Impermanence and Relativity

956849-669355-thumbnail.jpgIn our desire to possess that which we believe will make us happy, we even wish to possess other people. We want others to respect us and to love us. We want others to only think of us. To always come back to us. To forever be with us. This is a form of craving and a major attachment, which is due largely to not yet realizing that we are all impermanent: We all change from second to second. None of us remains the same. None of us can forever hold on to what we now have.

Our lives are brief. Time seems to tick by so slowly when we are miserable. But when we are happy, that moment in our lives feels very brief. Albert Einstein, while trying to explain the theory of relativity, put it into simple words that most of us can understand. If we put our hand on a hot stove for a few seconds, it will feel like eternity. But if you are a man sitting next to an attractive woman, ten minutes can feel like seconds. Everything is relative.

But even as brief as our lives are, nothing will remain with us forever. The person with us now will not always be with us. This is so painful for us because we become attached, in this case, to people whom we do not want to lose. When they are gone, we will miss them as we continue to think of them and the pleasant times we had together. But, for good or for bad, we cannot keep any person with us.


By Oneself

By oneself is evil done;
by oneself is one defiled.
By oneself is evil left undone;
by oneself is one made pure.
Purity and impurity depend on oneself;
no one can purify another. 

The Dhammapada
translated by Venerable Buddharakkhita



The practice of gratitude is very important in Buddhism. But so often, we forget about feeling grateful. When things go our way and we receive what we desire, we congratulate ourselves and all too easily slip into arrogance. We forget about all those who have helped us get where we are, allowing us to enjoy what we have. When we do not receive what we desire, we blame others! We forget that what we receive in life is due to our own causes and conditions, our own merits or lack of merits. But arrogance and blaming others are both afflictions and, thus, are obstacles to our progress on the path to awakening.

If instead, we are grateful for all the help we have received from others, in our happiness, we will in turn want to share what we have with others.


Causes of Anger

Why does anger occur? Where does it come from? Anger arises from thinking of unpleasant objects and situations in a mistaken way. Once anger arises as the result of such mistaken thinking, it increases.

Our personal experiences will bear this out. When we see an object or an occurrence that we view as unpleasant, feelings of resentment, bitterness, and anger can easily arise. We want the experience to stop. We want to be rid of the undesirable object. We want the annoying person to go away. If only these would happen, then we would be happy.

But such thinking is mistaken. Just as the presence of objects and experiences does not necessarily make us happy, neither does their absence. Attempting to satisfy our emotional desires will not lead to happiness. In truth, wanting to stop that which is unpleasant only leads to more wanting, more emotional reactions, more turmoil—not happiness. Not yet realizing this, we continue to buy more tickets to get back on our emotional roller coaster of wanting, attainment, disappointment, and anger.

What should we do instead of falling back into this negative pattern? We need to train ourselves so that our minds remain stable and focused. We should neither feel attached to pleasant sensations nor feel averse to those that are unpleasant. If we can accomplish this, we will remain content with what we have and calm in any circumstance in which we find ourselves. Content and calm, we will know how to act wisely. Our anger will gradually diminish, and, eventually, cease to arise.


Speech Karma

The Buddha often cautioned us against speech karma because it is so easy for us to commit. To help us learn to speak more wisely, we can endeavor to never again say words that are false, harsh, divisive, or enticing. This guideline of saying only what is correct, honest, and beneficial enables us to keep our speech proper. So often when we are speaking with others, we do not say anything helpful, but instead indulge in idle chatter or frivolous talk. If there is nothing correct, honest, and beneficial to say, it would be wiser to remain quiet. This way we will not have to regret what we have said or wonder how to undo the harm we have done.

When speaking with others, it is also important to find the right time to discuss sensitive matters. Embarrassing or hurting someone because we choose the wrong time to speak to them will cause additional suffering. Furthermore, it will do nothing to correct the situation. We need to find both the right words and the right time to say those words.