As long as we are attached to things that are changing and impermanent, there will be suffering when they cease to be what we want them to be.
If craving is the cause of suffering, then the cessation of suffering will surely follow from the complete fading away and ceasing of that very craving: its abandoning, relinquishing, releasing, letting go.
– Rupert Gethin on Four Noble Truths
Change is the focal point for Buddhist insight – which begins with a question that evaluates change in light of our desire for true happiness and ends with a happiness that lies beyond change. Buddha offers wisdom on how to consume the pleasures of immediate experience – by fully appreciating their intensity, knowing that we will soon have to let them go.
Insight into change also teaches us hope. Change is built into the nature of things, nothing is inherently fixed, not even our own identity. No matter how bad the situation, anything is possible.
Ancient wisdom teaches that we should train ourselves not to get attached to the results of our actions, and accepting without question the need to keep on producing fleeting pleasures, for the only alternative would be inaction and despair.
“Practice is its own pleasure” – Confucious
The effort that goes into the production of happiness is worthwhile only if the process of change can be skillfully managed to arrive at a happiness-resistant change. If not, we are “life-long prisoners in a forced-labor camp”, compelled to keep on producing pleasurable experiences and yet finding them empty of any real essence. So, what I do and when I do – will that lead to long-term well-being and happiness?
Siddhartha Gautama had left his father’s palace for the wilderness precisely to explore this: to see how far human action could go and whether it could lead to a dimension beyond the reach of change. Buddha’s awakening was confirmation that it could – if developed to the appropriate level of skillfulness. He taught that there are actions that produce pleasant, unpleasant and mixed experiences; and another one that leads beyond action to a level of happiness transcending space and time, eliminating the need to produce any further happiness.
Because the activities of producing and consuming require space and time, a happiness transcending space and time, is neither produced nor consumed. When the Buddha reached that happiness and stepped outside the modes of producing and consuming, he was able to turn back and see exactly how pervasive a role these activities play in ordinary experience and how imprisoning they are. He saw that our experience of the present is an activity – something fabricated, moment to moment, from the raw material provided by past actions. We even fabricate our identity. At the same time, we try to consume any pleasure that can be found in what we’ve produced — although in our desire to consume pleasure, we often gobble down pain too. The way we consume our pleasures or pains can produce further pleasures or pains into the future, depending on how skillful we are.
The Pali word sukha means pleasure, happiness, ease or bliss. We apply these standards to the experiences we consume: if they aren’t long-term, no matter how pleasant they are, they aren’t true happiness. If they’re not true happiness, there’s no reason to claim them as “mine.”
Anicca (impermanence), dukkha (suffering, unsatisfactoriness) and anatta (non-self, no essence) are the three marks of existence.
If you’re seeking a dependable basis for long-term happiness anything inconstant is obviously a stressful place to pin your hopes. If you understand that your sense of self is something willed and fabricated, there’s no compelling reason to keep creating a “me” or “mine” around any experience that’s inconstant and stressful. You can learn to use them as means to the goal. The role they play in serving that purpose is determined by the type of activity that went into producing them: the type that produces a pleasure conducive to the goal “the path” or the type that doesn’t. The path includes generosity, virtue and concentration. These activities produce a sense of pleasure, relatively stable and are more deeply gratifying and nourishing than the act of producing and consuming ordinary sensual pleasures. So if you’re aiming at happiness within the cycles of change, you should look to the path.
We are like the spider.
We weave our life and then move along in it.
We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives in the dream.
This is true for the entire universe.
– The Upanishads