The Compassion of Impermanence
When the man had finally exhausted his tale of woe he waited for the Master’s reply, but King Solomon continued to say nothing and continued to twirl the ring on His finger. After some time, the man began his story again, this time embroidering his tale with even more details of his personal suffering and woe. King Solomon continued to listen and twirl His ring and continued to say nothing.
Again the man launched into his story, but after the third time he was exasperated and addressed the Perfect Master with these words, “You are the great King Solomon; you are the wisest man in the world; I have come to you seeking your guidance and yet you say nothing and continue to turn the ring around your finger.” King Solomon stopped turning His ring, removed it from His finger, and gave it to the man. The man seemed confused and began to look at the ring. Inside the ring, around the band, was engraved “All things pass.”
All things pass. All things pass. All things pass…
What are things? Things are the universe, the cosmos and all of the forms that populate creation. Things are all, and are all of, Illusion. In creation—in illusion—all things pass, because they have been created—have a beginning—and therefore must have an end. This is the compassion of impermanence.
Perhaps you’ve seen them? They are very common in India, sold to tourists, ensconced in prayer rooms and Hindu temples, decorating fancy restaurants in five star hotels.
Some are small, the size of your fist, some are so large it would take three men to lift them up, but the images, the depictions, remain remarkably consistent—a dancing figure with one leg raised in the air, the other foot on the back of a small prostrate figure.
He has many arms with many hands that hold fire and a drum and a snake. He dances the dance of bliss in a ring of fire.
He is called Nataraj, the king of the dance and is a depiction of the Lord Shiva, the personification of the third of the trinity of Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer, and the figure He dances upon is the dwarf-demon Apasmara, who represents ignorance and illusion.
Brahma creates, Vishnu sustains, and Shiva destroys—can you imagine anything more terrifying than a creation without destruction? Would the creation just continue to be filled up with “things” that once created never died—never changed?
“Before you wish for immortality, first be very sure you can live with yourself.” – Christopher Freemantle
A human being is born. It is said that birth begins the process of dying. This process of dying we call living and this living is the work of Vishnu. But without Shiva, without dying, Vishnu could not do His work, and so there would never be any change. Infants would never become children, children would never become adults, and adults would never die—how terrifying is the thought?
It is interesting, we fear Shiva most when things are going well, yet long for Shiva most when we are in pain. It is not that we cease to be terrified by Him, but we overcome our fear when the status quo becomes just too intolerable—when the tipping point between pleasure and pain is passed.
Who has not felt that temporary elation immediately after being fired from a job they dislike, or learning they do indeed have that dreaded disease they feared they may have? “At least I know now,” we say, “knowing is infinitely better than not knowing.” What do we know? We know that there is change, that nothing stays the same—that “All things pass.”
Yudhisthira was the great Pandava king in the Mahabharata. He was virtuous and honest and unlike most kings, he was not intoxicated with his position or his power. But he had one weakness, he liked to gamble, and this was a problem because he was not a good gambler.
Now it so happened, that Shakuni, the uncle of Duryodhana the Kuru king, was a master gambler, and he conspired with Duryodhana to engage Yudhisthira in a game of dice in order to win from him all his wealth and kingdoms.
Against the protestations of his four brothers the game began and, true to form, Yudhisthira began to lose—and lose big. He lost his armies, his weapons, and his wealth. He lost his kingdoms, and when all that was lost, he wagered and, one by one, lost his brothers. Then, with nothing more to lose, he wagered and lost himself!
He lost himself! What does that mean, to lose oneself? Is it just the loss of one’s freedom, or is there something more, something deeper to the idea of losing oneself? This is addressed in the Mahabharata when, after losing himself, Shakuni asked Yudhisthira if, in fact, he had nothing more to gamble. In the Peter Brooks’ film adaptation of the Mahabharata, Yudhisthira remembers that he does indeed have something more to gamble. “I gamble Draupadi, my wife,” he says.
Draupadi was the perfect woman. She had been won years before in a royal contest, and soon later married not only Yudhisthira, but his four other brothers as well at the behest of their mother Satyavati after, as it is said, “fate slipped into her words”. And so Draupadi had five husbands and she loved them all and they, in turn, loved and worshiped her.
After Draupadi was wagered and lost, Duryodhana’s guards came to her house and dragged her back to Duryodhana’s court. Hearing what had happened—hearing how she had been wagered and lost— Draupadi was humiliated and enraged and turning to Yudhisthira asked, “Did you wager me before or after you had wagered and lost yourself?—because if you lost yourself first, you would have no right to wager me after that.”
Draupadi certainly makes an interesting point and the story itself raises many subtle questions about the nature of identity in this transitory and illusory creation.
“All things pass. All things pass. All things pass…”—even that which we take ourselves to be.
Since the compassion of impermanence cannot be separated from the threefold actions of God as Creator, Sustainer, and Dissolver, let’s look a little more deeply into these roles—remembering all the while that, in Reality, nothing is being created, sustained, or dissolved.
“All souls (atmas) were, are and will be in the Over-Soul (Paramatma).
Souls (atmas) are all One.
All souls are infinite and eternal. They are formless.”—God Speaks, Meher Baba
God as Brahma (Creator) is asleep, so deeply asleep that He is not even aware of Himself or His dreams. Yet, He dreams—He dreams the dream of creation. Creation is a dream, and that is why in Reality, nothing is being created; and if nothing is being created, then nothing needs to be sustained; and if nothing needs to be sustained, then nothing needs to be dissolved.
Some yogis intone the Sanskrit word Aum (Om) as part of their practice. At the human level this word—this sound—represents the acts of creating, sustaining, and dissolving. Ah is considered to be the most open—most primary—of all articulations. When articulating ah the throat is totally open. Ah calls forth the breath which subtly transforms the articulated ah into an uh sound—the sound sustained until it is dissolved (closed) with an um. All singers know this; sounds—notes—are always held—sustained—on a vowel and finished—dissolved—on a consonant—in this case, um. Try it for yourself.
Ishwar is the name of that aspect of God that is involved in the acts of creating, sustaining, and dissolving creation. But Ishwar does not experience His dreams—Ishwar does not experience His creation. A fair enough question would be; if the dreamer does not experience his dream, does anyone or anything experience his dream—in this case, Ishwar’s creation? Meher Baba explains that it is Infinite Intelligence that experiences creation, but then, what is this Infinite Intelligence?
Infinite Intelligence is God and it is in the nature of Infinite Intelligence to know—to wish to know—but in order to know it must think and in order to think it must have a mind, because that is what mind does, it thinks. What is the thought that Infinite Intelligence longs to think? It longs to think—to know—Itself. It longs for the answer that began with the Whim—the question, Who am I?
But Infinite Intelligence is infinite and so to know Itself—to experience Itself—to think Itself—its thinking must be infinite, and to think infinitely an Infinite Mind is required. Infinite Intelligence, through Infinite Mind in its role of Ishwar, thinks and experiences Its thinking within the dream of creation.
The creation is the dream-state of God and its illusory existence is necessary for the acquiring and perfecting of that conscious through which God experiences Himself—drop by drop—soul by soul.
A Sip of Wine – by Michael Kovitz
“Inscribe these words in your heart. Nothing is real but God
Nothing matters but love for God”—Meher Baba
My eyes believe that all they see is real—
Are not these stones and trees and birds and bees
and creatures of the earth and sky and sea real?
My lover, they are not real,
the Self within them is what’s real.
Their forms are only shadows cast
that come and go
from nothing to nowhere.
See them, love them,
but upon them do not depend.
And my Lord,
what of men who speak and walk and love and hate,
who laugh and cry with joy and pain,
and grow from babes to live and die—
are they not real—like You and I?
My lover, they are not real,
nor is the pain and pleasure that they feel.
The Self within them is what’s real,
while their forms like clouds that cross the sky
appear as shapes that dance and cry.
Know them, love them,
but upon them do not depend—
the Self that is real has no beginning or end.
But my Lord, I am a man.
Am I not real,
or my thoughts and what I feel?
Who is it then that seeks for You
and in my heart what voice speaks to You?
And are You real or just a dream?
It seems that nothing’s what it seems!
My lover, you are not real,
the Self within you is what’s real—
that Self and I are really one.
When you experience this, my work is done.
You say that nothing’s what it seems,
and that’s because your life’s my dream,
though in this dream my life’s displaced
and found again when you’re effaced.
Upon Me alone depend.
Within you I will awaken in Bliss,
beyond beginning and without end.
Remember, dear one, these words I say,
"Nothing is real but God.
Nothing matters but love for God.”—Meher Baba
(© Copyright 2000 Michael Kovitz)