Impermanence


I don’t think there has been any being in our history that has talked better about relative truth than the Buddha. Many, many, many beings have said all kinds of beautiful things. But if we look at the things the Buddha said to simplify the way that we live, it’s very, very difficult to find somebody that has actually spoken more clearly on the subject.

But his teachings have become very complicated because many Buddhist traditions and religions have sprung from the Buddha’s teachings. Many times these things are very different from what the Buddha actually said.

At the time the Buddha was speaking, we didn’t have tape recorders as we do now and a lot of his teachings were passed on to us from memory. The monks would remember these things. If I remember correctly, it was at least 300 years after he left his form that what he said started to be written down. So there were many opportunities for a lot of misconceptions.

Basically what he said is that we can reach a state of well being in our lives. By deciding to diagnose what is the reason for our suffering, then taking the appropriate medication to neutralize those reasons we can alleviate huge amounts of unnecessary suffering. The Buddha’s medication was basically the eightfold path of noble living. So the Buddha said that:

It is possible to live in a state of well-being

as long as we understand why it is

that we are suffering.

And once we understand why we are suffering,

we can take the appropriate medicine to relieve it.

This is very straight forward. He didn’t have many complex concepts and philosophies, and practices. He just said we can be very peaceful and happy in this life as long as we understand why it is that we suffer. When we understand what the reasons are for the suffering, we can take appropriate action to eliminate it or reduce its impact in order to be happier. This is the basis of all of Buddha’s teachings.

In order to help us diagnose why we may be suffering, he mentioned quite a few things that cause suffering. One of the things he mentioned is this thing called impermanence. We human beings want things to be permanent, especially the things we like. We want them to be permanent, but by their very nature they are not permanent. They are not! And we suffer.

One of the major reasons why we suffer is

that things are not permanent.

We don’t stop to think

that things are indeed truly beautiful

because of impermanence.

If things were permanent, there would be no possible way to make any changes in anything. If we lived in a repressive government, it would always be that way. If we were totally, totally unwise, we would always be totally unwise because there would be no opportunity for change. If we were sad or hurt or lonely, it would always be that way. But none of these things are written in stone.

If it weren’t for change we would not appreciate the beauty of a flower. As it is we see a flower and we know it is not going to last very long. So we look at it and we appreciate it because we know that soon enough it won’t look this way. If it weren’t for change, we would not be able to have children. In fact, if it weren’t for change, we couldn’t be here at all!

Impermanence can be

one of the best friends we have.

Along with our wish for permanence we tend to think of ourselves as beings that are linear in nature—that we are born and we die and in between we have a life—and it’s all one dimensional. That is how we define ourselves. But if we accept change and impermanence, we can look at things in other ways and start seeing things very differently. We start to open up and experience life much more fully. This can lead us to live with more respect and gratitude—and even joy.

Another thing the Buddha talked about was this idea of no self which is so often badly misconstrued.

The way that the Buddha explained ‘no self’ is that when we look at ourselves and at how we are made up, there is nothing that we can find that we can identify as something that is continuous or as a substance that didn’t come from something else. That bears repeating:

When we look for a “self,”

there is nothing that we can find

that we can identify

as something that is continuous

or as a substance that didn’t come from something else.

We look at a flower and wonder how was a flower made. A flower was made because somebody decided to do some gardening or it grew wild. It took some soil from the earth, some sun, some nutrients, and some inorganic substances and eventually became something that was totally alive. Then when it turns and decomposes it goes back into the earth, into different elements to create perhaps another flower or another tree, or some other substance. And this goes on and on and on.

But the flower is not made up of any one particular thing

that continues in the same identical way.

If we don’t understand what this means,

it is a cause of great suffering

because all of us would like to continue

in the same identical way

that we perceive ourselves to be.

Even in the concept of death, speaking in relative terms, we want to continue in some kind of an image that would be acceptable to us because we don’t want to become some other substance that is not recognizable. This is what we fear.

But the fact is, we have been everything! When we look at it from absolute terms nothing can ever be destroyed. Everything rotates, recycles, and comes back in all these different ways.

So this is why it is important to look at our existence in both ways—in terms of the absolute which is our core existence and in terms of the relative which is what we deal with while we are living here.



Dear Beloved,

I can’t speak about you.

Yet I know that

you are always with me

and I am always with you.

Help me in not attaching too much

to all the things of my form.

Help me put these things in perspective.

When I forget my true nature,

please remind me.



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