The Buddhist Concept of Impermanence
Buddhism dealt with the problem of impermanence in a very rationale manner. This
concept is known as anicca in Buddhism, according to which, impermanence is an
undeniable and inescapable fact of human existence from which nothing that belongs
to this earth is ever free.
Buddhism declares that there are five processes
on which no human being has control and which none can ever change. These five
processes are namely, the process of growing old, of not falling sick, of dying,
of decay of things that are perishable and of the passing away of that which is
liable to pass. Buddhism however suggests that escape from these is possible and
it's through Nirvana.
Hinduism also believes in the impermanent nature of life.
But it deals with this problem differently. According to Hinduism, impermanence
can be overcome by locating and uniting with the center of permanence that exists
within oneself. This center is the Soul or the self that is immortal, permanent
and ever stable.
According to Hinduism, Atman is the fundamental truth that
exists in every being, while at the microcosmic level it is Brahman who is the
fundamental and supreme truth of all existence. He who realizes Atman verily becomes
Brahman and attains immortality.
The Buddha differed radically with this most
fundamental concept of Hinduism and in line with his preaching the early Buddhists
did not believe in the existence of a permanent and fixed reality which could
be referred to as either God or soul. According to them what was apparent and
verifiable about our existence was the continuous change it undergoes.
early Buddhism declares that in this world there is nothing that is fixed and
permanent. Every thing is subject to change and alteration. "Decay is inherent
in all component things," declared the Buddha and his followers accepted
that existence was a flux, and a continuous becoming.
According to the teachings
of the Buddha, life is comparable to a river. It is a progressive moment, a successive
series of different moments, joining together to give the impression of one continuous
flow. It moves from cause to cause, effect to effect, one point to another, one
state of existence to another, giving an outward impression that it is one continuous
and unified movement, where as in reality it is not. The river of yesterday is
not the same as the river of today. The river of this moment is not going to be
the same as the river of the next moment. So does life. It changes continuously,
becomes something or the other from moment to moment.
Take for example the
life of an individual. It is a fallacy to believe that a person would remain the
same person during his entire life time. He changes every moment. He actually
lives and dies but for a moment, or lives and dies moment by moment, as each moment
leads to the next. A person is what he is in the context of the time in which
he exists. It is an illusion to believe that the person you have seen just now
is the same as the person you are just now seeing or the person whom you are seeing
now will be the same as the person you will see after a few moments.
from a scientific point of view this is true. We know cell divisions take place
in each living being continuously. Old cells in our bodies die and yield place
continuously to the new ones that are forming. Like the waves in a sea, every
moment, many thoughts arise and die in each individual . Psychologically and physically
he is never the same all the time. Technically speaking, no individual is ever
composed of the same amount of energy. Mental stuff and cellular material all
the time. He is subject to change and the change is a continuous movement.
and change are thus the undeniable truths of our existence. What is real is the
existing moment, the present that is a product of the past, or a result of the
previous causes and actions. Because of ignorance, an ordinary mind conceives
them all to be part of one continuous reality. But in truth they are not.
various stages in the life of a man, the childhood, the adulthood, the old age
are not the same at any given time. The child is not the same when he grows up
and becomes a young man, nor when the latter turns into an old man. The seed is
not the tree, though it produces the tree, and the fruit is also not the tree,
though it is produced by the tree.
The concept of impermanence and continuous
becoming is central to early Buddhist teachings. It is by becoming aware of it,
by observing it and by understanding it, one can find a suitable remedy for the
sorrow of human life and achieve liberation from the process of anicca or impermanence.