Day 5 – Bodhi Season 2017 – Impermanence

Bodhi Day Christmas Cookie, Bodhisattva of Impermanance

Today, December 22, is day 5 of 7 of the Lunar Bodhi Season of 2017, which began December 18 with the 12th New moon of 2017.

The 5th of the Bodhisattvas to go into the world providing guidance is the Bodhisattva of Impermanence. Five is for the Five Aggregates taught by Siddhartha Gautama not long after his Enlightenment on his Bodhi Day:

1. Form-Things we see such as a desk or the sound of a loud cat.
2. Sensation/Feeling -Emotions, the guide for our actions.
3. Perception-What we think about the things we see, how they relate.
4. Thoughts-Ideas that pop into our minds.
5. Consciousness-The executive of our actions.

The Five Aggregates are the platform of our sentience, given to us by Nature, in this world of constant change, of Impermanence. In a really small nutshell, the punchline is we have no direct control over any of them. It’s a very powerful statement as it strikes to the heart of Dukkha. Think about it, do we have control over things going on around us? Do we have control over our engrained animal emotions? Do we really have control of our thoughts?

I’d like to dive deeper, but we’ll return to this after Bodhi Day. This post isn’t about the 5 Aggregates itself, but the reason we have them – to be designers in this Infinite, Indivisible Universe in which we are sentient – awake. “Man is a piece of the Universe made alive.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

We now are at the crux of the value of Buddhism. Impermanence is a double-edged sword. On one edge, without Impermanence, everything is still, there is no action, no life, nothing. Just an old movie sitting in its canister – yes, I’m that old. On the other edge, our clinging minds are at odds with Impermanence like a rug relentlessly being pulled from under us! Although Bodhi Day is three days away, this day is the real day of Enlightenment.

Nothing is still, nothing is permanent – even if our senses can’t detect it. Even for that rock on my desk, at the very least, the atoms are buzzing, photons are bouncing of it, neutrinos are passing through it (I don’t know). It will eventually within a few decades find itself in the possession of someone else who may slice it or toss it in the back yard where lichen will grow on it, or it will end up in a river, slowly eroding away. Within some millions of years it may be subducted and melted into the Earth’s mantle, and in a few billion years vaporized by an expanding sun.

Things change at different rates, some slow enough to serve as an assumption we can sort of count on during our lifetimes, such as the position of land masses. But the continents are moving and so slowly that it took a really long time for any humans to realize it. If the continents didn’t drift, life on Earth would be very different. Some things move quickly like the release rate of Neo4j and R Studio, and that can be a good or bad thing. Whatever the case, things change just right or we wouldn’t be here.

We’re pretty much comfortable with the notion of change at the workplace since another thing someone always quips in a meeting in order to sound smart is, “Change is constant.” But this post and Buddhism is not about change itself. It’s about the disconnect between the model of the Universe in our heads and the constantly changing real world; the cause of our angst, Dukkha. The model of the Universe in our heads just can’t keep current with Reality. We have limited storage capacity, we don’t see everything that goes on, we don’t even know if what we thought is right was right in the first place. Worse, our brains zealously protect its beliefs … it knows what it knows and is good about re-writing history to accommodate its delusions.

We believe that history repeats itself, reinforcing the misguided validity of our beliefs. That is because if you squint enough, history kind of does repeat itself. As Heraclitus suggests, do we really never stand in the same river twice? Strictly speaking, we don’t – the water is constantly different, different waves, different plankton, different muck. But if we squint enough, the temperature of the water and time of day is close enough for us to predict we can snag a few trout. Life is full of cycles, repeating, patterns. Even if a pattern repeats such as calling your friend each week like clockwork, your friend as with all of us is slowly changing. The break of the pattern could be abrupt, meaning we may experience a reliable pattern, but we’re shocked when it suddenly breaks because we pretended no other things were going on.

How do we remove the disconnect between the model in our brains and the Real World? Reality is the only reliable model of Reality, so we could become Reality. That is, we empty our brain of all that outdated crap. How? Simply do it. Stop judging everything. Stop being opinionated. Actually listen. Just shut the f*** up. Even if you’re just being silly about it – “Duh, yeah, Reverend Dukkha says empty my brain … Duh! This is me with my empty brain.”

I’ve often wondered, “Is Buddhism just a mind game, nothing else? F-this! I’m just playing mind games with myself!” Well, actually it is just a mind game. It’s a mind game to shut up your brain, that pitifully crappy tyrant, without having to resort to a lobotomy or ‘shrooms! You’ve been duped into believing all sorts of outdated nonsense which you believe to be true since you’ve validated it with others, who have the exact same programming.

But … stopping there with our empty brain would be abandoning our journey to the other shore, retreating back to the shore of the simplicity of life as any other animal, not sailing on to that other shore on the ship named Buddha, the Dharma as the captain, and manned by the crew of the awakened Sangha. With an empty brain, we would be free from Dukkha, but we’d lose that designing capability Nature took billions of years to give us. We are on the path out of this ugly stage caught between animal and master designers.

You may be saying, “Master Designers? Is that it?! I want other-worldly visions, the power to heal…” We don’t appreciate ourselves enough, as we humans are very good at moving onto the next thing (the pasture is always greener on the other side). It’s part of our animal programming to move on before the predators gather, before we die from malnutrition from eating just mangos (not a complete food) for the past month. But we must remember that we humans are as magical to the other animals as unicorns and Santa Claus are to us! Just the act of moving my coffee cup farther from the edge of the table is a feat well beyond any other animal on Earth!

It is often said, “Give an infinite number of monkeys sitting at typewriters infinite time and they will type ‘War and Peace’.” Well, a mere 100 billion humans who have lived over the past 100,000 years of sentience came up with ‘War and Peace’ and a shit-ton-load more! Wow! That’s magic! That’s the power of the ability to design! I hear you saying, “Yeah but … that self-awareness thing that causes us all great angst … that awful side-effect of being able to create models of the world in our head so we can play what-if games to design things beyond evolution.” (If you actually did say that, you’ve got it!) Take refuge from the New Testament:

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever. So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Similarly, Rubber Ducky Buddha of Joliet’s Prime Mantra is: “Faith and Patience keeps me calm so I can focus on the present.”

“Faith” is the understanding that everything is temporary, all times, both “favorable” and “unfavorable” to you, will pass. However, we must accept what we see as favorable and unfavorable equally. In fact, the stress of the “unfavorable” times, the times we are the uke (the one being thrown), forge our spirit, and the enlightened are more live during those times.

“Patience” is knowing that things take time and very often do get worse before they get better. There is no magic. Importantly, it also takes time to figure out how to make some process take less time.

We “focus on the present” because there is only now. The past is a pitifully outdated model encoded in our brain, it exists only in brains. The future are predictions based on that pitifully outdated model in our brains. It is our mastery on focusing on Now that frees us from the tyranny of Dukkha by not clinging to a past that no longer exists and futures that probably won’t come into being.

If you understand what was presented these past five days, the light switched on, and you no longer blindly feel your way around in the dark. You see that there is only what is, no matter what your monkey brain tells you. Now you can settle into the Universe with full acceptance, not wondering what you could be missing out on. You should have dropped the burden of your Dukkha. No magical visions, no super powers. You are on the well-lit path, Enlightened. Bodhi Day to you will be just a vow to the Path.

So what now, after we’ve dropped the heavy bag of our burdens? Tomorrow, Day 6, we pick that bag back up and meet the Bodhisattva of Perfection to explore Rubber Ducky’s Prime Mantra further.

With that, here are the first five lines of the “Great Blue Heron Sutra”, given to me by Rubber Ducky:

[1] Infinity is all that is real, it is indivisible, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
[2] Dukkha results from the interference from our intent to treat Phenomena as if it is separate from the Infinity. We remove Dukkha by following the path towards perfectly blending in with the Universe with 100% acceptance of what Is.
[3] The Universe is a complex system and beyond the total control of anything. I will walk the path with no expectations. “Is that So?”, I will say at every turn.
[4] The reality of forms that we believe in is just a model of the world in our brains. It is a pitifully inadequate model as the only adequate model is the One itself. Our reality of forms is a delusion.
[5] Keep your mind empty, never judgmental, never opinionated, expect nothing.

Keep Calm, Merry On!
Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku
Ordained Zen Priest of the Order of the Common Area Ponds

Links to each of the Bodhi Season 2017 days: