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The Buddhist Concept of Impermanence in the Tibetan Tradition

May 20, 2017 | 0 comments

May 20, 2017 | Essays | 0 comments

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The Buddhist Concept of Impermanence in the Tibetan Tradition



The book “The Words of My Perfect Teacher” by Patrul Rinpoche a complete translation to Tibetan Buddhism. The book is a classical commentary to the Longchen Nyingtin’s preliminary practices, which is one of the best known spiritual treasures and cycles of teaching of the Nyinmapa School, the oldest tradition of the Tibetan Buddhist. “The words of my perfect teacher” is recommended by Dalai Lama and other senior teachers of Baathist and is a favorite of Tibetans. This book is a practical guide to the inner transformation and introduces the spiritual practices that are fundamental and are common to all traditions of the Tibetan Buddhists. The book “The words of my perfect teacher” also provides a guide that is detailed to the methods which any ordinary person can transform their consciousness and start the on the Buddhahood path, freedom and state of awakening. The paper choose one of the writings of Patrul Rinpoche, the concept of impermanence.


An overview of the Buddhist Concept of impermanence as discussed by Patrul Rinpoche in his book, “The Words of My Perfect Teacher.”

Impermanence is the nature of all phenomenon. For all who are born, death is a certainty, and it can descend any time on anyone like morning dewdrop on a blade of grass. Patrul (1998) indicated that people need to understand the preciousness of life and also that life is impertinent since in life everything changes. The mediating purpose upon impermanence is to serve as a laziness antidote and also an attachment antidote. When people are free of attachments, their minds become free and strong. The impermanence teaching is the essence of dharma. It frees people from anger, attachment and hatred. Patrul (1998) further pointed out that impermanence counters grasping since people grasp the conceptual thoughts since they see them as impermanent.
Buddhist Concept of impermanence in the Buddhist thought in relation to the text of Patrul Rinpoche

The early Buddhism dealt with the impermanence problem rationally. In Buddhism, this concept is referred to as anicca, according to which, the concept of impermanence is an inescapable and undeniable human existence fact from which nothing belonging to the earth is ever free. The declaration of Buddhism is that there are five processes to which no human being can ever change and even has control (Patrul, 1998). These five processes include: not falling sick, growing old process, of decay of perishable things, of dying and lastly passing away of something that is liable to pass. However, Buddhism suggests that it is possible to escape from these and it is only through Nirvana (Borden & Smithsonian Institution, 1989).

According to Doniger (2014), Hinduism also believes in the life’s nature of impermanence but deals differently with the problem. Stambaugh (1990) pointed out that in Hinduism, impermanence can be overcome only by finding out and uniting with the permanence center existing within oneself. This center is the self or soul that is permanence, immortal and ever stable. Lopez (2008) also observed that in Hinduism, the fundamental truth is Atman that exists in every human being, while it is Brahman at the microscopic level which is the supreme and fundamental truth of all existence. Therefore, he who verily realizes Atman becomes Brahman and then attain immortality.

In contrast, Buddha radically differed with this Hinduism most fundamental concept and in line with Buddha’s preaching, the early Buddhists did not believe that there existed a fixed and permanent reality which could be referred either soul or God (Lopez, 1997). According to the Buddhists, what was verifiable and apparent about the existence of the human being was the continuous change human existence undergoes. Therefore, the early Buddhism declares that there is nothing that is permanent and fixed in this world. Everything is subject to alteration and change. Buddha declared “decay is inherent in everything and their components” and his followers accepted that the existence of everything was just a flux and continuous (Bronkhorst, 2009).

Thondup & Talbott (1996) indicated that according to the Buddha’s teachings, life can be compared to a river.It I a moment that is progressive, a successive series of moments that are different, joining together to provide a continuous flow impression. It moves from effect to effect, cause to cause, one existence state to another, one point to another, giving the impression that outwardly that it is a unified one continuous movement, where in reality it is not. That is; the river of today is not the river of yesterday. The river at this moment will not be the same as the next moment’s river, so does life. It continuously changes, becomes another thing from one moment to the other moment. Strong (2008) provided an example of an individual’s life. It is fallacious to believe that during the whole life of a person, the individual will remain the same. The reality is that he or she will change. Actually he/she lives and dies for a moment or the person lives and dies through moment by moment since each moment leads to the next moment. An individual is what he/she is in the time context where he/she exists. It will be an illusion believing that an individual who is present now will be the same individual after a few moments.

Change and impermanence are, therefore, the undeniable truths of human beings existence. The reality is the existing moment; the present is a result of the previous actions or cause, or a product of the past. Patrul (1998) stated that because of ignorance, any ordinary mind just conceive them to be another continuous reality, while the truth is that they are not.

The different life stages of a man, the childhood, to the adulthood and finally to the old age at any given time is not the same. The impermanence concept and the continuous becoming concept is central to the Buddhists early teachings. Therefore, it is through the process of observing it, becoming aware of it and finally understanding it, is when an individual can find remedy for the human life sorrow that is suitable, and achieve liberation from impermanence and anicca process.
Buddhist Concept of impermanence in terms of the outer universe in which beings live

In teaching the outer universe impermanence in which beings live, Patrul Rinpoche in his book, “Words of my Perfect Teacher,” makes a consideration to the cosmology of the Tibetan Buddhist, and how to relate personally to the end of the world or to the end of kalpa. In his description of the situation at the kalpa’s end, Patrul Rinpoche describes it as burning up of the forests and all fruit-bearing trees, followed by evaporation of the ponds, creeks, and streams. This process of heating continues with the rivers dry out, and eventually the great lakes will be gone, and the oceans also dry up to the point that there is no water even to fill a cup. In the ancient cosmology of the Buddhist, the whole planet then ignites into the fire, and then followed by flood of water and finally the space only is left behind (Stambaugh, 1990).

The cosmology of the ancient Tibet and modern science both assists in understanding and recognizing the impermanence of the planet earth. Patrul (1998, p.40) stated that “reflect sincerely and deeply- if each and every billion universes constituting the cosmos, each having four continents and heaven and own mount Peru, is to be destroyed this way simultaneously, leaving only the space behind, how could human bodies at the end of the season, which are like flies, have any stability or permanence.”
Buddhist Concept of impermanence in terms of the outer universe in which beings live

Buddhist Concept of impermanence in terms of the beings that live in the universe

In teaching about the impermanence of the beings that live in the universe, Patrul (1998, p.41) ask whether on earth or in heaven, there exists a being who was born and who will never die, or for anyone who have heard or even suspected such a case. Patrul (1998, p.41) elaborate that everything who has been born must die and no one has ever heard or seen an individual in any realm including the god’s world, who was born and has never dies.

Life of beings is always getting shorter, and no one knows when or where they will die. In the current age and day, there are many advertisements on the radio, magazines, and television about extension of life. Some of the proposed ideas for life extension include exercise, supplements and diet. The maximum ages for the humans and other species can reach is dependent on biology and environment.

Patrul (1998,p. 42) indicated that despite the fact that human beings know that one day they are going to die, they do not let their life attitudes be affected by the ever present dying possibility. People still spend all their time worrying and hoping about their future livelihood as if they are going to live forever. Human beings are involved completely in their struggle for status, happiness and wellbeing until they are confronted suddenly by death. Then nothing can help, no ruler’s decree, no soldiers army, no scholars brilliance, no ranchman’s wealth, no athletes fleetness, no beauty charms, none is of use. Patrul (1998, 42) concludes by stating that people should sincerely reflect and meditate on how vital it is from the very moment onwards to never slip into procrastination and laziness, but to practice the true Dharma, which is the only thing a person will be sure of that will help at the time of death.

Buddhist Concept of impermanence in terms of the Holy Beings

In the kalpa or the present age, many holy beings who are wise appeared for the sentient beings benefit. All that remains are the teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni. One by one, all the great teachers of Buddhist, even those who were reported to be having the miraculous powers have passed. In Tibet, Milarepa, Marpa and Padmasambhava and many accomplished and learned beings have passed. These include persons who had spiritual; accomplishments that were wonderful, all showed that everything is impermanent, and today their stories are what (Lopez, 2008) remains.

Buddhist Concept of impermanence in terms of the powerful

When people see the magnificence of those in power socially, economically and politically, they do not consider the temporary, fleeting nature of their prominence (Lopez, 1997). In most instances, being popular or famous is such as fickle condition that it can be more readily be forecasted on its demise. Patrul (1998, p.42) relates the transience universal emperors and the Indian Gods, but perhaps the saddest is when reviewing the Tibetan empire size. Tibet Empire at one point exercised exercise power in several regions in Tajikistan, Gesar, china, India and other countries. That was the power of Tibet in the past but did not last and currently from historical accounts, there is nothing left Patrul (1998, p. 45).

Patrul (1998p.45) asks people in his quote “reflect on the past splendors. When comparison is made with them, our belongings, own homes, status, servants and everything that we value altogether seem bot significant that a beehive. People should deeply meditate and as themselves how they could have thought that those things would forever last and never change.


In conclusion, the essay discussed the concept of impermanence, which was one piece of writing from the book of “The words of my perfect teacher” Patrul Rinpoche. The essay first discussed the impermanence concept from the Buddhist perspective, before embarking into the teachings by Patrul Rinpoche from his book. Some of the areas covered include; the outer universe impermanence in which beings live; the impermanence of the beings that live in the universe; Holy BEngs Impermanence; and Importance of the powerful. From the discussion of the essay, there is doubt that no being in existence in the universe has a permanence of stability since everything is subjected to change.


Borden, C. M., & Smithsonian Institution. (1989). Contemporary Indian tradition: Voices on culture, nature, and the challenge of change. Washington [D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Bronkhorst, J. (2009). Buddhist teaching in India. Boston: Wisdom Publications.

Doniger, W. (2014). On Hinduism.

Lopez, D. S. (1997). Religions of Tibet in practice. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.

Lopez, D. S. (2008). Buddhism & science: A guide for the perplexed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Patrul, R. (1998). The words of my perfect teacher. San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins Publishers.

Stambaugh, J. (1990). Impermanence is Buddha-nature: Dōgen’s understanding of temporality. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Strong, J. (2008). The experience of Buddhism: Sources and interpretations. Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Thondup, ., & Talbott, H. (1996). Masters of meditation and miracles: The Longchen Nyingthig lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Boston, Mass: Shambhala.

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