Impermanence is also on the central themes of the four basic thoughts or the common preliminaries. A clear and deep understanding of impermanence is important for our practice. We can start with neutrality. When we recognize that it is neutral, when things change its not personal. It happens to everyone and everything equally. Nobody has a free pass from impermanence.
There are two ways in which we can look at the neutral way in which everything is changing, around us. We can see it from below, looking up and from above looking down. Looking from below and upwards impermanence can be a strong motivation almost like a whip pushing a donkey to do what we need it to do. It tells us that we should learn something, we should meditate, we may not have the chance tomorrow. Whatever has a beginning will end. Most of us are acutely aware that our wonderful lives will one day end not because we will get sick or have an accident, but simply because we were born.
This understanding that everything that has a beginning has an end, is our antidote to greed and attachment. Why would we grasp for things that will only bring unhappiness when they fail. Even the brand new car becomes a used car the very moment you open the door and turn the key, and we wonder why we are dissatisfied with our lives. Our opportunity to meditate, learn and understand the Dharma is also not lasting. There is a great energy that we can tap into here. This can be one of our biggest motivators, especially with Ngondro. Understanding this about impermanence can teach us how to spend our free time, it transforms how we want to invest our energy. Do we really truly desire to watch our favourite program on Sunday evening or spend 3 hours a day with FaceBook, or do we use opportunities like these to focus on something lasting? How many of us have had the following conversation with ourselves, or can understand the following example:
We sit down to meditate and we make ourselves a deal. For example to do 3 malas, but upon reading the four thoughts we up it to 5 and after doing the 5 malas, we up it once again to six. Always thinking what if tomorrow we have no time, or hurt our leg and cannot sit or prostrate. This motivation can help us along our way.
Looking at it from the top down it is like a carrot hanging in front of the donkey. It is totally fantastic that everything is changing. It can never get boring. If we see things as not real, it means that we can choose, we can change, and we can decide. The fact that I will die is amazing, I cannot imagine having to look at the same face in the mirror for eternity. In my next life, I might even look better, a bigger smile or more muscles or I might even be smarter. This freshness of mind shown to us by impermanence is amazing, it is absolute potential.
Understanding impermanence in this way can also give us distance, we often complain that the good things in life never last, and this is great. Because if they did the bad things would last forever as well. And since they don’t it means that when we are having a difficult time we can take comfort in impermanence and understand that the present challenges will also pass.
Together these two perspectives give us the an excellent reason to be diligent, to persevere with patience and staying power. We are so lucky to have these amazing conditions to practice. The Buddha himself did not even have conditions such as these. He had to learn all this for himself and then teach it. We have Lamas and amazing rinpoches as examples. And we have impermanence to keep us honest and focused on the dharma.
If we can recognize that only the unlimited clear space like nature of mind is lasting it makes it impossible to say that we are nihilists and reminds us of our goal to understand mind. The clear space we talk about here is not something static or composite it cannot be taken apart and dissected. Something with no beginning can have no end. Thank goodness there is such freedom excitement and joy here. The possibilities we can experience only because of impermanence are endless. As I mentioned earlier something static would be unbearably boring after a few days, let alone months or years. This view of impermanence from this high level can really put the wind in our sails and motivate us on the Boddhisatva path and eventually to enlightenment.
In the meditation, understanding impermanence helps us to cultivate non-attachment to thoughts. Mind produces thoughts as much as the ocean has waves. The waves come and go, just as our thoughts in mind do. As we try to understand that things arise stay for a moment and dissolve back into space, and when it happens like this every time we can slowly understand more and more, as our practice on and off the meditation cushion deepens.
So a quick recap:
Impermanence is neutral, nobody has a free pass. Understanding it gives us distance from problems and challenges. If things are not real or permanent it means we can choose and change things. It shows the great freshness and potential of mind. It is our reason to work hard, It is the wind in our sails pushing us along our way.
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