life.
For that reason, this 5th reminder may be the most important recollection of all.
Use the Buddha’s ‘5 Daily Remembrances to craft a more fulfilling life
To get the most from these powerful and important reminders, take a moment to write them down somewhere and reflect upon them from time to time.
You could simply write them on a piece of paper which you then keep in your pocket, take a picture and make it the wallpaper on your smartphone or desktop, or make something more enjoyable to look at with something like Canva.com.
However you decide to use the Buddha’s 5 Daily Remembrances, it’s important to reflect upon them regularly to remind yourself of each principle. Both to cultivate a sense of appreciation and joy for being alive and to know that life is short and that your actions are truly all that you have to make an impact in this world–so you need to act wisely.
The Buddha declared to his disciples to remember these 5 things every day. And, for over 2,500 years, these same 5 principles have held true.
Use the Buddha’s 5 daily recollections as a reminder to discover the beauty of this life, and to cultivate an immovable sense of peace and fulfillment in everything that you do.