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Impermanence is one of the essential doctrines or three marks of existence in Buddhism. The term expresses the Buddhist notion that all of conditioned existence, without exception, is transient, or in a constant state of flux. The mutability of life, that time passes on no matter what happens, is an important aspect of impermanence. The Pali word anicca literally means "inconstant", and arises from a synthesis of two separate words, 'Nicca' and the "privative particle" 'a'. Where the word 'Nicca' refers to the concept of continuity and permanence, 'Anicca' refers to its exact opposite; the absence of permanence and continuity.
Anicca or impermanence is understood by Buddhists as one of the three marks of existence, the others being dukkha (unsatisfactoriness) and anatta (non-selfhood). All things in the universe are understood by Buddhists to be characterised by these three marks of existence. According to the impermanence doctrine, human life embodies this flux in the aging process, the cycle of birth and rebirth (samsara), and in any experience of loss. This is applicable to all beings and their environs including devas (mortal gods). The Buddha taught that because conditioned phenomena are impermanent, attachment to them becomes the cause for future suffering (dukkha).
Conditioned phenomena can also be referred to as compounded, constructed, or fabricated. This is in contrast to the unconditioned, uncompounded and unfabricated nirvana, the reality that knows no change, decay or death.
Impermanence is intimately associated with the doctrine of anatta, according to which things have no fixed nature, essence, or self. For example, in Mahayana Buddhism, because all phenomena are impermanent, and in a state of flux, they are understood to be empty of an intrinsic self (shunyata).
Practical implications - meditation
One method Buddhists use to cultivate awareness of the true nature of reality is that of vipassana meditation. The practice of vipassana meditation involves the development of a heightened state of awareness whereby one is able to understand clearly the true nature of reality. Here, 'true nature' refers to an understanding of the three marks of existence (see above), the true nature of impermanence, the true nature of unsatisfactoriness and the true nature of insubstantiality or the non-self or soul. The contemplation of impermanence (anicc'-anupassana) refers to seeing conditioned phenomena arising and passing away while observing their individual characteristics. According to the Visuddhimagga, one should understand three aspects of this contemplation: impermanence (anicca), the characteristic of impermanence (anicca-lakkhana), and the contemplation of impermanence (anicc'-anupassana). The commentaries say that we should know three things regarding the contemplation of impermanence (anicc'-anupassana): 'Three aspects regarding the contemplation of impermanence'; life is life.
The five aggregates, monks, are anicca, impermanent.
All is impermanent. And what is the all that is impermanent? The eye is impermanent, visual objects [ruupaa]... eye-consciousness... eye contact [cakku-samphassa]... whatever is felt [vedayita] as pleasant or unpleasant or neither-unpleasant-nor-pleasant, born of eye-contact is impermanent. [Likewise with the ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind] (SN 35.43/vol. iv, 28)
All formations are impermanent
Whatever is subject to origination [samudaya] is subject to cessation [nirodha] (MN 56)
In arts and culture
- Akio Jissoji's Buddhist auteur film Mujo (also known as This Transient Life) owes its title to the doctrine of Impermanence.
- Hodge David and Hodge, Hi-Jin. Impermanence: Embracing Change Snow Lion Publications.
- (Pāli: अनिच्चा anicca; Sanskrit: अनित्य anitya; Tibetan: མི་རྟག་པ་ mi rtag pa; Chinese: 無常 wúcháng; Japanese: 無常 mujō; Korean: 무상 musang; Thai: อนิจจัง anitchang; Vietnamese: vô thường; from Pali "aniccaŋ")
- Monk Sasana (1999). "Anicca (the impermanence) Translated 2001 by Thierry Lambrou". dhammadana.org.
- Monk Dhamma Sami (2001). "Three Characteristics. Translated 2001 by Thierry Lambrou". Dhammadana.org.
- O'Brien, B (2009). "Anicca".
- The Buddhist Philosophy of Universal Flux (1935) by Satkari Mookerjee
- All About Change by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
- Three marks of existence by Nyanaponika Thera