What Is Impermanence?

According to Buddhist teachings, all things have a transient nature. Whether that thing is tangible or intangible, organic or inorganic, it is undergoing a constant process of change. This is the essence of impermanence—reality is never stagnant but is dynamic throughout.

In the traditional Buddhist scripture Digha Nikay (“Collection of Long Discourses”), Buddha (circa 563-circa 480 все) is quoted as saying:

Impermanent are all component things,

They arise and cease, that is their nature:

They come into being and pass away,

Release from them is bliss supreme.3

This can be translated for the LEGO aficionado as:

Impermanent are all aspects of LEGO,

They assemble and are dismantled, that is their nature:

The creative things you build come into being and are put away,

What we gain from LEGO is bliss supreme.

If we cling to something (the current state of a relationship, a time in our life, a particularly impressive LEGO configuration), we will feel anxiety when it changes. If we can avoid clinging, there is no anxiety. We will more quickly accept the change, thereby experiencing a painless assimilation (allowing relationships to evolve, aging gracefully, discovering new LEGO configurations with which to shock and amaze).

People who hold on to ideas feel stress when they are wrong or when the idea becomes outdated. They typically come up with reasons and excuses to rationalize their decisions, adhering to behavior patterns or to a self-image even when it no longer benefits them. We all experience this to some degree; it can be difficult to change once we’ve found something that works. Buddhist philosophy, however, teaches that clinging is always unfavorable, even when the thing to which we cling has a positive effect. In his book Positive Addiction, famed psychiatrist William Glasser argues that compulsive habits such as jogging and transcendental meditation “strengthen us and make our lives more satisfying.”4 Yet, while these activities enhance health, creativity, and feelings of self-efficacy, Buddhist thought warns against becoming dependent.

If you cling to daily meditation or exercise, you will feel anxiety on the days you are unable to do it. To avoid this counterproductive stress, impermanence helps us eliminate our attachments. By removing these attachments, we remove the delusions and trappings of false security, thus equipping ourselves for life’s barrage of rapid-fire change and getting us closer to the Buddhist idea of nirvana.

When we look at LEGO bricks, their impermanence is evident. For instance, the materials that make up a LEGO brick changed from Cellulose Acetate to Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) in the 1960s. Some bricks have thinner walls with different-shaped tubes when compared to their 1980s predecessors. Instructions are much more complex than they were twenty years ago, with some booklets containing hundreds of pages separated into multiple books. Even the LEGO logo has gone through multiple variations over the years— twelve at last count.

The process of change can be slow and incremental, yet it is constant and inevitable in all aspects of existence. While many transformations take place without our ever noticing, impermanence is verifiable through direct observation. It may require patience, but it is there. A LEGO piece left in direct sunlight will take months before you realize its color has faded, and even then you may need another LEGO brick to discern the contrast. However, since LEGO utilizes aerospace-like industry standards to mold their bricks, it is improbable that they will undergo significant physical changes. More likely, your perception of these bricks will evolve long before the pieces themselves do.

Consider the way you perceive a particular LEGO piece. The one-by-four blue brick with bow that was once associated with the roof of the LEGO Cinderella’s Dream Carriage (set #41053) is now unidentifiable in a Tupperware container of assorted sets. And the structure you once believed to be the Da Vinci of all LEGO works is a pale comparison to what you are able to create today. Skills evolve, experience accumulates, and every LEGO project raises the bar for your next endeavor.

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