A Little Riff on Impermanence


photo by Arohn de Leeuw (creative commons)

Impermanence is one of those Buddhist concepts that seems pretty heady and may some turn people off — it nudges a little too far into the philosophical, vague, ethereal. Here’s a little story from Ajahn Chah, an influential monk in the Thai forest tradition, that makes it a little more accessible.

“…he motioned to a glass at his side. “Do you see this glass?” he asked us. “I love this glass. It holds water admirably. When the sun shines on it, it reflects the light beautifully. When I tap it, it has a lovely ring. Yet for me, this glass is already broken. When the wind knocks it over or my elbow knocks it off the shelf and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.” But when I understand that this glass is already broken, every minute with it is precious.”

— from The Trauma of Everyday Life by Mark Epstein

Epstein further notes, “Ajahn Chah was capturing the Buddhist insight into the impermanence of things but not falling into the abyss of negating them utterly.” This is an important point. Buddhist concepts like “impermanence” and “emptiness” are sometimes misinterpreted as being nihilistic.


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Clinical Psychologist practicing in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.

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