We know that our time on this world is limited, and yet it hurts us profoundly to lose a friend. Fortune comes and goes, yet it never seems to come – or when it does it is gone too soon. At times you’re up, at times you’re down; but when you’re on either end there never seems to be any end. And you begin your high school life thinking it will be all over in four years, but then when that final week comes you ask where all the time has been.
The world is in flux. It is ever changing. We know this. We age. We spoil. We mature. We learn. Still, there is a large gulf between knowing this to be true and actually living it through. Many ask – If change is the only constant thing in this world, why is it difficult?
One anonymous night, I blurted out in Facebook that I found the answer to this question. A couple of comments egged me on to answer. Here you go.
First, let’s dissect the ‘paradox’.
Premise one: Change is the only constant thing in this world.
Premise two: Change is difficult.
With basic logic, we get this: The only constant thing is this world is that it is difficult.
Or to make it more poetic: All life is suffering.
Though I tweeted my epiphany that one night, it took me less than a minute to realize that I’m actually recalling the teachings of the Buddha.
Change is difficult for we are human. Life is a story written by memories, and what else are memories but connections we form to people, times, and places in order to make our fleeting existence on this Earth less unbearable.
What compels us to form attachments is desire, a word that is neither positive nor negative to the Buddha. But it is desire that compels us to connect and we know it by many names: love, lust, friendship, greed, camaraderie, rivalry, and so on. It is not desire itself that leads to suffering but the attachments created by it. By attaching ourselves to things that are impermanent and hope — by nature of desire — that they become permanent, then we inevitably frustrate ourselves. Hence, we become unrealistic (because reality will change) and we open ourselves up to suffering.
What is the solution therefore? Do we just scorn all attachment?
Different Buddhists find different responses to the challenge of desire. Some choose the ascetic lifestyle (these are the monks you see) and scorn all wordly possessions. Others, adopt a more religious form of Buddhism (Mahayana) where the tenets are studied intellectually (doctrine), lived out socially (morals), and performed publicly (worship).
As a humanist, I find great value in the teachings of the Buddha especially when put together with the Daoist imperative to know thyself. Desire can easily be overcome when we realize what its effects on us are; moreover, desire can be channeled to more productive means when we know where we need to devote our creative energies to. I can speak more of this in the future, but I’d like to end with a few examples of how this synergy works:
Our time on Earth is limited, and thus our time with friends are too. Therefore, we make the most of the time we have together (wu wei).
At times you’re up, at times you’re down. That is how the world is; one cannot be without the other (yin yang). Just remember that though things can get bad, they won’t be forever. And when you’re happy and glad, never forget how you got to that moment for it will be taken away again soon. That is how it is.
And we as humans are always changing. We age. We spoil. We mature. We learn. Just be mindful of where these transformations take us; moreover, we must listen and discern whether what we’re about to be is really who we are (puh).
So if change is the only constant thing, why is it difficult?
Because we humans make it so.