Learning & Practice

Satipatthana Sutta Study: Contemplating Arising, Passing Away, and Both Arising and Passing Away.

"Better it is to live one day seeing the rise and fall of things than to live a hundred years without ever seeing the rise and fall of things.”


The Satipatthana Sutta asks us to contemplate impermanence, specifically the nature of arising, passing away, and both arising and passing away of all things. These teachings are essential to our practice, as they can help us cultivate our mind, know our mind, and awaken our mind, ultimately leading to freedom..

The Nature of Arising and Passing Away

The teachings on arising and passing away are concerned with the impermanent nature of all phenomena, whether they be physical, mental, or emotional. These teachings invite us to recognize that all aspects of experience are subject to change, and are in a constant state of arising and passing away. By recognizing this process character of all aspects of experience, we can develop insight into the impermanent nature of things, and thus come to know and understand them more deeply.

In practical terms, this means paying attention to our experiences in the present moment. When we experience anger, for example, we can notice when it arises, and when it passes away. Through this process of recognition, we can appreciate that the nature of arising of mental states has its complement in the nature of their passing away. The same holds for the body, feelings, or dharmas.

Recognizing the presence and absence of mental states like anger can help us realize the all-pervasive aspect of experience. This awareness of change comes with a built-in pointer towards emptiness. Seeing the arising and passing away of phenomena can help us let go, no longer holding on to one thing or another as something that "is" or "is not." All is simply an arising and a passing away.

Cultivating Insight into Impermanence

To cultivate insight into impermanence, we can turn to the practice of mindfulness. The Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta outlines four contemplations of body, feelings, mind, and dharmas as ways of establishing mindfulness.

The "cultivation" of these four modes of establishing mindfulness takes place through contemplating the nature of arising, passing away, and both in relation to each of these four. In other words, the foundation laid by way of establishing mindfulness of the body, feelings, mind, and dharmas should lead on to cultivating insight into impermanence in order to actualize the liberating potential of mindfulness practice.

From a practical viewpoint, the instructions to contemplate the nature of arising, passing away, and both can be fulfilled even if we miss the actual moment of arising or the actual moment of passing away. The swiftness of such moments makes it challenging to be aware of them at the exact time they occur. Instead, from a practical viewpoint, these instructions can be understood to cover the retrospective realization that a particular phenomenon has arisen and is now present or that, in the meantime, it has passed away and is no longer present. This realization is enough to understand that this phenomenon is indeed of the nature to arise and pass away.

The Liberating Effect of Impermanence

When we see deeply that all that is subject to arising is also subject to cessation, that whatever arises will also pass away, the mind becomes disenchanted. This disenchantment leads to dispassion, and through dispassion, the mind is liberated.

The teachings on impermanence remind us that all phenomena are impermanent, unreliable, and unsatisfying. This means that anything we grasp at is fleeting and will inevitably pass away. It is impossible to point to anything as a self-sufficient and independent entity that exists on its own. All is simply an arising and a passing away.

By cultivating insight into impermanence, we can become disenchanted with our attachments and become dispassionate. This dispassionate mind is one of open-heartedness and equanimity. It is the mind that can hold all things, but not be held by anything. We can see that all things are in a constant state of change, including ourselves. When we hold onto things too tightly, we are bound to suffer because we are trying to hold onto something that is already slipping away from us. But by embracing impermanence, we can find freedom from this suffering.

Liberation from Suffering

The Buddha taught that the root of all suffering is attachment. We cling to things because we believe they will bring us happiness, but they are always subject to change, and when they inevitably do change, we suffer. The practice of cultivating insight into impermanence can help us break free from this cycle of suffering. By recognizing that all things are impermanent, we can learn to let go of our attachments and find true liberation from suffering.

We can also see that everything is interconnected and interdependent. Nothing exists independently of everything else. We are all connected in the web of life, and by embracing impermanence, we can learn to see the interdependence of all things. When we understand that everything is in a constant state of change, we can learn to live in harmony with the natural flow of life. We can learn to appreciate the beauty of the present moment.

Home Contemplations and Practice

To realize the liberating power of impermanence, we need to cultivate insight into it, and the best way to do this is through mindfulness meditation practice. Here are three suggestions for practicing with impermanence in meditation and mindful living practice.

Meditation Contemplations:

Contemplate the breath: The breath is a useful object for observing impermanence. Each breath arises and passes away, just like all phenomena. By focusing on the breath and observing it closely, we can cultivate insight into the nature of arising, passing away, and both.

Contemplate physical sensations: Our bodies are constantly changing, and physical sensations are a great way to observe impermanence. By tuning in to the sensations in our bodies and observing them closely, we can see how they arise, pass away, and change.

Contemplate mental states: Our thoughts and emotions are also constantly changing, and by observing them closely in meditation practice, we can see the impermanence in action. Notice how thoughts and emotions arise, pass away, and change over time.

Mindful Living Contemplations:

Contemplate how things arise and pass away at our five senses: When we focus on our senses, we can see the constant arising and passing away of things. For example, when we look at the weather, we can see how it changes throughout the day and throughout the seasons. It's never the same for even a moment. By observing this change, we can develop an understanding of impermanence.

Contemplate moods, emotions, and feelings within yourself and others: Our moods, emotions, and feelings are also subject to the law of impermanence. One day we may feel happy, the next day we may feel sad. By observing this change within ourselves and others, we can develop a greater sense of understanding and compassion. When we see that our suffering and the suffering of others arises and passes away, we can begin to cultivate a sense of non-attachment to these emotions.

Contemplate thoughts, views, and opinions within yourself and others: Just like our senses and emotions, our thoughts, views, and opinions are also subject to the law of impermanence. Our beliefs and opinions may change over time as we gain new experiences and insights. By observing this change within ourselves and others, we can develop a greater sense of openness and non-judgment. We can learn to see others' views and opinions as simply arising and passing away, rather than seeing them as a fixed part of who they are.

RIM is a small and dedicated community that continues the tradition of offering authentic teachings and practices freely — to all who may benefit. In turn, contributions from people like you support these offerings, our teachers, and a community of people who aspire to co-create a wise, compassionate, and healthy world.

♥ Donate to RIM — Your generosity is appreciated and makes a real impact.

RIM is a 501(c3) non-profit organization.