As Autumn Clouds

Always fall in with what you’re asked to accept. Take what is given, and make it over your way. My aim in life has always been to hold my own with whatever’s going. Not against: with.

·        Robert Frost

I ask myself often: “Why is it that everything changes?” And only one answer comes back to me: That is how life is. Nothing, nothing at all, has any lasting character. The Buddha said:

This existence of ours is as transient as autumn clouds. To watch the birth and death of beings is like looking at the movements of a dance. A lifetime is like a flash of lightning in the sky, rushing by, like a torrent down a steep mountain.

One of the chief reasons we have so much anguish and difficulty facing death is that we ignore the truth of impermanence. We so desperately want everything to continue as it is that we have to believe that things will always stay the same. But this is only make-believe. And as we so often discover, belief has little or nothing to do with reality. This make-believe, with its misinformation, ideas, and assumptions, is the rickety foundation on which we construct our lives. No matter how much the truth keeps interrupting, we prefer to go on trying, with hopeless bravado, to keep up our pretense.

In our minds, changes always equal loss and suffering. And if they come, we try to anesthetize our selves as far as possible. We assume, stubbornly and unquestionably, that permanence provides security and impermanence does not. But, in fact, impermanence is like some of the people we meet in life – difficult and disturbing at first, but on deeper acquaintance far friendlier and less unnerving that we could have imagined.

Reflect on this: The realization of impermanence is paradoxically the only thing we can hold onto, perhaps our only lasting possession. It is like the sky, or the earth. No matter how much everything around us may change or collapse, they endure. Say we go through a shattering emotional crisis . . . our whole life seems to be disintegrating . . . our husband or wife suddenly leaves us without warning. The earth is still there; the sky is still there. Of course, even the earth trembles now and again, just to remind us we cannot take anything for granted . . .

Even Buddha died. His death was a teaching, to shock the naïve, the indolent, and complacent, to wake us up to the truth that everything is impermanent and death an inescapable fact of life. As he approached death, the Buddha said:

Of all footprints
That of the elephant is supreme;
Of all mindfulness meditations
That on death is supreme.

Whenever we lose our perspective, or fall prey to laziness, reflecting on death and impermanence shakes us back into the truth:

What is born will die, What has been gathered will be dispersed, What has been accumulated will be exhausted, What has been built up will collapse, And what has been high will be brought low.

-Sogyal Rinpoche

Born in Kham in Eastern Tibet, Sogyal Rinpoche was recognized as the incarnation of Lerab Lingpa Terton Sogyal, a teacher to the thirteenth Dalai Lama. First as translator and aide to Buddhist masters, and then teaching in his own right, he traveled to many countries, observing the reality of people's lives, and searching how to translate the teachings so as to make them relevant to modern men and women, by drawing out their universal message while losing none of their authenticity, purity and power. Out of this was born his unique style of teaching, and his ability to attune the teachings to modern life, demonstrated so vividly in his groundbreaking book, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. A million and a half copies of this spiritual classic have been printed, in 26 languages and 38 countries. It has been adopted by colleges, groups and institutions, both medical and religious, and is used extensively by nurses, doctors and health care professionals. Rinpoche continues to travel widely in Europe, America, Australia and Asia, where he finds himself addressing thousands of people on his teaching tours and is a frequent speaker at major conferences.

Life has no other discipline to impose, if we would but realize it, than to accept life unquestioningly. Everything we shut our eyes to, everything we deny, denigrate or despise, serves to defeat us in the end. What seems nasty, painful, evil, can become a source of beauty, joy and strength, if faced with an open mind. Every moment is a golden one for him who has the vision to recognize it as such.


·        Henry Miller

In striving to recall mankind to its divine origin and to point the way to return thereto, the object of the “Ancient Mysteries” teachings was to inform the individual of their divine nature, and to procure for each a real and lasting contentment on earth by means of practicing virtue; to that end, the individual was taught the doctrine of the soul’s immortality, and that error and vice would produce consequences. In a dialogue entitled Axiochus, as quoted in the works of Plato, students of philosophy were instructed that death was a passage into a happier state, but were cautioned that one must have lived well in order to achieve the most fortunate result. If one believes in the immortality of the soul, a union of these two philosophical ideas urges the seeking of beauty and virtue in the variety of experiences which life offers. It affords the virtuous individual a true gift of peace and happiness in life. For those who have no such tendency (either toward virtue or a belief in the immortality of the soul), it leaves one surrounded by menace and terror, fearful and distrusting, disinclined to seek that which is beautiful and virtuous in themselves and others, and therefore generally discontented with life.

Marianne Williamson said, “God exists in eternity. The only point where eternity meets time is in the present. The present is the only time there is.” Worrying about not being where I should be in my life, or not having as much wealth or possessions as I think I should have, can steal all the energy that the present moment has to offer. I am willing to take the present moment and make of it what I can, determined to utilize it in full measure, and then the next moment, and the next after that. When I am feeling down about my lot in life, there is a quick cure: giving a thought to those blessings and gifts that are abundant in my life can make a massive difference in how contented I am in that very moment and those that follow. True wealth is appreciating that all you have is all you need, right now. Sarah Ban Breathnach calls this “simple abundance.” When I can stop fretting about where I am not, and measure my growth by where I have been and how far I have come, it is easier to appreciate where I am and be contented in the abundance of “right here, right now.”

So, which leads to contentment: Hope or Faith? Having faith is different that having hope. Hopes can be dashed and fail short of that which is expected. Faith places in my hands the power to claim a victory long before the battle is fought, the confidence to trust without reservation in the essential goodness of the Universe; where hope is passive, faith is active. Faith helps me to become what I believe myself capable of being. Faith leads me to contentment, where hope urges me to have expectations that could be unrealistic or unattainable. Patrick Overton once said, “When we walk to the edge of all the light we have and take the step into the darkness of the unknown, we must believe that one of two things will happen: There will be something solid for us to stand on, or we will be taught to fly.” Hoping to be successful in a virtuous endeavor is a great deal different than being content with those successes I have had, and faith in those triumphs that are coming my way.

The poet John Vance Cheney once penned the following:

“The happiest heart that ever beat
was in some quiet breast
that found the common daylight sweet
and left to Heaven the rest.”

Finding contentment is not difficult, but it cannot be found in the same places where one looks for shortcomings. Most of the unrest one finds in life is due to the idea that each of us is bound to be a critic of life, and letting no day pass without finding some fault with the general order of things, or projecting some expectation for its improvement. Neither will contentment be found while working to acquire more and more toward a larger living. On the other hand, anyone who has reclined on their back in green pastures, or beside still waters while thanking the Universe that they are alive, has found the contentment of simple pleasures. The search for contentment is like the old man looking for his glasses, while all the time they are safe upon his nose.

What has been ordained for me? Being morbid and gloomy about the seemingly disciplinary effects of sorrow, affliction or bereavement blinds me to the more obvious view that every joy and every blessing, every prosperity no matter how small, draws me forward to greater spiritual and personal growth and more abundant blessings. The loving hand of the Universe is not only in the lightning, but also in the sunshine, and in this Creation not a single creature is forgotten. Goodness and happiness and justice and growth are the birthright of all. When my Path leads to an uphill course, stopping halfway up leaves me surrounded in the mists, while pressing onward will bring a radiant sun overhead, showing unclouded skies and a clear way before me. The clouds in my life, like every thing else, have no lasting character. That is how life is.

I am contented with my surroundings and my situation, but not with myself unless I make the most of them by doing my best and acquiring the lessons they would teach. I will trust that the simple and abundant pleasures of the Universe and the unfoldment of my virtues will lead me to true contentment.



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