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Lions Roar : January 2005
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2005 15 THE TOPIC OF DEATH anddyingispart ofthelarger theme of impermanence. We need to understand deeply, not just intellec- tually, that whatever is formed or produced does not last. Once we recognize and accept the fact of impermanence, it is much easier to accommodate whatever happens—pleasure, pain, joy or sor- row. Why? Because we can understand that they all pass. Let’s say that you have not accepted the fact that things are impermanent. Then, when something awful happens, you feel you can’t stand it. It can be unbearable. The fact that every- thing formed is impermanent is not just some idea the Buddha had. It’s a fact that each and every one of us can observe for ourselves if we take the time to think about it. There are a lot of ways to describe the impermanence of all things, but there are four major points worth contemplat- ing. 1. Building ends in crumbling. Whatever has been constructed, made, produced or created will all fall apart in the end, soon- er or later. It’s only a matter of time. 2. Gathering ends in depletion. No matter how much we bring together, it runs out at some point. It’s impossible for that not to be so. Name, power, position, money, material—whatever we gain, whatever we have, gets used up. It vanishes. 3. Meeting ends in parting. There is tempo- rary parting from the ones we love, and there is permanent separation. All meet- ing ends in separation. There is no excep- tion, no escape from that reality. 4. Birth ends in death. No one ever born has escaped death. In the past it never happened, right now it’s impossible, and in the future it will never happen either. Why? Because every- thing formed is by nature impermanent. Impermanence is a fact, and it’s sensible to view things as they really are. There’s a definite benefit from accepting that all things pass. It helps us be more balanced and healthy. Normally, the tendency to hold on strongly to things as being real, permanent and lasting creates enormous tension when those things prove to be otherwise. Whenever something good or pleasant happens, we feel sad when it ends. Whenever something awful takes place, we naturally become unhappy. However, when we realize that all these events are imperma- nent, good or bad, it allows us to tolerate change more easily, and we become more resilient. While most of us intellectually recognize this impermanent nature of things, we usually don’t spend much time thinking about it. When we hear about impermanence, it is helpful to reflect on what it means, to come to grips with its reality. Through such reflection, we can begin to pay more attention to our experiences in light of impermanence, and confirm for our- selves, on a deep level, that things do undergo constant change. The time spent contemplating and studying imperma- nence prepares us to accept that the body dies. It’s just a nat- ural consequence of being alive. While you are alive, it is important to learn how to live in such a way that you can be at ease with whatever happens. When dying, it’s important to learn how to die in a way that is not so burdened by anxiety, fear or pain—to learn how to die without dread. Buddhist teachers emphasize the concept of “imperma- nence” a great deal, with good reason. If you spend time con- templating the fact of impermanence, when it comes time to face your own death it is easier for someone to help remind you. They might say, “All things must pass—nothing lasts.” And you will think, “Yes, that’s true.” Because you have already made yourself familiar with this fact, it becomes easier to admit it, to take it to heart, and to relax a little bit. Without reflecting on impermanence and taking it to heart, people can be overly attached to things and people as being permanent in ToBeReadyfor DeathCHOKYI NYIMA RINPOCHE saysthat meditating ontheimpermanence of life is the best preparation for death, and will help us live healthier and more balanced lives in the meantime. CHOKYI NYIMA RINPOCHE isarenownedteacher ofDzogchen, which is the view and meditation practice of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. This article is adapted from his most recent book, Medicine & Compassion: A Tibetan Lama’s Guidance for Caregivers, from Wisdom Publications. PAINTINGBYMICHAELNEWHALL