Three marks of existence

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The Three marks of existence, within Buddhism, are three characteristics (Pali: tilakkhaa; Sanskrit: trilakaa) shared by all sentient beings, namely: impermanence (anicca); suffering or unsatisfactoriness (dukkha); non-self (Anatta).


According to Buddhist tradition, a full understanding of the three marks of existence can bring an end to suffering (dukkha nirodha, 苦滅). The Buddha taught that all beings conditioned by causes (saṅkhāra) are impermanent (anicca) and suffering (dukkhā) while he said not-self (anattā) characterises all dhammas meaning there is no "I" or "mine" in the conditioned as well as the unconditioned (i.e. Nibbāna).[1][2] The central figure of Buddhism, Siddhartha is believed to have achieved Nirvana and awakening after much meditation, thus becoming the Buddha Shakyamuni. With the faculty of wisdom the Buddha directly perceived that all sentient beings (everything in the phenomenology of psychology) are marked by these three characteristics:


Main article: Anicca

Anicca (Sanskrit anitya) "inconstancy" or "impermanence". This refers to the fact that all conditioned things (sankhara) are in a constant state of flux. In reality there is no thing that ultimately ceases to exist; only the appearance of a thing ceases as it changes from one form to another. Imagine a leaf that falls to the ground and decomposes. While the appearance and relative existence of the leaf ceases, the components that formed the leaf become particulate material that may go on to form new plants. Buddhism teaches a middle way, avoiding the extreme views of eternalism and nihilism.[3]


Main article: Dukkha

Dukkha (Sanskrit duhkha) or dissatisfaction (or "dis-ease"; also often translated "suffering", though this is somewhat misleading). Nothing found in the physical world or even the psychological realm can bring lasting deep satisfaction. Dukkha is the stress, dissatisfaction and suffering that is experienced by all sentient beings who are not fully enlightened, i.e. freedom from samsara.[4]


Main article: Anatta

Anatta (Sanskrit anatman) is the teaching that nothing can ever belong to a self, have a self in it, or otherwise be the self. It is unique among the three marks of existence because it is given a much wider designation than the other two; while anicca and dukkha are described as applying to "all conditioned phenomenon", anatta is described as applying to "all phenomenon" without qualification.[5][6]

Together the three characteristics of existence are called ti-lakkhana in Pali or tri-laksana in Sanskrit.


Main article: Nirvana

By bringing the three seals into moment-to-moment experience through concentrated awareness, we are said to achieve wisdom—the third of the three higher trainings—the way out of samsara. Thus the method for leaving samsara involves a deep-rooted change in world view. Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche states that in the four seals of the Mahayana, Nirvana should be viewed as "beyond extremes". Furthermore, he says "Nirvana is achieved when you remove everything that was artificial and obscuring."[7][8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nārada, The Dhammapada (1978), pp. 224.
  2. ^ Bodhi, Bhikkhu (2003). The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications. p. 1457. ISBN 978-0-86171-331-8. 
  3. ^ The Buddhist Publication Society. "The Three Basic Facts of Existence". Retrieved 2009-07-14. "(ref.1) Change or impermanence is the essential characteristic of all phenomenal existence. We cannot say of anything, animate or inanimate, organic or inorganic, "this is lasting"; for even while we are saying this, it would be undergoing change. All is fleeting; the beauty of flowers, the bird's melody, the bee's hum, and a sunset's glory. (ref.2) There are three types of teachers, the first one teaches that the ego or the self is real now as well as in the future (here and hereafter); the second one teaches that the ego is real only in this life, not in the future; the third one teaches that the concept of an ego is an illusion: it is not real either in this life or in the hereafter. The first one is the eternalist (sassatavaadi); the second one is the annihilationist (ucchedavaadi); the third one is the Buddha who teaches the middle way of avoiding the extremes of eternalism and annihilationism." 
  4. ^ "Dukkha". Access to Insight. Retrieved 10 September 2014. 
  5. ^ See the Pali: sabbe saṅkhārā aniccā, sabbe saṅkhārā dukkha, sabbe dhammā anattā
  6. ^ SN 22.90, AN 3.136 [AN 3.134], Dhp 20. 277-279
  7. ^
  8. ^ Molloy, Michael (2010). Experiencing the World's Religions.