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.