In recent months I’ve lead several memorial services and scattering of ashes. People who ask me, a non-ordained amateur, certainly know of my Buddhist practice, but that’s as far as it goes. Typically they want someone “other than a [Christian] priest” help them express sentiments about living and dying in celebration of their loved-one’s passing. They tell me about favourite saying, poems, psalms and prayers they’d like included and I, in turn, suggest that a friend or relative speak about the deceased. This to avoid having a stranger utter phrases of the insert-name-here kind that would spoil the occasion.
As we plan the program, I suggest we include the “Five (Buddhist) Remembrances” and on the day I’m amazed by how people take to an unfamiliar text as they read it aloud for the first time.
I am of the nature to grow old;
there is no way to escape growing old.
I am of the nature to have ill health;
there is no way to escape having ill health.
I am of the nature to die;
there is no way to escape death.
All that is dear to me and everyone I love
are of the nature of change;
there is no way to escape being separated from them.
The lines are sober reminders of the inevitability of sickness, old age, and death. “These are the five facts that one should reflect on often, whether one is a woman or a man, lay or ordained,” the Buddha is said to have advised his followers a long time ago. And so I suggest to you (and to myself) that we hold them regularly before our eyes. I sometimes sit quietly, light a candle and incense, and pay attention to my breath: each inhale a birth, each exhale a death. After a while of that, I recite the Five Remembrances, synchronizing each line with an in-breath and an out-breath.
p.s. If you’ve been counting, you’ll have noticed that one of the Remembrances is missing. Kindly see future posts.