The notion of impermanence (Sanskrit: anityatā) as a fundamental truth about the nature of everything that exists in this world is at the heart of the Buddha’s teaching. In fact, this initial insight was a catalyst that set Prince Siddhartha – who would achieve enlightenment to become the Buddha – on a spiritual quest for liberation from the suffering that all sentient beings endure in life. After his full awakening, the Buddha stressed the inescapable reality of this universal principle when he taught.
The Buddha pointed out that the things that are “appealing, singled out, considered valuable, pleasant, and highly appreciated by everyone” are good health, youth, prosperity, and life. However, upon careful observation, we can come to realize that they’re all essentially impermanent. And so, the Buddha led his disciples to reflect:
Still, when one is young, healthy, and full of dreams, it’s easy to ignore the possibility of illness, inevitable approach of aging and death, and vicissitudes of fortune, and to neglect spiritual cultivation while pursuing life’s hopes and pleasures.
Dharma Master Cheng Yen refers to the “Agama Sutra” to highlight how the Buddha never misses a moment to teach his disciples about impermanence, reminding them that change comes fast and can’t be stopped, so we should make the best use of what time we have:
Just as the Buddha counsels in the sutras, in her teaching, Master Cheng Yen also consistently reminds everyone to heed the truth of impermanence and to live accordingly:
However, she is also aware of how difficult this is to do, as while life is impermanent and it’s beyond our ability to predict the future, just an intellectual understanding of the fact that time is always slipping through our fingers, and we don’t know what may happen in the very next moment, often isn’t enough:
This realization is, in fact, based on Master Cheng Yen’s own experience. In our next blog, discover how her father’s sudden death – when she was “hit by the deep shock of impermanence and compelled to know the answers to life” – was a turning point that changed the trajectory of her life.