Everything rots. This is the sunny insight that starts us off on the Path.
Ya don’t have to start there, but it helps. It keeps us focused and motivated. It also keeps us from being surprised by the sudden calamities we come across in life.
This was the insight that kept me away from Buddhism when I first stumbled on it. I wasn’t ready to hear such pessimistic shit at the time. Then, well, the next five years were hell, and it started to make more sense.
There’s nothing sacred here. Circumstances provide us with everything, and then take it all away—including our bodies and minds. When we toss self-interest and self-concepts into that merry-go-round, the cosmos seems like an unfathomably cruel place.
We lose our youth, our health, our vitality; we lose our friends, loved ones, and possessions. A few months ago, I noticed hair growing out of my ears long enough that I had to start shaving it off. Hair! Out of my ears! No one ever told me that was in the cards.
Each year, a few more lines and pocks make their way onto a face that I wasn’t even too fond of when it was clear and smooth. My parents grow a little more angry and bitter each year, and half the time they’re not even actually arguing with each other, they just can’t hear as well anymore.
To someone in their teens or early 20’s, these words might as well be the incoherent ramblings of a lunatic, the dark fantasies of some kinda dystopian world. A decade later, the reality of impermanence finally starts to settle in.
We can either ignore it and breakdown later, breakdown now, or acknowledge it and use it as fuel for going another way.
Practice isn’t a half-measure, though many use it as such. This isn’t about coping with things or making life better. It’s about Waking Up, and in the process, exercising our free will. Not the will to live a better life that’s still inevitably at the mercy of the merry-go-round, but to live an authentic life that views the whole merry-go-round as yesterday’s dream.
No more rot, no more rottenness. So that Path starts with insight into suffering, and then the insight that we don’t have to suffer, we don’t have to spin around in circles.
This is the first step on what’s called the path of Transcendental Dependent Arising, wherein we use the same laws that turn the merry-go-round to see that there is no merry-go-round and assert our own shining silence.
The first step is in taking control of our senses. If we don’t control our minds, then there are plenty of people and situations that’d be more than happy to do it for us.
Whenever someone says something or does something that pisses us off, we’re letting another person control our minds. That anger isn’t ours It’s just the eyes and ears coming into contact with sights and sounds which the mind habitually considers unpleasant, and this triggers a habitual coping response: anger.
When we incorporate any of those pieces into our self-concepts and self-interest, then the whole thing turns rotten. If we respond to pain with anger in the hopes of relieving that pain by passing it off on someone else, then we’re adding a little more rottenness to the world. The more rottenness we put into the world, the more of it there’s gonna be for us to get back from the world.
Just that one instant of us choosing to not inflict pain on someone else who’s caused us pain neutralizes all of the rotten conditions that went into that moment.
People often get wrapped up in politics and activism at the expense of dealing with their own afflictions. It’s great to push for positive change and equality, but not if it distracts from being able to skillfully handle the little moments of rot we encounter (and contribute to) in day-to-day life.
If we’re still rotten, then everything we accomplish is going to be convoluted to a degree, so it’s gonna be subject to rot as well.
It’s important to see the difference between rot and transformation. Impermanence (anicca) is a catchall term. Just because things have to transform, doesn’t mean they have to rot or be viewed as rot. The difference is emotive and subjective. If our minds are rotten, change is loss and decay. If our minds are bright, then change is just change.
This is a mind-made world. What we see in the world is a reflection of our basic attitudes and beliefs. After having a visceral insight into rot and trust, we start to work with the mind, and in the process, we work with the world.
This is why the Bodhisattvas vow, “To transform all delusions though delusions are inexhaustible,” is doable. The second our minds are free of rottenness, we no longer see a trace of rot in the world.
Without that rot influencing our decisions, we can make skillful, selfless choices that actually help people knowing all the while that the rot others are trying to wipe away is totally mind-made.
So if you want to save the world, save yourself. The moment you’re free, everyone’s free.