April 06, 2011

Buddhist Thoughts on Impermanence, Plutonium and Beauty

Lewis Richmond via the Huffington Post,

One evening, after my Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki had finished his talk, a student raised his hand. "You've been talking about Buddhism for nearly an hour," he said with some agitation, "and I haven't been able to understand a thing you said. Could you say one thing about Buddhism I can understand?"

Suzuki waited patiently until the nervous laughter died down and then quietly said, "Everything changes."

A scientist might say, "Gold does not change, plutonium has a half-life of 24,000 years. Not everything changes; some things change very slowly." But Suzuki was speaking not as a scientist, but as a religious teacher. From his religious point of view, "everything changes" means that everything and everyone we love and care about, including our own precious selves, is bound to age, pass away and disappear. Because we cling to what we love, we suffer. This is the First Noble Truth, and the starting point of all Buddhist teaching.

But there is another, more positive aspect of change. In Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, Suzuki also says:

    "'That things change' is the reason why you suffer in this world and become discouraged. [But] when you change your understanding and your way of living, then you can completely enjoy your life in each moment. The evanescence of things is the reason you enjoy your life."

What a startling thought: that the very evanescence of things can be a cause for joy, and a way to see this ever-changing, ever-aging world as a thing of beauty. A plastic flower is superficially pleasing, but only the living flower, shedding its petals and fading away at the very peak of its blossoming, is truly beautiful. This insight is the aesthetic dimension of Buddhist teaching and also a source of its ethics. When we appreciate every person and thing as fragile and precious, we don't want to hurt them. Instead, we practice the first precept -- non-harm -- and aspire to be more careful and kind.continued

Read the whole piece here.

Click here to read, "The Authentic Life" an interview with Lewis Richmond from our Summer 2010 issue.

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