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Posts Tagged ‘impermanence’

Impermanence is everywhere in our lives and yet no one likes impermanence.  We all hope for our newest relationship that is going so well will be permanent, or that great new job we have will be permanent, or that new car will stay divinely perfect with no scratches or dents forever!  Oh well, they won’t!

Bhante Gunaratana writes about this in his wonderful book The 4 Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English as he tells the story of a student of the Buddha.  As he was meditating he heard the voice of the Buddha saying:

Destroy attachment to self,
As you could an autumn lily in your fist.
Cultivate the path to peace,
The Nirvana taught by the Well-Gone-One.

When he opened his eyes, the young monk saw that the beautiful lily, once so bright, fresh, and lively, had withered away.  So, he meditated on the impermanence of the beauty, freshness, and life of the lily. Reflecting that his own handsome, young, healthy, and strong body would grow old and wither just as the flower had, he attained liberation from attachment to his body, feelings, perceptions, thoughts, and consciousness (page 58).[1]

And thus, we too get all caught up in this world of attachment and impermanence even though we don’t realize it.  One of the things I learned early on in Zen was about attachment and so I began to see how long I could go without being attached to anything.  I had a new car and one day I saw a scratch on my door where someone must have knocked into my door with theirs.  My first response was to start to get mad, then I remembered my goal of “non-attachment” and so I let it go and continued to run my errands.

I was very proud of myself and as I went through the day I praised myself off and on for not getting attached to the scratch on the car until I realized that all

I had done was switch my attachment from that to being attached to my ability to “not be attached.”  Yikes! I had just attached my attachment to something else, oh boy! It ain’tKermit_the_Frog easy being green as Kermit the frog would say.  And it ain’t easy being me trying to be a Buddhist.

Wow, that Buddha guy sure didn’t make anything easy! Now I do know that my beautiful Kermit green Ford Fiesta is impermanent and after many years it will be worn out and I will have to give it up and get a new one and maybe even take it to the junk yard and watch it be torn apart or squeezed into that big car crusher and god only knows where MY car is going!

But little-by-little after 12 years of studying and practicing Buddhism I am able to be less attached to things.  I can throw out old clothes that don’t fit me anymore, I got rid of my old silverware that had nothing matching and bought a new set, and I can give up eating ice cream before I go to bed.

Okay that last thing was a lie!  But I’m working on my attachment to the Heavenly Hash ice cream (How’s that for an oxymoron?). I only eat it once or twice a week now.  Soon all attachments will be gone for it and I just hope and pray I don’t switch it for chocolate peanut butter ice cream instead!  Oh well, I guess I’m still a work in progress.  How about you?

[1] Gunaratana, B.  (2012) The 4 Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English, Wisdom Publications: Boston

[2] picture of Kermit: upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/…

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the 10 oxherding pictures Sakura Sakuragi

The way of Zen is a process—one that can take a life time.  It is not a quick fix for your relationships, jobs, or health.  It is a way of life.  It is providing the opportunity for you to have a meditation practice that moves through you throughout the day not just when you are sitting on the cushion.  It gives you the opportunity to live a life of peace, love, and compassion even in the most trying of situations knowing that this to shall pass. The ox herder learned this very well on his journey.

Francis Dojun Cook in his book How to Raise An Ox writes:

In Buddhism there is a vast difference between believing that all things are impermanent and realizing that they are; but before that belief becomes true knowledge, one must practice in the faith that it is so, and will eventually be proven to be so by one’s own experience (page 17).

Thus, sitting and reading and practicing the principles of Buddhism will give you the opportunity and the “true knowledge” you need to bolster your faith in all things being impermanent.  That impermanence makes life easier to deal with, that impermanence is why we have a saying “and this to shall pass.”  Every life is filled with things that come and go: a headache, a bad grade on a project at school, a failed job or relationship, a burnt dinner, or a cold.  They came and they went, they were impermanent.  They were not here to stay!

As students of Buddhism we work to realize that everyone and everything is the Buddha. We take the bodhisattva vow which consists “of selfless service on behalf of others [which] gradually diminishes self-serving, self-interested action (page 23).” [1]

Thus, the ox herder practiced and studied and believed and eventually realized his oneness with all things and no longer needed the ox. There was no quick fix, no magic pill or potion. Dojun continues with these words, “And this begins to happen when we completely abandon our own efforts and trust completely in our true nature, which is the Buddha.  Again, this is Buddhist faith (page 24).”

“To have faith in the Buddha is the same as forgetting the self (page 26)” –And remembering impermanence! To forget the self is to find the true self. Good luck with that!

[1] Cook, F. D. (2002) How to Raise an Ox Zen Practice as Taught in Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo. Boston: Wisdom Publications

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Once again I will attempt to unwind the mystery of the Heart Sutra this time lines three and four, “Clearly saw emptiness of all the five conditions. Thus completely relieving misfortune and pain.”  I am again helped by the authors of two wonderful books Living by Vow a Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts written by Shohaku Okumura and Emptiness, Relativity and Quantum Physics by the Dali Lama.  So let’s begin this wonderful adventure!

Okumura writes, “In every moment we must awaken again to the impermanent reality of our lives.  Everything is always changing, and there is no substance.  In Mahayana Buddhism, this is called emptiness (page 136).” [1]

The Buddha said that “nothing is fixed, and there is nothing that doesn’t change.”[2]

The Dali Lama in his book Emptiness, Relativity and Quantum Physics wrote:

Thus, there are no subjects without the objects by which they are defined, there are no objects without subjects to apprehend them, there are no doers without things done.  There is no chair without legs, a seat, a back, wood, nails, the floor on which it rests, the walls that define the room it’s in, the people who constructed it, and the individuals who agree to call it a chair and recognize it as something to sit on.  Not only is the existence of things and events utterly contingent but, according to this principle, their very identities are thoroughly dependent upon others.[3]

And so, I could cut down the legs and cut off the back of the chair, if I so choose, and turn it into a coffee table, and when I no longer needed it for that purpose I could break it up and use it for fire wood, that would turn it into smoke and ash. Then it could be mixed into the garden compost pile and turned into fertilizer to help grow my beautiful tomatoes for the summer salad.

This clearly demonstrates the impermanence of all “things” and thus their intrinsic emptiness. So letting go of my desire to control things, people, and places I relieve myself of misfortune and pain—for their emptiness will appear to me soon enough and I will see the change in them with an open heart and mind.

Okumura goes on to say the following:

We can make a peaceful, stable foundation for our lives.  It’s called nirvana.  It is not a particular state or condition of our minds but rather a way of life based on impermanence and egolessness.  The Buddha taught that there are two different ways of living.  If we are blind to the reality of egolessness and impermanence, our life becomes suffering.  If we waken to this reality and live accordingly, our life becomes nirvana.  This awakening is called Bodhi or enlightenment (page 136).”[4]

Thus nirvana or enlightenment is not a place that you go like sitting on a cloud in heaven in a children’s story book.  It is a place to live today where our ego recognizes that all things change in body: physically; in mind: emotionally; in brain: through learning and creating new synapses; and finally, in my heart: through the wonder of wisdom.

Thus each day I am born anew. And so, I release the old ideas, ways, and limitations and am open and receptive to embrace the miracle and joy of seeing the emptiness of all five conditions and the impermanence in my life so I can be relieved of my misfortune and pain—if not forever, at least for today!

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin seeing the impermanence in all things today.

2.  I will remind myself that doing this can help make a peaceful stable foundation for my life—or nirvana.

3.  I will remember to release the old ideas, ways, and limitations in my life and be open to allow new exciting things to appear.

4.  Lastly, I will keep a journal of the opportunities that have been presented to me so I can keep track of my progress and my opportunities for growth.


[1] Okumura, S (2012) Living by Vow A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Text. Wisdom Publications.: Somerville, MA

[2] Ibid.

[4] Okumura, S (2012) Living by Vow A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Text. Wisdom Publications.: Somerville, MA

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