A Zen View on Impermanence
“Impermanence in the teaching of the Buddha also means interbeing, non-self. Because things change every moment, nothing can remain the same in two consecutive moments.
There are no permanent entities; there is no permanent self. A flower is made only of non-flower elements. You are made of entirely non-you elements. That is the truth.
You are made of ancestors, air, water, education, sunshine, clouds, and so on. You are a formation. You are beautiful, but you are a formation. Every formation is impermanent.
A flower cannot be by itself alone, because it has no separate self. A flower can only inter-be with the sunshine, with the clouds, with the earth.
If you remove the element sunshine from the flower, the flower will collapse. If you remove the element cloud, meaning water, from the flower, the flower will collapse. So a flower is full of everything.
Everything in the Cosmos can be found in the flower: sunshine, clouds, minerals, earth, time, space, humans, everything.
Only one thing is lacking in the flower— that is a separate existence, a separate self. Now you understand what is meant by “non-self.”
Non-self does not mean non-existing; non-self means you don’t have a separate existence, like the flower. A flower is there, full of the whole cosmos, but not having a separate entity.
There is no such thing as permanent and separate. There’s nothing that can be permanent, that can be separate.
Everything is impermanent, everything has the nature of interbeing. Nothing can be by itself alone, everything has to inter-be with everything else.
The Buddha expressed that reality in very, very simple terms: “This is, because that is.” If you had asked about the Buddhist teaching on Genesis, about how the world has come to be, the Buddha would have said: “This is, because that is.”
That is the law of interbeing, the law of interdependent origination, the law of no self. “No self” does not mean non-existing. Everything is, in a wonderful way, but everything is a formation.
When you practice embracing the object of your perception, whether that is a flower, or a cloud, or your anger, or a person, you know that all of these are formations, and that all formations are impermanent.
But if you look more deeply, impermanence and interbeing open to you the dimension called Nirvana.
Nirvana is the nature of no-birth and no-death. How can nirvana go along with impermanence and non-self?
The answer is that it is exactly because things are impermanent and without a separate self that their nature is the nature of Nirvana. It means the nature of no-birth and no-death.”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh ~
August 3, 1998 – Plum Village, France
Drawing by Christopher Chase