The notion of impermanence, also called Anicca or Anitya, is one of the crucial principles and a part of “three marks of existence” of Buddhism. The theory asserts that all life, without exception, is “transient, evanescent and inconstant”. All time-based things, whether material or indeed of the mind, are in an incessant change of condition, subject to decay and annihilation. The notion of impermanence is also seen in various schools of Jainism and Hinduism.
Impermanence is implicit in Buddhism as being the first of three marks of existence. The other two marks being dukkha (or suffering) and anatta (non-self – nirvana is the blissful state a person reaches when, amongst other things, he or she determines finally that he or she has “no self, no soul”)
Buddhism makes clear that all physical and mental actions, come into being and dissipate. The life of a human being exemplifies this fluidity in the ageing process, the cycle of repeated birth and death (Samsara), nothing persists, and everything deteriorates. This applies to all beings and their environs, including living things which have reincarnated in Deva (god) and Naraka (hell) realms.
As I alluded to impermanence is closely related to the principle of anatta, conferring that things have no spirit or essence, no permanent self, or an unchanging soul – making it at odds with most other religions. The Buddha imparted that because no physical or mental object is enduring, desires for or attachments to either cause suffering (dukkha). Understanding Anicca and Anatta are steps along the pathway toward enlightenment.
Following is a short piece of prose which may help to familiarise the concept of impermanence when it comes to human existence. It was written many years ago when I was studying Buddism in Asia. I hope you enjoy reading it.
What a wonderful sense of humour you had.
I shall always remember my father’s wonderful sense of humour.
I shall always remember my mother talking fondly of her my grandfather’s incredible sense of humour.
I shall always remember you telling us about your mother’s recollections of her father’s wonderful sense of humour.
I will never forget the tales of your great-grandfather’s wonderful sense of humour.
You have such a wonderful sense of humour!