Untitled Essay Research Paper Impermanence Selflessness and

Untitled Essay, Research Paper

Impermanence, Selflessness, and Dissatisfaction

Buddhism is neither a religion nor a philosophy, but rather a way of life. This does not

imply that Buddhism is nothing more than an ethical code: it is a way of moral, spiritual

and intellectual training leading to complete freedom of the mind. (DeSilva, 1991:p 5). Of

the many Buddhist sects, Zen Buddhism places particular emphasis on living ‘the

right’ life, and does not revolve around rite and ritual. Buddhism outlines the three

characteristics of existence, which aids one in achieving enlightenment. Impermanence,

selflessness, and dissatisfaction are concepts that are easily understood on an

intellectual level, but to apply these concepts in one’s life is challenging.

Impermanence is concerned with the thought that nothing remains static, and change is to

be expected. Selflessness holds that there is no immortal soul or external Self that

exists in each individual; (Fadiman & Frager,1994:p 545) selflessness is closely

connected with impermanence. Dissatisfaction is a larger concept entirely- it involves the

acknowledgment that suffering exists. The world is founded on suffering, (DeSilva, 1991:p

21) and once anything becomes a problem there is bound to be suffering,

unsatisfactoriness, or conflict- conflict between our desires and the state of reality.

Dissatisfaction is the most difficult characteristic of existence to apply to one’s

life, as it involves not only the acceptance of this state, but also outlines one on how

to treat and cure this state.

The notion that the world is an ever-changing environment on all levels

of existence is not a radical idea. In fact, those that have not yet accepted change as a

natural state of nature is denying the reality of life. A being and the empirical world

are both constantly changing. They come into being and pass away. All is in a whirl,

nothing escapes this inexorable unceasing change, and because of this transient nature

nothing is really pleasant. There is happiness, but very momentary, it vanishes like a

flake of snow, and brings about unsatisfactoriness (DeSilva, 1991:p 29). Both pleasant and

unpleasant conditions come and go, it is then the responsibility of the individual to deal

with each situation in the ‘right’ way. Understanding that there is no universal

truth, that thoughts and ideas evolve- leaves one open to improve and grow- a goal of

Buddhism. The concept of impermanence is significant from a psychological standpoint, as

it encourages individuals to deal with situations with more flexibility, as well as

understanding. Impermanence allows one to possess a firm grip upon reality, knowing that

there is an ever-changing landscape, encouraging one not to take things for granted.

Related to impermanence, is the concept of selflessness. Selflessness

involves the knowledge that there is no immortal soul or eternal Self that exists in each

individual (Fadiman & Frager, 1994:p 545). The so-called individual is a collection of

attributes, all of which are impermanent and constantly changing. According to the Buddha,

the person is made up of five basic factors- body, perception, sensation, consciousness,

and mental activities. (Fadiman & Frager, 1994:p 545) Selflessness enables the

individual to focus upon the external with the understanding that ‘I’ is not of

significant priority. In taking the importance away from the individual, it permits one to

become concerned with issues not related directly to the self. The fact that the world is

constantly changing, and that one does not possess an immortal soul; allows the stage to

be set for dissatisfaction, as it encompasses a number of principles.

Dissatisfaction exists, it is not a foreign notion. To this single

problem we give different names: economic, social, political, psychological, and even

religious problems. Do they not all emanate from that one single problem, namely

unsatisfactoriness? If there is no unsatisfactoriness, why need we strive to solve them?

Does not solving a problem imply reducing the unsatisfactoriness? (DeSilva, 1991: p 48)

Dissatisfaction is in essence suffering, the fundamental problem of life. Suffering

appears in two forms; psychological and physical- which falls into three categories.

Ordinary suffering includes; birth, death, sickness, old age,

unpleasant conditions, grief, etc. It is typical to experience these sufferings throughout

the duration of one’s life. The second type of suffering is suffering produced by

change, followed by suffering as conditioned states. Suffering as conditioned states

occurs when an individual is attached to; matter, sensations, perceptions, mental

formations, and consciousness. The Buddha points out that people suffer change every

moment ant this change brings about unsatisfactoriness; for whatever is impermanent is

unsatisfactory- there is no lasting bliss. (DeSilva, 1991:p 73) Following the

understanding of the characteristics of existence, in particular, that of dissatisfaction

and suffering- the Four Noble Truths await. These truths in no way contradict the

aforementioned characteristics, but rather, explain how they can be dealt with in a

constructive manner.

It is not difficult to grasp the concepts of impermanence,

selflessness, or dissatisfaction- carrying the meaning of these words into ones daily

life, conversely, is a task. Impermanence is perhaps the easiest concept of the three to

accept, as our world seems to change more rapidly than ever, and one becomes accustomed to

this. It would only be logical for this to apply to an individual’s spiritual being

as well. One must be prepared to acknowledge that how they perceive their external

condition is constantly evolving. From a personal point of view, it is my belief that

Buddhism is quite grounded and sound as a guide for living one’s life. It in no way

inhibits your nature, but rather instills a degree of gentleness and thoughtfulness into

one’s life, it results in examination of one’s behavior. From my limited

perspective, selflessness is somewhat difficult to accept, as I believe that each person

is unique, and possesses some form of immortality- a soul for example. The fact that we

are composed of mortal, constantly changing components does not prove that individuals are

wholly mortal. An individual is composed of a great deal more than body, perception,

sensation, consciousness, and thought. It is my belief that there are facets of an

individual that cannot be so easily explained. One cannot argue that suffering and

dissatisfaction are non-existent. By acknowledging these facts of life, an individual is

in the fortunate position of having the ability to end the suffering conditions, whether

they be psychological or physical.

Consequently, the Buddhist characteristics of existence are useful to

the average individual. These concepts can aid the individual in healthy analysis of their

behavior and motivations, as well as offer methods that enable one to actively change

aspects of their life that they may be dissatisfied with.

BIBLIOGRAPHYDeSilva, J. The Spectrum of Buddhism: The

Writings of Piyadassi.

Buddhist Missionary

Society: New York, 1991.Fadiman, J. Personality and Personal Growth.

HarperCollins College

Frager, R. Publishers: United States, 1994.Suzuki, D.T. Manual of Zen Buddhism. Rider:

London, New York, 1956.

Web Siteshttp://www.ncf.carelton.ca/freenet/rootdi…ism/introduction/truths/NobleTru


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