Impermanence & No-Self

The Buddhist term emptiness (shunyata) seems simple to grasp, and takes time to fully experience. This is of course as seen from my very limited experience and understanding.

It has two components, impermanency and no-self.


The manifest Existence is in constant change. It is easy to grasp this intellectually – it has to be that way. And it takes time to fully experience it, to see how it is true in all the different aspects of life.


The other aspect is no-self, which is often easier to understand through systems theories. The whole universe is systems within systems. Each of these systems are self-organizing, while being embedded in larger systems, and containing smaller systems within themselves. The Universe is a holarchy – systems (holons) nested within systems. There are distinctions, but no absolute boundaries. The universe is one fluid whole, within which we can make distinctions.


We can look at both together.

My body is always in flux – always changing. It was born – formed from elements of the larger ecosystem. It changes throughout life, exchanging air, molecules, ideas, etc. with the elarger ecological and social systems. And it will die – will be burned or composted and reabsorbed into the larger ecosystem. There is a continious flux and exchange with the larger whole. The Universe and Earth self-organize to create this little self-organizing system called a human body, which is distinct yet inseparable from the larger whole. It is both a part, and embedded in a larger system. There are no absolute boundaries. There is no permanency to it.

This personality is a dynamic interaction among sensations, emotions and thoughts. It is a conglomerate in flux, always changing. And it is in continious exchange with the larger social and ecological whole. It forms through biology and exchanges with culture, parents, society, friends. It is all conditioned on and from this exchange. It is a self-organizing whole, embedded in larger social and ecological systems, and with its own subsystems. There are no absolute boundaries. There is no permanency.

In a similar way, we can examine any holon and see that it is both in flux and embedded in larger wholes. There are no absolute boundaries. There is no permanency. The world and everything in it continually dies as what it is and is reborn as something else. Every moment is death and rebirth.

Making it Real

Applying this to our own very specific situation and life, we can make this real for ourselves. And we become more real.

From living in delusion – lost in memories of the past or hopes/fears for the future – we can more fully engage in life and the juiciness here/now. From taking refuge in what is impermanent, we seek to clarify and deepen our experience of the nature of mind and existence.

We open up for living more fully each moment, deeply appreciating the juiciness of what is right here/now. And we open up for clarifying and deepen what may be independent of the polarity of impermanency/permanency – this mind.

One the one hand, we can more fully enjoy and engage in life as it is right here/now. On the other hand, we can seek that which may have more lasting value.

On the one hand, there is only one Existence, and it is right here/now and perfect as it is. On the other hand, there seems to be a natural desire to deepen and clarify our experience of it.

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