by Venerable Amitha Teldeniyaye
04 Thursday 2018

It is an observable fact that the dominant instinct of every living being is to prolong life by any and every available means. 

Virtually every invention by humans since the dawn of time has been brought about by the desire to make living more and more tolerable, and even to extend it as much as possible, such is the fierce attachment that we have to remaining alive and enjoying it for as long as we can. 

But harsh reality then comes into play at this juncture.

Much as we would wish things to be different, we are led to the realisation that our lives are drawn to an end by reason of old age, illness or some other causative factor.  We then panic!   Sparing neither effort nor money, we go to enormous lengths, to do our best to prevent or delay that outcome as if it were within our powers to do so.   Of course, our different religious, personal or cultural backgrounds will naturally influence the way we think about such things, but there is one feature which all living beings share in common – we all desire to live long, overpowering the effects of growing old, losing good health or, quite simply, resisting and defeating the onslaught of decay and impending death.   But just how futile and unrealistic this aspiration is may be judged by considering one simple fact:  if it were magically to be achieved, then no-one would ever get old, everyone would always remain young and beautiful, never ageing or weak, never ill, never dying!  

This is pure wishful thinking without any real evidential base to it.  In fact, the contrary is the case.  We know from our own life experiences that the ultimate reality is very, very different.

The processes of dying and re-generation are on-going ones, resulting ultimately in clinical death, also known as momentary death.   When physical matter is divided into its smallest particles and energies, they last an extremely short time – a process invisible to the naked eye!  The speed of change is imperceptible, inconceivable, even!

With regard to consciousness, it changes faster than physical matter.   Our life is comprised of a series of consciousnesses that arise and fall away in succession.  The passing of one thought is the beginning of another.  This happens extremely fast – faster than any man could devise – not needing time to travel.

Because of the intractable speed of change of both mind and matter in the ordinary world, we assume that things and persons really exist. But, in an ultimate sense, what really exists is emptiness; in other words, only a constant arising and passing of energies.

In reality, we live in just a single moment – this moment – not, the last one nor the next one.

The last one is already in the past; the next one has not yet fully materialised.  Hence, life occurs only in moments in the present.  To sum up, life is a succession of incessant moments until it inevitably reaches a clinical ending one day.

A clear appreciation of this reality benefits us in numerous ways.

Mere theoretical knowledge is not of much use in this particular respect.  Instead, what is required is experiential knowledge.  The ability to perceive this change both physically and mentally empowers us to adjust to the harsh realities of life, such as illness, separation, ageing and death.  Once the governing principle that life is just a succession of incessant moments is firmly embedded in our consciousness, the easier it becomes to remain at peace with oneself without being thrown off-course and disorientated by the harsh realities of life listed in the preceding lines of this paragraph. 

Through constant practice, one is able to replace an unrealistic dream world with one in which we unreservedly accept the truths of one’s existence and thus reach a state of contentment – and, therefore, of inner peace.   We are gradually brought to the realisation that all things are transient and, therefore, to cling to perceptions which have been formed without any real foundation is not only futile, it is also hugely self-damaging.   For the sake of our own sanity, we need to strive to liberate ourselves from this handicap to ultimate freedom and happiness.