On Feb. 08, 2020 after meditation, we heard from two different teachers about Impermanence.
During our “Teachers’ Corner” session, we read a couple pages from Thích Nhất Hạnh’s book and watched two Dharma talks by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. Stephen facilitated a discussion on the topic. We agreed that accepting the reality of impermanence is a good thing, but are still unsure why talk of impermanence always seems to assume that all people have a desire for permanence. The contrast between the preciousness of our human life and impermanence helped some of us see impermanence in a new light. Finally, the discussion went on long enough that we didn’t have time to hear from a third teacher – Pema Chodron – the video of her talk “Relaxing with impermanence” is posted below, we highly recommend you watch it!
Also check out our suggestions on questions for further contemplation on Impermanence.
Sanskrit: अनित्य, Anitya | Pali: अनिच्चा，Anicca
The Pali word for impermanence, anicca, is a compound word consisting of “a” meaning non-, and “nicca” meaning “constant, continuous, permanent”. While ‘nicca’ is the concept of continuity and permanence, ‘anicca’ refers to its exact opposite; the absence of permanence and continuity. The term is synonymous with the Sanskrit term anitya (a + nitya).
Some important Buddhist teachings that include “Impermanence”:
The Four Thoughts That Turn the Mind From Samsara
- Thinking about appreciating the precious human life
- Thinking about death and impermanence, that the opportunities that we have now with this precious existence are not going to last
- Thinking about the laws of karma and cause and effect, in other words how our behavior affects what we experience
- Thinking about the disadvantages of samsara, of uncontrollably recurring rebirth.
We have listed more reference from the sutras on these four thoughts in an older post: The Ten Paramitas of Mahayana Buddhism : Energy/Diligence (Part 2), check it out!
The Three (or Four) Marks of Existence
In Buddhism, the three marks of existence are three characteristics of all existence and beings.
Different schools of Buddhism offer different teachings on what the third marks of existence is. You may even find mentions of a forth mark in some cases. But they all seems to agree that Impermanence is one of them.
- Nirvana and/or Suffering and/or Emptiness
From the Teachers:
Thích Nhất Hạnh*: “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching”, pp 131-133
During our session, we read pages 131 to 133 from the book “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching“ by Thích Nhất Hạnh, the first few pages on the chapter entitled “The Three Dharma Seals”. If you would like to learn more about The Three Dharma Seals (or The Three Marks of Existence), we highly recommend looking up this book at your local library.
** Thích Nhất Hạnh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist, founder of the Plum Village Tradition and the the Plum Village Monastery in southwest France. On May 1, 1966 at Từ Hiếu Temple, he received the “lamp transmission”, making him a dharmacharya, from Zen Master Chân Thật. Nhất Hạnh is now recognized as a dharmacharya (teacher), and as the spiritual head of the Từ Hiếu Pagoda and associated monasteries.
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche** – “The Four Thoughts”
“The Four Thoughts–Precious Human Birth” by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
“The Four Thoughts–Impermanence” by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
** Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche is a meditation master in the Kagyu and Nyingma lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. He is the guiding teacher of the Tergar Meditation Community, a global network of meditation groups and centers.
Pema Chödrön*** – “Relaxing with impermanence”
“Relaxing with impermanence” by Pema Chödrön
*** Pema Chödrön is an American Tibetan Buddhist. She is an ordained nun, former acharya of Shambhala Buddhism and disciple of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Chödrön has written several dozen books and audiobooks, and is principal teacher at Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia, Canada.
Questions for Discussion
- How can we see impermanence around us?
- How can we use the thought of impermanence to inspire us to practice?
- Is it helpful to contemplate death?
- What similarities and differences do you see between each teacher’s perspective?
Contemplations for Later
- Are there things or ideas in your life that you treat as permanent? Are they?
- Are you the same person that you were ten years ago? A week ago? A moment ago?