Recorded in Barbara Brodsky’s office. Aaron discusses impermanence.
Video and Transcript, the video is also closed captioned.
Aaron: My blessings and love to you all. I am Aaron. Thank you for being with me now in your year 2018. Do some of you remember that shift from 1999 to year 2000? Do some of you re-member 1960, or 1950? Even 1940, or 1930? Yet, this flow of time is made up of moments, seconds, fractions of a second, and in one second, everything can change. In one second, the sun goes behind a cloud, and the snow begins to fall. In one second, two cars collide. In one second, a baby is born. In one second, a flower opens. All of this arising out of conditions, in each moment.
We talk about anicca, a Pali word which means impermanence; it means everything in this con-ditioned realm is constantly changing, and there is really no conditioned or mundane thing or thought to which you can hold. Everything changing. If everything is constantly changing, why are you so worried? Whatever is unpleasant now is going to be gone. Whatever is beautiful, and you’re holding, it’s will be gone.
In dharma class, we talk about the importance of living in this moment. This does not mean you cease to pay attention; you are constantly creating and co-creating the conditions out of which the next moment will arise, so you take care of those conditions. But all the planning in the world is not going to prevent the hurricane from passing through, the forest fire from sweeping through, the sickness of a loved one, or your stubbing and breaking your toe. Yes, you can be mindful and not kick that object. But sometimes you’re in the dark and you don’t see it.
There are two important points to balance, here. One is mindfulness and presence in each mo-ment, and one is the deep intention for that which is wholesome and beautiful in your lives and on the Earth. If you live in the moment with fear, “What if this doesn’t work? What if that hap-pens?”, your fear contracts your energy field. When thusly contracted, the light can’t pour out of you; equally important, you are armored, and the radiance of the outside world cannot pour in.
Notice I’ve said, ‘outside world’ and ‘into you’ as if there’s a duality, that which is out there and that which is within. On the relative level, there is a duality. This is not that. But on the ultimate level there is no duality. Everything is part of everything else.
When you look through the branches of a tree in the bare winter, as it is now, here in Michigan, you may see the clear sky. You see the black lines of the branches and the clear sky. They both exist but, being human, the everyday perception cannot focus on both at one time. So, the gaze shifts: branches, and sky. In any moment, one or the other will be predominant.
As you live in what seems to be a dual universe, present with this or present with that, objects arising and passing away, beyond all this arising and passing away, what continues? Is there an-ything that continues? Love continues! Awareness continues! The innate, let’s call it intelli-gence— by this I don’t mean mental intelligence, but the knowing heart; the innate intelligence of being; that which is connected to everything, it continues.
So, first we speak in terms of seeming dualities, like the tree branches and the sky. The tree branch, it will fade away eventually. The tree will decay. Even the sky may fade away. The sky is a conditioned object. Love and awareness do not pass away. Love and awareness are part of you— perhaps not a conscious part, right now, but yes, they are a part of you. You cannot lose them because they are not of the nature of conditioned objects; that is, they do not arise and then pass away related to conditions. They simply are. Don’t take my word for it, though. Begin to explore the nature of unconditional love in meditation. Begin to explore the nature of aware-ness in meditation. Observe Awareness, not consciousness, not mundane consciousness, but full presence. What is this awareness? What is this unconditional love, or where does it rest?
So, yes, we have impermanence on one level, everything changing. As we recorded this today, deep snow is falling everywhere. I’m looking out the windows here; snow on the branches, snow on the ground, flakes coming down. Tomorrow the sun may shine and burn away the snow. We can’t say the snow did not exist; it’s out my window, but it has no substantial reality. It comes and it goes, and it comes and it goes, again.
Some of you, as you are listening to this, may be feeling sadness, fear, anger, or confusion. Some of you may have pain here or there in the body. This is like the snow; it exists but it has no ultimate reality. That means you need to attend to the emotion or the physical discomfort, but not to give it power by making it something solid. This, then, is the blessing of the teaching of im-permanence. If an object or experience has the nature to arise, it has the nature to cease.
Why am I speaking of all of this? Many of you are troubled by what is happening in your world, at many different levels. The politics, the United States politics and the global politics, the envi-ronment, the wars, the wildfires sweeping through the land, burning trees and homes. The hurri-canes, the floods. You cannot turn your back on these. People are suffering because they have lost their homes. Perhaps even loved ones have died.
You must always do everything in your power to alleviate this suffering. But, holding fear of what has arisen as result of conditions and trying to fix what has arisen only creates more contraction and fear. It does not support release of suffering.
You can attend to these things— to the blizzard, to the hurricane, to the forest fire, to the auto-mobile accident, to the volcanic eruption, to the political hate-throwing – with an open heart. You can respond to these with a consciousness that refuses to be drawn in with fear, but instead comes forth to attend. It’s very helpful to remember, as it’s often said: This too shall pass. But you cannot hide yourself, and say, “Well, it will pass so I don’t have to pay any attention to it.” It will pass, and it still must be attended to.
That which is best able to attend is this aspect of you is what I call awareness. So, let’s look just a bit at awareness. It is the place where you come together with everything, no separation. We sometimes talk about this in terms of interbeing. Behind me here I have a wooden altar. It looks like a shelf with legs. What is it really? It came from a tree. It’s a slice of wood from a tree. The tree grew out of the earth. The sun and rain and the soil nurtured the tree. So, looking at this altar ¬– I don’t know if you can see it here behind me— let’s use a visible example, because you can see this: a wooden statue of the Buddha (holding it up). Is it a statue? Yes. A block of wood? Yes. But it’s also the sun and the rain and the soil. It’s the wood from which it came, the tree. It’s the forester who cut the log, and the sculptor who shaped it. It’s all of those things, all part of each other.
When you begin to understand the world this way, you can embrace more fully that yes, everything is arising out of conditions and must be attended from a loving place. When necessary, one must say “no” with love. And yet, nothing is permanent so there is no reason to live your life with fear. Not only no reason, but no use. Reaction form fear only makes things worse. But you can’t say, “So, I will get rid of fear.” No. How would you get rid of it? “I will hold fear when it arises and bring it into my heart. I will remember: this fear has arisen from conditions. It is impermanent. It will pass. And when the fear passes, the radiant heart and radiant awareness, love, remain and will be present.” This is what brings happiness and an end to suffering, knowing that you are that radiance and awareness. You are that love.
As you step into this new year, watch the fear that arises about the Earth, about political situations, and about your own personal situations, and offer yourself the intention not to get trapped in that fear, but to remember, “It arose from conditions, it is impermanent. I will take care of the fear and of the conditions. And I will live with love.” In this way, you can truly make a difference in the world.