Most of us take impermanence personally.
Not only do we think that life is against us, but we also fail to understand why everything has to change. I know I have asked these questions considerably throughout my life:
“Why do we lose the people we love the most?”
“Why do good days end?”
“Why did we lose the perfect job?”
“Why do natural disasters happen?”
Although change is uncomfortable, it’s a fundamental part of life. However, it can be challenging to see the good in loss, because losing what we like is painful.
When the Buddha walked the earth, he discerned that change is inevitable and that we can’t escape impermanence. When I was first acquainted with Buddhist philosophy, it seemed to me that Buddhists celebrated endings. For them—unlike most of us—they were a blessing, rather than a hindrance.
The Buddha specifically taught that embracing endings helps us understand interdependence and emptiness. What does this mean, and how can it help us celebrate an “ending”?
For those of us who accept that all things must evolve for new growth can happen, we understand that change is crucial. But, if we were to explain this phenomenon within the Buddhist context, we’d say that there are no endings or beginnings in the first place.
Nothing has an independent self, and nothing exists independently. Everything—including us—depends on something else to exist and to end. Let’s say you’re holding a book in your hand, and it appears to exist independently. Our eyes see it clearly as one item, and our hand feels it within its palm.
This is a superficial way of looking at the book. The truth is, the book is made of various parts, and its existence depends on many other elements. Although it’s difficult to trace back to its starting point, we can speculate that it started out as a thought. Then, the thought became written words. Later, it was sent to a publishing house where several team members had to approve of it. Then, it was printed, distributed, and sold. We can even break down its existence elementally, in terms of atoms and particles. The fundamentals that constitute the existence of the book are endless.
Moreover, its annihilation is also the result of many causes and conditions coming together. We might take the bus and forget it on the seat; our car could have broken down that day, so that we had to take the bus. And, if we hadn’t lost that book, we wouldn’t have bought another one—or the person who picked up our old book on the bus wouldn’t have had his life changed.
So, what we see as a beginning and an ending is basically one thing. Everything on earth is linked together, and we are the causes and conditions that affect each other. Thus, all things are “empty.” They don’t have an inherent reality.
When we see things from this perspective, we can understand that all situations and people in our lives are like the book. When something appears to end, it’s not really ending. It’s only leading us to something else—and that something else will one day lead us to something different, and so forth.
Let’s say we’ve lost a friend or a lover. We commonly look at the situation in a superficial way. We perceive the person we lost as an independent self that our own independent self has lost. The truth is, many causes and conditions were brought together so we could meet that person—even causes and conditions that go back to our childhood. Then, losing that person is also the result of various elements coming together, which have essentially led to the encounter of another person or the change of something else.
But, rarely do we behold this truth. We see everything as separate and permanent. Consequently, we suffer, because we see what’s one as dualistic, and what’s temporary as everlasting.
We can celebrate endings the moment we understand interdependence. It’s the proof that there is neither a beginning nor an ending point. This also helps us move on faster when we realize that we can start right here, right now. If everything—as the Buddhists explain—depends on conditions, then we can make those conditions come together by accepting the solitary flow of events and situations.
“Our life is like a hotel. In hotels, people check in and people check out. Our life is like that—new friends checking in; old friends checking out, you understand. This is the beauty of temporariness—temporary stuff is so nice. It’s very blissful, and it’s beautiful. When things are stagnant and forever, it stinks.” ~ Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse
Author: Elyane Youssef
Image: Unsplash/Søren Astrup Jørgensen
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Copy editor: Callie Rushton