Uwarunkowane zjawiska to produkty przyczyn i warunków; wszystkie podlegają też zmianom – przestają być tym, czym były, i stają się czymś nowym. Takie transformacje zachodzą zarówno w niesubtelny, jak i subtelny sposób. O niesubtelnej zmianie mówimy wtedy, gdy dochodzi do ustania danej rzeczy. Subtelne zmiany zachodzą w każdej chwili – polegają one na tym, że dana rzecz zmienia się w kolejnych momentach.
Zasadniczą nietrwałość możemy obserwować, odwołując się do naszych zmysłów: widzimy, że po tym, jak rzeczy istnieją, nadchodzi też ich koniec. Krzesło się łamie, człowiek umiera, butelki podlegają recyklingowi. Zrozumienie niesubtelnej nietrwałości nie jest trudne; nie potrzebujemy logicznych argumentów, by zaakceptować takie zasadnicze zmiany.
Conditioned phenomena are products of causes and conditions, and all of them undergo change, disintegrating from what they were and becoming something new. Change occurs in coarse and subtle ways. Coarse change occurs when the continuum of a thing ceases. Subtle change occurs moment by moment — it is a thing’s not remaining the same from one instant to the next.
We can observe coarse impermanence with our senses: we see that after coming into being, things later cease. A chair breaks, a person dies, bottles are recycled. Understanding coarse transience is not difficult; we don’t need logical arguments to accept this coarse level of change. However, for something to arise and cease in this obvious way, there must be a subtler process of change occurring moment to moment. Without a seed changing moment by moment, a sprout will not appear. Without the sprout growing in each moment, the plant won’t come into being. Without the plant aging and disinte- grating moment by moment, it won’t die. Without subtle, momentary change, coarse change could not occur. The fact that things end indicates they change sub- tly in each instant. They are transient or impermanent. In Buddhism, “imper- manent” means changing moment by moment. All the main Buddhist philosophical tenet schools (except for Vaibhāṣika,
which has a slightly different understanding of the process of change and cessa- tion) accept that the moment a thing comes into being, it contains the seed of its own cessation simply by the fact that it is produced by causes and conditions. It is not the case that one cause produces a particular thing, that thing remains un- changed for a period of time, and then another condition suddenly arises that causes its cessation. Rather, the very factor that causes something to arise also causes it to cease. From the very first moment of a thing’s existence, it has the na- ture of coming to an end. The very nature of conditioned phenomena is that they do not last from one moment to the next. Generally speaking, when we think of something coming into being, we look at it from a positive angle and think of it growing. When we think of something end- ing, we have the negative feeling that what existed before is ceasing. We see these two as incompatible and contradictory. However, if we reflect on the deeper mean- ing of impermanence, we see that its very definition — momentary change — ap- plies to both the arising and ceasing of a thing. Nothing, whether it is in the process of arising or the process of ending, lasts into the next moment. The present is insubstantial. It is an unfindable border between the past — what has already happened — and the future — what is yet to come. While we spend a great deal of time thinking about the past and planning for the future, nei- ther of them is occurring in the present. The only time we ever live is in the present, but it is elusive, changing in each nanosecond. We cannot stop the flow of time to examine the present moment. Scientists, too, speak of momentary change: subatomic particles are in contin- uous motion, and cells in our body undergo constant, imperceptible alteration. When we understand impermanence to mean momentariness, we see that arising and ceasing are not contradictory but are two aspects of the same process. The very fact that something comes into being means it will cease. Change and disinte- gration occur moment by moment. When we understand impermanence in those terms, we’ll recognize the significance of the first seal, that all conditioned phe- nomena are impermanent.
Understanding impermanence is a powerful antidote to harmful emotions that plague our lives. Emotions such as attachment or anger are based on grasping: we unconsciously hold the view that the people to whom we’re attached will not cease and that the problem or mood we’re experiencing at present will continue. Contem- plating impermanence shows us the opposite: since everyone and everything changes, clinging to people, objects, or situations as being fixed doesn’t make much sense. Since our problems and bad moods are transient by nature, we do not need to let them weigh us down. Rather than resist change, we can accept it. While the direct and complete antidote to attachment is the realization of self- lessness, an understanding of impermanence will prepare our mind to gain insight into the meaning of selflessness. But understanding impermanence will not harm beneficial qualities such as love, compassion, and altruism because those emo- tions are not based on unrealistically grasping impermanent things to be perma- nent. Contemplating impermanence gives us confidence that our disturbing emo- tional habits can change and that excellent qualities can grow in us.