illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)
One of my students recently used the buddhist notion of 'impermanence' to justify clinging. It took the form of perpetuating a frustrating tendency (well-identified as such) in the name of « so I figured that "impossible now" doesn't mean "impossible later" ».
There are many reasons why using 'impermanence' to justify clinging is unwholesome, and I thought maybe a few more people than one might benefit from enquiring into this.
There is danger in justifications: they're generalisations, because some elements are invariably left out of the description, elements considered to be 'irrelevant' and 'background' for no reason other than our preferences in discrimination and the 'needs' of the narrative. Justifications are basically biased, be it by individual karma or simply by omission.
The danger in justifications is a major reason behind the buddhist 'precepts'. I regularly explain that "refrain from killing" is not strictly the same as "do not kill", but that it is a clear call not to justify any killing.
An appropriate response would either match a conventional truth ("refrain from killing") or wouldn't, but then it would instead be based on non-verbal truth —or it's hard to imagine it to be 'appropriate'…
If a dramatic response is based on understanding a non-verbal ultimate truth, don't make a verbal narrative to justify it! Just don't: simply face the consequences of breaking the conventional truth! If you truly sacrifised your 'individual' karma for a wholesome "bigger picture", don't bring a narrative later in order to escape the consequences of the sacrifice (or it's not a sacrifice, is it? And selfishness, not the bigger picture, re-enters the scene)!
Just don't justify, precisely because some of the context would be left out of the narrative, generalisations would be made, 'precedents' would be created. Your act might be appropriate but the justification would not be: that's the danger of 'precedents' that go against conventional truths.
One way to look at this is that enlightened minds are often called "quiet minds". They don't fall into cascades of mental proliferations, narratives, justifications i.e. they do not fall into mulling over the past…
Never justify clinging. Justifying is already a manifestation of clinging! If you want to cultivating the cessation of clinging, hence the cessation of suffering, you can start by not justifying clinging.
One way to see this is that a justification is usually about the past. Sometimes it's 'preemptive' and about the future. The narrative is not built while you appropriately respond to subtle contextual elements in a wise way (a way which would escape the ordinary minds, due to their preferences, prejudices, habits blinding them from the subtle nuances of the situation at hand)! So while you build a narrative, you're not tending to here&now, you're clinging to the past and to a self and to wanting to explain how you appropriate this 'past' (self) as 'yours' (current self).
Another way to see this is when people confuse love and attachment, and start telling that "no longer clinging to their loved ones" doesn't seem pertinent to them on a spiritual path of unconditional love. That's attempting to justify some 'good' clinging by naming it 'love' (even though it's not 'love' but just 'clinging'), and by caricaturing non-attachment into apathy (which it isn't: e.g. perseverance, compassion and love [loving-kindness] are pāramitās)!
Finally, 'impermanence' is not 'oscillation'. This is very important to understand.
When impermanent things are 'bad', we could theoretically hope things will get 'better'. But impermanence always works both ways! Things could also get even 'worse.' So impermanence cannot provide a rational reason to 'hope.' Hope is a case of clinging, clinging to the view that the world 'should' be as you want it to be!
Impermanence is just the ways things are. 'Realising' impermanence is an antidote against clinging.
Prior to the realisation, this buddhist doctrine is a call for 'engagement' rather than 'waiting until the better days come'.
Impermanence is neither a justification to sit 'tight' (call it "sit 'stressed' " or "sit 'dissatisfied' " as per the first noble truth!) nor a justification to cling through hard times, but a call to take responsibility for changing whatever wisely needs changing.
Since everything conditioned or contextualised is impermanent, then nothing escapes your responsibility to drive the change towards a more wholesome state.
An example of more wholesome state might be… you without a particular, unhelpful clinging ;-) So impermanence is a call for you to take ownership and responsibility for your clinging, and to choose to let it go (instead of choosing to justify it, i.e. perpetuate it…)!
The key point to remember is that the tiniest step in the right direction is infinitely more wholesome than sitting stuck. The tiniest letting go is infinitely more wholesome than sitting stressed, frustrated, suffering due to a wish the world would finally behave the way you want it to: why do you imagine "right effort" is in the Eightfold Path? Letting go is your job in the face of impermanence, a job that requires your commitment.
Impermanence is also a reminder that you don't have time to waste, waiting for the world to get 'better'. You have to be more proactive than that, you have to let go, not "wait and see"; life is short.
Which unwholesome or unhelpful tendency can you let go of, today?
#Buddhism #Dharma #impermanence
mixed media from "The Essence of Impermanence" exhibition by © Uttaporn Nimmalaikaew