This article is about one of the key concepts of Buddhism, Impermanence.
Vipassana meditation as taught by Mr. S N Goenka stresses on the experience of impermanence within our own bodies to attain Nirvana – the state beyond suffering. According to Sayagyi U Ba Khin, Mr. Goenka's Guru The awareness of Anicca is the actual meditational experience of impermanence within our own bodies. . This is a purification process, which leads the meditator to experience the nirvanic peace within himself.
Impermanence is central to Buddhism, and in fact can be made the central point of anyone's personal philosophy as he or she goes through life. If we take the time to think - the world that we know is impermanent. In fact we ourselves are impermanent. We are not the same persons that we were 20 years back. All the cells in our body, our appearance, our personality, our feelings and emotions, our problems all have changed. Thich Naht Hanh - the Zen Buddhist master - encourages us to think of ourselves as waves in the ocean. The chief characteristic of a waves is its transitory nature - it lasts but a moment and so do we. We will all die one day and then it will be as if we had never existed.
The importance of impermanence - anicca - and how it can be integrated within our lives is illustrated by the following story: -
A rich old man died leaving two sons. They decided to separate dividing all the properties between themselves – fifty fifty. After all the matters related to property were settled the two brothers came across a small packet carefully hidden by the father. The packet contained two rings – one was an expensive diamond ring and the other was an ordinary silver ring costing only a few rupees.
Seeing the diamond ring the elder brother developed greed and desired the ring for himself. He explained to the younger brother – This packet is obviously a family heirloom and not part of the joint family property. Our father evidently desired the diamond ring to be passed on from generation to generation and stay within the family. Being the elder brother I will take the diamond ring. You had better take the silver one.
The younger brother smiled and agreed.
The younger brother was curious as to why the father had preserved the silver ring, which had very little value. He took out the ring and examined it. One the ring was written the words – "This too will pass". The younger brother said – "Oh this was the motto of my father – This too will pass. He replaced the ring on his finger.
Time passed. Both brothers went through the ups and downs of life. The elder brother used to get highly delighted when spring came and he was prosperous. He lost his balance and developed greed and attachment. When the good phase went away and winter approached he became highly anxious. He needed to medication and sleeping pills to be able to sleep. When that did not help he completely lost his balance. He needed visits to the psychiatrist and electric shock treatments. This was the brother with the diamond ring.
The younger brother when spring came, enjoyed it but remembered his father's motto – This too will change. He did not get attached to his circumstances but enjoyed them while they lasted. When spring passed he said to himself – It was inevitably going to pass and now it has done so. So what? Similarly when winter approached and circumstances became bad he did not become agitated but remembered - This too will pass. Thus he was able to preserve his sense of balance through all the ups and downs of life and lived his life happily.
The Buddha himself said once: -
When faced with all the ups and downs of life,
Still the mind remains unshaken,
Not lamenting, not generating defilements, always feeling secure,
This is the greatest happiness.
All of us would do well to remember this lesson and apply it so as to lead a happy life.