When impermanence stings

The origin of suffering is attachment to transient things and the ignorance thereof. Transient things do not only include the physical objects that surround us, but also ideas, and -in a greater sense- all objects of our perception. Ignorance is the lack of understanding of how our mind is attached to impermanent things. The reasons for suffering are desire, passion, ardour, pursuit of wealth and prestige, striving for fame and popularity, or in short: craving and clinging. Because the objects of our attachment are transient, their loss is inevitable, thus suffering will necessarily follow.

An interpretation of the second of the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths

Oh, I can read this business about how noble the truth of impermanence is and, intellectually, I can conceive of how suffering could be decreased by developing the mental discipline of detachment. But sometimes, when something happens that drives home just how impermanent some things are, it just plain stings.

This past week I received two unbidden reminders:

First, my beloved 6-year old Apple Powerbook fell from a height of five feet onto a VERY hard tile floor. Miraculously, the hard drive somehow survived long enough for me to back all of my data up onto an external drive, but the CD/DVD drive was destroyed, the wi-fi no longer works, and the lid does not stay closed.

Of course, computers are a lesson in impermanence without even breaking. Just about everyone has had the experience of buying a computer only to see the same computer advertised a few months later with better components for the same price or less. And yet we foolishly wait to buy until some upgrade is available, some new processor or operating system, thinking we can actually stave off the inevitable obsolescence.

Now, keep in mind that I just returned from Costa Rica, where I left behind a significant amount of money. The timing leaves me with two painful options: 1.) wait to replace the laptop, 2.) debt financing.

Either way, ouch.

Second, 12 years ago, my wife and I tore the roof off of our two bedroom, one bath Craftsman bungalow and built a second story on top. When we did that, on the east side of the house, we needed to board up where a window had been, since the window would be blocked by the new stairway. And, when we patched up the exterior hole, we didn’t flash the Tyvek at least 6 inches under the existing siding on all sides as is recommended, and while we did caulk the seams where the old cedar clapboard siding met the new siding in the patch, over time the caulk started to deteriorate, leaving cracks where water has been getting in (we live in a subtropical rainforest zone for god’s sake!).

As we were ripping off the siding in search of water damage, I thought of how un-Buddhist home ownership seems, how we invest in paint and caulk and flashing and gutters as if we could ever permanently protect these silly man-made structures from the forces of nature.

Hmmm. Impermanence. Computers. Houses. My guess is that the Buddha wouldn’t have anything to do with either of them.

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