Constant Impermanence

Discussion Facilitator: Bruce Cantwell. April 27, 2019

In updating these instructions, I eliminated references to monks, male and possessive pronouns, and a few repetitious phrases.

As a reminder, we're continuing with to answer the question "How does one contemplate the constituents of the body?"

Again, while going forth or returning, do so with constant thorough understanding of impermanence.

Look straight ahead or look away with constant thorough understanding of impermanence.

Bend or stretch with constant thorough understanding of impermanence.

Whether getting dressed or obtaining a meal, do so with constant thorough understanding of impermanence.

Eat, drink, chew and taste with constant thorough understanding of impermanence.

Use the toilet with constant thorough understanding of impermanence.

Whether walking, standing, sitting, sleeping or waking, speaking or in silence, do so with constant thorough understanding of impermanence.

Contemplate activities of the body internally,

Or contemplate them externally.

Or contemplate them both internally and externally.

Notice the nature of arising in an activity.

Or notice the nature of passing in an activity.

Or notice its arising and passing.

Establish awareness: "This is body!"

Develop mindfulness to such an extent that there is mere understanding along with mere attention.

Observe with detachment, without clinging to anything in the world [of mind and matter].

This is how to contemplate activities of the body[1].

Or, as the band Kansas puts it:

"Dust in the Wind."

I close my eyes, only for a moment, and the moment's gone

All my dreams pass before my eyes, a curiosity

Dust in the wind

All they are is dust in the wind

Same old song, just a drop of water in an endless sea

All we do crumbles to the ground though we refuse to see

Dust in the wind

All we are is dust in the wind

Oh, ho, ho

Now, don't hang on, nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky

It slips away

And all your money won't another minute buy...[2]

Discussion Questions

Is this reading and this song optimistic or pessimistic?

"Enlightenment is not described as an experience but as freedom from cyclic existence." The original context of cyclic existence was perpetual reincarnation in higher or lower life forms and freedom meant escape from birth and death. But in a more immediate sense, how might constant thorough understanding of impermanence free us from cycling through a limited repertoire of coping mechanisms?

The original translator's note for this section comments that in terms of progression, we're asked to know the breath and understand our posture or movement, but here we're asked to bring constant and thorough understanding specifically to the impermanent nature of our activities. Why is thisimportant?

What does it mean to bring constant thorough understanding of impermanence to internal and/or external activities?

What does it mean to:

Notice the nature of arising in an activity.

Or notice the nature of passing in an activity.

Or notice its arising and passing.

How does our constant and thorough understanding of impermanence affect our concept that "This is body?"

Closing Insights

Mindfulness is not something that is acquired right away. Perseverance is needed. It is necessary to be mindful not only while resting in the state of meditative evenness but the mindfulness needs to be kept in any circumstances, while eating, walking, etc. It is important to be constantly alert and vigilant in watching the condition of the mind.[3]

We don't meditate to weep or lament. When sad emotions arise, we might use mindfulness to look for the reason. We often find that our unhappiness is rooted in attachment to some person, position, place, or thing. Then we ask, "Why am I attached?" When we investigate carefully, we discover, "I am attached because I have forgotten that everything is impermanent. Foolishly, I think that the object of my attachment will bring me lasting happiness, pleasure, or security."

We cry because we are remembering sad or traumatic events or someone else's suffering. Though the Buddha saw very clearly the suffering of billions of living beings, he never wept, because he knew his sorrow could do nothing to relieve the suffering. Rather, he maintained unshakable mindfulness and perfect equanimity.

From a state of emotional balance, we can more easily see that the sad experiences of the past are no longer present. Anything we are attached to today will definitely change or pass away, without our control and without advance warning. The same is true of the joys and sufferings of others. Knowing this, our sorrow and lamentation slowly fade.[4]

[1] “MahāsatipaṭṭhānaSutta.” Mahasatipatthana Sutta - The Great Discourse on the Establishing of Awareness.

[2] Songwriters: Kerry Livgren / Kerry A Livgren- Dust in the Wind lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

[3] Goldstein, Joseph. “Satipatthana Sutta - Part 9 - Clear Knowing And Meditation On Parts Of The Body.” Dharma Seed - Joseph Goldstein's Dharma Talks, dharmaseed.org/teacher/96/talk/288/. Insight Meditation Society - Forest Refuge In collection Satipatthana Sutta Series

[4] Gunaratana, Henepola. The Four Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English. Wisdom Publications, 2013.

Bruce Cantwell