BUDDHISM > IMPERMANENCE AND NONSELF
Our thoughts and feelings, our bodies, our world—all are impermanent and subject to constant change, an unremitting state of flux. One moment we are happily laughing with friends and in the next miserable as something that is said deeply hurts us.
Our bodies are also constantly changing as our cells age and are replaced. We can see the results of this when we look in a mirror. What we see in the mirror is not what we saw a year ago. It is very similar, but not exactly the same.
Knowing that a sunrise will not be around forever or that the person we love will no longer be with us one day will remind us to cherish them and not take them for granted. Realizing that a wonderful moment will soon be gone will motivate us to appreciate it now. We do not want to regret later that we missed an opportunity because we thought that there would be another chance to enjoy it later.
Understanding that nothing is permanent will help us to accept the fact that people and the things we love will not be with us forever. We will thus value them even more. Also, knowing that everything changes, including unhappiness, reassures us that unpleasant circumstances will, at some point, improve for the better and that adverse conditions will eventually be replaced with those that are positive.
Additionally, we do not have an independent, permanent self here in the cycle of rebirth. When we look in that mirror, we perceive what we think of as “self.” We look a little different than we did a year ago, but we perceive ourselves as being the same person. But once we think of “me,” it becomes natural to think of “you” and “others.” That is how discrimination, with all its inherent ills, begins. Eventually, we discriminate against everyone and everything. But “I” is composed of minerals and elements that used to be someone or something else. One hundred years ago, “I” did not exist. One hundred years from now, “I” will no longer be here, at least not in this form. Part of the physical “I” may be in a cloud, another part in a flower, or another part in a new book—no more “I.”
At some time, each of us will die. If we understand that throughout the universe there is only one being and that we are therefore all part of one another, that we are not individuals, that our component parts will separate and re-form, and that our loved ones are already one with us, then we will not be overwhelmed with sadness when the physical separation occurs.
Hearing that nothing has an individual self can be very difficult to grasp. Perhaps we can appreciate this concept more if we look at an example that demonstrates interconnectivity, such as pollution. To pollute one part of the environment is, in actuality, to pollute all of the environment.
Similarly, when one organ in our body is polluted, our whole body will likely be affected. No part of the environment, no part of our body, is separate and independent from the other parts.
Understanding that there is no independent self and that we are all interrelated and part of one another will bring us a sense of togetherness and peace while viewing ourselves as individuals can lead to feelings of isolation or superiority.
If we feel we are separate from everything and everyone, we might be unable to connect with others and become caught up in self-pity. Or we might begin to think that we know the best way to do things and that others are not as bright as we are. Feeling superior can lead to the justification that it is right to impose our views on others and that controlling others is justifiable.
On the other hand, understanding that we are all connected and that what affects one has the potential to affect all will help us to let go of ideas of self and other, birth and death, gain and loss. Understanding we are all one will help to eliminate thinking that I can attain happiness even though others have not or that the distress of others is their concern, not mine.