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Buddhadharma : Winter 2013
WINTER 2 0 1 3 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 41 “Bhikkhus, when the perception of imperma- nence is developed and cultivated, it eliminates all sensual lust, all lust for existence, it eliminates all ignorance, it uproots the conceit, ‘I am.’ ” Better than one hundred years lived without seeing the arising and passing of things is one day lived seeing their arising and passing. — The Dhammapada, translated by Gil Fronsdal What does this say about what we value and work for in our lives, and of the liberating effect of seeing directly—in the moment and for our- selves—the truth of change? Ananda, the Buddha’s cousin and attendant for many years, was once recounting the won- derful qualities of the Buddha. The Buddha, referring to himself as the Tathagata (“one thus gone”), said in reply: That being so, Ananda, remember this too as a wonderful and marvelous quality of the Tatha- gata. For the Tathagata, feelings are known as they arise, as they are present, as they disap- pear. Perceptions are known as they arise, are present, and disappear. Thoughts are known as they arise, are present, and disappear. Remem- ber this too, Ananda, as a wonderful and mar- velous quality of the Tathagata. — The Middle Length Discourses 123:22, translated by Bhikkhu Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi Understanding deeply the truth of imperma- nence—not as a concept, but in direct experi- ence—opens the doorway to ever-deepening insight. In the Buddha’s first teaching on selfless- ness to the group of five ascetics, he goes through each of the five aggregates—material elements, feelings, perceptions, formations, and conscious- ness—pointing out the impermanence of each and how that which is impermanent is inherently unreliable and unsatisfying. And that which is unreliable and unsatisfying cannot truly be con- sidered to be “I” or “mine.” In just hearing this teaching, all five ascetics became enlightened. How does this happen? What is the liberat- ing power of this teaching? When we see deeply that all that is subject to arising is also subject to cessation, that whatever arises will also pass away, the mind becomes disenchanted. Becoming disenchanted, one becomes dispassionate. And through dispassion, the mind is liberated. It’s telling that in English, the words disen- chanted, disillusioned, and dispassionate often have negative connotations. But looking more closely at their meaning reveals their connec- tion to freedom. Becoming disenchanted means breaking the spell of enchantment, waking up into a fuller and greater reality. It is the happy ending of so many great myths and fairy tales. Disillusioned is not the same as being discour- aged or disappointed. It is a reconnection with what is true, free of illusion. And dispassionate does not mean “indifferent” or “apathetic.” Rather, it is the mind of great openness and equa- nimity, free of grasping. Contemplating Impermanence A sustained contemplation of impermanence leads to a shift in the way we experience reality. We see through the illusions of stable existence, in both what is perceived and what is perceiv- ing. It radically reshapes our understanding of ourselves and the world. How can we practice this contemplation? We can be mindful of impermanence on many levels. Wisdom arises when we pay attention to impermanence in ways we may already know There is an early insight into the nature of the mind-body process that both comes from the continuity of mindfulness and strengthens it: it is the understanding through one’s own experience that in every moment, knowing and its object arise simultaneously. JOSEPH GOLDSTEIN is a cofounder and guiding teacher of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. This teaching is from his new book, Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening, published by Sounds True, November 2013. EVANHENRITZE