Tell us what you think.
"When nothing is certain, everything is possible."
One of the central teachings of Buddhism is impermanence or uncertainty (Pali: anicca). As a concept, it is pretty easy to accept on an intellectual level. And yet we continually resist it's application throughout our lives. Intrinsically, it is a law of nature that is neither bad nor good; only our relationship to the circumstances in which it arises makes it appear to be so. For example, if I like something, I don't want it to change and tend to resist or get angry when it does. If I dislike what is happening, I welcome the change. If I am indifferent or ignoring of a particular condition, then I usually don't pay attention the transition because it doesn't impact me personally. Nonetheless change happens.
Another translation of the word anicca is "uncertain". We readily accept this law of nature as it pertains to the weather, the stock market and the price of gas but we tend to overlook or even deny that it applies to significant relationships, our health or our eventual death. Moreover, we cling to beliefs, ideas and emotions as being substantial, thereby creating an identity that we falsely rely upon. When our assumptions and beliefs are countered, we become offended or feel undermined as an individual or group. Furthermore, our investment in this self-made illusion requires sustaining, defending and embellishing if we take it too seriously.
Underlying this craving for certainty is the feeling that we need to control our circumstances in order to face what we perceive to be a potentially threatening future. We are living in times where there is much anxiety in relation to the political, social and ecological influences that bear heavily on our lives. The powers that be are unpredictable and the game is not being played according to the rules we used to count on. Hence, fear, aggression and despair are on the rise, leading to a variety of divisive and harmful consequences.
We can easily feel justified and righteous in the position that we take, rarely acknowledging that other viewpoints have validity. It requires discernment to sift through the myriad and diverse "facts" that are presented by the media. Most often, we select the ones that confirm the perceptions that we have already adopted. Once the Buddha was asked by some villagers how they should know which of the many assertions made by itinerant teachers was true. In response, he cautioned against believing in things simply because they seem agreeable, are popular views or are touted by authorities. Instead, he encouraged us to know directly how our beliefs impact the way we live. Do they lead to wholesome actions - those devoid of greed, hatred and delusion - and are they for the welfare of all beings?
Rather than shrinking from uncertainty, what would happen if we embraced it? Before labeling something as "good" or "bad", "right" or "wrong", can we be open to the possibility that the change we experience may lead to a variety of responses. In the long run, some events may even prove to be necessary and helpful? The fact that we don't know for certain what the outcome of events will be does not limit the fluidity of the situation (except in our mind where the contraction is felt as suffering).
Without the reactivity of grasping or pushing away, we come into an intimate relationship with what is happening in the moment. Only then can we begin to see the situation clearly. By observing our own body and mind, we can know directly the effect that our views have on our well-being. Are we tense, agitated, riled up with anger or are we calm and circumspect with a heart that is open to the pain of others? As we learn to relate with honesty and clarity to what is happening, it becomes possible to transform our stressful experience into one that yields insight. With deeper understanding, compassion arises. Together the two open the way for the most creative and skillful response possible.
Ayya Dhammadhira is a Buddhist monastic trained in the Thai Forest Tradition in lineage of Ajahn Chah. She spent eleven years at Amaravati and Chithurst Buddhist Monasteries in England from 2001-2012. In 2012, she took the higher ordination as a bhikkhuni in Los Angeles, CA. As an alms mendicant bhikkhuni living outside the support structure of a monastery, Ayya Dhammadhira relies on the ongoing support of individuals like you to continue her practice and service in community.