So recently, you might have come across our posters on Instagram and maybe our website, saying "Dhamma is Eternal". What comes to your mind may be "Did the Buddha not teach impermanence?" Yes, the Buddha did indeed teach impermanence in Dhammapada 20:277.
All conditioned things are impermanent. When one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering. This is the path to bliss.
- Dhammapada 20:277
But when we use the phrase "eternal", we are not alluding to the fact that the Dhamma permanent. There is bound to be a time when the True Dhamma is no longer in practice. This is known as the Dhamma Ending Age. It will be a time in the far, future, but it will be a time when the Dhamma is not known. You may ask, "How can the Dhamma be not known?", staring at the device in the palm of your hand, or sitting on the desk that literally lets you find anything on the internet in just a matter of seconds. The phrase "a time when the Dhamma is not known" is not meant to be taken literally. It instead refers to a time when the Dhamma is no longer practiced. If you do a Google search, you will realize that there are thousands of religions and faiths in the world, but only over a dozen are practiced by humanity today. It is thanks to people like you and me, that the Dhamma still exists, and we have to work diligently to keep the Buddha's teachings in the world for all of humanity.
So, why do we say that the Dhamma is eternal? It is simple. The Dhamma would have existed, with or without the Buddha. It existed before the current Buddha - it is said that there have been countless Buddhas in the past and there will be countless Buddhas in the future as well.
Let's take this as an example, British Physicist Sir Isaac Newton discovered that there was a force known as gravity in 1687. We all know that gravity is basically the force that keeps things that are meant to not float from floating in mid-air like in outer space. But it's not like prior to 1687, stuff floated around mid-air. Gravity still existed all that while, but no one knew what it was called. And even if someone doesn't believe in the concept of gravity today, gravity still exists. Gravity is also eternal.
Now take the example and replace the word "gravity" with "the Dhamma", the year 1687 with "over 2500 years ago" and "Sir Isaac Newton" with "Gautama Buddha". The Buddha's Dhamma teaches us that there is suffering, there are causes of suffering (Greed, Hatred, Delusion), there is a way to end suffering, and the path to the ending of suffering and attaining bliss (The Noble Eightfold Path). But it's not like prior to some time in 500 BC, there was no suffering, there was no greed, hatred or delusion and hence there was no way to get rid of "something that did not exist". That is not the case. The Four Noble Truths still existed all that while, but no one knew about them. And today, even if someone doesn't believe in the Dhamma, the Dhamma still exists. Before the Dhamma was discovered by the Buddha, it already existed. When it is no longer practiced, it will still exist. Hence, we say "Dhamma is Eternal."
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1. Khuddaka Nikaya. List of Named Buddhas. 2021.
2. Tan, Piya. "The Dharma-Ending Age". The Dharmafarers, 2010.
3. The Dhammapada
4. Levin, Noah, ed. “Self and Atman.” In SOUTH AND EAST ASIAN PHILOSOPHY READER, AN OPEN EDUCATIONAL RESOURCE, 105–15. NGE Far Press, 2019. https://human.libretexts.org/Bookshelves/Philosophy/Book%3A_South_and_East_Asian_Philosophy_Reader_(Levin_et_al.)