Anicca is a foundational principle of all forms of Buddhism. It asserts, claims and teaches that everything changes, and nothing stays the same. Another expression used for anicca is “the truth of impermanence.”
On one level, this may seem intuitively obvious. Everyone knows about impermanence. We encounter it every day when the sun comes up and then goes down. The weather is always changing, even in places where it doesn’t seem to change much like San Francisco. The fog cycles are always changing as the afternoon heat in the Central Valley pulls it in from the cold ocean water outside the Golden Gate and it settles like a blanket over the Bay Area. We are so aware right now of the seasonal changes as the leaves fall from the trees and every day is a little different as they change.
When I look in the mirror and inspect the skin on my body watching for a mole that might be changing in a potentially harmful direction, I see more and more changes that are signs of the aging process. I’m very grateful this body is holding together fairly well … but I know that will change. I’m very attentive to those subtle changes in my body that remind me of my fragility.
I know I will not live forever.
Yet, as I live my life, I constantly forget this profound truth about life. In an argument, I will feel the urge to reach for “You always do this,” or “You never do that!” I will assume the people in my life will always be there exactly they way they are now. I will take for granted so much about the life I enjoy that could disappear in an instant. One fall and I’m in the emergency room at 1:30am in the morning with my wife Philomena with a broken bone, not once but twice!
I’m reminded of the Eight Worldly Winds: gain and loss, success and failure, praise and blame, pleasure and pain. These experiences arise and pass away many times, outside our control. Those fickle winds blow back and forth buffeting us emotionally up and down and up and down. Just knowing this is the nature of existence that our most strenuous efforts can’t stop, loosens the sting of the swings.
People sometimes come to religion as a refuge from those disturbing winds. Some religions promise salvation from the troubles of human existence in a much more pleasant and delightful afterlife. Even Eastern religious traditions that have the idea of reincarnation promise a better rebirth that will be better than this one if you follow their spiritual and ethical guidelines.
Unitarian Universalism makes no such promises. We don’t rule those answers out by any means as we leave it to individual discernment. What we do promise is that being together in community can make the burden of change less difficult. What we do promise is a faith in a kind of love that has a continuity beyond the winds of change, the reality of impermanence. We promise a commitment to a kind of love that is independent of changing conditions. Exactly what that love is, what to name it, how to experience it, what it asks of us, we are careful to leave open for individual discernment.
As one who was called into ministry by a deep and profound experience of this love known by many names, I have deep confidence and faith in it. It is the source and foundation of my ministry. I fall short of its potential and demands regularly, yet never feel abandoned by it, even when I am tempted to abandon it in the heat of a moment of anger.
When I was younger, I thought, “If we could just set up the world in a certain way, eliminate all the evils that plague us, encourage all life to flourish in harmony, we could enact heaven on earth.” Now I’m much less sure I know how to do that – though I’m not giving up on that attempt. What I’m not willing to postpone is the inner connection and nourishment that comes through opening to the power of love. If we have any hope of building Beloved Community, beloved community or any kind of better community, it will be built through the embodiment of love not through the division of hate.
Change is a fact of life, even the very method of its evolution. Love is the glue that holds it all together.