Recently I was watching a short video on the last days of Mes Aynak (http://buddhismnow.com/2013/09/01/the-last-days-of-mes-aynak/) the ancient Buddhist site in Afghanistan that will shortly be destroyed, because it is sitting on a vast copper deposit, and I started to feel a pang of anger. I also felt like we should not just sit back and let the destruction of this site happen. I put the link on my facebook page and shared it with as many people as possible – to what ends? I wasn’t sure, but it seemed like the right thing to do.
Someone left a comment on my facebook page saying that this is just a lesson in impermanence and we should not feel any attachment to the site. Is that true? As Buddhists should we just sit idly by and watch the world and its history being destroyed, because Gautama Buddha said everything is impermanent? I don’t believe so. I think that is a misunderstanding of what he taught.
Impermanence is a great meditation practice that leads to the meditator loosening their grip on the things they are attached to. Gautama Buddha taught this practice because he realised that it is our clinging attachment to things that cause us to suffer when these things change. I believe impermanence was never meant to be a glib statement to make when a piece of the world’s history is about to be destroyed.
I have actually heard people say ‘that’s impermanence for you,’ when a building has collapsed and people have died or a terrorist attack has destroyed property. Impermanence is not something to hide behind. It isn’t a tool for suppressing our emotions or dismissing tragedies. Of course, we can be sad when there has been a terrorist attack, someone close to you dies or an ancient site is about to be wiped of the face of the planet. That would be a healthy way to feel. We shouldn’t try to stop our emotions, just learn how to deal with them better. If anger rises in you because of an act of impermanence, find a way to let it go.
When we understand the connection between the impermanence of everything and our attachment to them, we are able to reduce some of our suffering, and this is how, I believe, Gautama Buddha meant this teaching to be understood.
Words like karma, impermanence and mindfulness are quite important words, and we should think before we use them in a dismissive way, because it leads to them being misused and misunderstood.
Hi Yeshe. I think you are right. I have wondered about this sort of thing before too. Although i get what you are saying because its a nuanced point, i think i at least would benefit from more words being written. I think the subject needs to be teased out more. ie that part about how we are to actually practice what you are suggesting. Certainly i don’t need to hear any more about the bits that are obvious – the stuff we were always taught. I mean what we (I) want to hear more about is how to practice that thing of being actively engaged and/or feeling our feelings, rather than suppressing them or letting bad stuff happen without resistance, while at the same time, do whatever has to be done for example to stop history being wantonly destroyed and being able to go on with life in an ok manner after someone we care about has died and so on and so forth.
Can you flesh that side out a bit more. I think it may not be soo hard to do that all with the history type of incidents but with say grief that would be tough.
Also i think it pays to remember that we have emotions for a reason. Anger at thought of losing world heritage is a useful emotion. If we didn’t feel that anger, no one would care about losing it and no one would be motivated to do anything.
So we have to have our emotions. So what do we do with them if are to feel them. I mean we will feel grief. How do you not suffer while you are feeling grief. If you let the anger go, you might also lose the motivation to take action.
Hi Andrea, thanks for your comment. Sorry for late reply, but internet in Himalaya is very hit and miss. If you don’t mind I will address your points in my next blog, as a few people have been asking me about dealing with emotions. I want to post about doing a Daily Review, as I believe this helps us face up to our emotions, and see which to engage and which to let go. Thanks once again for taking the time to comment. Yeshe
So yes to your writing above in terms of understanding in general. But you bring up the site about to be demolished and the teachings on impermance coming into play…however where do you stand specifically on this desecration? There is a sense of well what is next and appropriate, even healthy in our reaction to it.
Dear Victoria, thanks for your comment and sorry for the late reply. It is my opinion that we should not hide behind impermanence. The teaching is there to teach us not to get attached to things. It is not there for us to dismiss the destruction of an ancient site as just impermanence. We should fight to save sites such as these, but not get attached to the site. It is not healthy to get angry and tense about things. It is better to chanel our emotions in a more positive way. We have to remember that suffering stems from our attachment to things and not the things themselves. A mobile phone is not going to cause you to suffer, even though it is impermanent. It is our grasping and clinging to the phone that will bring on the suffering. I hope this helps – Yeshe