Contemplating Impermanence by Thich Nhat Hanh

You may have already understood the concept of impermanence and accepted it as reality, but is that taking place only on the intellectual level? In your everyday life, do you still act as if things are permanent? Understanding the notion of impermanence is not enough to change the way you experience and live your life. Only the insight can truly emancipate you, and that insight cannot arise unless you really practice
looking deeply into impermanence. That means maintaining your awareness of impermanence all the time and never losing sight of it, in everything you do. It means concentrating on impermanence, and keeping that concentration alive throughout the day. As the awareness of impermanence pervades your being, it illuminates your every act in an extraordinary new way and brings you real freedom and happiness.

For example, you know the person you love is impermanent, but you go on acting as if that person is permanent, expecting he or she will be there forever in the same form, with the same outlook and the same perceptions. Meanwhile, the reality is just the opposite: that person is changing, in appearance as well as inside. Someone who’s there today might not be there tomorrow; someone who’s strong and healthy today might fall ill tomorrow; someone who’s not very nice today may become a much nicer person tomorrow; and so on.

Only when we’ve taken this reality fully into our being, can we live our lives really skillfully and appropriately. Seeing that the people we know are impermanent, we’ll do whatever we can today to make them happy, because we never can know if they’ll still be there tomorrow. They’re still there right now, but if we are not kind to them, perhaps one day they will leave.

If you’re angry at someone for having made you suffer, and you’re about to say or do something hurtful in retaliation, please close your eyes, breathe in a long, deep breath, and contemplate impermanence: Feeling the heat of anger right now,
I close my eyes and look into the future.

Three hundred years from now, where will you, where will I, be? This is a visualization practice. You see what both you and the person you want to punish will be three hundred years from now: dust.

Touching deeply the impermanence of yourself and the other person, seeing clearly that in three hundred years both of you will be dust, you know right away that getting angry with each other and making each other suffer is a foolish, tragic waste. You see that the presence of that person in your life right now is a treasure. Your anger dissolves; and when you open your eyes, you no longer want to punish. All you want
to do is hug that person close.

Contemplating impermanence helps you break free from the chains of anger. By concentrating your mind, you can liberate it.

In the section entitled “My Father in Me, My Mother in Me” above, we contemplated the presence of the parent in the child, seeing how the child is the continuation of the parent, how the child is the parent, and how the happiness of the child is also the happiness of the parent, and the suffering of the parent is also the suffering of the child. When we can maintain awareness of this, we are contemplating no-self.

There is no entity separate and apart from everything else; what we call our “self” is made entirely of “non-self” elements.

Emptiness likewise refers to the absence of a self that exists apart from everything else—the way a flower, for example, cannot “be” by itself alone, but rather is made of non-flower elements such as the seed, fertilizer, rain, and sunlight. If you take the non-flower elements out of the flower, the flower no longer can exist. Emptiness does not mean nothingness or nonexistence; it only means there is no such thing as a separate “self” entity. All phenomena rely on all other phenomena to manifest. This is, because that is; this is not, because that is not. To contemplate emptiness is also to contemplate interbeing (sometimes called “interdependent co-arising”). This is in that, and that is in this. This is that. This does not exist without that.

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