Four great encounters made Prince Siddhartha want to leave the palace where his father, wanting to protect him from the reality of the world, had confined him since childhood. The first took place with a wrinkled and toothless old man, with white hair, bent over his cane. “All beings age in this way, youth only lasts a short time and then the body wears out,” his coachman explains to him. The second took place with a weakened and feverish man, the body covered with pustules, thrown to the street by his family. "He's sick and there are many other illnesses!" No one is spared, said the coachman. Having a body inevitably leads to experiencing illness one day or another. The third took place with a funeral procession. “These people, the coachman explains to him, are crying because they will never see the one who left again. All the beings that populate the universe will experience death. Every body eventually wastes away in this way. Finally, the last encounter was with a wandering monk, holding his alms bowl, absorbed, his face serene, in deep meditation. This is how the future Buddha realizes that his rich condition will never protect him from old age, illness and death, but that he must go in search of the truth which alone can free him. He then decides to take the roads, those that will lead him to enlightenment.
Behind old age, illness and death, there is obviously the notion of impermanence, one of the pillars of Buddhist teaching along with that of interdependence. She asserts that all things, from the smallest atom to galaxies, from human being to mountain, from body to mind, are constantly changing even as they interact. Everything, absolutely everything, goes through the same cycle of existence: birth, growth, decline and death. "It is particularly important to become familiar with death in a society where it is hidden", explains Catherine Pagès, who after the death of her child, forty years ago, began to study with the American Zen master Genpo Merzel, himself successor to Maezumi Roshi before creating his own center in Montreuil in 1994. In addition to meditating on death, she invites her students to rub shoulders with people at the end of their lives, an experience rich in meaning: “Contacts are deep, immediate, real and without artifice. There is no more social or worldly context. In this presence to the other, we are in the essential. We are no longer afraid of death and we enter into life itself. This is how the wonderful gift of impermanence arises: the appreciation of the present moment. »
The eternity of the present
In the West especially, many of us live in the mistaken belief continuity and permanence. We feed fears by clinging to the past, we create expectations by projecting ourselves into the future and we forget the essential, the present. “The strongest experiences of our life are those where we are completely present: to the person in front of us, to the setting sun which declines, to the music which we hear, to the smells which we feels, to what is there…”, further notes Catherine Pagès, who insists on the importance of sensations. To bring us back to the present moment, there is nothing like practicing meditation. "Thanks to meditation, we can observe that we are constantly crossed by emotions, so many mental storms that we have to let pass so that nothing is fixed: when anger becomes rigid, it becomes hate ; when sadness sets in, it turns into affliction. Buddhism teaches us that suffering arises from this friction between the impermanence of the world and our desire for fixity which fights against the ephemeral and the fluidity of life", explains the philosopher Alexandre Jollien who underlines in his latest book, The Liberty is for us, that meditation does not prevent action. On the contrary, it would make it possible to take the right action and get out of superficial motivations.
The notion of impermanence asserts that all things, from the smallest atom to galaxies, from human beings to mountains, from bodies to thoughts, are constantly changing even as they interact.
Acceptance of the impermanence of things naturally leads us to detachment. In other words, I am not attached to what is there, I fully accept what is there, knowing full well that what is there changes. But, warns Catherine Pagès, non-attachment is not indifference: it is loving completely what is present. Moreover, it does not guarantee the absence of pain either. “The feeling of loss is completely human and involves a time of grieving. There are times when the suffering is very intense, others less so. Because it too is impermanent…” Very often, suffering becomes less intense when it is shared. Thus, the Buddhist history of Kisagotami shows us that in every house there were deaths. As human beings, we share the same suffering, which has a relieving side. Alexandre Jollien likes this idea of solidarity, reminding us of this sentence from the Indian guru Swami Prajnanpad: “Love consists in helping the other to release their tensions. We can all help the other by being present, by listening to them and by trying to find a way for everyone to decenter themselves from their suffering, to live better in the present: "What is holding me permanently? What gives me the ability to let go? What makes me happy? ". Because it is from this joy that the strength to detach is born