In the courtyard of the monastery, addressing his two novices, a wise older monk said: “It’s time to learn about the true nature of reality and the way to live with joy in your heart always.”
With his novices eyes fixed upon his face, each patiently but eagerly ready to heed his words, the wise monk began his teaching.
“Impermanence is the true nature of reality and is the universal law which cannot be broken.
“When something comes in to form, inevitably, it must dissolve. When something begins, certainly, it will end. When something is, at a later time, it is not. There’s no form or force in existence which could ever avoid this law.
“So we find the true nature of reality to be predictable and uninvolved. But to understand, and also embrace this law, are two very different ideals.
“The mind is stubborn and takes a long time to be trained. It seeks comfort in clinging to an imagined sense of stability in reality, and habitually tricks us in to believing what we have might remain. It desperately wants to believe life is fixed, as over many years of evolving, humans have decided it would be nice if there was an enduring quality in reality. We are terrified by the truth that nothing remains. So most of the time we ignore it.
“Then circumstances change in a way we did not want, and we react, even though deep down we knew it was unavoidable. We blame outside forces and try to convince ourselves things should have been different this time, that life was supposed to remain as it was. We feel dissatisfied with our new reality. Things were much better before. And so we are met with suffering.
“Each time we bring ourselves to suffer by feeling dissatisfied with reality, a fragment of the soul that wants to love the world dies. Each time a fragment of this loving soul dies, it weakens us, and we become less capable of loving the world.
“As we go through life, having encountered so many unwanted and unexpected changes, having never perceived that reality has no intention of paining us, it becomes impossible for us to enjoy life. Even when things are to our liking, we feel miserable. We tell ourselves that soon change will come along again and take what we have from us.”
Upon imparting these words to his novices, the wise monk fell silent. The novices had been taught about the law of impermanence before, but neither knew it was when people rejected this law they met with suffering. They looked around, then stared solemnly at the ground, and each began wondering how one might learn to live with joy in their heart always, despite knowing permanence could never be found.
“How can I live joyfully when everything I have will be taken from me?” asked one of the novices, confused, scared.
The wise monk spoke once again.
“There’s a practice which was left to us by our beloved Buddha. It’s called the practice of non-attachment. The practice teaches us to live life fully, taking from each moment whatever’s being offered, keeping in mind always that none of it will remain. Thus we must not grow attached to it.
“In this way, recalling that impermanence is inescapable, we set to bask in what we have while it is here. Even when it’s not to our liking, we cease allowing ourselves to feel saddened. We learn lessons in the challenging times. We just motion through them, courageously. We discover reality is as fixed as the sun’s place in the sky.
“We start seeing life as beautiful because it is ever changing, when before it was dreadful for this same reason. Having resolved that the fleeting nature of existence is beautiful, and the ebb and flow is just part of it, we come to find it was never reality which was wrong in the first place, just our thoughts that were off. They too are impermanent! Tomorrow, or next year, they’ll mean nothing. So why let them perturb us? We stop holding on to them, stop attaching to them, and as easily as they’ve come, they will go.
“Are you hearing what I’m saying? Even the most determined thoughts will someday mean nothing. We must coax ourselves to let them go. And to do this, the art of acceptance must be learned.
“Acceptance is the key which opens the door to our new life.
“We accept the law of impermanence and cease forming attachment to the transitory. We live like care-free clouds drifting in the sky. With nothing to hold on to, nothing gets in our way. And we are free to live with joy in our heart always.”
Text and photos by Nathaniel Try