Understanding Impermanence, Egolessness, Suffering, and Equanimity.

Look around you, consciously and mindfully, right now, just look around you. Was what surrounds you always here? Was what surrounded it before always here? And what will be here hundreds of years later? Now, what about you? How long do you think a life like yours has existed, evolved and become what it is now? Compared to other beings on the planet, we have more mental faculties, isn’t it? We have the power of memory and unparalleled imagination. But was it always so? What is underlying underneath it all? All of this, every single bit of it, has been subjected to a process of becoming, change, or the law of impermanence which we call as Anicca in Vipassana.

We have seen in our earlier articles how even the things we see as constants like the emitting of light from a night bulb or the life we live itself is a constant process of arising and passing. Light photons have energy and momentum. As newer ones replace the older ones giving out the light, as the bulb light looks constant to us. Extermination makes way for re-birth. Just like the cells in our body that unobtrusively born and die as we coin ourselves alive as a constant. Our breaths too arise and pass, giving us the notion of a constant called Life. But we are a process of becoming. We are this moment.

There are four topics here that are joined intrinsically with one another. I would touch on all four of them to help connect the dots and engrave the essence of Anicca really well in our minds and how it is the base of liberation. These ideas are Egolessness, Impermanence, Suffering, and Equanimity. It is not an external force we need liberation from, it is the traps we build in our mind, the boxes we put ourselves into and the cycle of suffering we get into that we need liberation from. This life is a precious life and as crazy as it sounds, we have learned the unhealthy ways to live it. So, let’s understand the fundamentals of the conditioning that binds us and briefly see the path we take towards liberation.

When outside and inside becomes one

Change is the only constant

We have seen how the reality of the matter and mind is of Impermanence or Anicca. We know it is true intellectually. We may even believe it very strongly. But it is only through experience that this concept truly transcends it’s logical value and flows through us like a natural truth. It’s like knowing the joy of riding a bicycle and actually riding a bicycle. Through meditation, we experience the reality of impermanence directly within the framework of the body. We enter from matter and make our way to the mind.

Every particle, every little constituent of our mind seems to be in a constant state of flux. If every moment is in such a volatile state, how then can we cling to one part or notion of it and call it the “I” or “Mine? This “I” is, therefore, a combination of processes rapidly occurring. So rapid that we barely even notice them happening, isn’t it?

Anatta or Egolessness

There is no “I”

(Request you to read this slowly and purposefully)

Understanding the state of becoming leads us to Anatta or there is no I, no permanent self or ego. The ego to which we are so devoted to is actually an illusion created by the combination of mind and matter processes. As we go deeper into the meditation, we see how there is no separate core, nothing that is independent of these processes. It all is subjected to the law of impermanence.

Do you know what this means in our life? This means that whether we are rich or poor, black or white, this caste or that caste, we are all the same from every single way possible. We just learn to respond to our environment separately. The notion we have of who we are may change according to these external thoughts we were subjected to, but who we are existentially is the same throughout the planet.

Dukkha or Suffering

Beyond the psychological drama we create for ourselves lies a precious thing called Life

This leads us to the next reality that becomes clear to us now. Any effort we make to hold on to something that is about this “I” is bound to make us unhappy. How you ask? Say you like something but it is going to change either in form or existentially. What happens to you now? It causes hurt or suffering. Say you don’t like something but there are things beyond our control. So when this happens you still suffer. Isn’t it? It’s a cycle we build for ourselves and we keep paddling by attaching or pushing away things related to a non-existent “I”. Our own psychological drama keeps us busy in our lives until the very end when these concepts finally become very clear. It is now that only the things that truly matter fill our life but wouldn’t it better to get that clarity of our life while we still have it?

Attachment to what is impermanent, illusory, transitory and beyond one’s control is suffering, Dukkha. This we understand not by words but through meditation in Vipassana. Through observing the sensations, not giving in to reactions but mindfully responding to them.

Equanimity: The way to liberation

An Equanimous mind

So, how does this translate in your life? When anything occurs, internal or external, experience it as it is, do not react with attachment or aversion, but remind yourself constantly of Anicca, and you will respond with an equanimous balanced mind. It is really easy to say this or understand this but very challenging to actually manifest in your life. There is a way to do it in your real life that we covered in an earlier piece here.

Do you know how they begin teaching this to us in the Vipassana center? There’s an hour when we all sit straight and make no movement whatsoever while meditating. Knees may pain, feet may tingle, mosquitos may bite, many senses will arise that we are always tempted to react to. But we mustn’t. When we get desperate and really want it to go away, the sensation would grow stronger. That’s when I realized that the more I hated it, the more power I give it to bother me. Because of that, the physical pain becomes mental pain and now it’s all anguish.

But there is always that one moment that makes your day. In this moment, you did not react, you just sat there and observed the physical pain, simply observed it as it is. If even for a second we can come out of the feeling that it is “my” pain, if we look at it objectively as it is, we will observe that the pain is changing too. It doesn’t remain the same always and all we did is mindfully observed it instead of reacting to it. Now the pain has subsided and I have taken one little step towards wisdom. Imagine this in real situations and what miracles it can do to our lives. When we live our lives like this, we are bound to make equanimous/more balanced decisions.

It is interesting how this also explains the habits people try to quit like smoking, binge eating, and such. Reacting to these desires gives us pleasure for a very short period. Most activities done for the sake of achieving pleasure are seldom good in our life. But why take the temporary pleasure when you can prolong the pleasure for a much longer period of your life? When you meditate or live your life mindfully, there is work you put in and pleasure is a by-product of it. You don’t trek for pleasure, pleasure is a by-product and it lasts. You don’t meditate for pleasure but pleasure is a by-product of it and it lasts for a lifetime. This one is called happiness. True happiness. That sustains. That intrinsically flows. This was not an escape. This is a way of life. Imagine the state of mind through this would be just euphoric bliss, a constant state of mind, isn’t it? :)