The Call of Impermanence
-Eveline Zwahlen, BA student from Switzerland
When I registered for the undergraduate program at RYI in January 2020, I assumed that I would be in Kathmandu a few months later, dedicating my life to studying Buddhist philosophy and the Tibetan language. But then the coronavirus pandemic came, and everything changed. Studying on campus was no longer possible, so I had to study online in Switzerland. To have at least a small income, I looked for a job, so the planned full-time study in Nepal turned into an online part-time study in Switzerland. Initially, I struggled with the situation because I thought work constantly interrupted my learning. However, it is through my work, which I do in the emergency unit of a nearby hospital, that I have gained a deeper understanding of one of the central topics of Buddhist teachings – impermanence.
In the Khenpo classes, the topic of impermanence has been emphasized over and over again in a variety of different contexts. Impermanence means that we, ourselves, and our environment are subject to constant change. In most cases, the subtle form of impermanence, the moment-to-moment change, is imperceptible to us. But coarse change, the coming into being, existence, and passing away of things around us, as well as of ourselves as human beings, is something we can observe. Impermanence is one of the central subjects I encounter repeatedly during my work. Many people who come to the emergency unit have been surprised by an accident or acute illness, and in the morning, they did not expect that they might be fighting for their lives or even losing them later in the day. I have learned how little we are aware of our impermanence and how much we believe we have plenty of time remaining. However, I often observe that the reality is different. In this sense, what I have learned at RYI about impermanence has gained much depth through my work.
As often pointed out in class, ultimately, there is no separation between practice and everyday life. If we allow it, everything can become part of our practice. The last few years have been a powerful reminder of how important it is to acknowledge impermanence in our existence honestly. It is not about developing a pessimistic attitude because everything is impermanent. It’s about using our time wisely and creating a sense of appreciation for our current precious situation. Looking back, the last years of study at RYI were very fruitful and rewarding despite the part-time work. Even if things sometimes turn out differently than expected, there is always the possibility that something very beneficial can grow out of it.