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Impermanence (Skt. anitya; Tib. མི་རྟག་པ་, mitakpa, Wyl. mi rtag pa), which is defined as "momentariness" (Skt. kSaNika; Tib. སྐད་ཅིག་མ་, Wyl. skad cig ma), is an important feature of the Buddha's teachings. "All conditioned things," it says in the teaching of the four seals, "are impermanent." Reflection on impermanence is one of the so-called "four thoughts", the outer or ordinary preliminaries.


It of two kinds:

  • the coarse impermanence of a given continuum (rags pa rgyun gyi mi rtag pa) and
  • the subtle impermanence of momentary change (phra ba chos nyid kyi mi rtag pa).

Reflecting on Death and Impermanence

1) Death is Certain

a) Death can not be avoided
b) Life can not be extended; it is always diminishing
c) Even while we are alive there is little time for practice

2) The Time of Death is Uncertain

a) Our lifespan is not fixed
b) There are many causes of death, and few for sustaining life
c) The body is very fragile

3) At the Time of Death, only Dharma can help us

a) Our friends can not help us
b) Our resources can not help us
c) Our body can not help us

The Importance of Reflecting on Impermanence

Kyabjé Trulshik Rinpoche explains:

"If we really meditate on impermanence, it is said that in the beginning it can be the cause of us practising the Dharma, in the middle it can provide the conditions for us progressing along the path, and at the end it can cause us to achieve the result of complete and perfect awakening. So impermanence is of the utmost importance.
If we consider the main part of the ngöndro practice, from refuge and bodhichitta through to guru yoga, the meditation on impermanence is important at every stage. It is the greatest help at every stage. Or if we consider the main practice itself, such as kyerim with its stages of approach and accomplishment, once again meditation on impermanence is an aid to the practice. Then for Dzogpachenpo, from rushen onwards, for the practices of purifying the mind, purifying the speech and purifying the body, and ultimately for the practices of trekchö and tögal, impermanence is a help. Being mindful of death and impermanence can help to provide all the causes and conditions for practising the Dharma and gaining the result."

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