The Transitory Nature of Existence
We normally think that a person is a subject who perceives and is separate from objects, and we tend to treat objects as if they were solid and dependable in some kind of absolute way. Yet mental objects—wealth, power, a house, a television show, an idea, a feeling, whatever phenomenon you can think of—are really not so absolute but instead are relative, arising and passing away, and seen only in relation to other phenomena.
But how can this be, you may ask? Surely as ‘‘I’’ read a ‘‘book,’’ they both exist, since there seems to be an ‘‘I’’ who holds the book in my hand. The answer is that all things exist in relation to one another, and existence is marked by change. Perhaps the best way to clarify this a bit would be to use the example of the body. The body is changing all the time. In babies, we can see this more vividly because they grow so quickly. But we all know that every body changes, even from day to day—for example, according to what we eat or how much we weigh. Even our moods can affect the body and be reflected in how we look, perhaps crestfallen or haggard or else bright and vital. Above all, we know that the body ages and eventually passes away. The body is a vivid illustration of the transitory nature of existence. If we think of the body as solid, fixed, and unchanging, and cling to this notion, that is grasping at the body as ‘‘self.’’