Buddhist concept of – Impermanence (Annica, Anitya, 無常 Mujō)

When it comes to understanding the Buddhist worldview, it cannot be overstated just how the rest of it is tied to the view of existence as constantly changing. This view of Anicca (Pāli) or Anitya (Sanskrit), or Impermanence, is one of the most important ideas in the Buddhist paradigm.

It’s one of the Three Marks of Existence in the Theravada school, the other two being the world as unsatisfying, Dukkha, and Anatman, there is no Existence of an enduring Self or essence. What it means is that all things are in a state of flux. All conditioned things are changing: birth, death, and ageing. All objects, possessions, the natural world. It also includes mental reality, thoughts, and feelings that arise and pass away. Compared to Nirvana (Nicca), where nothing changes at all.

Think of it like Verbing Reality: existence is a process of change, so think not in nouns but verbs. The ‘cosmosing’ is ‘planeting’ right now; it’s’ peopling’ on one of those ‘planetings’ and one of those ‘peoplings’ is you. So the cosmos is ‘doing you’. But even here, language trips us up because it implies a separation of the cosmos and you. Instead, one is all, and all is one, and all is in motion; we are the cosmos, a microcosm of it all.

It speaks to our day-to-day lives as we face the impermanent reality and finite existence. It tells the truth about the world that as much as we try to build up safety, control, and security through knowledge, answers, status and material possession. Our suffering arises here because we try to cling to things in the desperate hope they will remain. That being loved ones, prized possessions, reputations, etc.

In Buddhism, they are called the Eight Worldly Winds or Concerns outline in the Lokavipatti Sutta: The Failings of the World,

‘Monks, these eight worldly conditions spin after the world, and the world spins after these eight worldly conditions. Which eight? Gain, loss, status, disgrace, censure, praise, pleasure, & pain. These are the eight worldly conditions that spin after the world, and the world spins after these eight worldly conditions.’

Lokavipatti Sutta: The Failings of the World translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Our relationship to this impermanence is what matters and is found in how we respond to these eight winds. We welcome the gains, status, praise and pleasure, believing we deserve them. We also rebel against loss, disgrace, censure and pain because we cannot accept their presence. These are both our Desire (Sanskrit; Raga) and Aversions (Sanskirt; Dvesha), part of the Three Poisonous Roots.

At the heart of Buddhism is how we face life, and at the heart of our lives is how we face reality. Buddhism accepts that everything undergoes change, and there is nothing to hold onto for long, and life will one day slip from us.

A lot can be gained by contemplating impermanence daily; knowing and accepting our time is finite. It can motivate us to use the time we have wisely.
Facing the truth of impermanence is where we have our greatest challenge, but it’s also the path towards liberation from suffering.

Abraham Lincoln recounts a story:

It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: “And this, too, shall pass away.” How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!’