The impermanence of life and the eternal nature of God
In the fifth message of the six part summer series Wisdom Tales from Around the World, Rev. Joanne tells us the story of “This Too Shall Pass” Coming from the Jewish tradition it tells the story of King Solomon and his most trusted minister, Benaiah.
Now Benaiah would boast that he could accomplish anything the king asked him to do, so one day Solomon decided to humble Benaiah Ben Yehoyada.
He said to him, “Benaiah, there is a certain ring that I want you to bring to me. I wish to wear it for Sukkot which gives you six months to find it.”
“I will find it and bring it to you, but what makes the ring so special?” “It has magic powers,” answered the king. “If a happy man looks at it, he becomes sad, and if a sad man looks at it, he becomes happy.” Solomon knew that no such ring existed in the world, but he wished to give his minister a little taste of humility.
Spring passed and then summer, and still Benaiah had no idea where he could find the ring. On the night before Sukkot, he decided to take a walk in one of the poorest quarters of Jerusalem. He passed by a merchant who had begun to set out the day’s wares on a shabby carpet. “Have you by any chance heard of a magic ring that makes the happy wearer forget his joy and the broken-hearted wearer forget his sorrows?” asked Benaiah.
He watched the grandfather take a plain gold ring from his carpet and engrave something on it. When Benaiah read the words on the ring, his face broke out in a wide smile. That night the entire city welcomed in the holiday of Sukkot with great festivity.
“Well, my friend,” said Solomon, “have you found what I sent you after?” All the ministers laughed and Solomon himself smiled. To everyone’s surprise, Benaiah held up a small gold ring and declared, “Here it is, your majesty!” As soon as Solomon read the inscription, the smile vanished from his face. The jeweler had written three Hebrew letters on the gold band: gimel, zayin, yud, which began the words “Gam zeh ya’avor” — “This too shall pass.” At that moment Solomon realized that all his wisdom and fabulous wealth and tremendous power were but fleeting things, for one day he would be nothing but dust.”
This story is another example of the idea of the impermanence of life and the folly of attachment. It is in accord with what other wisdom traditions teach on the same topic. Buddhism teaches the Three Marks of Existence - impermanence (aniccā), unsatisfactoriness or suffering (dukkha), and non-self (anattā). Hinduism shares the concept of Anicca or Anitya, that is "nothing lasts, everything is in constant state of change.”
The ancient Greeks also had this idea. Heraclitus was famous for his insistence on ever-present change as being the fundamental essence of the universe, as stated in the famous saying, "No man ever steps in the same river twice.”
Rev. Joanne reminds us that Unity teaches that we are a part of the physical-temporal realm that is always changing whether we want it to or not. Civilizations come and go, relationships come and go, and people die. The magnificent Grand Canyon was once an ancient seabed, then a plain, and through the power of erosion over a period of 70 million years is now visible in all its glory.
Some people want to believe that if we simply hold positive thoughts, trying to deny the realities of life, that we will be able to stave off our problems. “Never an ill word” is a common idea, not just in New Thought philosophy, but also has roots in the Judeo-Christian philosophy.
Uttering the name Jehovah was considered not just bad luck, but blasphemy (cue Monty Python music). We have a colloquial phrase “speak of the devil . . .” when someone we were just talking about walks in the room. The complete phrase is actually, “Speak of the Devil and he doth appear.” This comes from the belief that any mere mention of the Devil’s name would invoke his presence and the accompanying bad luck.
While it is true that no one is exempt from life’s ups and downs, Unity teaches us that there is a way out of suffering. Very similar to what Buddhism, Hinduism and the Greeks taught, we know that if we detach from the clinging to wishing things were different, we are then much better able to move forward in life from where we are - by connecting with Divine Mind and becoming one with the Father. (My Father who has given them to Me is greater than all. No one can snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and the Father are one (John 10:29-30).
Unity also teaches the Twelve Powers. Rev. Joanne teaches us that through the Power of Imagination and the Power of Wisdom we can transcend our suffering. By using Imagination we have the ability to image, picture and conceptualize a desirable thing in our life and affirm “I envision good unfolding in every area of my life.” By using Wisdom we have the ability to evaluate, discern and apply what we know and affirm “I am guided by Divine wisdom in every thought, word and action.”
One thing that Truth students know (as opposed to believe) is that the Presence of God is eternal. It has always been there for us and always will be, and with that knowing we have the power to handle whatever life brings us.
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. Ecclesiastes 3:1
All of this is not to say that because of impermanence that we should be insensitive to our pain, suffering and loss, or not be grateful for and celebrate our happiness, love and joy. It is merely a reminder that no matter where we may find ourselves on our life’s journey, that with God, Divine Mind, or Spirit guiding us we will always have that strength available to us.
Get in the habit of detaching from any experience. Whether good or bad, this too shall pass. Throughout your week, pause and remember, “This too shall pass.” Allow yourself to be at peace with this idea.
As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I have a small bell of the type seen on the counter at hotels. Whenever I get either too up or too down, I will ring this bell to bring myself back to center. How will you remind yourself that “this too shall pass?”