Notes on a Buddhist path

Impermanence, thy name is life

April 13, 2011 By | 2 Comments

The last few days I’ve been zig-zagging my way along the streets of Victoria on my way to work, not wanting to miss the final boast of the cherry blossoms for the season. The early bloomers, those provocative tarts of brilliant pink were just setting the stage for their more demure sisters, the pale pink darlings who are taking their final bows here in the next week or so.

Maybe it’s being new to this city, having never experienced her in the spring of the year, but I want to hold onto the cherry blossoms. Even though the  sidewalks and gutters are sprinkled with pink petal polka dots, there’s a part of me wanting to paste them all back onto the trees. Even with the vibrant lime green leaves pushing their way out into the air, I want to hold them at bay. Stay just a little longer, I beg of the pink confetti sprinkling down on me. Don’t let this be the end of the flora ticker tape parade.

We cling to so many things each day, especially the ones that seem most fleeting. A visit from a friend we haven’t seen in years, the first step of a baby, the juicy sweetness of a peach at the height of summer. For all we cling to there are just as many things we wish to repel: the 24-hour flu when we don’t know it’s the 24-hour variety, the loss of a pet, the devastation of earthquakes and tsunamis.

I started this post a couple of days ago and I’ve been dwelling a bit on the concept of impermanence. When I opened my email this morning, I smiled when I saw the title of my Tricycle Daily Dharma message: Contemplate Impermanence. In the short piece were quotes from the Buddha, the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh and a video by filmmaker Tom Zachmeier all examining how we cling to the many threads of our lives. I found the quote by Thich Nhat Hanh particularly thought provoking:

If we are not empty, we become a block of matter.
We cannot breathe, we cannot think.
To be empty means to be alive, to breathe in and to breathe out.
We cannot be alive if we are not empty.
Emptiness is impermanence, it is change.
We should not complain about impermanence,
because without impermanence, nothing is possible.

Yet if all is impermanent, is there even change? Change is an evolving or a transformation into something else. Impermanence is the ultimate demise of everything from life to thoughts. Which makes me wonder, is there anything beyond death? How could there be reincarnation with its karma grocery cart waiting for us on the other side if all is impermanent? Does everything but karma bite the dust when we leave this existence?

To think of nothing to greet me on the other side of death’s door gives me an even more powerful sensation of presence. It is in the embracing of impermanence, of death, that life can truly be lived. If you could see each exhale as your last, how would you spend your time? Would you seek out new friends? Work in a different job? Take more time to look and hear what is around you? When I see the cherry trees tomorrow and the Pollock-esque droppings they have gifted us, I’ll know that moment to be unlike any I felt today or the day before or in any moment in time. Joys will leave, but so will our grief and our pain. Nothing lasts. Period.


  1. Even Karma is not permanent. In fact, we are all little Karma processing machines. In every moment (and I’m talking about those Buddhist moments: about a million billion trillionths of a second), another seed of karma comes to flower, and we get to process it. It might be good karma, bad karma, or neutral Karma. And guess what; the way we react to it converts it into a future seed of good karma, bad karma, or neutral karma. Good to bad, bad to good, neutral to bad, good to good, bad to neutral, ….

    As the poet wrote:
    I look at my karma, the seeds that I’ve planted
    What sprouts from those seeds can’t be easily recanted
    Shall I call on Samsara, who has been my jailer
    And try to arrange for a karmic crop failure

  2. So true David. Thank you for the insight and the beautiful poem. Yes, I was thinking after I posted this that if all is impermanent death must be as well.

    And so it goes and goes and goes…

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