by Ven. Dr.
impermanence, underlies all Buddhist thought and practice and is
the foundation of Buddhist understanding of reality.
For many centuries
most Western people had thought that the universe was a permanent
thing, put into place by a Creator God, with the earth at its center.
They reasoned that such a complex system could not come into existence
except through the creation of a superior intelligence. They named
that superior intelligence God and declared his permanence. They
believed that humankind reflected the image of God and contained
also an immortal essence, which they termed soul. So, while things
around them might change, they reasoned, at least they were assured
of permanence, an eternal existence after death if they lived in
accordance with God's will.
In India twenty-five
centuries ago, Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, proclaimed that there
is no permanence anywhere. In his enlightenment experience he witnessed
the arising and disappearing of entire universe systems. He saw
very clearly that all things are impermanent, that they arise, mature
and pass away. He recognized that all things are comprised of conditioned
states and that there is no permanent essence to anything. He also
realized that the arising and disappearing of states of existence
occurred because of various conditions. Should any condition change,
the object changed or disappeared.
Even those things
which appear to be permanent and unchanging also are in a constant
state of change. The mountains appear to be permanent and unchanging,
but their very existence is the result of tectonic forces within
the crust and mantle of the earth. Volcanoes, inactive for many
centuries come alive and new ones pop into existence. Earthquakes
build mountain ranges. Ocean becomes land and land becomes ocean.
These changes never cease. All matter itself is alive with constant
change. Its very nature is a mass of constantly moving energy. Rocks
may appear to be inert objects, but in actuality, their very structure
is one of constant movement.
The Buddha taught
that all conditioned things are impermanent and constantly changing
and that they have no permanent essence. He explained that while
we may think of ourselves as single objects of existence, in fact
humans are made up of a collection of five conditioned, impermanent
states: body (rupa), sense contacts and sensations (vedana),
perceptions and conceptions (samjna), volitional actions
and karmic tendencies (samskaras) and basic consciousness
(vijÒana). These collections (skandhas) of
things are the true nature of the person and they are constantly
changing. The body grows old, becomes ill and dies. Sense contacts
lead to perception and conception and these are constantly changing.
Our karmic activities never cease and underlying all these is the
basal consciousness, which at death also disappears with all of
the other samskaras.
The Buddha explained
that we should not become too attached to our bodies and their sensual
experiences and thoughts that arise from them, because the attachment
to our bodies and to life causes us great dukkha, suffering
and misery. Sense contact brings us sense experiences which we then
term as desirable or undesirable. From this judgment arises the
desire to re-experience similar sensual experiences, which lead
directly to attachment. This attachment then leads to a great thirst
or craving for the experience. Soon we are entrapped in the need
to continue such experiences, for we feel we need or want them.
But all experience is very momentary. Hardly have we grasped onto
one, when it disappears and a new attraction grabs our minds. Soon
we are enmeshed in a great, complex web of desire, all of which
is very transitory, and thus unsatisfactory.
The Buddha stated
that for us to become free from the constant round of rebirth and
suffering, we would need to realize the changing nature of things
in its true perspective, so that we could free ourselves from the
need for certain experiences, attachment to self and to the illusion
One of the major
causes of dukkha is our puny attempts to make impermanent
things permanent. We want to amass and hold on to things which please
our ego concepts. We strive to hold on to youth, to wealth, to fame,
to romance. All of these experiences are fleeting. They arise, mature
and disintegrate. It is not change itself which causes the greatest
pain, it is our resistance to this change that causes the real dukkha.
The Buddha again and again explained: "Impermanent indeed are all
conditioned things; they are of the nature of arising and passing
away. Having come into being, they cease to exist. Hence their pacification
He urged his
disciples to truly understand the ultimate nature of all things,
that is their impermanence. He had his disciples meditate upon the
disintegration of things, including their own bodies, in order to
try to break their inordinate clinging to objects of all kinds:
physical, vocal or mental.
Once the individual
truly sees that things cannot be grasped for more than a few moments,
then these unhealthy attachments and aversions can be given up and
the practitioner can be freed from the enslavement he has produced