One may fall into a habit; want to count and determine, one might grasp at something tenuous, like the counting of fish in a stream. One might look at the school, small and steady, and begin. One, two, three, but soon the school moves and shifts, taking ripples and refraction with it. Small though it is, the school makes one’s senses flee for bare moments. In these shifts there is a delay, so change is so constant that the light in one’s eyes from the fish’s scales is a picture of a moment that has already passed and is no longer extant.
Not even our mortal whims – even as figments – can withstand hours. A man once spat on the Buddha, not knowing who he was. Upon learning of the Buddha’s identity, the man at once returned to him, pleading apologies. The short, Sunday school version of the conversation goes like: “Just like you are not the man today who spit on me yesterday, I am also now not the man you spat upon.” In this we find that our ever-unpredictable and much-loved (or loathed) moods and feelings flow and become uncountable, leading forgiveness out of rage or love from hate. One’s feelings like catalysts in a cardboard tube meet, burn and push rockets into the sky. Their light and report heard for miles around a city only to fall back to earth in scattered ash and confetti, swept away from gutters by cleaners even before dawn breaks.
A car that drives by; its sound is already a tombstone epitaph for the combustion. It is a story of emptiness told in waves crashing against a shore too slow to depict accurately the winds that blew ages ago and miles away. Heaving against a bare rock, these waves build sand in an equivalent destruction. Those great nation-states one allies with – with all of their righteous causes and towering achievements – all fall and twist under the winds despite our finest efforts; to not lose hope one must paraphrase Paul and say: “Heaven forbid that we should sin all the more!”
One may find tears for these things gone and wasted under the darkness of change; history tells of a fluid and ever-changing world not only driven by human action but by tides and winds, by famine and drought. Imagine the bronze age city states, Egypt and the Hittites, or Babylon and the Mycenaeans. All we talk of them today is of their cataclysmic fall into ruin, at the hands of invaders; or, more likely still, the weather. Imagine in one’s lifetime seeing the Walls of Babylon or the fleets of Greece and watching them disassemble, become intangible, to fade from existence in purpose or form. These solid, impenetrable, invincible things, conquered by the shaking of the very ground or the tossing of waves.
These untarnishable things, the stolid and important ones, even they on molecular levels are in a constant state of flux. Intangible things like ideas are the same, as all men’s minds are subject to the veil of human imperfection. The essence of Nirvana (Nibbana) holds that once the truth is knowable and the one “thing” that does not change is found, one would cease to exist in the way we think of being extant. Like the flame of a snuffed out candle, it is simply not there and somehow never was, although one might have even seen it and felt its heat.
To say all these things or to read them is one thing, but to reach into the depths of your mind and pull from it those threads of attachment and that fear of impermanence is quite another. So heralding change is a source for gratitude and a shield against fear and anxiety: A master was once asked, “Venerable one, what joy can man find in impermanence? If he cannot protect truly himself, or his loved ones and family, his prized possessions and wealth?” To which, the master replied, “Behold this glass on the table before you. It shines in the sunlight very clearly. It has a coolness against my hand. It holds the water I drink excellently. But what if it were to be swept from the table by my arm, or the wind? Only a fall from so far is enough to destroy these qualities. I know holding it that the glass is already broken, and so I enjoy it all the more.”
Alex White lives in Florence, Alabama and is from Decatur, Alabama. A self-styled Buddho-survivalist, he enjoys the outdoors and is an avid angler and dachshund enthusiast. He maintains a poetry blog “Visions of the Afterworld” and copy edits for Garden Spices Magazine.