Friday, June 26, 2020

Realizing radical impermanence

Ven. Nyanatiloka ( born Mr. Anton W. F. Gueth (Buddhist Dictionary: Manual of Buddhist Terms and Doctrines via edited by Dhr. Seven, Pat Macpherson, Wisdom Quarterly
Escape to Reality. The Ultimate Truth is always the best place to be.
The Buddha reclining into final nirvana.
Aniccatā (impermanence) is the first of the "Three Characteristics of Existence" (tilakkhana). By realizing its truth, in most texts, the other two characteristics (the disappointing and impersonal nature of things) are derived (S.22. 15; Ud.IV. I). Realization of all three leads to enlightenment.

The impermanence of all things is their arising, turning, and passing away. That is the fundamental (root = radical) nature of phenomena. The disappearance of conditionally-arisen things is part of that impermanence. Things never persist unchanged. They are dissolving and vanishing from moment to moment (Path of Purification, VII, 3); that is the sense in which they are radically impermanent.

Impermanence is a basic feature of all conditioned phenomena, material or mental, coarse or subtle, internal or external: All formations are impermanent. (Sabbe sankhārā aniccā, MN 35, Dhp. 277).

That the totality of existence is impermanent is also often stated in terms of the Five Aggregates clung to as self (khandha), the 12 internal (personal) and external sense bases (āyatana), and so on.

Only nirvana, which is not conditioned [not dependent on supporting conditions for its existence] and therefore not a "thing," is permanent. A synonym for nirvana is "the unconditioned element," for it is not a formation (asankhata) and deathless (amata). It alone is permanent (nicca, dhuva). Therefore, there is a way to freedom from all that is conditioned.
  • NOTE: The assumption, speculation, or deduction that nirvana is "nothingness" or "annihilation" is a pernicious wrong view. But it is a common misunderstanding. Other things are illusory and unreal, whereas nirvana is real. It is the ultimate truth. Other elements fall away, but nirvana persists. Yet, it is not a thing. And because it persists, freedom from all that is conditioned [dependent on supporting causes and conditions] is possible. And, therefore, freedom from what is painful, impermanent, and impersonal is possible.
Buddhist Dictionary (Ven. Nyanatiloka)
The insight that leads to the first stage of enlightenment, stream-entry (sotāpatti), is often expressed in terms of impermanence: "Whatever is subject to origination is subject to cessation." (See the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutra, S.46. 11).

In the Buddha's final exhortation, before his final passing into nirvana, he reminded his many followers, disciples, and well-wishers, most of them "shining ones" (devas), that all states of existence are impermanent by their intrinsic nature. And to spur them on to persistent, he said:

"Behold, meditators, all formations are hurtling toward destruction! Strive in earnest." (Vayadhammā sankhārā, appamādena sampādetha, DN 16).

Without penetrating insight into the impermanent, impersonal, and miserable (disappointing, painful) nature of all phenomena of existence there is no attainment of enlightenment, awakening, liberation. So comprehension of impermanence gained by direct meditative experience heads two lists of insight knowledge.
  • (a) the contemplation of impermanence (aniccā-anupassanā) is the first of the 18 chief kinds of insight-wisdom;
  • (b) the contemplation or knowledge of arising and vanishing (udayabbayānupassanā-ñāna) is the first of nine kinds of knowledge that lead to the "purification by knowing-and-seeing of path-progress." (See visuddhi, VI).
Systematic contemplation of impermanence leads to "unconditioned liberation" (animitta-vimokkha).

In this teaching the faculty of confidence (faith, conviction, saddha-indriya) is outstanding. One who attains in that way the path of stream-entry is called a faith-devotee (saddhānusārī; see the list of "noble ones" in ariya-puggala).

And at the seven higher stages one is called "faith-liberated" (saddhā-vimutta). See also anicca-saññā. See The Three Basic Facts of Existence I: Impermanence (Wheel Number 186/187).

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