IMPERMANENCE, IMMOVABLE AND LONELINESS.
BY HIROMI SAITO
Impermanence is definitely a keyword in Buddhism, so I have to talk about it...especially when it's all related to the previous discussion on emptiness.
So. Let's go.
I once read an article about Balkrishna Doshi, a Pritzker prize-winning super inspirational architect from India. He is 93 years old when this article was written, and his passion for designing buildings is just....you know... like how did you even...where do I start...Having worked under Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn, he is a pioneer of modernist and brutalist architecture in India. Why am I talking about this man? Well, he loves designing buildings but does not believe in the idea of owning it.
"The focus of architecture should be on life and not on itself. "
This was interesting because the idea of ownership is probably one of the first things that come up in the mind when it comes to property. But he claims that the ownership itself is meaningless as we are all mortal at the end of the day. This is a logically obvious statement but also extremely difficult to execute in real life. Can you imagine how hard it is to genuinely have this kind of faith? It's like an artist who dedicated decades and decades of time to create a series of mater pieces and yet does not believe in owning the creations. Obviously, this does not mean not taking credit for your creations, but to believe that the work is somehow detached from the creator...This is hard. Can you look at an Andy Warhol painting and not think about him? I mean, do you think about the postmodern world, pop art scene, and all the cultural movements first? In all creative industries, credit, creator, author, director, etc are extremely important. Balkrishna Doshi's words are extra interesting, considering his Indian background because I think he has a deep understanding or acknowledgment of the concept of impermanence. The impermanence of all things, especially life, along with other material objects. You can enjoy them as it is. As something functional, or beautiful, or both, and beyond...but has no attachment or a sense of cling to actually owning it. This is important in Buddhism, and in our life.
Let's try a mental exercise here.
Imagine this. You made a whole cake. Lookin' fine and tasty. Strawberry, cheese, chocolate, whatever your preferences are. A friend comes along and asks you if he/she could have some. Sure, buddy! You'd probably be happy to share. Now, a stranger comes along and asks for a piece...You're probably kind enough to share some more. You know...maybe you were feeling generous that day.
The next day, a friend comes along and asks you his he/she could stay at your house for a few days. Maybe you could work something out. How about a few months? Hmmm....might, be Ok...Need to ask your partner...Then a stranger asks you the same question...HELL NO! Do I know you? You will be struck by a feeling of WTF! and might even feel unsafe or dangerous. This is normal as there is no trust established between the stranger and your family. But at the same time, this feeling is only there because you feel that the place you live in is OWNED by you. A safe haven, legal home. The walls are the boundaries. You have a sense of attachment, belonging, comfort, etc there. Again, this is normal. But what if you don't own the place, there is nothing to be shared, as it was never yours, and the door would be open to all people.
Don't worry, I'm not trying to make you feel shameful or anything. And you shouldn't feel crappy. This idea is not only extremely difficult to execute but almost impossible. Just something to think about.
The idea here is that if you'd realize that the cake and the house are impermanent and finite, as in it was created and will eventually be destroyed, you will cling less to it. your friends, strangers, pets, lovers, and even your family are impermanent. Maybe in the past life, your pet was your mother, your father was your daughter, your friend was your pet, etc. Those seemingly set positions and roles are impermanent, just as their physical bodies will grow, die, and decay, and entre the cycle of rebirth. Some people might find this logic rather depressing, or even disgusting. That's ok. But this idea is there to realize how each seemingly-coincidental relationship is actually a sequence of incredible events and miracles. It will help you to become more generous, kind, loving, and caring to all those around you. And those lifeless objects, goods, consumable or not, will function in its purest form. TOOLS.
Food and drinks are tools that provide you with energy, nutrients, etc.
House are tools to protect you from the weather, climate, danger, etc.
Clothes are tools to protect and cover your fragile body.
This is why temples and dojos of Buddhism, may appear to be owned by monks, elders, etc. But it's very important that the doors are kept open to everyone. I think churches function similarly, but instead of being a site of worship, Buddhism puts greater emphasis on practice and calmness. In that sense, it is a tool. (material with a clear function)
The thing is, us humans, we are extremely talented at making things complicated, and we love attaching on to those complications. It boosts our egos, makes us feel specialized, professionals, etc. This is sometimes absolutely necessary, especially when the aim to save, cure, better, life. But once you shed the packaging away, life should be very simple. The idea of impermanence is applied to everything and anything in our daily life. Not only material objects. Even emotions. Happiness is impermanent. Anger is impermanent. Sadness is impermanent. No one can be angry, upset, or happy forever. Think about it. Does Buddhism have any wedding ceremonies? Nope. There are no Buddhist wedding ceremonies. Why? because our sense of love is impermanent. Why would you celebrate a new cling? Not an easy idea. But there are all sorts of funerals in Buddhism. Death is something we are inevitably facing since birth, and rebirth is also something we are inevitably facing since death, at least in Indian cultures. This is why death is something Buddhism puts great effort into. To bring peace, guidance, accumulate merit, for the deceased so that they can enter a better rebirth. Or just never reborn again. (Exit the Samsara)
Before going into a dark place of the mind... let's talk about the notion of being immovable.
If we know that happiness and sadness are never forever, do we aim to be neutral? or even emotionless? Yes and No, as being neutral is equally impermanent. This is why the aim is to become "Immovable", to become uninfluenced, clam, un-shook, and stable. This means to not deny the phenomena but to accept it, but also not cling to it. Immovable not like a large stone, strong and heavy with solid discipline. No no no. More like becoming transparent, where everything will go through you. You are there but also not really there. Again, not influenced.
Going off topic a little bit but here's an image of Fudo-Myo-Ou, a.k.a Acala in English. His name is translated to "Immovable Wisdom King". Ok, I'm not claiming or not claiming his existence or non-existence. But his name here explains the importance of immovable-ness in Buddhism. And it's just not that surprising that this entity is not classified as a king of power, but wisdom. Wisdom! I love this aspect of Buddhism. How it's not all about being good, but knowing the logic of goodness, and possessing a good heart. How wisdom plays the biggest role in enlightenment or achieving nirvana and Buddhahood. Personally, I hate the notion of the super entities being omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent. All-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful. Actually, I don't hate the idea, I hate how the three are separated as if they are independent characteristics to be attained. (Christians might disagree) But Love, Power, Wisdom, are really the same thing. In Buddhism, we start with wisdom, because blindly in love and a dumbass with unlimited power is just stupid. Plato would agree. The analogy of the charioteer would be a good one. The rational mind, desire, and will. Similar but different language.
Anyway, yes. Immovable. Another hard task in Buddhism. But at least breaking it down into simple logic helps right? For example, that sense of attraction you might feel for someone. That overwhelming, "can't stop thinking about you"-ness. The pull, the pull, the pull, like some force is pulling you to take a certain action, say certain things...
I think most of us fell hard...into love, at least once in life right?
If you know that this feeling is temporary, this feeling is impermanent, even if you successfully start a new relationship, happiness is impermanent, and more fundamentally your body is impermanent...That's some bitter love huh...I don't know if I can ever reach that level, and most of you are probably like I don't even want to be at that level, ever. But hey, once again, just a mental exercise. It's important to think about this sort of stuff. The focus here is not "don't love anyone because it never last". It's actually, "love everyone because it never lasts". Love, not in the form of cling, but really wanting, wishing, and hoping for others' wellness. To have an immovable, kind heart for all life. Borrowing Christian words here, love thy neighbor as thyself. But again, there are no neighbors and there is no thyself. Complex stuff, but it's not all that depressing.
Because it's temporary, cherish the moment, love the present.
This leads to my last topic for the day. Loneliness. Please be patient with me, this is not another depressing idea. I recently learned that being alone and loneliness are two very different things. This is obvious but somehow the two seemed so closely related. Someone could be around a bunch of people and feel lonely and another could be alone and not feel lonely at all... and that the sense of loneliness is extremely contagious, like yawning. Loneliness is a biological defense mechanism signaling your lack of connection... a "sense of" connection to be more precise. Addictions for Likes and Comments on social media is a good example of this. It's like trying to fulfill a void. What's interesting about this is that other biological signals like thirst require some sort of physical reaction: drinking water to fix dehydration. The same goes for hunger. But loneliness doesn't necessarily need you to go out and socialize. The illusion of loneliness comes from our mentality, thinking that we exist as an independent and separate being with a definitive and abiding sense of self, ego, individuality, personality, etc. By knowing that we are related to everything and everyone and that our very existence is only made possible because of all the non-me elements of this world, your heart will be filled with an incredible sense of connectivity. You are nothing, and only something because of all those around you. Check out the previous talk to find out more about this idea.
The point here is that loneliness is a bad thing. it can break you beyond repair sometimes. But ironically, being alone is important to feel not alone. It will give you the time, space, and moment to find your inner connectedness, peace, and worth. It should overwhelm you with fullness, comfort, warmth, and to some extent fearlessness. Meditation plays a role in this. So maybe try it once in a while.
Being alone but never feeling aline, empty but so full, immovable but caring, impermanent but cherishing...those are all vital teaching stemming out of the Diamond Sutra.