3 marks of existence

According to the Buddhist tradition, all phenomena other than Nirvana, (sankhara) are marked by three characteristics, sometimes referred to as the Dharma seals, that is dukkha (suffering), anicca (impermanence), and anatta (non-Self).

After much meditation, the Buddha concluded that everything in the physical world (plus everything in the phenomenology of psychology) is marked by these three characteristics:

1) Dukkha (suffering)

2) Anicca (imperanence)

3) Anatta (non-self)

Dukkha 苦 [く] ku

Suffering or dissatisfaction is part of our human experience.

Dukkha is one of those word that do not translate easily. Most translators use the word suffering to explain the meaning of Dukkha but it not really appropriate.

There are actually 3 kinds of Dukkha:

  • Physical and mental pain and suffering (pain induced by a cancer or the suffering of a mother who lost her child)
  • Impermanence or change bring dissatisfaction. When we are happy we usually don’t feel pain or suffering yet happiness is an impermanent state and it will bring dissatisfaction when it will fade. This dissatisfaction is part of a longing for another state of mind.
  • Conditioned states. This one is a little more tricky to understand. Each being are attached to 5 “states”:
    • Matter (brings greed)
    • Sensations (bring dependence)
    • Perceptions (brings inflexibility)
    • Mental Formations (brings close-mindedness)
    • Consciousness (brings selfishness)

One important lesson to learn from this law is that non-attachment (to things, ideas and feelings) are very important in order to transcend suffering.

Anicca 諸行無常 [しょぎょうむじょう] shogyoumujou

means impermanence. this impermanence permeates all phenomenon in nature and human society. A common image is that of a leaf, falling down a tree to be soon replaced by another. The same fallen leaf will decay and feed the tree it comes from, thus changing state again. Everything is a flow of change that carries all in its passage.

Human consciousness is subject to this law. We are always changing on many plans. You just have to remember how, as a kid, you didn’t like certain things, say coffee. Today, chances are that you now like coffee.

It’s a simple example but the truth is that impermanence plays an important role in our delivery from suffering. Since all states are impermanent and subject to change, so is our suffering. It is thank to this law of impermanence that we can attain Nirvana.

Anatta 無我 [むが] muga

Simply put, this law stipulates that we are not really an entity but a result of our perception of the world through the five collectors:

  1. Form (our physical form)
  2. Sensation (our 5 senses)
  3. Perception (rationalization, thinking)
  4. Mental formations (habits, prejudice, beliefs)
  5. Consciousness (a awareness of our world)

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