The year is fading, and another lesser eternity of twelve months, with all that it contains, will soon be relegated to the irrecoverable past.
Reader, have you ever meditated deeply and seriously on the truth of Transitoriness? Have you yet perceived how all compounded things must pass away; yea, how even while they remain they are already in process of passing away? If not, let me invite you, at this season of the year, to such a meditation, for it will soften your heart, deepen your understanding, and render you more fully conscious of the sacred nature of life.
What is there that does not pass away? Among all the things of which a man says, "These are mine," of which of them can he say, "This will be mine tomorrow?" Even the mind is continually changing. Old characteristics die and pass away, and new ones are formed. In the midst of life all things are dying. Nothing endures; nothing can be retained. Things appear and then disappear; they become, and then they pass away.
The ancient sages declared the visible universe to be Maya—illusion, meaning thereby that impermanency is the antithesis of Reality. Change and decay is in the very nature of visible things, and they are unreal—illusory—in the sense that they pass away forever.
He who would ascend into the realm of Reality, who would penetrate into the world of Truth, must first perceive, with no uncertain vision, the transitory nature of the things of life; he must cease to delude himself into believing that he can retain his hold on his possessions, his body, his pleasures and objects of pleasure; for as the flower fades and as the leaves of the trees fall and wither, so must these things, in their season pass away forever.
The perception of the Truth of Transitoriness is one of the first great steps in wisdom for when it is fully grasped, and its lesson has sunk deeply into the heart, the clinging to perishable things, which is the cause of all sorrow, will be yielded up, and the search for the Truth which abides will be accelerated.
Anguish is rife because men set their hearts on the acquisition of things that perish, because they lust for the possession of those things which even when obtained cannot be retained.
There is no sorrow that would not vanish if the clinging to evanescent things were given up; there is no grief that would not be dispersed if the desire to have and to hold those things which in their very nature cannot endure, were taken out of the heart.
Tens of thousands of grief-stricken hearts are today bewailing the loss of some loved object which they called theirs when the year was young; are weeping over that which is gone forever, and cannot be restored.
Men are slow to learn the lessons of experience and to acquire wisdom, and unnumbered pains and griefs and sorrows have failed to impress them with the truth of Transitoriness. He who clings to that which is impermanent, cannot escape sorrow, and the intensity of his sorrow will be measured by the strength of his clinging. He who sets his heart on perishable things embraces the companionship of grief and lamentation.
Men cannot find wisdom because they will not renounce the clinging to things, because they believe that the clinging to perishable objects is the source of happiness, and not the cause of sorrow; they cannot escape unrest and enter into the life of peace because desire is difficult to quench, and the immediate and transitory pleasure which gratified desire affords is mistaken for abiding joy.
It is because the true order of things is not understood that grief is universal; it is ignorance of the fleeting nature of things that lies at the root of sorrow.
The sting of anguish will be taken out of life when the lust to hold and to preserve the things of decay is taken out of the heart.
Sorrow is ended for him who sees things as they are; who, realizing the nature of transiency, detaches his heart and mind from the things that perish.
There is a right use for perishable things, and when they are rightly used, and not doted upon for themselves alone, their loss will cause no sorrow.
lf the rich man thinks in his heart, "My riches and possessions are no part of me, nor can I call them mine, seeing that when I am summoned to depart from this world, I cannot take them with me; they are entrusted to me to rightly use, and I will employ them to the best of my ability for the good of men and of the world," such a man, though surrounded with luxuries and responsibilities, will be lifted above sorrow, and will draw near to Truth. On the other hand, if the poor man does not covet riches and possessions, his condition will cause him no anxiety and unrest.
He who by a right understanding of life rids his heart of all selfish grasping and clinging, who uses everything wisely and in its proper place, and who, with chastened heart, and mind clarified of all thirsty desires, remains serene and self-contained in the midst of all changes, such a man will find Truth, he will stand face to face with Reality.
For in the midst of all error there abides the Truth; at the heart of transiency there reposes the Permanent; and illusion does but veil the eternal and unchanging Reality, The nature of that Reality it is not my purpose to deal with here; let it suffice that I indicate that it is only found by abandoning, in the heart, all that is not of Love and Compassion and Wisdom and Purity. In these things there is no element of transitoriness, no sorrow, and no unrest.
When the truth of Transitoriness is well perceived, and when the lesson contained in the truth of Transitoriness is well learned, then does a man set out to find the abiding Truth; then does he wean his heart from those selfish elements which are productive of sorrow.
He whose treasure is Truth; who loves Purity; who fashions his life in accordance with Wisdom, will find the joy which does not pass away; will leave behind him the land of lamentation, and, crossing the wide ocean of illusion, will come to the Sorrowless Shore.
—Thomas à Kempis
More Articles by This Author James Allen
James Allen was a little-known philosophical writer and poet. He is best recognized for his book, As a Man Thinketh. Allen wrote about complex subjects such as faith, destiny, love, patience, and religion but had the unique ability of explaining these subjects clearly and in a way that is easy to understand. He often wrote about cause and effect, sowing and reaping, as well as overcoming sadness, sorrow, and grief. For more information on the life of James Allen, click here.