Let us first consider the fact that all things are impermanent. This means that all phenomena are constantly changing; nothing remains in its original state. This fundamental concept of Buddhism tends to be interpreted negatively: everything, we are told, shifts and decays. People live a futile existence and are fated to die. In Japan, Buddhism used to be thought of as bleak and pessimistic. Transience, it was assumed, referred to the brilliance of the moon obscured by a passing cloud, or the petals of the gloriously blooming flower wilting and dropping to the ground.

By his teaching of transience, Shakyamuni meant that one should not be distracted by fleeting moments of splendor.

One achieves true happiness only when one is free to adapt to change.

This teaching opens our eyes to the realities before us and gives us the strength to live with hope for the future. Since all things are constantly changing, clinging to the past only causes suffering. At the same time, troubles can lead to improvements. Bitter failures, in other words, can become the building blocks for future success. With effort, the poor can get rich. The sick can get well. Change holds the key to future possibilities.

The truth that all things are constantly changing promises infinite potential. This hopeful interpretation of the Dharma is the starting point for happiness.

Do we accept change with hope or do we see this world as no more than a fleeting existence? It is not a matter of which interpretation is correct. Rather, they are more like the two sides of a coin. For the first half of life, we remain hopeful. In the second half we would do well to acknowledge the start realities of transience and calmly accept the inevitable end to our own existence.

"How empty is my vow of absolute love," says a certain poet. The only absolute in this world is that all living things must eventually die. Nichiren (1222-1282), the eminent Buddhist priest who extensively spread the Lotus Sutra teachings in Japan in the face of relentless persecution, wrote that we should try to understand death before attempting to study other matters.

The doctrine of transience, in opening the way to future possibilities even within the limitations of inevitable change and death, lends us, I believe, the strength to give value to our lives.

Nikkyo Niwano

Buddhism for Everyday Life

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