Monday, July 25, 2016

Nothing is permanent (7/25/2016)

Buddhism teaches us that nothing in this world is permanent and I was so strongly reminded of that a week or so ago during our visit to Pittsburgh, PA that I have to dedicate this blog post to it.  It had been a while since I visited that city, I spent some time there in the mid and late 1990s for work, but this visit was to say hello to our daughter and to my wife's brother and family.  It was there during our visit that I was reminded of the impermanence of our existence on this planet.

Particularly on day two of our visit when we decided to stroll through the Allegheny Cemetery the final resting place of now more than 124,000 people, visited a few museums and ended it all with a visit to Randyland.

These lovely ladies were most likely models at some plush lady's fashion store; however, even their status was not permanent and they have "fallen from grace" and become a vignette at a roadside attraction called Randyland in Pittsburgh

Call us weird, but it is such a nice, quiet place to walk through a cemetery on a sunny Sunday morning.  Maybe a strange way of expressing my spirituality, but is gives you a nice combination of nature and culture.  But as I mentioned in the beginning of this post, if there is something that reminds you of your impermanence, it is a cemetery.  Naturally, death surrounds you, but even there, people erect all these monuments as "permanent (?)" memories to themselves or to their heirs and relatives.  However, even those monuments slowly erode away, and that was what struck me the most during our visit.  Those monuments were not as permanent a hoped or expected.

This must have been beautiful when first placed.
I assume this was a child's grave with a baby resting
on a pillow.
The writing on this monument is almost completely
eroded away
I wonder who was buried here

Things were often not as they seemed.  
This statue may look intact, but was in 
poor shape when examined from the front  
(below).  But she is from 1859 and had to  
withstand a lot of air pollution and inclement 

In other places nature was slowly taking over 
as we see below.

This is the front of the statue above

Subsequently, the museums we visited included the Center for PostNatural History; what could be more appropriate after looking at decaying monuments to the death.  PosNatutal History refers to the living, the Center deals with life we humans have created or at least altered using genetic engineering or selective breeding; the way "we have messed with nature." (Normal life is not permenent any longer we can mess with it).  You step into the Center and you are welcomed by a stuffed goat that was genetically engineered to produce protein that makes strands of (very strong) spider-like silk instead of milk from its utters (the Biosteel goat).  Ordinary goats are now no longer permanent, we humans will monkey around with them.

While expensive the "Mattress Factory " fits right in with the idea of impermanence.  It is an interesting place to visit, if you are ready for a different modern art experience.  I am sure that some people will call it a waste of their money, but I truly enjoyed it.  Being an old mattress factory there is an air of impermanence, but also an air of re-purposing and breathing new life into things, and the picture below says it all.  I took this in the museums restaurant.

Outside in a corner of the parking area is an area where it looks like a bunch of old stone statues have been dumped, discarded.  We just enjoyed sitting there and looking at them.  We had no idea if it was intended, but it did give me that feeling of impermanence again.

Back to Buddhism.  It appears that Buddhism recognizes five processes that we humans have no control over (although we desperately are trying to).  These are:
  1. Growing old
  2. Getting sick
  3. Dying
  4. The decay of things that are perishable, and
  5. The passing away of things that are likely to pass
Don't you love number 5?  It is all encompassing isn't it?  (I borrowed them from this website).  Early Buddhist tell us that nothing in this world is fixed or permanent; "Decay is inherent to all component things" declared the Buddha.

I was so amazed when the Taliban in Afghanistan blew up the Buddhist statues at Bamiyan and how the true Buddhist reacted.  They were so matter of fact about it, like "nothing is permanent."  Nothing at all like my father who got angry when my wife accidentally broke his favorite glass just a few months into our relationship; something my wife still remembers.  Nothing is permanent, I still have to remind myself of that so now and then.

There were other signs or occurrences of (sometimes pending) impermanence on our trip, some of which had to do with human relations some of which were in art or science.  None should be mourned, all should be celebrated and revered.

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