Be Mindful of Impermanence
From The Hidden Lamp
Patacara was born into a rich family in India but eventually ran off to marry a pageboy. A tragedy hit her life when Patacara was about to deliver her second child. She lost her entire family in one day. Legend has it that her husband was bitten by a poisonous snake on the same day when her newborn baby was carried off by a hawk. Within a span of minutes, her parents’ house collapsed killing her brother, mother and father while her older son drowned in a river.
Mad with grief, Patacara tore off her clothes and wandered around like a lunatic. Naked and unkempt, she roamed around aimlessly for a long time, until she meandered into Jetavana where Buddha was teaching. Looking at her despicable and indecorous state, some of the senior monks got up to drive her out of the sage’s sight. Buddha raised his hand to stop them.
Patacara fell at his feet. Her tears had long dried up. Her hair was knotted, her body stinking and soiled. Unaware of her appearance, she alternated between howling and sobbing.
“O noble lady,” Buddha spoke softly, “be mindful.”
At his compassionate words, Patacara experienced a sense of normalcy and instantly realized that she was stark naked. A man offered his cloak and she covered herself. She narrated the tragedy and begged Buddha to help her.
“I can’t help you,” Buddha said. “No one can. For countless lives you have wept for loved ones. Your tears could fill the four oceans. But nowhere is there a secure hiding place from suffering nor can anyone be untouched by suffering. Knowing this, a wise person walks the path of awakening.”
Her whole being was overwhelmed with a deep sense of peace at Buddha’s words and in his presence.
The sage then spoke the following verses from the Dhammapada (288-289):
“There are no sons to give shelter, no father, no family for one seized by Death, no shelter among kin. Conscious of this, the wise, restrained by virtue, should clear the path that goes to Nirvana.”
She was ordained in his sangha and Buddha instructed her to meditate on impermanence.
“Patacara,” he said, “everyone dies one day. All human beings must die. It is better to see the truth of impermanence even for just a moment than to live for a hundred years and not know it.”
Impermanence is the essence of existence. Our world, this universe is surviving and intact because it’s constantly changing. At the root of our struggles is the quest for permanence, to somehow vainly ensure that any good in our lives must remain unchanged. Harmony and evolution, however, flourish on a different principle — the principle of freedom.
We kill whatever we cling to. For anything to survive, it must have a degree of freedom. Imagine if the skies held onto clouds, never letting them go. There will be no rains, eventually the oceans will dry up too and the planet will cease to exist. Nature sustains on the principle of impermanence. Awakening is to be at ease with our ever-changing life. It may not be easy but it’s not impossible.
If someone doesn’t want to be in our life, we should let that person go. There’s no wisdom in holding onto a partner, person, employer or a thing. Everything and everyone must perish ultimately. The body is pre-programmed to self-destruct at birth itself. Therefore, it undergoes continuous modification to meet its ultimate goal of death. Separation from all that we love is not a question of “if” but “when”. It’s inevitable, only a matter of time. Our childhood, adolescence, youth, beauty, popularity, wealth, old age, name and fame — everything is a passing phase. Worldly joys, pleasures and happiness are also momentary. Those who love us deeply today may hate us tomorrow. The memories of the one who we loved deeply once may only give us grief now. This is samasara — cyclical and transient.
The moment it dawns on us that nothing lasts forever and we are fine with it, enlightenment is imminent. It is always followed by a state of perfect tranquility and harmony.
Everything is ephemeral.