Impermanence, or “anicca” in Pali, happens because all things that arise in the world depend on the joining of various causes and conditions, which in turn are also in constant flux. This is the theory of Dependent Origination.
Deep down we know that all we see, all we have, and all that we are, are impermanent.
We know people come and go, material possessions are gained and lost, reputation is built and forgotten, and moments become fragments of memories in no time. We know ultimately sickness, old age, and death will come.
Yet we are shocked and unhappy when these things happen. We live our lives building security, stability and permanency in our lives, and in our minds. It’s no wonder that impermanence is often seen as something negative.
But actually impermanence is neither negative nor positive, it just is. It isn’t something to be repelled, nor something to be attached to. A true understanding of it brings insight into our lives, and allows us to live with impermanence, rather than living to keep it away.
In a practical sense, this understanding allows us to:
- Deal with the difficult times in our lives, by reminding ourselves that this too will pass.
- Deal with loss better, and find the wisdom in letting go of what needs to be left.
- Appreciate life more, and our time with others, by realising that our last breath can come at anytime. In fact, death contemplation is practiced in Buddhism, and often can motivate us to strength our Buddhist practice before we breathe out our last breath.
- See our life as a whole, instead of being caught up in our insignificant routines and unnecessary pickiness.
- See the changes in life as a natural phenomenon, which allows us to accept what happens to us in life, instead of resisting against the natural rising and ceasing of all phenomenon. That resistance itself is often the source of our suffering.
From my personal experience, I have felt the hurt from a loss is prolonged and strengthened because of my attachment to permanency. Once I’m mindful of my attachment, contemplated on its essentially impermanent nature, and eventually let it go, a feeling of lightness and liberation overwhelms me. This experience motivates me to face the next experience of impermanence with the same gentle acceptance. In time, impermanence is not something we have to put up with, but something we live with.
Do you know what is the difference between knowing about impermanence and understanding it? Imagine a child and a mother building a sandcastle on the shore. When the waves crash onto the sandcastle, the child cries, but the mother doesn’t.
The truth of impermanence doesn’t mean we should stop building sandcastles. It just means we need to know they don’t last forever. So make the most of your every moment, and enjoy the sandcastles while they last.
18 Sept 2008