Impermanence II

September 11, 2013


Impermanence is one of the three characteristics of experience:  along with unsatisfactoriness and selflessness.

Knowing impermanence is non-cognitive –one way to truly know impermanence is through meditation and not by trying to figure it out (thinking).  With meditation, we can experience phenomena such as thoughts, memories, sensations, perceptions arise and fall away in the mind.

Another way to think of impermanence is “always changing” or a constant process.  The mind wants things to be static or “not changing” and so conceptually if we believe the mind, we suffer.  In reality, things are dynamic or “always changing”

Why do we suffer if we believe in permanence?  Because when we see things inevitably change in ways that we do not want, we crave or want them to be the way they were.  For example, the community in which we live changes and we are disappointed that “things aren’t the way they used to be.”

Ending suffering is a matter of having right view – as in the eightfold path.  This is where “not sure” comes in.  All things are “not sure”

How does impermanence help us to be happy and peaceful?  By seeing what is really happening, we are open to many more possibilities rather than just clinging to one outcome.

How do we do that?  Here are four ways:

One way is to see the possibilities in all things through mindfulness.  Develop a witness in yourself.  Mindfulness is looking at things as they really are which includes what they can become through change.  For example, you buy a new car.  Visualize it after 5 years – dents, scratches, rattles.  If you see these as possibilities, you will suffer less when the inevitable occurs.

Another way is to adopt “not sure”.  No matter how definite something is, know that there is always something “not sure” about it.

Another way is to avoid judgments which can turn into beliefs.  Instead make distinctions which are snapshots in time.  For example, “he is a bad person” is a judgment versus he did not tell me the truth about what happened (distinction).  It doesn’t mean that you don’t act on distinctions.

Another way is to keep in mind how we go through life as if it were a stream.  We flow with the current which is never the same and through mindfulness we avoid getting stuck on the banks.  We are not attached to anything.   That doesn’t mean that feelings (such as happiness) don’t arise.  It is just that we see them for what they are – transient.


During the coming week, try each one of these methods:
Reflecting on all the possibilities in a thing.
Being “not sure”
Making distinctions, not judgments
Keeping in mind the river metaphor
See what impact this has on your happiness and peace.