Impermanence brings Hope for Change

“With impermanence, every door is open for change. Impermanence is an instrument for our liberation.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

We recognize that nothing lasts forever, this is an obvious part of our existence just from the simple fact that we get older. But most of the time we think of that as an unpleasant fact that we would prefer to ignore.

We look at the world around us, and most of it seems solid and fixed. We tend to stay in places we find comfortable and safe, and we don’t want them to change.

We also think we are permanent, the same person continuing from birth to death, and maybe beyond that.

The truth is that impermanence is a fundamental part of existence. Everything is always changing. A caterpillar creates a cocoon. Then it goes inside the cocoon and slowly transforms into a butterfly. Ultimately that butterfly dies. Is it the same being through those changes? It’s hard to say because so much of it’s body has changed.

I’ve heard it said that because of the way our cells reproduce and develop, every seven years we are composed of entirely different matter than we were before. It’s important to note that we are impermanent. Not just because we will some day die, but also because we are always changing. Am I the same person today that I was ten years ago? Or five years ago? Or a moment ago? I don’t know. This might seem scary, but really it’s liberating.

We don’t need to be held down by our past. In Buddhism we talk a lot about how ‘this moment’ is reality. Because I’m in this moment, not in some other one.

We can use our awareness of impermanence to help us penetrate deeply into reality and obtain insight. We may be tempted to say that because things are impermanent, there is suffering. But the Buddha encouraged us to look again. We don’t suffer because things are impermanent. We suffer because we want things to last forever or, even worse, we expect things to last forever.

But, impermanence isn’t a bad thing in itself. That is just a value that we apply to it. Without impermanence, life is not possible.

How can we transform our suffering if things are not impermanent?

How can the situation in the world improve?

We need impermanence for hope.

Rime Dharma School

Rime Dharma School

This is a second blog I have created just for the purpose of documenting my work with teaching Buddhist practice to children at the Rime Buddhist Center in Kansas City. I noticed that some of my posts on here are about that and others are more about my personal journey, so I felt the need to split them. Go check it out if you’re interested.

12 Points of Regulation in Ch’an Meditation Practice

There are twelve points of regulation that are traditionally listed as important to a successful meditation practice in the Ch’an tradition. Here they are:

1) Regulate food, water, and sleep.

2) A quiet room and loose clothing.

3) A thick cushion.

4) Adopt an awe-inspiring deportment that makes everything ‘equal’.

5) Assume the full-lotus – right-foot over left thigh, left-foot over right-thigh.

6) Assume the half-lotus – with the left-leg laid over the right-leg.

7) Left-hand should be placed on the right-hand with thumbs touching.

8) Adjust the posture forward and backward and settle whilst regulating the breath.

9) Align the spine with the shoulder and pelvic girdles.

10) An aligned posture allows the breath to be full and deep.

11)  The ears should be aligned with the shoulders; the nose with the navel.  The tongue should touch the palate and the lips and teeth should be closed.

12) Eyes should remain slightly open to avoid drowsiness.

The Parable of the Burning House

The parable of the burning house is a teaching that  is used to remind us that the precepts in Buddhism are suggestions. It is part of a long text called the Lotus Sutra. Although precepts are important, they aren’t airtight commandments that we can never break. They are a roadmap, not a set of laws.

 

This is how the story goes:

A man sees that his house is on fire with his children inside. The children are having so much fun playing a game that they don’t realize that the house is going to burn down.

So, the father yells, “Come out!”

 

And…the kids ignore him. A familiar experience to those of us that are parents.

 

The father thinks for a minute and comes up with an idea.

 

He yells, “Kids, I have three carts full of toys out here, come outside and play with them.”

 

And the kids come running out immediately.

 

 

So, he lied to save their lives. And because he lied they lived, although they were probably disappointed and perhaps angry at their father.

 

In Buddhism, honesty is valued very highly. It’s one of the five precepts. But, this goes to show that life happens and there are situations.

 

An example from modern times would be someone hiding Jews in their house during the World War 2. Of course if you’re trying to save lives in that way, you’re going to lie if someone comes to your door looking for the people you’re protecting.

 

This can be a dangerous teaching, because one could then think of all sorts of excuses to break precepts. But another important part of Buddhism is using common sense. If you use this teaching to get around the precepts, you know exactly what you’re doing and you aren’t helping anyone.

This is an important teaching because it sets Buddhism apart. The Buddha says these rules are a good idea, but he also says use your common sense.

 

Kalama Sutra for Kids. Part Two

When I read my version of the Kalama Sutra to the children in Dharma School, they responded to it really well.

I said, “This is my favorite sutra. This is a teaching that, as far as I know, has never been given to children before.” 

 

The children took great meaning from it very easily. 

“When you yourselves can tell, ‘These things are not helpful. These things seem harmful,’ abandon them. Don’t accept teachings that don’t agree with your common sense.”

This is pretty straightforward and kids had no trouble understanding it. The Buddha is telling us to avoid spiritual teachings that seem to go against our reasonable logic. The truth is that we know the difference between right and wrong intuitively. Our moral compass doesn’t come from our spiritual path, if anything the opposite is true.

 

“Therefore, we know this. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing, tradition, rumor, scripture, or another’s seeming ability.” 

 

This is equally straightforward. Question authority, don’t blindly follow it. It can be easy to put spiritual leaders on pedestals, to worship them as gods or think they’re better than us. The Buddha tells us that Buddha nature is within us, that we don’t need to worship our spiritual leaders. Elevating our spiritual leaders can be counterproductive on the path. 

The Buddha’s message, that we should challenge authority, is unique. The other spiritual leaders that the Kalamas encountered had very different messages.