Impermanence and Selflessness and Dissatisfaction:
Buddhism is neither a religion nor a philosophy, but rather a way of life. This does not imply that Buddhism is nothing more than an ethical code. It is a way of moral, spiritual and intellectual training leading to complete freedom of the mind. Of the many Buddhist sects, Zen Buddhism places particular emphasis on living the right life and does not revolve around rite and ritual. Buddhism outlines the three characteristics of existence which aids one in achieving enlightenment. Impermanence, selflessness and dissatisfaction are concepts that are easily understood on an intellectual level, but to apply these concepts in one's life is challenging. Impermanence is concerned with the thought that nothing remains static and change is to be expected. Selflessness holds that there is no immortal soul or external Self that exists in each individual. Selflessness is closely connected with impermanence.
Dissatisfaction is a larger concept entirely- it involves the acknowledgment that suffering exists. The world is founded on suffering and once anything becomes a problem there is bound to be suffering, unsatisfactoriness or conflict- conflict between our desires and the state of reality. Dissatisfaction is the most difficult characteristic of existence to apply to one's life as it involves not only the acceptance of this state, but also outlines one on how to treat and cure this state.
The notion that the world is an ever-changing environment on all levels of existence is not a radical idea. In fact, those that has not yet accepted change as a natural state of nature is denying the reality of life. A being and the empirical world are both constantly changing. They come into being and pass away. All is in a whirl, nothing escapes this inexorable unceasing change, and because of this transient nature nothing is really pleasant. There is happiness, but very momentary, it vanishes like a flake of snow, and brings about unsatisfactoriness. Both pleasant and unpleasant conditions come and go, it is then the responsibility of the individual to deal with each situation in the right way. Understanding that there is no universal truth those thoughts and ideas evolve- leaves one open to improve and grow- a goal of Buddhism. The concept of impermanence is significant from a psychological standpoint, as it encourages individuals to deal with situations with more flexibility, as well as understanding.
Impermanence allows one to possess a firm grip upon reality, knowing that there is an ever-changing landscape, encouraging one not to take things for granted. Related to impermanence is the concept of selflessness. Selflessness involves the knowledge that there is no immortal soul or eternal Self that exists in each individual. The so-called individual is a collection of attributes, all of which are impermanent and constantly changing. According to the Buddha, the person is made up of five basic factors- body, perception, sensation, consciousness and mental activities.
Selflessness enables the individual to focus upon the external with the understanding that 'I' is not of significant priority. In taking the importance away from the individual, it permits one to become concerned with issues not related directly to the self. The fact that the world is constantly changing and that one does not possess an immortal soul allows the stage to be set for dissatisfaction as it encompasses a number of principles.
Dissatisfaction exists. It is not a foreign notion. To this single problem we give different names… economic, social, political, psychological and even religious problems. Do they not all emanate from that one single problem, namely unsatisfactoriness? If there is no unsatisfactoriness, why need we strive to solve them? Does not solving a problem imply reducing the unsatisfactoriness?
Dissatisfaction is in essence suffering, the fundamental problem of life. Suffering appears in two forms; psychological and physical- which falls into three categories. Ordinary suffering includes…birth, death, sickness, old age, unpleasant conditions, grief, etc. It is typical to experience these sufferings throughout the duration of one's life. The second type of suffering is suffering produced by change, followed by suffering as conditioned states. Suffering as conditioned states occurs when an individual is attached to matter, sensations, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness. The Buddha points out that people suffer change every moment ant this change brings about unsatisfactoriness for whatever is impermanent is unsatisfactory- there is no lasting bliss.
Following the understanding of the characteristics of existence, in particular that of dissatisfaction and suffering- the Four Noble Truths await. These truths in no way contradict the afore mentioned characteristics, but rather, explain how they can be dealt with in a constructive manner.
It is not difficult to grasp the concepts of impermanence, selflessness or dissatisfaction- carrying the meaning of these words into ones daily life, conversely is a task. Impermanence is perhaps the easiest concept of the three to accept, as our world seems to change more rapidly than ever and one becomes accustomed to this. It would only be logical for this to apply to an individual's spiritual being as well.
One must be prepared to acknowledge that how they perceive their external condition is constantly evolving. From a personal point of view, it is my belief that Buddhism is quite grounded and sounds as a guide for living one's life. It in no way inhibits your nature, but rather instills a degree of gentleness and thoughtfulness into one's life. It results in examination of one's behavior. From my limited perspective, selflessness is somewhat difficult to accept, as I believe that each person is unique and possesses some form of immortality- a soul for example. The fact that we are composed of mortal, constantly changing components does not prove that individuals are wholly mortal. An individual is composed of a great deal more than body, perception, sensation, consciousness and thought. It is my belief that there are facets of an individual that cannot be so easily explained. One cannot argue that suffering and dissatisfaction are non-existent. By acknowledging these facts of life, an individual is in the fortunate position of having the ability to end the suffering conditions, whether they be psychological or physical.
Consequently, the Buddhist characteristics of existence are useful to the average individual. These concepts can aid the individual in healthy analysis of their behavior and motivations, as well as offer methods that enable one to actively change aspects of their life that they may be dissatisfied with.
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