‘This too shall pass.’ This common phrase has been around for a long time, its origin attributed to, among others, early Persian poets, the Bible, Judaism, and various Western and Eastern philosophers. A version of it can be found in most world cultures and for good reason – it’s a starting point for a true understanding of the nature of experience. If we pay any attention to what’s going on around us, it’s obvious that all things come and go. Some things take longer than others to arise and pass away, but the rise and fall of all objective experience is inescapable, and many of us base our life’s actions on this inevitability.
We usually say ‘this too shall pass’ when we find ourselves in an unpleasant situation, one we’d rather avoid or not experience at all. It might be physical like a sickness, or psychological like a bad mood. Whatever it is, we assume it is I, the personal self, who says ‘this too shall pass’. But the personal self consists solely of passing attributes. Try to name one characteristic of the personal self that doesn’t come and go and you can’t. The body-mind is comprised of thoughts, images, emotions, sensations, and perceptions of the world. All constantly changing attributes, coming and going, appearing and disappearing like colorful fall leaves floating down a mountain stream.
So if there is no personal self, who or what is actually saying this?
Whoever or whatever is saying ‘this too shall pass’ cannot itself be passing, otherwise how would it know anything was passing? It’s like the difference between sitting on the edge of a stream watching the leaves drift by and being one of the leaves.
Identify that within you that never comes and goes, that is ever-present and aware, and you have found your essential being. Although that isn’t quite true, as your essential being was never lost in the first place, it was just mistaken for a drifting leaf. But once you discover this unchanging element of being within you, within all of us, it can be said with assurance that this understanding shall never pass.