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The Art of Impermanence

by His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje

I had a powerful experience with impermanence when I was around 8 or 9. At the time, I was reading about dharma without knowing too much about it. I didn’t have a lot of experience with dharma so I mostly focused on learning basic language, grammar and so forth, and a little bit of memorisation, that was part of my early training. I was focusing on the beings within the six samsaric realms, and how they would move from one realm to another. In particular when I focused on the hell realm, I just went into this total darkness. Although I was still repeating things from my mouth, which were memorised prayers, what I saw in front of my eye were blurred images. I also felt as if my continuity of consciousness was broken, which made me feel this immense fear. I couldn’t actually continue to sit so I went out, and that made me feel better. So, when I had this unbearable anxiety and wasn’t able to continue to sit, my teacher said that I could get up and go outside to get refreshed.

When we move from one lifetime to the next, again and again, it is totally based on the continuity of the stream of consciousness; it it endless. When we think of the stream of consciousness, and that there’s no end to it, it’s almost as if our life has no actual death; because the body is something you have found anew, while the mind is on going. This is the basis for the designation of “I” to mean person. And everything that has happened from the beginning of time, is actually stream of consciousness. This is how “I” began. Since the basis of “I” or self is something from the beginninglessness of time, when we try to look for the self, that “I”, that stream of consciousness, we actually attribute an “I” to it, or we designate a self into that beginninglessness. So based on that concept of the deathless “I”, when you think of impermanence in terms of momentariness, there’s really no end to our continuity of consciousness.

Reincarnation is something being employed by the bodhisattvas, who are well intentioned and want to benefit sentient beings. They come back to samsara by committing a specific kind of karma, and it’s from that kind of karma that these bodhisattvas keep coming back to samsara. It is negative or positive karmas that places beings in higher or lower realms. With negative karma, you go down to lower realms, and with positive karma you go up to higher realms. The fact is that beings go to higher realms or lower realms based on the karma that is created. Consciousness is being driven around by karma, based on the beginning of time. So when we try to look for the self, that “I”, the potential energy collected from either good or bad karma actually influences the movements of consciousness to the higher realm or the lower realm. Where you end up is something that is totally dependent on the kind of karma you have created in the past.

Image: buddhiststudiesutoronto

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