Three marks of existence
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In Buddhism, the three marks of existence are three characteristics (Pali: tilakkhaṇa; Sanskrit: trilakṣaṇa) of all existence and beings, namely impermanence (anicca), unsatisfactoriness or suffering (dukkha), and non-self (anattā). These three characteristics are mentioned in verses 277, 278 and 279 of the Dhammapada. That humans are subject to delusion about the three marks, that this delusion results in suffering, and that removal of that delusion results in the end of suffering, is a central theme in the Buddhist Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path.
The three marks are:
- sabbe saṅkhārā aniccā — "all saṅkhāras (conditioned things) are impermanent"
- sabbe saṅkhārā dukkhā — "all saṅkhāras are unsatisfactory"
- sabbe dhammā anattā — "all dharmas (conditioned or unconditioned things) are not self"
Impermanence (Pali anicca, Sanskrit anitya) means that all conditioned things (saṅkhāra) are in a constant state of flux. Buddhism states that all physical and mental events come into being and dissolve. Human life embodies this flux in the aging process, the cycle of repeated birth and death (Samsara), nothing lasts, and everything decays. This is applicable to all beings and their environs, including beings who are reborn in deva (god) and naraka (hell) realms. This is in contrast to nirvana, the reality that is nicca, or knows no change, decay or death.
Dukkha (Sanskrit duhkha) means "unsatisfactoriness, suffering, pain". The dukkha includes the physical and mental sufferings that follows each rebirth, aging, illness, dying; dissatisfaction from getting what a being wishes to avoid or not getting the desired, and no satisfaction from Sankhara dukkha, in which everything is conditioned and conditioning, or because all things are not experienced as impermanent and without any essence.
While anicca and dukkha apply to "all conditioned phenomena" (saṅkhārā), anattā has a wider scope because it applies to all dhammā without "conditioned, unconditioned" qualification. Thus, nirvana too is a state of "without Self" or anatta. The phrase "sabbe dhamma anatta" includes within its scope each skandha (aggregate, heap) that compose any being, and the belief "I am" is a mark of conceit which must be destroyed to end all Dukkha. The Anattā doctrine of Buddhism denies that there is anything called a 'Self' in any person or anything else, and that a belief in 'Self' is a source of Dukkha. Some Buddhist traditions and scholars, however, interpret the anatta doctrine to be strictly in regard to the five aggregates rather than a universal truth. Religious studies scholar Alexander Wynne calls anattā a "not-self" teaching rather than a "no-self" teaching.
In Buddhism, ignorance of (avidyā, or moha; i.e. a failure to grasp directly) the three marks of existence is regarded as the first link in the overall process of saṃsāra whereby a being is subject to repeated existences in an endless cycle of suffering. As a consequence, dissolving that ignorance through direct insight into the three marks is said to bring an end to saṃsāra and, as a result, to that suffering (dukkha nirodha or nirodha sacca, as described in the third of the Four Noble Truths).
Gautama Buddha taught that all beings conditioned by causes (saṅkhāra) are impermanent (anicca) and suffering (dukkha), and that not-self (anattā) characterises all dhammas, meaning there is no "I", "me", or "mine" in either the conditioned or the unconditioned (i.e. nibbāna). The teaching of three marks of existence in the Pali Canon is credited to the Buddha.
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- Malcolm Huxter (2016). Healing the Heart and Mind with Mindfulness: Ancient Path, Present Moment. Routledge. p. 10. ISBN 978-1-317-50540-2., Quote: " dukkha (unsatisfactoriness or suffering) (....) In the Introduction I wrote that dukkha is probably best understood as unsatisfactoriness."
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[b] Brian Morris (2006). Religion and Anthropology: A Critical Introduction. Cambridge University Press. p. 51. ISBN 978-0-521-85241-8., Quote: "(...) anatta is the doctrine of non-self, and is an extreme empiricist doctrine that holds that the notion of an unchanging permanent self is a fiction and has no reality. According to Buddhist doctrine, the individual person consists of five skandhas or heaps - the body, feelings, perceptions, impulses and consciousness. The belief in a self or soul, over these five skandhas, is illusory and the cause of suffering."
[c] Richard Gombrich (2006). Theravada Buddhism. Routledge. p. 47. ISBN 978-1-134-90352-8., Quote: "(...) Buddha's teaching that beings have no soul, no abiding essence. This 'no-soul doctrine' (anatta-vada) he expounded in his second sermon."
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- Dhammapada Verses 277, 278 and 279
- Joaquín Pérez Remón (1980). Self and Non-self in Early Buddhism. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 210–225. ISBN 978-90-279-7987-2.
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