Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Only Thing 'Unchangeable' Is the Inevitability of 'Change'

If there is one thing that Einstein showed decisively, it is that there is nothing permanent in this universe. Even time and space, he demonstrated, are relative. Even the order of events may change for two observers, one moving slowly and the other moving at close to the speed of light.

If there is anything permanent at all, in fact, it may be the fundamental axiom that "nothing is permanent." Everything is always dynamic and in the process of change. The only thing that is unchangeable, it seems, is the inevitability of change itself.

The "permanence" of "impermanency" - we all age, sicken and, eventually die - was one of the telling factors that prompted the Buddha to teach, in the first of his "Four Noble Truths," that to the unenlightened mind this (our human experience) is dukkha, a certain "unsatisfactoriness" or "insufficiency" that is conventionally translated as "suffering."

Even our most pleasurable moments are actually instances of suffering, the Buddha taught, as we know inherently that these momentary pleasures will end, and always all too soon. Even relaxing on the beach in a tropical 'paradse' one is liable to think, with a sinking feeling in one's stomach, "Oh, but I have to fly home on Saturday!" At best, therefore, even these most paradisiacal moments are impermanent and insufficient to imbue us with any sense of true and lasting happiness. They are, thus, dukkha.

Recently, author Judith Johnson discussed "Embracing the Permanence of Impermanency" on the Huffington Post. "Emotionally," Ms. Johnson writes, "many of us yearn for permanency by seeking to alter the terms and conditions of our lives."
"We dream of utopias where only good and happy things come our way. We want financial security and happy families, good health, and access to the fountain of youth. When we find a deep and abiding friendship or love, we want it to retain its intensity and deliciousness. Often, we resort to manipulating our loved ones and ourselves to perpetuate the exhilaration. Yet the tighter our grip, the faster its fleet."
"What becomes permanent," Johnson observes, "is often only that which has solidified in our minds -- our prejudices, habits, beliefs and inclinations." And there is the rub. It is how we think, and at what level of consciousness we interact with our "reality," that determines whether or not we we suffer in our lives. But, fortunately, "like rock," Johnson notes, our prejudices, habits, beliefs and inclinations "can be altered if we use wisdom."
To end suffering, the Buddha concluded, one must end this vain, yet continual clinging and craving; both of which center in the mind and its attitudes (or conditioned ways of thinking). To do this, Buddha taught, it is first necessary to have a right understanding of impermanency and the ultimate insufficiency of "things" to provide lasting happiness. Next, one should refrain from engaging in speech, actions and ways of making money that perpetuate craving and clinging, either in oneself or in other beings. ("After all," as one wag recently put it, "it is exceedingly hard to reach enlightenment with a suffering creature on the end of one's fork.")

Finally, one must energetically engage in discriminating between what causes, promotes or prolongs craving and clinging, and what does not. Then with a rigorous meditative and contemplative practice one works to eradicate the thinking and thought structures that cause clinging and craving.

As Ms. Johnson notes on Huffington Post:
"As long as our myopic vision persists, we tend to live in a fixed, uncompromising relationship with the world around us. Those who disagree with us are likely to be perceived as wrong, their viewpoints discredited as inferior and therefore not meriting consideration. Such a dynamic all too often rules our politics and our most intimate relationships. When we live this way it is as though we dance a rigid box step rather than fluidly and expansively expressing our being."
Realizing that our "things," our "experiences" - even our very "thoughts" and long held "ideas" - are impermanent, it is then possible to overcome "our myopic vision." To do so, however, we need to cultivate a proper understanding and view of our life experience, to refrain from engaging in improper speech, actions and livelihood, and to expend the energy we thus preserve in engaging in at least a minimal meditative and contemplative practice, rather than wasting all that energy cursing the perfidy of the gods and the fickleness of fate and our fellow beings.

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