Buddhist Impermanence

Impermanence is a central teaching in Buddhism. In this post we'll examine the concept from a practical, hands-on perspective. As with all Buddhist teachings, you are not suppose to intellectualize over them. Rather, it's about applying the teachings in the present moment, the here and now.

The most important tool in the spiritual discipline is awareness, also referred to as mindfulness. When applied correctly, it helps you gain direct understanding of truth and reality.

The intellect is secondary to awareness. In other words, insights and deep understanding of our true nature are the fruits of awareness, mindfulness or attention. That makes spirituality highly practical as opposed to theoretical.

There are three core Buddhist teachings that are treated as a group. That is impermanence, suffering and not-self. In my experience, impermanence is the easiest one to grasp out of the three. That makes this post a good starting point.

Everything Is Impermanent

The word impermanence implies change and fluctuation. The Buddha realized that everything that exists is impermanent or phrased differently, in an endless state of change. That includes your body, sense perceptions, thoughts and the world we inhabit.

Here are some more examples of impermanence:

- Everything that is born, dies

- Your body ages

- Your hair and nails grow

- Your moods fluctuate

- One moment you are afraid, the next you are not

- Something makes you angry, then you let it go

- Mindfulness deepens with practice

- You breathe in and out

- You are awake, then you sleep

- You have a cold, then you recover from it

- You are under stress, then you are calm

- You feel happy, then you feel sad

- A coarse seed grows into a plant with beautiful flowers

- A leaf falls from a tree

- A grape turns into a raisin

- After you drink water, you are no longer thirsty

- Food takes on a new form after chewing it, and again after the digestion

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How To Work With Impermanence

Take a close look at yourself. Are you aware of any changes in your life? That could be your job, your home, the friends you spend time with, your interests or the food you like etc.

Next, look yourself in the mirror. Has your appearance changed in the last 10 years, or even since you woke up in the morning?

Please note, this type of verification is a way to familiarize yourself with the concept of impermanence. It's an important first step, but it's not how you work with impermanence in the present moment.

It's highly beneficial to verify impermanence in your own life. To verify simply means to confirm or find out for yourself if the teaching is true or not.

The most effective approach to investigate impermanence, is by being aware of the present moment throughout the day. I strongly encourage you to learn mindfulness practice, which is the key to liberation and spiritual wisdom.

Let me give you a real-life example of working with impermanence in the present moment. I was a junior Buddhist monk in Thailand, and one morning while out on alms round I saw a dead scorpion on the side of the road. I immediately reflected, "Life is impermanent. The scorpion was alive and now it's dead. That's the nature of existence."

There is an enormous difference between thinking about impermanence that unfolded yesterday or last year, compared to being aware of it in the present moment. To be aware of impermanence here and now, offers you a new perspective on reality and makes for wisdom. When you are mindful, you can explore the true nature of life.

Impermanence affects everything that exists regardless of your beliefs and cultural conditioning. It's a law of nature.

Here is a question for you. Do you think it's easier to accept negative changes while unaware of the workings of impermanence, or while clearly aware of it in the present moment? Take a moment to think about it...

It's human nature to resist unwanted change. As you know, resistance leads to anger and frustration. When you dwell in the present moment, it's much easier to let go of your negative feelings and thoughts. That, is true liberation.

Best of luck!

Related:   Resisting Change   4 Noble Truths   Non-Attachment

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