Questions by Christopher Titmuss, answers by Sandhya
The practice of impermanence is a valuable tool to bring us closer to Reality,
but it is not Reality itself
1. After seeing and understanding impermanence, what next?
Impermanence is relevant or applicable only to the conditioned reality. After seeing and understanding impermanence – there has to be an understanding of the non-impermanent, the unborn, the deathless, that which is not subject to impermanence.
2. Does dependent arising both confirm and refute impermanence?
In my own experience, when I really closely examine my experience, there is no change whatsoever. It's as if there is a constant "now", but it's not even that. Time doesn't exist. "Time" is a convention. Just like "space". Together they create the conventional 3-dimentional world as we know it, to enable us to function and make sense. Even the "now" is fiction, as an essence since there is only the composite of causes and conditions .
In reality, there are no "things" and so there is no time. So nama-rupa-vinyana arise together and cease together, but in true Reality nothing arises and nothing ceases. Each "moment" is perfectly still and there is no – and cannot be – any movement. When, for instance , I move my arm, the arm is in constant present and not moving at all. Even if we tried to break the movement to tiny parts – eventually we see there is no movement, except in comparing what was and what is and what has become.
So on the relative plane, dependent arising confirms impermanence. On the Ultimate plane, they all appear or exist simultaneously, dependently arising simultaneously.
3. For there to be impermanence, there has to be some “thing” (in mind/matter) that is impermanent. What is your response?
The "problem" with the concept "impermanence" is that it assumes or pre-supposes that there are "things" and they "change". In my own experience, when we get really really close to phenomena, there are no "things", there are no static things, but rather dynamic processes that are constantly flowing and interacting with other dynamic processes.
4. Is seeing impermanence a means for letting go of clinging or more than that?
Seeing impermanence is certainly a means for letting go of clinging, but it also enhances the experience of the gradualness (different degrees) of the sense of self. Meaning, there are times when the sense of self is more solid and dense (when there is anger or fear, for instance), and there are times when the sense of self is more light (when there is love, or peacefulness, for instance).
Experiencing and understanding the "elasticity" and fluidity of the sense of self (based and influenced by changing causes and conditions) – there is seeing and knowing the emptiness of self-existence. And so the arising of the sense of self becomes less problematic, as this arising too is seen as "not me, not mine", which leads to a greater sense of freedom and joy. One is less identified with the phenomenal "show" called "the sense of self arising", so one is not in bondage to it. The notion of self can arise freely and pass away freely and is not perceived as a problem.
The arising and passing of the sense of self is viewed and experienced as no different than the arising and passing of clouds, birds singing, a flower blooming or a leaf falling. Just as there is no ownership and identification with these events – so there is no or less ownership and identification with the event called, "the sense of self".
5. The Pali word for impermanence is anicca – literally not permanent. Why would it be useful to translate anicca as not permanent?
It's useful to use the term "not permanent" as a skilful means because in some people's minds "impermanence" has become a "thing", a noun, to grasp at. "Not-permanent" is useful as a practice-tool, as a reminder, rather than a "thing" to grasp at. "Impermanence" may turn into yet another mental construct often seen with some Vipassana students, instead of it being a helpful tool to de-construct and let go of grasping.
6. What are the limits of meditating on impermanence?
The limit and danger are at I wrote above – sticking to the notion of impermanence as the ultimate reality, or truth, rather than as to a characteristic of the conditioned reality, and not being interested in, or even aware, of that which is not impermanent, that which is not subject to impermanent. To some, "anicca" has become like a mantra to distance oneself from, and override one's experience, especially unpleasant one. A Goenka student shared with me once that she uses "anicca" as a "dog-bark" against any unpleasant experience. Such application of impermanence "enables" one to avoid exploring the nature of unpleasant experiences, as well as the causes and conditions of it.
7. What confirms impermanence as non-self?
What confirms impermanence as non self: when there is knowing that there is a flow of processes, an inseparable flow, constantly engaging with and interacting with other flows – then this experience confirms non-self. One cannot find in the midst of these constantly moving and changing flows – a seed or a part that is unchanging, that is not arising dependently, that one can call, "my self". The sense of self dissolves or lessens when experiencing oneself as a bunch of changing phenomena interacting with other bunches of phenomena. Then one sees the innocence and the impersonal (or empty) nature of these interactions. It's all just phenomena dancing with one another in various shapes and forms a free and spontaneous dance!
Experiencing thus, there is no or less clinging to the sense of self and to self-importance. The true nature of the sense of self becomes more apparent – that it is empty of a solid and constant essence. One realises the birth and death of every moment, every neon-second, and such a focus on impermanence reveals the empty nature of all phenomena. One then sees and experiences all phenomena coming into being and out of being in a constant fluctuation, and sees how the mind strings all the fluctuating moment together like beads on a mala neckless. Or like in watching a film, which actually is made of separate frames, but the mind makes it one connected smooth movie.
8. What is the value of witnessing impermanence?
It loosens the grip of clinging – this in itself brings a sense of freedom and joy. It also gives insight into the way the mind constructs mental and physical constructions. It reveals the emptiness of self and the falsehood separation of self and others. It encourages less habitual ways of viewing and experiencing the world and self. It reveals the nature of the self as dependent arising based on causes and conditions – as they shift and change, so does the sense of self accordingly. Realizing impermanence contributes to the disenchantment with the sense of self and to the "coming out of trance" of the habitual way of being, seeing and thinking.
When thus seeing and experiencing disenchantment with the sense of self and the inseparable nature of all "things", kindness and compassion naturally arise and fill the heart – for oneself and for others, including all creatures and the plant world. A sense of deep connection, of love and ease fill the heart. One can freely enjoy and appreciate the loveliness and beauty of this imagined world, without fearing the arising of clinging.
9. Why is impermanence a relative truth not the ultimate truth?
The practice of impermanence is a great and valuable tool to bring us closer to Reality, but it is not Reality itself. It is still of the conditioned, not of the unconditioned. The Unconditioned is "outside" of the sphere of change.
Christopher: "It stays steady like the ocean stays steady despite the waves. "
* * *
All phenomena is free
The nature of all phenomena is freedom
All phenomena is free to be and free to cease to be
All phenomena sing its freedom
In glorious freedom's voice,
Freedom sings its own freedom.