What is the Use of Knowledge of Impermanence?

By Bhante H. Gunaratana Mahathera

"If everything is impermanent why should do what we normally do in our every day life?" was a question a friend of ours who read my article on "That which is impermanent is unsatisfactory." Which appeared in Bhavana Newsletter Vol. 10 Number 4 October - December 1994.
This, in fact, is a very important question that every one of us should ask. Why should we do what we do as everything is impermanent? It is not the question of "If everything is impermanent" but "as everything is impermanent, why do we what we do?" is the question. Impermanence is an eternal and universal law that nobody can defy.
Everything here means our senses and their objects. When senses are impermanent, it does not matter, in fact, what else is permanent, for it is through the senses that we perceive things and it is the through the senses that we are attached to sensory objects. Also it is the senses where craving arises and ceases. When we are attached to our senses and sensory objects we do not think for a moment both, senses and their objects, are impermanent. If we do think that they are impermanent then we could use our senses and their objects mindfully and don’t get stuck with attachment to them. It is this attachment to these impermanent senses and their objects that brings unsatisfactoriness to our life. This does not mean that we should not take care of our senses. We can look after the senses without becoming attached to them knowing that they are impermanent.
Knowledge of truth that there is no place to run away from the reality of impermanence we prepare to face and accept it. We cannot run away from our body because every cell in our body is impermanent and they die, as they must, when are ready. If they do not die when they are supposed to they turn into a grave problem of autoimmune disorders (AIDS). They remain to be old cells hanging on to their old habitats multiplying themselves and taking the space of other living young and healthy cells. This is what happens to cancerous cells, too. They occupy the space of healthy cells in the body and doing nothing for the well being of the body. They rather eat all other healthy cells around them and spread all over the body gradually. When time comes for change we must let go of our old cligning and let the change take place. This is a mature attitude in life. Try to be wiser as you change and grow.
This acceptence of change is very difficult for almost every body because from the embryonic moment we are propelled by our insatiable desire which is expressed through our activities and movements which in turn create more desire and energy to support and maintain our initial desire. Every cell in our body is a very powerful power house which convert all food into energy to support our desire for more food. Desire is built in system within our body and mind. You cannot live without it until you become free from it. Desire cannot simply sit idly in the mind and body without doing something. Desire must create. It must generate other desires, other beings. It must manufacture one thing or another all the time for the desire to consude. Since you have energy of desire you have to engage in doing things to satisfy your senses. Some of these activities benefit you and your fellow beings and your surrounding. Because of this satisfaction you perpatuate your desire to become more ambitious or visionary.
The primary characteristic of desire is cling to one thing or another, one person or another, one place or another, one sight or another, one smell or another, one sound or another, one touch or another, one idea or another, one concept or a nother. The truth of impermanence never seep into your wildest dream when you cling to something. All you want is pleasure of clinging, joy of clinging, sense of security of clinging. Clinging gives you hope, trust, psychological strength. It brings you artificial solace and artificial comfort which is made up of the ingradiants of impermanence. Look at the way how sperm and ovum join together to make an embryo.
Because of the desire that very sperm of the man goes searching for a woman’s egg. No bio-chemist knows why sperms travel a most difficult journey encountering countless problems and dangers on the way searching for an female egg which is 85,000 times bigger than a sperm. Only one out of released into woman’s birth canal by a man in one orgasm does successfully reach the egg waiting in the pelopian tube of the woman. Woman’s body’s defense mechanism is fighting to reject all the foreign bodies all the way. In this hostile environment only the one, charged with desire and propelled by kamma, out of two to five hundred millions sperms, manages to reach the egg. As soon as the sperm reaches the egg, the egg hugs and engulfs it very quickly and builds a wall around it so that no other sperm cell can enter the same egg to start another battle inside and to make things complicated. By mere accident, however, if two sperm enter the egg there will be twins of the same sex.
In this operation man’s desire, woman’s desire and the desire and kamma encapsulated in the rebirth consciousness of a being died somewhere create a situation for the egg to fertilize. If any of the three (mother’s egg, father’s sperm and rebirth consciousness) is absent the egg will not be fertilized. If woman, who does not want to have a baby, uses a contraceptive method or if the being to be born does not have powerful kamma to be born as human being the egg will not be fertilized. Behind all these there also is another factor imperceptible to any ordinary mind and that factor is ignorance of the truth of impermanence.
However, desire operates in a most concealing manner from unicellular being to multi-cellular being. The newly fertilized egg started with father’s 23 chromosomes and mother’s 23 chromosomes ends up, in nine months, with trillions of cells. They continue to multiply till they end up in 100 trillion cells adulthood. All this began from desire, one of the roots of the existence of life. Desire is programmed into our DNA. It continues to exist until we deprogram it with a very special method.
Every second 500 billions of hemoglobin are generated in our body under the supervision of GNA. Every one of these 500, billions hemoglobins is fully charged with desire to live. Of course, at the same rate they pass away giving room for new hemoglobins to step in. Along with their stepping in, the desire to live also continues to flow in our life. Every cell in our body is a miniature world creating new desires to live. Every moment our mind also generates desire for countless things. Because of this unending generation of desire in the body and mind any moment our senses come in contact with their sensory fields desire steps in either to grasp something or to reject something, both of which are the charateristics of desire. When the mind does not like certain experience it wishes to repel and replace it with a one that it likes better. Sometimes the mind does not find a replacement and yet it does not wish to keep the unpleasant experience. If it finds a replacement it grabs it very quickly just like ovum grasps the sperm. If not it simply shrinks into depression or wthdraws from everything.
Do you know that millions of nurons in your brain die every moment? Do you know that missions of blook cells die every moment? Do you know .....( fill in with statistics of dying parts in the body)
Because of this desire we do not wish to think that anything we enjoy or anything we possess is impermanent. We like to think that all our enjoyments and our possessions are permanent. When we see all our senses and sensory experiences in the light of impermanence our minds can let go of our resentment which operates in us like cancer. Mind is ankered in bitterness because it cannot see things in us and others change. Due to this situation the mind likes to harp on the theme ill will over and over again and continue to suffer.
The knowledge of impermanence steps into this situation as a consoling factor and advices us, "Don’t worry, this unpleasant situation is as impermanent as pleasant situation that you have just lost. Just wait. Time will cure all wounds. This has happened to you in the past and it will happen again. You remember all your past experiences have changed. This is the nature of things. Simply relax. Everything will be alright."