Impermanence, Selflessness, and DissatisfactionBuddhism is neither a religion nor a philosophy, but rather a way oflife.
This does not imply that Buddhism is nothing more than an ethical code:it is a way of moral, spiritual and intellectual training leading to completefreedom of the mind. (DeSilva, 1991:p 5). Of the many Buddhist sects, ZenBuddhism places particular emphasis on living the right’ life, and does notrevolve around rite and ritual.
Buddhism outlines the three characteristics ofexistence, which aids one in achieving enlightenment. Impermanence,selflessness, and dissatisfaction are concepts that are easily understood on anintellectual level, but to apply these concepts in one’s life is challenging.Impermanence is concerned with the thought that nothing remains static, andchange is to be expected. Selflessness holds that there is no immortal soul orexternal Self that exists in each individual; (Fadiman & Frager,1994:p 545)selflessness is closely connected with impermanence.
Dissatisfaction is alarger concept entir ely- it involves the acknowledgment that suffering exists.The world is founded on suffering, (DeSilva, 1991:p 21) and once anythingbecomes a problem there is bound to be suffering, unsatisfactoriness, orconflict- conflict between our desires and the state of reality.Dissatisfaction is the most difficult characteristic of existence to apply toone’s life, as it involves not only the acceptance of this state, but alsooutlines one on how to treat and cure this state.The notion that the world is an ever-changing environment on all levelsof existence is not a radical idea. In fact, those that have not yet acceptedchange as a natural state of nature is denying the reality of life. A being andthe empirical world are both constantly changing.
They come into being and passaway. All is in a whirl, nothing escapes this inexorable unceasing change, andbecause of this transient nature nothing is really pleasant. There is happiness,but very momentary, it vanishes like a flake of snow, and brings aboutunsatisfactoriness (DeSilva, 1991:p 29). Both pleasant and unpleasantconditions come and go, it is then the responsibility of the individual to dealwith each situation in the right’ way. Understanding that there is nouniversal truth, that thoughts and ideas evolve- leaves one open to improve andgrow- a goal of Buddhism. The concept of impermanence is significant from apsychological standpoint, as it encourages individuals to deal with situationswith more flexibility, as well as understanding. Impermanence allows one topossess a firm grip upon reality, knowing that there is an ever-changinglandscape, encouraging one not to take things for granted.
Related to impermanence, is the concept of selflessness. Selflessnessinvolves the knowledge that there is no immortal soul or eternal Self thatexists in each individual (Fadiman & Frager, 1994:p 545). The so-calledindividual is a collection of attributes, all of which are impermanent andconstantly changing.
According to the Buddha, the person is made up of fivebasic factors- body, perception, sensation, consciousness, and mental activities.(Fadiman & Frager, 1994:p 545) Selflessness enables the individual to focusupon the external with the understanding that I’ is not of significant priority.In taking the importance away from the individual, it permits one to becomeconcerned with issues not related directly to the self. The fact that the worldis constantly changing, and that one does not possess an immortal soul; allowsthe stage to be set for dissatisfaction, as it encompasses a number ofprinciples.Dissatisfaction exists, it is not a foreign notion.
To this singleproblem we give different names: economic, social, political, psychological, andeven religious problems. Do they not all emanate from that one single problem,namely unsatisfactoriness? If there is no unsatisfactoriness, why need westrive to solve them? Does not solving a problem imply reducing theunsatisfactoriness? (DeSilva, 1991: p 48) Dissatisfaction is in essencesuffering, the fundamental problem of life. Suffering appears in two forms;psychological and physical- which falls into three categories.Ordinary suffering includes; birth, death, sickness, old age, unpleasantconditions, grief, etc. It is typical to experience these sufferings throughoutthe duration of one’s life. The second type of suffering is suffering producedby change, followed by suffering as conditioned states. Suffering asconditioned states occurs when an individual is attached to; matter, sensations,perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness.
The Buddha points out thatpeople suffer change every moment ant this change brings aboutunsatisfactoriness; for whatever is impermanent is unsatisfactory- there is nolasting bliss. (DeSilva, 1991:p 73) Following the understanding of thecharacteristics of existence, in particular, that of dissatisfaction andsuffering- the Four Noble Truths await. These truths in no way contradict theaforementioned characteristics, but rather, explain how they can be dealt within a constructive manner.
It is not difficult to grasp the concepts of impermanence, selflessness,or dissatisfaction- carrying the meaning of these words into ones daily life,conversely, is a task. Impermanence is perhaps the easiest concept of the threeto accept, as our world seems to change more rapidly than ever, and one becomesaccustomed to this. It would only be logical for this to apply to anindividual’s spiritual being as well. One must be prepared to acknowledge thathow they perceive their external condition is constantly evolving. From apersonal point of view, it is my belief that Buddhism is quite grounded andsound as a guide for living one’s life.
It in no way inhibits your nature, butrather instills a degree of gentleness and thoughtfulness into one’s life, itresults in examination of one’s behavior. From my limited perspective,selflessness is somewhat difficult to accept, as I believe that each person isunique, and possesses some form of immortality- a soul for example. The factthat we are composed of mortal, constantly changing components does not provethat individuals are wholly mortal. An individual is composed of a great dealmore than body, perception, sensation, consciousness, and thought. It is mybelief that there are facets of an individual that cannot be so easily explained.One cannot argue that suffering and dissatisfaction are non-existent.
Byacknowledging these facts of life, an individual is in the fortunate position ofhaving the ability to end the suffering conditions, whether they bepsychological or physical.Consequently, the Buddhist characteristics of existence are useful tothe average individual. These concepts can aid the individual in healthyanalysis of their behavior and motivations, as well as offer methods that enableone to actively change aspects of their life that they may be dissatisfied with.BIBLIOGRAPHYDeSilva, J.The Spectrum of Buddhism: The Writings of Piyadassi.
Buddhist Missionary Society: New York, 1991.Fadiman, J. Personality and Personal Growth. HarperCollins CollegeFrager, R.Publishers: United States, 1994.Suzuki, D.
T.Manual of Zen Buddhism. Rider: London, New York, 1956.Web Siteshttp://www.ncf.carelton.ca/freenet/rootdi…ism/introduction/truths/NobleTruth–1.htmlhttp://www.inet.co.th/cyberclub/over_buddhism.htmlPhilosophy