Change is the only constant

by Vithal C Nadkarni, Economic Times, Dec 20, 2008

New Delhi, India -- Once upon a time, there lived a warlord in Japan. He had an only child, a daughter for whom the Shogun would do anything. One day, when it was raining rabbits and foxes, the princess saw rain drops falling like lustrous Mikimoto pearls in her courtyard pond. That’s when the fancy struck her to possess a necklace made of rain drops from the pond.

She had only to express her wish and the doting father summoned the best craftsmen from the land. The artists peered carefully at the rain drops falling into the pond and then at each others’ faces with growing alarm. For although they tried their best, they just could not skim out the droplets, forget about stringing them. Admission of failure, however, would be tantamount to inviting hara-kiri.

It was in this acute state of embarrassment at the courtyard that the court jester burst forth: “Surely the task shouldn’t be so difficult?” he said, venturing boldly where wiser souls shuddered to tread.

“And pray, how do you propose to come up with that matchless necklace for our princess?” the warlord asked contemptuously. “Who can be so bold as to fathom the princess’s mind?” the jester parried with great obsequies. “She must therefore make her own selection and hand us over the precious beads of water. The rest ought to be completed in a jiffy,” he said with a straight face.

The princess went to the edge of the pond and tried to capture the raindrops without any success. She might as well have tried to fish out the reflection of the moon from the pond as snare a raindrop from it — each one that she touched burst at once.

“Perhaps the Highness has changed her mind?” the joker suggested humbly. “She does not desire the baubles any more?”

Rather than suffer further loss of face, the Princess quickly assented: “Yes. I would rather have a nosegay of pretty flowers.”

The moral of the Japanese fable is based on the Buddhist Doctrine of Impermanence or Anicca: people and events too can be looked upon simply as impersonal products of causes and conditions just like rain drops falling randomly on the pond. We mistakenly attribute intrinsic meanings and significance to them. Everything is in a flux: change is the only constant.

Failing to recognise this fundamental truth is the root of all other kleshas (impurities) and fear lies at its core. It can only be overcome with the most subtle practice.