My favorite Buddhist retreat center is the Bhavana Society, in West Virginia. While I was there for a 2-week, year-end retreat in December of 2011, I was driven to write some things down. This is one of them.
A-NEE-cha. Perhaps the most important Pali word those following the
Buddhist path need to know. This trip to Bhavana could not have
illustrated the meaning better. Summer's dense greenery has turned to
winter's bare branches, a thick bed of brown leaves and lots of downed
Roughly translated, Anicca means
'impermanence', yet according to Bhante Gunaratana it means a great deal more
than that. Like so many words from ancient languages, there is no clear
English word that conveys the full meaning, so 'impermanence' has to do.
He suggests we learn the word and use it, to benefit from its full
meaning. Does my English-fed mind truly understand the Pali nuances?
It's not a question I can answer, but I can tell you that when I
contemplate 'anicca' (a word I learned 7 years ago at my first
retreat) in my meditation, I do seem to feel a tad different than when I
We contemplate anicca,
or impermanence, because the entirety of the Buddha's teaching can
pretty much be boiled down to this word. He taught that the cause of all
suffering is craving (greed), or its opposite, aversion. And yet, since
everything in this world -- this universe -- is impermanent, we can
never find happiness, or freedom from suffering, from grasping and
trying to hold onto pleasant feelings, perceptions, ideas and
circumstances, or from angrily pushing away or against feelings,
perceptions, ideas and circumstances that we find less appealing. It
just doesn't happen. That shiny new car, or that new love in your life,
satisfy a greed or desire, but only temporarily. Once the newness of
either wears away, we're mostly off to some new object or idea to 'make
Everything changes. The oceans,
rivers,mountains and trees -- even the stars in the sky -- are
constantly changing. And so, my friend, are you. Does your body look the
same in the mirror as it did 20 or 40 years ago? One year ago? We age.
We mature, hopefully. Our body loses old cells by the millions daily,
replaces them with new. We have ways of making us live longer, but death
and aging are inevitable.
Our ideas change, too. When
we look closely at the feelings of body and mind we see constant
change. Things arise, they pass away. Nothing stays the same. Yet, we
grasp at objects, people, ideas for happiness, even though it's
impossible for that object, person or idea to remain constant.
So, we're back to anicca.
We contemplate everything as impermanent, unable to give us lasting
happiness. Along with that we realize that these feelings or desires are
not 'ours', since we cannot control them or hold on to them. They are
mere products of the mind, which with close attention we can watch arise
and pass away, arise and pass away. Regarded as impermanent, we cannot
grab hold and develop attachment, cause suffering. And that, to answer
many questions, is a good part of 'what do you do up there?". Anicca, anicca, anicca.