Engaging with the Truth of Change

Preamble: This post is shining a spotlight on the fact that, realize it or not, we are all active agents in the flow of change and following the Precepts and living a reflective life is paramount in minimizing harm to self, other and society generally. Please forgive me, I am most likely preaching to the converted!

That all compounded things are subject to change is a universal Truth. There is no way out, round or under change. In Buddhist doctrine Anicca is the Pali word for impermanence (change) and is one of three universal Truths marking out how Buddhists understand existence, The Three Marks of Existence. Sometimes these three Truths extend to include Nirvana and are then termed The Four Seals of Dharma. There are other variations on the collective term used.

Change itself is not something we will or want or don’t want since, as a universal Truth, Anicca can’t be argued with, obviously. So when talking about engaging with change it is specific change that’s being referred to. We humans quite often want what we don’t have, and don’t want/like, sometimes, what we do have. That all covers a huge amount of ground both for individuals and within society generally. That’s ranging from the material/physical world, what can be seen and held to, through to matters of the mind and heart which are hard to pin down. Views, opinions, emotions, and the like cannot actually be divorced from the material and the physical, however it can be helpful to make a distinction.

Having and not having, and having a problem either way, is one of the descriptions of suffering – Dukkha. We feel or say that we are subject to change, or (painfully) being subjected to change. Both tend to imply that we do not have much influence on what happens to us and perhaps the society we enjoy being part of. As Buddhists we encourage active intelligent engagement with what comes before us. We do, and rightfully, have a place in influencing the course and direction of our individual and collective lives. The truth of Anicca makes this possible! Without a changing present there is no chance of a future. We’d be stuck with now!

During a conversation I had recently, which originally sparked off my thoughts about change, the subject of the wisdom, or otherwise, of engaging in a process of dialogue to influence specific changes was on the table. Here are my thoughts on engaging in dialogue with a view to influence change. Each person comes to the table with unique skills and experiences as well as a unique world view. Each person is beautiful and blessed with intelligence of all varieties. Compassion, love and wisdom are ever present. Also those around the table carry, as night follows day, a degree of habit energy (karma), which is a universal Truth in itself. I remember in a previous article on Jade Mountains referring to this habit energy as the elephant in the corner, the koan arising. In other words the koan arising and the energy that goes with it can be so obvious few think to acknowledge, and take active responsibility for, its presence. Because it is obvious! That room, whereever debate and discussion is taking place, can be anywhere: be it on-line, on the phone, in the street or via the written word. Never before has communicating been so easy or so sophisticated, and so rife with potential TROUBLE, on a global scale!

We have come a long way from kids taunting the neighbour’s kids from the safety of the woods at the back of their garden, and then running away. Or shouted conversations, often enjoyable ones, across the hedges while hanging out the washing. Put kindly, dialogue and debate covers a multitude of possibilities.

Please accept the following as non-judgemental, just my way of expressing a wish for there to be generally fewer bruises and less blood shed in the world when we are out and about talking to one another. So, I make a plea, put in common parlance, for acknowledgment and ownership of ones personal agenda: it will always be there. Respect yourself and others and where you and they are coming from. And keep a watchful eye on your ethical compass.

Understanding basic Buddhist doctrine and practicing the truths embedded therein stand us all in good stead. And I for one could do better in terms of study. At the risk of sounding bossy or preachy – to be effective, to effect change for the good, we do need to keep in mind our spiritual roots and abiding Refuge. That’s, rightfully, where we are coming from. Here is some reading should you have the time:

The Four Seals reveal what is unique about Buddhism among all the world’s religions. Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche said in an article titled Buddhism in a Nutshell: The Four Seals of Dharma, “Whoever holds these four [seals], in their heart, or in their head, and contemplates them, is a Buddhist.”
This quote came from here.

On Jade Mountains I tend not to post directly about Buddhist doctrine and weave in the basics in a conversational way. This is because I assume non-Buddhists read Jade just as much as Buddhist do and it is important to be inclusive of all who come here. The Rinpoche quoted above is from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and the article pointed to is a transcript of a talk given to committed Buddhists in his tradition. That’s good to keep in mind if the approach taken is unfamiliar or difficult for you in some way. Read, if you get to it, with an open heart and mind.

With thanks to a sangha colleague who applied her editors red pen to this text.

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7 thoughts on “Engaging with the Truth of Change”

    1. Well spotted Myles! Lovely to see you comment here. Hope you are not in the grips of freezing temperatures. My memory is that this last week marks the time when it gets REALLY cold in Edmonton.

  1. Thinking about the subject ‘change’, letting it dwell in my mind, I wondered if I really can influence the course and direction of my life. Stephen Covey, a famous American management teacher/writer, said: “We are free to choose our actions, . . . but we are not free to choose the consequences of these actions.” I believe that we are free to think that we can influence the course of our lives, but on a deeper level, from a wider perspective, we are more influenced by the consequences of our own choices. At that point a feeling of responsibility and awareness influences our own moments of choice and action. To me it seems like a mutual process of influence, a mutual ‘influx’ that can’t be divided. I think that we as human beings have the exceptional gift that we are able to see change, to be aware of it. It is ‘something’ to reflect on.

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