The concept of impermanence is known as anicha in Buddhism and is dealt with in a very rational manner.
Impermanence is an inescapable fact of existence from which nothing is ever free. There are five processes which no one can control or change. These five processes are: growing old, falling sick, dying, decay and passing away.
According to the teachings of the Buddha, life is comparable to a river. It is a successive series of different moments joined together to give the impression of one continuous flow, whereas in reality it is not. It moves from cause to cause, effect to effect, one state of existence to another. The river of this moment is not going to be the same as the river of the next. So goes life, changing continuously from moment to moment. The cells in our body are being replaced with new cells periodically. The cells that line the surface of the stomach and intestines are replaced by new ones every five days. So our body is not the same as it was a few months ago.
Research suggests that contemplating your mortality can help to improve physical health, promote pro-social behavior, prompt positive change and re-prioritize goals and values.
Research shows that at the end of life, people often wish they had done some things differently. And research suggests that doing things differently now will not only delay your death, but also make you a healthier and happier person right now.
This information sheds light on what it really means to live a good life. If we are to live well, we will need to evaluate how we are currently living and deliberately pursue the things which will lead us to the most valuable goals, purpose, friendship and happiness.
Reflection on impermanence is meant to attune you to the impermanence of things – not as a depressing fact, but as a way to remember what is ultimately the most important to you. As you take a few deep breaths, let your mind settle on the fact that you are of the nature to grow old and there is no way to escape that. If you are younger, perhaps picture yourself with wrinkles and gray hair. You might contemplate the words that resonate with you:
- I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health.
- I may not have many tomorrows. How do I want to spend my time today?
- My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions.
Student: What happens after death?
Master: I don’t know.
Student: How can you not know? You are a Zen master.
Master: Yes, but I’m not a dead one.