When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,
Thy youth’s proud livery so gazed on now,
Will be a totter’d weed of small worth held
- Sonnet III of Shakespeare’s Sonnets
Impermanence is a concept in various Eastern religions, and in Buddhism is one of the “three marks of existence”, or trilaksana in Sanskrit (the other two marks being suffering or dukkha and non-self or anatta).
This differs from the false sense of tangible objects having a static, concrete nature. The sense that although things may change or break down, they are essentially the same thing, at least for periods of time. However, the understanding of impermanence allows us to see past what is essentially an illusion: That all things are in a constant, unstoppable state of change.
Take the river, in which water flows accordingly to its contour. The water continues to flow, never stopping, never even pausing for a brief second. That which you see in the river is not the same as you saw it one second ago. It is always moving, always in a state of flux.
Impermanence is very important when contemplating the nature of things. Impermanence is the nature of all things. Humans, animals, plants, rocks, mountains, oceans, are all in a state of transience. This is vital, because when we see that things change, we can thereby appreciate what is here, for when it is gone, it is here no longer.
Two of Gautama Buddha’s Four Noble Truths indicate that realizing impermanence is a part of the antidote to trishna, which is the Sanskrit word meaning “thirst” or “desire,” thereby becoming also an antidote to dukkha (which is “suffering”). By clinging onto things or people, we place unnatural expectations upon them. They will not always be there, nor will they always be the same thing or person you thought they would always be. They are subject to change. When they are gone, despite our hopes and wishes, we suffer. By understanding this, one learns to stop clinging and simply let go.
And so, to appreciate what one has now, will allow one to transcend worldly notions of pain or pleasure, sadness or joy. Seeking pleasure is not the answer to pain, as it will only bring pain in the end. Instead of having unhealthy expectations, we will become free from this trap. We will not seek pleasure for the sake of alleviating pain, nor will we seek happiness in warding off sadness. We will know that living completely now, in the present, will allow us to rise above both pain and pleasure. We will be grateful for what we have, and will expect nothing more.