Not Everything is Impermanent

Anything goes (almost).

Not Everything is Impermanent

Postby jeeprs » Thu Sep 12, 2013 8:37 am

There perennial debates on the question of the nature of impermanence, emptiness and self and the meanings of these terms in Buddhist discourse and teaching.

I am of the view that the statement 'everything is impermanent', if taken at face value, actually becomes a dogma in its own right. Furthermore I don't believe that it is to be intepreted literally, as I think there are those things that are not impermanent, that is, they are enduring.

I will qualify that by saying that 'those things' don't actually exist on the level of 'things' or 'phenomena' - but we are obliged to use language to say anything, so that is the sense in which I use the word. But I do agree, that in regards to phenomena, there is nothing that can be said to be permanent or self-existent. Even material atoms - the constituents of matter such as metals, carbon, and the rest - have an origin in time, and one day will cease to exist, even if it is tens of billions of years.

However I am of the view that the dharma itself is not amongst 'the things that are impermanent'. The idea of 'eternal law' is not often spoken of in Buddhist teaching but one case is Dhammapada 1:5

"Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal."

In the same way, the spiritual realities that are the subject of many verses and sayings are not impermanent. But they are also not to be conceived of as 'something which always exists' in the sense of 'a post fixed in the ground or a solitary mountain peak'. They are on a much deeper or more subtle level. But in order to start to become aware of that level, it is necessary for the mind to detach itself from the phenomenal realm.

And that is the meaning of all the teachings on the 'emptiness of dharmas' or 'emptiness of aggregates' and so on. The whole purpose of all those teachings is to free the mind from attachment to external forms and sensations, so that awareness of the deeper and more subtle levels of reality can become clear. These levels are symbolized in many ways in Buddhist iconography.

Of course the retort to this will be 'there is no true abode'. In one sense, that is true, and it is symbolized by the homelessness of the Buddha. But on another level, realizing 'Nirvana' is returning to 'the true abode'.
He that knows it, knows it not.
User avatar
jeeprs
 
Posts: 1428
Joined: Sun May 27, 2012 8:31 am
Location: Sydney AU

Re: Not Everything is Impermanent

Postby Seishin » Thu Sep 12, 2013 9:08 am

There are several different translations of the Dhammapada that don't use the word "eternal" some say "this is an old rule". We also have to understand that translating pali or Sanskrit into English can be problematic. From what I've been taught, eternal doesn't mean never-ending but that an end is so far away that it can't even be imagined in our minds.

But of course you are right that impermanence is in regards to phenomena.

Gassho,
Seishin
User avatar
Seishin
Global Moderator
 
Posts: 1368
Joined: Mon Mar 22, 2010 11:53 am

Re: Not Everything is Impermanent

Postby jeeprs » Thu Sep 12, 2013 9:34 am

That is Ven. Thanissaro's translation. It is the same in the Juan Mascaro translation which I particularly like (which is the Penguin Classics edition). I would be interested in the details of what word was translated as 'eternal'.

But I think a philosophical distinction can be made between 'eternal' and 'permanent'. The former is in some sense 'outside of time' or 'not of time' whereas the latter is more like 'durable or long-lasting'.
He that knows it, knows it not.
User avatar
jeeprs
 
Posts: 1428
Joined: Sun May 27, 2012 8:31 am
Location: Sydney AU

Re: Not Everything is Impermanent

Postby Sherab Dorje » Thu Sep 12, 2013 12:31 pm

So (apparently) Dharma is eternal. What's new? Our enlightened nature is also (apparently) eternal. Nothing new there either. Nirvana, well, full enlightenment is (apparently) eternal too.

Yes, all phenomena are impermanent. That one is obvious. Nothing new there either.

I'm trying to figure out what you are trying to say here, which is somehow new or different.
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
Naropa - Summary of the View from The Eight Doha Treasures
User avatar
Sherab Dorje
Global Moderator
 
Posts: 7938
Joined: Fri May 14, 2010 9:27 pm
Location: Greece

Re: Not Everything is Impermanent

Postby jeeprs » Thu Sep 12, 2013 12:50 pm

Why the parentheses?
He that knows it, knows it not.
User avatar
jeeprs
 
Posts: 1428
Joined: Sun May 27, 2012 8:31 am
Location: Sydney AU

Re: Not Everything is Impermanent

Postby Sherab Dorje » Thu Sep 12, 2013 12:58 pm

Coz I (personally) don't know for sure, but I can see very clearly, on an everyday basis, that phenomena are impermanent.
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
Naropa - Summary of the View from The Eight Doha Treasures
User avatar
Sherab Dorje
Global Moderator
 
Posts: 7938
Joined: Fri May 14, 2010 9:27 pm
Location: Greece

Re: Not Everything is Impermanent

Postby Astus » Thu Sep 12, 2013 3:14 pm

The word in Dhp 1.5 is sanantana, it means both ancient and eternal.

We could say that the laws of mathematics is eternal. Or the rules of chess. Or the laws of physics. Thus we have a quite old philosophical question here, the problem of universals.

From a Buddhist point of view, since we don't experience constantly anything, not even universal laws, it is not permanent. Such laws exist for us only as thoughts and nothing more. It should be noted that this is an epistemological answer to the question of a religious tradition.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
User avatar
Astus
Former staff member
 
Posts: 4127
Joined: Tue Feb 23, 2010 11:22 pm
Location: Budapest

Re: Not Everything is Impermanent

Postby LastLegend » Thu Sep 12, 2013 5:08 pm

I personally don't see cause and effect as law (something structured). I see cause and effect as a product of mind. If we do something, we experience it. All not outside of mind right?
NAMO AMITABHA
NAM MO A DI DA PHAT (VIETNAMESE)
NAMO AMITUOFO (CHINESE)
User avatar
LastLegend
 
Posts: 1736
Joined: Sat Mar 19, 2011 3:46 pm
Location: Washington DC

Re: Not Everything is Impermanent

Postby oushi » Thu Sep 12, 2013 5:52 pm

All I know is that the only thing that does not change is not knowing.
User avatar
oushi
 
Posts: 1377
Joined: Tue Aug 14, 2012 6:18 am
Location: Chrząszczyrzewoszyce

Re: Not Everything is Impermanent

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Thu Sep 12, 2013 7:30 pm

jeeprs wrote:There perennial debates on the question of the nature of impermanence, emptiness and self and the meanings of these terms in Buddhist discourse and teaching.

I am of the view that the statement 'everything is impermanent', if taken at face value, actually becomes a dogma in its own right. Furthermore I don't believe that it is to be intepreted literally, as I think there are those things that are not impermanent, that is, they are enduring.

I will qualify that by saying that 'those things' don't actually exist on the level of 'things' or 'phenomena' - but we are obliged to use language to say anything, so that is the sense in which I use the word. But I do agree, that in regards to phenomena, there is nothing that can be said to be permanent or self-existent. Even material atoms - the constituents of matter such as metals, carbon, and the rest - have an origin in time, and one day will cease to exist, even if it is tens of billions of years.

However I am of the view that the dharma itself is not amongst 'the things that are impermanent'. The idea of 'eternal law' is not often spoken of in Buddhist teaching but one case is Dhammapada 1:5

"Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal."

In the same way, the spiritual realities that are the subject of many verses and sayings are not impermanent. But they are also not to be conceived of as 'something which always exists' in the sense of 'a post fixed in the ground or a solitary mountain peak'. They are on a much deeper or more subtle level. But in order to start to become aware of that level, it is necessary for the mind to detach itself from the phenomenal realm.

And that is the meaning of all the teachings on the 'emptiness of dharmas' or 'emptiness of aggregates' and so on. The whole purpose of all those teachings is to free the mind from attachment to external forms and sensations, so that awareness of the deeper and more subtle levels of reality can become clear. These levels are symbolized in many ways in Buddhist iconography.

Of course the retort to this will be 'there is no true abode'. In one sense, that is true, and it is symbolized by the homelessness of the Buddha. But on another level, realizing 'Nirvana' is returning to 'the true abode'.


I'm not gonna pretend to understand the nuances of all the various arguments out there on this subject by any means, but i'll do my best to figure out my own position:


All conditioned things are impermanent, doesn't get much simpler than those words, and there is no need to extrapolate them further. To try to say "oh well since all things are X, then this other thing is Y". If anything, a good chunk of Sutra/Sutta seems to purposefully avoid that kind of elaboration, don't you think? If there's a Buddhism that doesn't that believes there are conditioned things which are not impermanent, I have yet to see it.

Again i think interpreting middle way interpretations of emptiness etc. as having the secondary implication that ultimate reality is also impermanent, is reading it wrong, the statement just means what it means and it isn't an attempt at metaphysical speculation on what is not intellectually understandable. The debate is just whether or not "it" is empty, which really comes down to how much whatever school thinks it's appropriate to try to quantify or describe "it". The only schools I have seen that come anywhere near the "nihilism" thing you are pointing to are modern "secular Buddhists", if there are other historical examples i'd be glad to read them once they are pointed out, else it just sounds like you're superimposing your own view of what someone else is saying.

I am of the view that the statement 'everything is impermanent', if taken at face value, actually becomes a dogma in its own right. Furthermore I don't believe that it is to be intepreted literally, as I think there are those things that are not impermanent, that is, they are enduring.


If we are to listen to the Buddha, it seems that there are no describable "things" that endure, you can speak in vague theoreticals about the "Nature of The Eternal" or whatever, but honestly ed.I think that one thing that is unique about Buddhism is that (unlike Hinduism etc.), it makes a conscious effort NOT to reinforce our notions of these things, because doing so is just chasing our tails. It seems to me that basically, the more you talk about it or try to get at it's qualities, the more you reify "it" as if it were phenomena, thereby adding conditions to something that can't really be quantified or qualified.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
User avatar
Johnny Dangerous
Global Moderator
 
Posts: 2162
Joined: Fri Nov 02, 2012 10:58 pm
Location: Olympia WA

Re: Not Everything is Impermanent

Postby ReasonAndRhyme » Thu Sep 12, 2013 8:53 pm

The first Buddhist seal says "All compounded things are impermanent". To abstract entities like space e.g. that doesn't apply.
"Forget about being clever, and simply remain." Guru Rinpoche, Treasures from Juniper Ridge
ReasonAndRhyme
 
Posts: 253
Joined: Sun May 06, 2012 8:33 pm

Re: Not Everything is Impermanent

Postby jeeprs » Thu Sep 12, 2013 11:39 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote:The only schools I have seen that come anywhere near the "nihilism" thing you are pointing to are modern "secular Buddhists", if there are other historical examples i'd be glad to read them once they are pointed out, else it just sounds like you're superimposing your own view of what someone else is saying.


It is mainly 'modern Buddhists' who advocate it, often unwittingly. Most of it comes up in the form of 'there is no self' and 'everything is impermanent', which becomes a kind of catch-all answer, explanation and attitude. Concommitant is the view that the human is is 'nothing but' the skandhas. I think there is a contradiction, or at least a tension, between that and the notion of 'true nature' or 'original mind' or 'Buddha-nature'.

The last Zen book I bought was No River to Cross by Zen Master Daehaeng. There are statements on almost every page like this:

Every single life and thing in the Universe has Buddha-nature, which has existed without beginning, exists now, and will exist forever. Buddha nature is only one, so it is Hanmaum [meaning 'fundamental mind that is intangible, invisible, beyond time and space, and has no beginning or end'], it is not an individual thing, but the interconnected whole, in which all things are working together, so it is Hanmaum All things come from it, so it is Hanmaum. The minds of all lives in the world are one. Fundamentally, there is no "you" or "I" separating them.


I am currently reading a book on Neoplatonism, 'the last great philosophy of antiquity'. This could be lifted from it.

Basically I read the 'no-self' teaching as a way of detaching from phenomena to realize the true nature. The true nature is not something to be objectified, as it is not 'there' anywhere amongst phenomena. You could say, as soon as you name it, you run the risk of projecting it. But if you deny it, you end up with some form of atheistic humanism, like Bachelor's 'Buddhist atheism'.
He that knows it, knows it not.
User avatar
jeeprs
 
Posts: 1428
Joined: Sun May 27, 2012 8:31 am
Location: Sydney AU

Re: Not Everything is Impermanent

Postby smcj » Fri Sep 13, 2013 12:26 am

Yes, all phenomena are impermanent. That one is obvious. Nothing new there either.

I've been wondering about how black holes are impermanent. I don't see that just yet...

From a Buddhist point of view, since we don't experience constantly anything, not even universal laws, it is not permanent. Such laws exist for us only as thoughts and nothing more.

Actually my understanding of Dharma is that what we are experiencing now is Ultimate Truth, and that the point of meditation practice is to uncover it by removing the superficiality of conditioned existence. The statements of Garab Dorje apply, etc.

I am currently reading a book on Neoplatonism, 'the last great philosophy of antiquity'. This could be lifted from it.

Agreed. I like to use the word 'panentheism', but around here that pushes people's buttons. Anything that has 'theism' in it is politically incorrect, regardless of how accurate!
smcj
 
Posts: 1474
Joined: Wed May 29, 2013 6:13 am

Re: Not Everything is Impermanent

Postby Jinzang » Fri Sep 13, 2013 1:23 am

I've been wondering about how black holes are impermanent.


Balck holes radiate Hawking radiation and will eventually evaporate.
Lamrim, lojong, and mahamudra are the unmistaken path.
Jinzang
 
Posts: 359
Joined: Mon Jan 31, 2011 3:11 am

Re: Not Everything is Impermanent

Postby smcj » Fri Sep 13, 2013 1:28 am

Jinzang wrote:
I've been wondering about how black holes are impermanent.


Black holes radiate Hawking radiation and will eventually evaporate.

This is going off-topic, but my understanding is that Hawking radiation comes from particles on the event horizon splitting in two, and then one half falls into the black hole. The other half is free to radiate. Still nothing has come out of the black hole.

:focus:
smcj
 
Posts: 1474
Joined: Wed May 29, 2013 6:13 am

Re: Not Everything is Impermanent

Postby jeeprs » Fri Sep 13, 2013 3:51 am

Well, on that note, something I have considered in regards to modern cosmological theories, is whether the idea of the 'cyclic universe' - that the universe goes through cycles of expansion and contraction, of which the so-called 'Big Bang' is one instance - is rather like some of the underlying ideas in Vedic cosmology. For if life has evolved in a Universe which does go through these cycles over 'aeons of kalpas' then it seems very much the kind of picture that Eliade drew in The Myth of the Eternal Return. So those cycles might occupy periods of time which from the human perspective are astronomically enormous, but it still amounts to 'samsara' in some sense.

Anyway that is the mother of all red herrings so I won't pursue that particular line of thought further....
He that knows it, knows it not.
User avatar
jeeprs
 
Posts: 1428
Joined: Sun May 27, 2012 8:31 am
Location: Sydney AU

Re: Not Everything is Impermanent

Postby Astus » Fri Sep 13, 2013 9:13 am

The teaching of the Buddha has its own frame of reference, and that is the four noble truths. The teachings are meant to help one become free from suffering. The three universal characteristics (impermanence, suffering, no self) are the topics to realise to reach the three gates of liberation (emptiness, signlessness, wishlessness). The characteristics are to be contemplated in our personal realm of experience (six senses). If there were anything permanent in our experience we would be experiencing it all the time. Since there is no such experience we can confirm that all of them are impermanent. We might theorise that there is something permanent outside of our experience, however, that is only a concept, an impermanent thought, and even if there were such a thing it'd have no relevance to us.

In Yogacara they count six unconditioned dharmas. Space, analysed cessation, non-analysed cessation, motionless cessation, cessation of feeling and perception, suchness. As unconditioned they are permanent. At least they would be permanent if any of them meant a specific experience, instead of the lack of experience or a theoretical generalisation that they actually signify. In the same category we could put for instance impermanence itself, and impermanence is permanent, just like emptiness and no self. But again, they are simply conceptual explanations and not experience.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
User avatar
Astus
Former staff member
 
Posts: 4127
Joined: Tue Feb 23, 2010 11:22 pm
Location: Budapest

Re: Not Everything is Impermanent

Postby jeeprs » Fri Sep 13, 2013 10:49 am

Astus wrote:From a Buddhist point of view, since we don't experience constantly anything, not even universal laws, it is not permanent. Such laws exist for us only as thoughts and nothing more....

But again, they are simply conceptual explanations and not experience.


Perhaps that is true for you. We can know all of the terminology, all of the verbal formulations, but still be lacking appreciation of the realities which they signify.

Experience has its limits, but realization is a different thing to experience, as per the quotation I mentioned previously from Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche:

Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche wrote:The distinction between spiritual experiences and realisations is emphasised in Buddhist thought. …Spiritual experiences are usually more vivid and intense than realisations because they generally have physiological and other changes attached to them. On the other hand, realisations may be felt, but their tone is less pronounced. Realization is about acquiring insight; while realisations arise out of our spiritual experiences, they are not the same as them. Spiritual realisations are considered vastly more important because they cannot fluctuate.


This is because 'realizations' pertain to reality, not to experience. That is why sages enter trance states - in those states, there is no experiencer, so no experience. That is why such states are called by yogis nirvikalpa, meaning 'no conceptual formations'.
He that knows it, knows it not.
User avatar
jeeprs
 
Posts: 1428
Joined: Sun May 27, 2012 8:31 am
Location: Sydney AU

Re: Not Everything is Impermanent

Postby Astus » Fri Sep 13, 2013 11:39 am

jeeprs wrote:realization is a different thing to experience, as per the quotation


Nevertheless, experience is something that happens in one of the six sensory gates. Even if we talk about the subtlest mental phenomena, they are impermanent. There is no seventh sensory gate beyond the six. And if any of them were permanent we would experience it constantly.

pertain to reality, not to experience


A reality beyond experience cannot be sensed or known, therefore it is nothing but speculation.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
User avatar
Astus
Former staff member
 
Posts: 4127
Joined: Tue Feb 23, 2010 11:22 pm
Location: Budapest

Re: Not Everything is Impermanent

Postby jeeprs » Fri Sep 13, 2013 12:19 pm

But 'experience' is conditioned by knowledge, expectation, mental formations, and the like, all of which will determine the nature of the experiences we have.

But the Buddha says in many places:

This Dhamma that I have attained is deep, hard to see, hard to realize, peaceful, refined, beyond the scope of conjecture (i.e. 'speculation'), subtle, to-be-experienced by the wise.


So this level of perception is beyond 'experience' in the sense we generally understand the term, which is the experience of the natural man in the world. That is why the Buddha understands such things as the factors that cause beings to be reborn, and which drive the whole process of birth and death; and why he is said to be 'lokkutara', 'world-transcending'.
He that knows it, knows it not.
User avatar
jeeprs
 
Posts: 1428
Joined: Sun May 27, 2012 8:31 am
Location: Sydney AU

Next

Return to Lounge

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 9 guests

>