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Monday, July 18, 2011

The gift of impermanence

There was an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. "Such bad luck," they said sympathetically. "Maybe," the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. "How wonderful," the neighbors exclaimed. "Maybe," replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. "Maybe," answered the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son's leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. "Maybe," said the farmer.
(adopted from

Impermanence is a gift that we all received when we were born. We see it around us all the time: in our relationships, our jobs, careers, positions, and even in our own being: we are not the person we were a few years ago, or even yesterday. Tomorrow, we will not be the one we are today. Life is a constant process of change, and change entails impermanence. Anicca (Pali for impermanence) is understood by Buddhists as one of the three marks of existence. The marks are anicca (impermanence), dukkha (unsatisfactoriness) and anatta (non-selfhood). According to Buddhist philosophy everything consists of these three marks of existence.

While we may not necessarily be enamored by the thought of our own impermanence, we cannot avoid it, and that is a good thing. Imagine the overpopulation and confusion in the world if everyone were immortal! There are also many instances when we are happy about anicca, for instance, when we are involved in a dreadful situation – a lousy job, an abusive relationship, illness, etc. The gift of impermanence becomes more appreciated as our awareness increases – and it can become a major source of inner peace.

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