It’s not just a matter of embracing impermanence; we have to go beyond understanding and truly and completely embody it. Understanding the truth of impermanence really isn’t such a stretch—it’s clear enough that in order to truly be happy, we have to be happy within what is real, what is impermanent. But to actually relinquish our tendency to seek fixity requires relentless honesty, relentless discernment and deep investigation into the nature of our thoughts. It’s a beautiful moment in that second part of the passage, where the Buddha asks himself, “Why am I afraid of that pleasure that has nothing to do with sensual pleasures and unwholesome states?” And he pauses and says, “I’m not. I’m not afraid.” But he asks the question first. Why am I anxious about sitting in zazen? Are you? Really? Why am I afraid of being completely honest with myself? Are you, really? Or is it just some habit that you assumed years ago and continue to persist in?
You may have seen the eulogy that Steve Jobs’ sister wrote—it was in the Times and all over the web. She wrote about the very last moments of his life, when he’s fading out on the breath, and literally within moments of dying, he goes, “Wow! Wow!” and then—goes. It made me think about how we react to our initial experience of zazen, of how even beginning instruction can scare us or astonish us—we get a sense of the practice and can feel, “My god, what is this? What is this mind? What is this openness?”
When I was a pediatrician, I witnessed many births, and it fascinated me how we come into this world in a similar way. We emerge from a state of apparent constancy, the womb, where so little changes, into the vastness of this world, and most of us scream bloody murder. But there are some who come forth, and they just look at the world with what seems to be sheer amazement and wonder.
Our emergence into the embrace of impermanence is infinitely more wild. As we wake up, we’re essentially going from a tiny, familiar prison cell to a place where there is absolutely nothing limiting the nature of our experience. It’s going to feel spacious. It is an opening. And the path to this opening is a path of pleasure.