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Lions Roar : January 2016
but the greatest relief that you can ever obtain comes from touch- ing the nature of no-birth and no-death. You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment (Shambhala) Impermanence and Nonself From the point of view of time, we say “impermanence.” From the point of view of space, we say “nonself.” The Buddha taught that everything is impermanent—flowers, tables, mountains, political regimes, bodies, feelings, percep- tions, mental formations, and consciousness. We cannot find anything that is permanent. Flowers decompose, but knowing this does not prevent us from loving flowers. In fact, we are able to love them more because we know how to treasure them while they are still alive. If we learn to look at a flower in a way that impermanence is revealed to us, when it dies, we will not suffer. Impermanence is more than an idea. It is a practice to help us touch reality. When we study impermanence, we have to ask, “Is there any- thing in this teaching that has to do with my daily life, my daily difficulties, my suffering?” If we see impermanence as merely a philosophy, it is not the Buddha’s teaching. Every time we look or listen, the object of our perception can reveal to us the nature of impermanence. We have to nourish our insight into impermanence all day long. When we look deeply into impermanence, we see that things change because causes and conditions change. When we look deeply into nonself, we see that the existence of every single thing is possible only because of the existence of everything else. We see that everything else is the cause and condition for its existence. We see that everything else is in it. From the point of view of time, we say “impermanence,” and from the point of view of space, we say “nonself.” Things can- not remain themselves for two consecutive moments; therefore, there is nothing that can be called a permanent “self.” Before you entered this room, you were different physically and mentally. Looking deeply at impermanence, you see nonself. Looking deep- ly at nonself, you see impermanence. We cannot say, “I can accept impermanence, but nonself is too difficult.” They are the same. Understanding impermanence can give us confidence, peace, and joy. It is not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not. We need to learn to appreciate the value of impermanence. If we are in good health and are aware of impermanence, we will take good care of ourselves. When we know that the person we love is impermanent, we will cherish our beloved all the more. Imperma- nence teaches us to respect and value every moment and all the precious things around us and inside of us. When we practice mind- fulness of impermanence, we become fresher and more loving. The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching (Parallax) The Two Dimensions Though we are used to seeing everything in terms of the historical dimension, we can touch the ultimate dimension. The first dimension is that of history, the events we experience and what we can see and know in our own lifetimes. The second dimension is that of ultimate reality, which goes beyond time and space. Everything, all phenomena, participate in these two dimensions. When we look at a wave on the surface of the ocean, we can see the form of the wave and we locate the wave in space and time. Space and time are not two separate entities; space is made of time and time is made of space. Looking at a wave from the perspective of the historical dimension, it seems to have a beginning and an end, a birth and a death. A wave can be high or low, a wave can be long or short— many qualities can be ascribed to the wave. The notions of “birth” and “death,” “high” and “low,” “beginning” and “ending,” “coming” and “go- ing,” “being” and “nonbeing”—all of these can be applied to a wave in the historical dimension. At the same time, all beings and things also belong to the ul- timate dimension, the dimension of reality that is not subject to notions of space and time, birth and death, coming and going. A wave is a wave, but at the same time it is water. The wave does not have to die in order to become water; it is already water right in the present moment. We don’t speak of water in terms of being or nonbeing, coming and going—water is always water. Even though we are used to seeing everything in terms of the historical dimension, we can touch the ultimate dimension. Because if you know your true nature of no coming, no going; no being, no nonbeing; no birth, no death, then you will have no fear and can dwell in the ultimate dimension, nirvana, right here and now. Peaceful Action, Open Heart (Parallax) ESSENTIAL TEACHINGS OF THICH NHAT HANH BUDDHIST PHILOSOPHY • MEDITATION • PSYCH OLOGY • ZEN • PEACE • SAVING THE EARTH SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2016 55