"All is impermanent." What a depressing thought, but only to an untrained, worldly mind. Impermanence is never lost, just a flow of change; a flow of change that is an ultimate truth and therefore an ultimate security.

What is it that we instead depend upon for our security? When I was a young man I depended upon my strong body and mind to excel in sports, earn an athletic scholarship, attend college, and then go on to establish a career and raise a family.

The family is now grown, middle aged themselves, and the body is becoming creaky. The mind is not as sharp as it once was. These things that I depended upon for my ultimate security have all changed, and nothing I can do will affect that.

But if I can step away from "my" ultimate security for just a moment, there is a kind of security in the flow of existence, the regeneration of grandchildren and their children, and the cycle of faces and people to follow.

What is ultimate security?

But I have learned from experience that these physical cycles and things which I attach to will not afford the ultimate security that I desire, and typically when seniors hit this wall of growing old themselves, they will turn to religion. To verify this, check the demographics in any church.

We can make things permanent in our minds psychologically, however. If we believe in God, whatever that happens to be for each of us, He becomes a permanent fixture because the mind can retain the image of our particular God and reinvent it endlessly as long as we have the capacity to reason.

We can also imagine that when our physical existence ends, our ideas of the real essence of ourselves, perhaps kind of an astral, wispy shadow of ourselves, will spiritually continue to exist in other realms or maybe here on earth as a ghost where we can continue to enjoy the company with our loved ones (of course from an admittedly one-sided relationship!)

So the mind can conjure up all kinds of scenarios to ease the pain and the reality of impermanence. When things change, then we can imagine an even better outcome resulting from that change. That's called positive thinking.

But positive thinking is just physical thinking after all, and within the law of impermanence falls thinking itself. So what is thinking? And why is it impermanent?

The mystery of thought.

Have you ever noticed, perhaps in front of the bathroom mirror in the mornings, how your mind goes from one thing to another, never stopping to even take a breath? Can you see the impermanence there of each thought which almost immediately morphs into the next one depending upon simple cause and effect, the next thought being conditioned by the previous one? Part of meditation is being aware of how these thoughts behave, instead of being completely caught up in them.

Where do thoughts come from? Have you ever watched the mind and how it works? How it promotes all the things that comprise just an illusion of self into a concrete belief in a self, in an ego?

Our only contact with the world are our sense organs, If you were blind, deaf, numb all over, lost your capacity to taste and smell, there would no longer be a world. Only your mental images and memories would remain. No more relationships with anything or anybody.

Therefore our relationship to the world and other beings depends solely upon our sense organs. So how do they work? And how does thought arise?

How does the mind work?

When we see something, what does that mean? What has to transpire for that sight to register in the mind are three things. First there has to be an object of attention, which let's say is a tree that we are looking at. Then secondly, there has to be a sense organ to register the tree, which would be the eye. And thirdly, there would have be to within that eye something called consciousness or awareness which would connect the organ with its object, the tree. And then we "see" a tree.

Now once we "see" the tree, a few other things happen almost simultaneously in the mind. The first is perception. We "perceive" what we are looking at by searching our memory banks to see if the object is familiar. Ah, yes, I remember, that is a tree! So we define and categorize it. If it's something that we are entirely unfamiliar with, then the mind connects it as closely as it can with other things in its memory banks. In those rare instances where there is nothing close to what we are seeing, then we tend to stare at it dumbfounded!

After we perceive the tree, and categorize it as a "tree,' we then make a snap judgment as to whether we like this object or not, or whether we might be simply neutral toward it. If we like it, the mind immediately attaches to it and thought develops in trying to figure out how we can make that tree our own. Thought will quickly dismiss uprooting it and taking it home, but will instead think about where the camera is, and imagine our friends and neighbors thrilling to the possibility of looking through our thousands of photos, this being one of them!

One more thing then comes into play again, and this is consciousness. Consciousness connects all the dots of an eye, a tree, awareness, perception, memory, and thought into an illusion of a watcher, which is watching all of this. This connecting of the dots is the builder of "self," the construction of ego, and this very construction, as illusory as it is, becomes a real entity in the mind, a fabricated entity that now has to be defended and preserved.

This is what is called basic ignorance, the ignorance and delusion that precipitates an attachment that supersedes death and seeks out physical form after death in order to re-experience the senses and the illusion of ego once again.

This endless transference of illusion is called the cycle of life and death. An endless cycle as long as the mind continues to connect the dots and create a self. Once this endless cycle of illusion is broken, however, then impermanence is no longer valid.

Then the material world is transcended by mind and is free to never again return to physical existence and its prisons of impermanence, discontent and self.

Author's Bio: 

E. Raymond Rock (anagarika addie) is a meditation teacher at:

http://www.dhammarocksprings.org/ and author of “A Year to Enlightenment:


His 30 years of meditation experience has taken him across four continents including two stopovers in Thailand where he practiced in the remote northeast forests as an ordained Theravada Buddhist monk.

He lived at Wat Pah Nanachat under Ajahn Chah, at Wat Pah Baan Taad under Ajahn Maha Boowa, and at Wat Pah Daan Wi Weg under Ajahn Tui. He had been a postulant at Shasta Abbey, a Zen Buddhist monastery in northern California under Roshi Kennett; and a Theravada Buddhist anagarika at both Amaravati Monastery in the UK and Bodhinyanarama Monastery in New Zealand, both under Ajahn Sumedho. The author has meditated with the Korean Master Sueng Sahn Sunim; with Bhante Gunaratana at the Bhavana Society in West Virginia; and with the Tibetan Master Trungpa Rinpoche in Boulder, Colorado. He has also practiced at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and the Zen Center in San Francisco.