Embracing Change, We Discover the Changeless
compounded phenomena are impermanent. That simple, almost banal
statement is where Buddhism starts. Everything made of parts eventually
falls apart. It’s so obvious as to seem uninteresting. Yet there is no
truth more important to our lives. We humans struggle mightily to deny
impermanence (call it death instead, and you’ll see what I mean), and so
cause ourselves the endless suffering known as samsara. When we embrace
it, it’s the gate to the path of enlightenment.
truth we call change, the theme of our special section in this issue,
goes by many names. Impermanence, in terms of time. Emptiness, in terms
of space. Anatman,
no soul, in terms of religion. Or just plain death, when we’re ready to
really face the truth. No matter what we call it, the sad but
beautiful, threatening but liberating message is: there is nothing we
can hold on to.
how hard we try. There are so many things we take refuge in, places
where we seek identity, security, and comfort: home, family,
accomplishment, political belief, pleasure, our favorite sports team,
and failing all that, the ultimate refuge of religion.
are good things, but in the end they will betray us, revealing life’s
fundamental transience. But the cost of our illusion is much greater
than mere disappointment. It lies in the very nature of denial.
deny the world’s openness and fluidity—and our own—we must close and
solidify it, and ourselves. This is not a selective process, in which we
can customize our denial according to our likes and dislikes. We either
deny reality or we don’t. We are open and vulnerable or we are closed
and solid. We protect ourselves from fear at the cost of our happiness.
We protect ourselves from sadness at the cost of our love.
Fortunately, there is a qualification to Buddhism’s basic premise: all compounded phenomena
are impermanent. Yes, all relative, conditional phenomena are
unreliable and unsatisfactory. And if that were the whole story, then
what would be left besides pessimism and nihilism, the natural
reflection of a purely materialist point of view? Under those
circumstances, “party on” would seem to be as good a response as any.
is why Buddhism has been mistakenly accused of being negative or
pessimistic. The truth of change—and our denial of it—means that life as we habitually live it is full of suffering. But we’re not stuck there.
we open ourselves fully to the reality of change—when we go through
that gateless gate— we open ourselves simultaneously to a deeper, truer
nature that is beyond all conditions, concepts, identities, and
boundaries. This is the level of unconditional being called buddhanature, the open space of awakened heart and mind.
is not a myth, distant goal, or article of faith. It is always present
and available. In the traditional phrase, it is the buddha in the palm
of our hand. It appears whenever we give it a chance. All we have to do
how in the presence of a suffering loved one, we drop our usual
self-concern. What we discover in that space is not some neutral
blankness but our natural warmth and compassion. That is buddhanature.
Or when we are lost in thought and some surprising sight cuts our
internal discourse. What we experience in that gap is openness, clarity,
and appreciation without commentary. That is buddhanature, so
beautifully described by Tsoknyi Rinpoche in this issue as the mind of
emptiness and luminosity.
Embracing change, we discover the changeless. Accepting loss, we discover love. Finding no refuge, we discover that is
the true refuge. And finally, returning to those very conditioned
phenomena whose impermanence was giving us so much trouble, we find that
they are but the joyful display of awakened mind, magically manifesting
moment by moment.
—MELVIN MCLEOD, Editor-in-Chief