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Buddhadharma : Summer 2017
summer 2 0 1 7 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 25 We don’t know what this world is, we don’t know what will happen in the future. We are not supposed to know, we can’t know. That’s our practice. This is an outrageous story. But when you think about it for a moment, it begins to sound familiar. King Kalmashapada wants to preserve his reign. So he takes some non-Buddhist advice—to offer the heads of a thousand kings as a sacrifice. That will work, he thinks, as crazy as it sounds to us. But is this so far from what we do today? To pre- serve our nation, we feel compelled to kill a lot of people who we think threaten it. We feel compelled to protect our borders with walls and guards, sur- veil our entire population, spy on the entire world. And we intend to go on doing this indefinitely, which is not much more rational than sacrificing the heads of a thousand kings. I doubt it will be any more effective. But one of King Kalmashapada’s victims con- venes a Buddhist assembly and receives some teach- ing. King Kalmashapada happens to hear this teach- ing, and it completely turns him around; he gives up his destructive ways and becomes peaceful. He goes beyond preservation, beyond nations. And what was the teaching he heard? “In the raging of the aeonic fire, the whole universe is destroyed.” This is a teaching of radical impermanence. It’s the essence of Buddhism: nothing lasts, everything passes as soon as it arises, because in reality there never have been any separate things. Everything is radically connected. Things arise and cease together, as one. Impermanence in its fullness and breadth is a teaching that makes you peaceful and loving. Imper- manence is love. When you are on a sinking ship, as we all are, you don’t want to be fighting with all the other passengers, making a bad situation worse. You want to be hugging and kissing as the ship goes down. It can be a beautiful moment. But there is more. The next sentence of Wan- song’s commentary says, “In the teachings, it says that thousands of thousands of thousands of uni- verses become and disintegrate as one at the same time.” This is the great Mahayana view of imperma- nence. Things do not exist for a while, then not exist. That’s the sad sinking boat—the sinking boat of our individual lives and the sinking boat of our poor world. The boat really is sinking, but that is just one side of things. In fact, in each moment of time, all universes arise and cease as one. And this keeps happening, all the time. So impermanence is permanence. Permanence is impossible. It is an idea, a concept, that exists because there is a concept of impermanence. Both permanence and impermanence are ideas, not reali- ties. They are inherently self contradictory, as are all our ideas about ourselves and our lives. This is