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Lions Roar : May 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2012 50 T HE SCENE OF THE BUDDHA’S PASSING, as told in the Pali canon’s Mahaparinibbana Sutta, is starkly beauti- ful. The Buddha, having previously “renounced the life force” and announced the time and place of his pass- ing, is surrounded by his disciples. He asks them if they have any last questions or doubts, and through their silence (and his clair- voyance), he realizes that they are all well established in awaken- ing. He then pronounces his final words to them and to all subse- quent generations of practitioners: “Now monks, I declare to you: all conditioned things have the nature of vanishing. Keep on dili- gently with your practice!” Then the Buddha journeys back and forth through the various meditation states, finally passing from this life. Those monks not yet fully awakened “tore their hair, raised their arms, threw themselves down twisting and turning, and cried out in their extreme grief, ‘Too soon! Too soon!’” But the fully awakened monastics remained mindful, saying, “All compound things are impermanent. What’s the use of crying?” Impermanence Is Buddha Nature Practitioners have always understood impermanence as the cornerstone of Buddhist teachings and practice. All that exists is impermanent; nothing lasts. Therefore nothing can be grasped or held onto. When we don’t fully appreciate this simple but pro- found truth we suffer, as did the monks who descended into misery and despair at the Buddha’s passing. When we do, we have real peace and understanding, as did the monks who remained fully mindful and calm. As far as classical Buddhism is concerned, impermanence is the number one inescapable, and essentially painful, fact of life. It is the singular existential problem that the whole edifice of Buddhist practice is meant to address. To understand imper- manence at the deepest possible level (we all understand it at superficial levels), and to merge with it fully, is the whole of the Buddhist path. The Buddha’s final words express this: Imper- manence is inescapable. Everything vanishes. Therefore there is nothing more important than continuing the path with dili- gence. All other options either deny or short-shrift the problem. A while ago I had a dream that has stayed with me. In a hazy grotto, my mother-in-law and I, coming from opposite direc- tions, are trying to squeeze through a dim doorway. Both of us It’s been fifty years since I wore that snowsuit, and so much has changed, yet in many ways it feels like so little has. —Billy Twenty-five years later the house is still blue and my mother is still watching over me. — Alexandra ZOKETSU NORMAN FISCHER is a Buddhist teacher, writer, and poet. He is the founder of the Everyday Zen Foundation, whose mission is to open and broaden Zen practice through “engaged renunciation.” Change isn’t just a fact of life we have to accept and work with, says NORMAN FISCHER.