According to Buddhist cosmology, the natural rhythm of the universe is cyclical. Eons of formation and abundance alternate with eons of abidance, decrease and restful healing. Destruction of the universe is caused by wind, fire, and water. Currently, we live in a time characterized by the degeneration of lifespan, time, view, afflictions, and sentient beings. A detailed description is presented in the Abhidharmakosha (Treasury of Manifest Knowledge) and other Buddhist texts.
Just as the universe undergoes subtle changes as a result of our collective karma, our experience is the momentary coming-into-being and exhaustion of our individual karma. The physical world as we know it is the karmic fruition of our actions whether they are virtuous or non-virtuous. Both the universe and we as individuals are in a state of dynamic change. Impermanence, the Buddha taught, is the true nature of reality. Yet the cosmological cycle is not a cause of anxiety for Buddhists. Tibetan astrologists do not predict the end of the world.
What makes us afraid? Fear arises from our inherent self-cherishing. In a talk about the possibility of nuclear destruction, Lama Yeshe, a Tibetan lama said about fear,
“Particularly when you’re emotionally disturbed and anxious, you’ll find that there’s a concept of concreteness in your mind, which causes you to project a concrete object externally. Neither concept has anything to do with reality. Buddhism asserts that the mind of fear and worry always either overestimates or underestimates its object and never sees its reality. If you can perceive the fundamental, universal reality of your object of fear and worry, it will become like a cloud—it comes; it goes. When you are overcome with worry, you sometimes say, “It’s always like this.” That’s not true. Things never stay the same; they always come and go—that’s the reality.”
While the world we know will eventually disappear, new worlds will form and the cycle will continue. In the context of impermanence in the world order, Buddhists rejoice in the freshness of the present moment. We know we will die, but we don’t know when. There is no point in worrying about something that will happen several months in the future when we might die today.
The real question is what do we do with our lives in the meantime? For Buddhists, the uncertainty of our time of death is an incentive to make our lives meaningful by nurturing love and compassion for all living beings. We leverage all the advantages of the present to prepare for our future lives so that we can continue our task of helping others. We should meditate on impermanence and compassion. To understand the true nature of our fears, we meditate on impermanence:
“As a star, a visual aberration, a lamp;
An illusion, dew, a bubble;
A dream, lightening, and a cloud;
View all compounded phenomena like that.”
When we realize that others are also needlessly tormented from mistaken fears, we meditate on compassion wishing them to be free from all types of mental and physical suffering. Furthermore, we vow to help them attain this goal. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso often quotes the Indian scholar Shantideva:
“As long as space remains,
As long as sentient beings remain,
May I too remain
To dispel the miseries of this world.”