This article was written by Peter Dziedzic, a sophomore at DePaul, who is pursuing a double major in Religious Studies and English. Peter is the co-President of DePaul Interfaith and member of the Executive Committee of the Better Together Campaign at DePaul University. Follow Peter on Twitter.
Around my neck, I wear a Buddhist medallion that was given to my by a small, joyful monk on a small island on the outskirts of Bangkok when I studied abroad in Hong Kong and Thailand this winter. After speaking and touring the grounds of his monastery for about an hour, he offered me this medallion, a symbol of friendship and good fortune. There was something powerful in the way the monk carried himself, in the way he offered both his smile and the tiny bronze sliver. It was more meaningful than the array of cheap DVDs or knock-off Ed Hardy shirts that any market in Bangkok or Thailand could ever offer.
After months at home, struggling to keep up with the piling workload, I paused to inspect the medallion. The coloring and lettering on the face of the medallion has started to fade, and very little of the original inscription was legible. I was distraught.
A central tenet to the Buddhist worldview is the tenant of impermanence, a belief that nothing as it is real or permanent; everything is transitory and ever-changing. Embracing impermanence, we are to realize that clinging to material and worldly things and ideas is foolish, for they, too, are impermanent. A philosophy of impermanence fosters a worldview of mindfulness and respecting the sanctity of the present moment.
Turning the medallion over in my hand, trying to discern the color and letters that were so readily visible a few short months ago, I pause to reflect on my own life, my own world. How often do we embrace a philosophy of letting go? How readily are we willing to let everything we have go in order to let everything we know remain?
Our society is one that does not foster mindfulness and impermanence. We are always in transition, always in a constant rush to speed from one place or another, constantly planning the future or regretting the past, but never savoring the present reality. We are constantly glued to our phones and our Facebooks, relying on an illusory veil to convey a dying reality. In a world that is so saturated with materialism and virtual intoxication, it would seem that the values of impermanence and mindfulness are lost in the static of the times. However, the beauty of impermanence is its indifference.
This ethos of our society will, like all other things, fade away. Our desires, our possessions, our memories and intentions, will melt into the ebb and flow of time and change. Change is the only constant of the rational world, and the philosophy of impermanence embraces this truth. Instead of struggling through the routine of the daily grind and pursuing attempts to fight the reality of change, we should look to embrace this value of acceptance and transcendence, and seek to enrich our lives and choices with such wisdom.
My frustration and anger had melted into calmness and humor. Reflecting on the smiling, wrinkled face of that old monk and his shaking, outstretched hands offering the medallion to me, I now understand that he was not only offering me a small ounce of metal. He was offering me a life-changing lesson, a philosophy enacted in the world, calming wisdom found in the midst of my own struggle to be at peace with change. This was more than a tiny trinket offered on the steamy isle of Koh Samet. This was a gift I would never forget.