facts of life

I am often asked why I meditate. Sometimes it’s phrased – What are you trying to accomplish by just sitting on a cushion?

Depending on who asks, I answer something like – To clearly see why I suffer, and with that understanding to cultivate peace of mind and a kind heart.

I have personally found mindfulness practice does just that. The Buddha taught mindfulness as one part of a comprehensive life program to make this goal a lived reality for regular folks like you and I.

This week let’s take a look at what the Buddha discovered and how it helps us live our everyday life with ever-deepening joy and connection, “the sure heart’s release” as he once put it.

After his own spiritual awakening, the Buddha distilled his understanding of our human predicament into three insights, traditionally known as the three marks of existence.

Let’s just call them facts of life:

  1. Everything is temporary;
  2. We habitually react to our world with resistance, felt as tension and suffering; and
  3. Nothing is solid or solidly happens by itself, everything is contingent on causes and conditions.

Traditionally these are expressed as impermanence, suffering and non-substantiality.

There is a certain relief I feel when I acknowledge these facts for myself. They help me appreciate what’s truly important in this fleeting world.

They wake me up as I move through my life in a kind of daze, checking email on my phone, going from one task and one distraction to another.

Because everything is changing, a flower has poignancy. When I realize this I pause.

Franz Marc. Germany (1880 – 1916)

Because I suffer at times, “the sure heart’s release” is more appealing.

I like Sylvia Boorstein’s line about the second fact:


Life is like a continuous quiz show where the only question ever asked is, “How are you going to manage whatever is happening now without confusing yourself and creating suffering?

The Korean monk Haemin Sunim, in his lovely book The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down, expresses the third fact in this way:

The whole universe is contained in an apple wedge in a lunch box. Apple tree, sunlight, cloud, rain, earth, air, farmer’s sweat are all in it. Delivery truck, gas, market, money, cashier’s smile are all in it. Refrigerator, knife, cutting board, mother’s love are all in it. Everything in the whole universe depends on one another.

The Buddha taught that deeply experiencing these three facts with mindfulness in our daily life brings about wisdom and compassion.

And daily life is the best place to practice releasing needless suffering and growing in love and compassion.

Our everyday lives serve up unending opportunities that catch us, triggering our habitual reactions of liking and disliking.

Mindfulness allows us to catch ourselves before life does.

These liberating qualities develop a little at time.

“Drop by drop the water pot is filled” counsels the Buddha.

That’s why we need to keep coming back to the cushion.

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