[This week I am reprinting a short article I wrote on the basics of Buddhism. It was quick, short and blunt; without (at least I tried) a large amount of language that would be unfamiliar to readers with no experience in the Dharma. Enjoy and feel free to comment]
“This existence of ours is as transient as autumn clouds. To watch the birth and death of beings is like looking at the movements of a dance. A lifetime is a flash of lightning in the sky. Rushing by, like a torrent down a steep mountain.”—The Buddha
We mistakenly and painfully attempt to make a lasting relationship with the objects and people around us. Things that are constantly changing around us we cling to and try to apply some amount of permanence. We interact with our teenage daughter while still attached to the image of the child or infant that she once was. We are angry that our spouse isn’t the same person they were when we met when that person didn’t exist the day after they first met (or may have never existed, being just a perception). We graduate college with the hope that the freedom and independence in that sheltered environment will continue into the working world. We want the freedom of our young adult days to continue even after the advent of our first child. We want permanence.
But we are creating a world for ourselves that simply doesn’t exist. When that false world doesn’t meet our expectations we experience pain and cause others to experience it as well. That feeling is impermanence and it hurts. By accepting that the world is constantly changing around us we can focus on the root of the problem – clinging to these false realities.
Through introspection, impermanence emerges as an all-pervading essence marking everything around us. We might attribute an eternal principle, or higher self to explain this, but even that action is made up of temporary thoughts and concepts. Just look at how your own conception of “God” has changed from your childhood to now! Our concepts of a metaphysical world are speculative constructs that may or may not exist. Thus clinging to these invented securities lead to even more suffering and pain (although we call it “faith”). These concepts are created to make us feel more secure in our own permanence – to cement our being with the world. Once again, we feel anxious, even at the peak of our religious practice. It is only when we completely abandon clinging to these beliefs (but not necessarily dropping them entirely) that we feel any relief and can alleviate the suffering of others.
Many Zen masters, after achieving this realization, burnt their sutras (written works attributed to the followers of the historical Buddha) and kicked over the statue of Buddha. Even the Buddha is impermanent. This isn’t a call to reject our beliefs but to not cling to them. I believe in the words of the Buddha but I do not cling to that belief. Attributing permanence to concepts is as useful as providing a blanket to a drowning man.