In the Pali sutras, there are occasions when someone listening to the Buddha’s explanation of the Dharma suddenly ‘gets it’, their view is transformed. This may be recorded as “a vision of the Dharma arose in them” and they may express their new understanding, as Kondanna did on hearing the Four Noble Truths, by saying “Whatever is subject to arising is subject to ceasing”.
This sounds as though he merely had not noticed impermanence before, so how is it that this statement expresses a revelation of the vision of Dharma, equating with glimpsing the “Deathless” or “Unborn”? The answer to this is found by looking at arising and ceasing in meditation.
Resting in direct experience shows that there is no arising and ceasing. Awareness in its essence is unchanging, its appearance is a ceaseless play, as in my poem Change is as Good as a Rest: “the clouds move, the sky stands still”. The apparent arising of anything is a conceptualisation within awareness.
To conceptualise an object of awareness is to conceptualise a piece of time – impermanence is intrinsic to such ‘compounded’ things. Awareness does not fix any appearance, so anything that ‘arises’ must cease.
Knowing in experience that “whatever is subject to arising is subject to ceasing” means distinguishing the object (as a concept) from what is not arising and ceasing… in other words, seeing the Deathless. The “Deathless” is Undying, is the Unborn, is Timeless Awareness.
To know about death, look at the nature of impermanence. No need to wait until death, it’s the same as knowing the impermanence of a mountain. You conceptualise yourself as an object in the same way that you conceptualise a mountain as an object. But its piece of time is longer than yours. So don’t wait to see it cease, realise the principle of impermanence from meditating on objects of shorter duration (as above), and see that this principle is universal to awareness, whatever the object conceptualised. So, the mountain is impermanent, this body that I may call me or mine is impermanent – but awareness…? That is not.
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- see also Change is as Good as a Rest