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Upajjhatthana Sutta – 5 Subjects For Contemplation
In the Upajjhatthana Sutta the Buddha teaches that there are five subjects that should be mindfully considered as part of developing release from clinging. All of the Buddha’s teachings are presented in the context of developing understanding of the first noble truth, “there is dukkha,” and release from the second noble truth, “clinging originates dukkha.”
The Upajjhatthana Sutta teaches to be mindful of subjects most people would rather avoid thinking about and have great aversion to. The purpose of reflecting on these subjects is to develop an understanding of these unavoidable aspect of dukkha and to see the impermanence and unsubstantiality of these subjects. They are all simply a part of human existence. Aversion arises to them due to a clinging mind influenced by an (impermanent) ego-personality.
The Buddha teaches: “there are these five facts that one should be mindful of and reflect on often:
- I am subject to aging and I have not gone beyond aging.
- I am subject to illness and I have not gone beyond illness.
- I am subject to death and I have not gone beyond death.
- I am subject to impermanence and the suffering of being separated from all that I hold dear and appealing and I have not gone beyond separation-disappointment.
- I am the owner of my actions. I receive the results of my actions. Dukkha arises through my actions and I am associated to my actions. Whatever I do I will inherit.
“These are the five facts one should be mindful of and reflect on.”
Then the Buddha describes how to reflect on these subjects. This is important in order to keep these five subjects in context and not form even more confused views. How to think and what to be mindful of is an aspect of Right Mindfulness:
“Reflecting on being subject to aging and not (yet) having gone beyond aging be mindful that there are those that are intoxicated with youth and due to this intoxication are unskillful in thought, word, and deed.
“Reflecting on being subject to illness and not (yet) having gone beyond illness be mindful that being intoxicated with health one acts unskillfully in thought, word, and deed.
“Reflecting on being subject to death and not (yet) having gone beyond death be mindful that being intoxicated with life one acts in unskillful ways in thought, word, and deed.
“Reflecting on being subject to impermanence and being separated from what is held dear and appealing, and not (yet) having gone beyond separation-disappointment, be mindful that clinging through desire and passion one acts in unskillful ways in thought, word, and deed.
“Reflecting on being subject to being the owner of one’s action (kamma) and not (yet) having gone beyond being the owner of one’s action (extinguishing kamma) be mindful that it is in thought, word, and deeds that I can go beyond being subject to my actions.
“Further, consider that as a follower of the Eightfold Path one is not the only one subject to aging, illness, death, separation disappointment, or mindless actions. All (deluded) beings are subject to aging, illness, death, separation-disappointment, and the results of their actions.
“When one is mindful of these facts and reflects often on these facts the entire Eightfold Path is given life. Being mindful of these facts one will maintain the (Eightfold) Path, develop it and cultivate it. All distractions are abandoned and all obsessions are destroyed.”
This is a remarkable sutta in its simplicity and directness. It clearly shows the further confusion and suffering that arises from clinging mind and the need to maintain an impermanent ego-personality, to attempt to maintain anatta.
At first this sutta may seem “negative” or even depressing but that is the point. As humans living our lives are spent clinging to an ego-personality and avoiding and ignoring anything that would negate or disappoint the ego-personality. This is an aspect of ignorance that the Buddha teaches in Dependent Origination can only develop more suffering and more endless wandering in a samsaric existence.
By attempting to avoid that which is unavoidable delusion is established. This is wrong view. By developing a calm mind and clear insight through the Eightfold Path, including shamatha-vipassana meditation, one puts aside deluded thinking and develops a life of lasting peace and happiness. By understanding how our own delusion arises and is reinforced brings true and wise compassion as we now understand the delusion and suffering of others.
The Buddha concludes this sutta with verse:
“Subject to birth, aging, and death,
run of the mill people
are repelled by those that suffer
from that which afflict themselves.
“It would not be fitting for one awakened
to be repelled by other’s delusions.
I remain mindful of the Dhamma
“I have overcome intoxication with youth, health
And the world.
I know the end of clinging, renunciation
as rest, as calm.
“For me energy arose and unbinding clearly understood.
Sensual pleasures and sensory attachments
have been abandoned.
Having left all delusion behind
my path is complete.”
The Buddha taught an Eightfold Path that develops a calm and well-concentrated mind having the ability and the spaciousness to clearly see life as life occurs. There is nothing negative or pessimistic about these teachings and they avoid the unrealistic and delusional belief of seeing all things in a “positive” view.
One can hope to avoid the unpleasant aspects of human life. This is rooted in ignorance. The liberation and freedom gained through the Eightfold Path is developed by seeing clearly and without aversion that which is inevitable. Peace.
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My Dhamma articles and talks are based on the Buddha's teachings (suttas) as preserved in the Sutta Pitaka, the second book of the Pali Canon. I have relied primarily on Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s excellent and insightful translation of the Pali generously made freely available at his website Dhammatalks.org, as well as the works of Acharya Buddharakkhita, Nyanaponika Thera, John Ireland, Maurice Walsh, Hellmuth Hecker, and Sister Khema, among others, as preserved at Access To Insight.
Also, I have found Bhikkhu Bodhi's translations from Wisdom Publications Pali Canon Anthologies to be most informative and an excellent resource.
I have made edits to the suttas from these sources for further clarity, to modernize language, to minimize repetition, and maintain contextual relevance to Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths.
Becoming-Buddha.com and Dhamma articles and recordings by John Haspel are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.