As change is inevitable,
the inevitable question is
how you wish to change you.
In the comedy ‘Bridesmaids’ is this argument – H(elen): It’s too bad Lilian couldn’t play with us today… A(nnie): But she’s not really into sports. Even when we were little, she didn’t like anything that was too competitive. H: She certainly enjoys playing tennis now. It’s funny how people change, isn’t it? A: Yeah… I mean, I don’t know. Do people really change? H: I think they do. A: Yeah, but I mean, they still stay who they are, pretty much. H: I think we change all the time. A: I think we stay the same, but grow, I guess, a little bit. H: I think if you are growing, then you are changing. A: But, I mean, we are changing from who we are, which we always stay as. H: Not really, I don’t think so. A: I think so. H: I don’t… [So, who is right? We shall see!]
Once, before becoming a monk, Revata was a very poor man. When it got dark while he was still far from home, he decided to spend the night in a deserted hut. As he was about to fall asleep, a big ghost entered with a small ghost. Both looked horrifying and menacing, as they dragged in a corpse. Seeing Revata, they asked him if they should eat the corpse or him. It sounded like a trick question as they might fault him for being ‘ruthless’ if he said they should eat the corpse, and eat him anyway. Thus, Revata remained silent and tried to ignore them. After some discussion, it was decided that the big ghost should eat the corpse.
As the big ghost bit off each of the corpse’s legs, the small ghost ripped off each of Revata’s legs and attached it on the corpse. Next, as the big ghost ate each of the corpse’s arms, the small ghost ripped off each of Revata’s arms and attached it on the corpse. Soon, the big ghost had eaten the entire corpse, while the small ghost had replaced all its parts with Revata’s parts. In panic, Revata thought that as his whole body had been torn apart to repair the corpse, he no longer has a body anymore. He immediately dashed wildly into town, asking everyone if he still has a body. Naturally, no one understood him, and thought he was mad.
Eventually, Revata met some monks, to whom he asked the same question. An Arhat thus replied – ‘The human body is basically “false(ly named)”, and does not exists by itself. If you cultivate Dharma practice to attain the fruit of enlightenment, you will realise the bright light of your self-nature (Buddha-nature: potential for Buddhahood), which is what is true. Whether you have this flesh body or not, how would it matter then?’ Hearing this, Revata was illuminated. He then renounced his worldly life to join the Buddha’s community of monastics and soon became an Arhat too, becoming the disciple foremost in not being upset or confused.
Revata’s name means ‘falsely assembled’ (假和合), as he realised his bodily form to be falsely combined, due to the temporal gathering of physical and mental causes and conditions. Though these factors are constantly changing, when they are present together, they give rise to the illusion of a substantial self to those not mindful of their impermanent nature. When these factors fall apart drastically, the body is disassembled in death, while the non-liberated consciousness migrates to a new body. Our bodies are similar to Revata’s. Although we do not have entire parts swiftly replaced, our physical cells (matter) and mental aggregates (mindstreams of feelings, perceptions, volitions and consciousnesses) change all the time.
Revata’s story is reminiscent of Plutarch’s ‘Ship Of Theseus’. Theseus’s ship with its thirty oars was ‘preserved’ entirely. When its old planks decayed, they were replaced by new ones. This led philosophers to wonder about things that grow and decay, about how the present ship remained the same or was not the same as the original. The contention is that the original and repaired ships seem similar yet different at the same time, since their functions are unchanging even while their constituent forms are changed. (Hobbes later asked which ship would be the original if the dismantled parts were used to form another ship!)
On the ‘Bridesmaids’ chat, obviously, a person’s (mental) characteristics (e.g. preferences) and (physical) forms (e.g. when growing up and old) change from moment to moment, though the subtleties are not easy to detect over a short while. Given much time, there could no recognisable ‘base’ that changes seem to pivot from, with the only unchanging factor being Buddha-nature to be realised. Revata did change his whole body, which led him to change his mind drastically too. Despite there being no absolute ‘Revata’, he was still called so, to conventionally identify him as one of many interconnected continuums of change. Like Theseus’ ship, Revata was neither entirely the same nor different as before. This is how Theseus’ Paradox is resolved!
As Buddha-nature is indestructible,
the indestructible mission is
how you should to realise yours.
Buddha-nature And Egolessness
Why The ‘Same’ River Is A ‘Different’ River
Venerable Nagasena On King Milinda’s Chariot