The Lord Buddha taught us that there are three signs or marks that go along with everything in this world. Most grown-ups know them either by their Pali or Sanskrit names. In Sanskrit they are, Duhkha, Anitya, Anatman and these words mean Sorrow, Never-ending change, Lack of an unchanging soul. In Pali the words are similar to the Sanskrit and are: Dukkha, Anicca and Anatta.
Some people claim that these three ideas are very hard for a child to understand. This cannot be true. Even an infant, barely able to walk, has already learned about pain and disappointment. The baby often wants what it cannot have and sometimes shows strong dislike for what it can have. That is not all there is to the Buddha’s teaching about sorrow, but at least this way of putting it gives us a fair idea of the teaching.
The deeper teaching is that Sorrow is universal. That means it touches all living things. No form of life can go all through life and not know sorrow in many forms. This is a law of life. Even when happy children are choosing sides for a game, the shadow of unhappiness is near. One side will win the game and, if there are winders, then there must be losers.
The second sign, or mark, is the law of constant change (Anitya). Everything in our lives and everything in the world is not quite the same for any two moments. As soon as the most beautiful flower blooms, it starts to fade. It may seem a bit strange to say that even little children are rapidly growing old and are constantly changing, just as the freshly bloomed flower is changing and fading, but the statement is true just the same. Nothing can remain the same or escape changing. We are born, we grow up to be big enough t come to Dharma school, suddenly we find we are grown-up. Then we find we are slowing down because we are growing old. Finally we come to end of this life, and every moment of life has been different from every other moment. The Buddha told us that only Truth is everlasting and unchanging.
If we understand the second sign, or mark, then it is easy to understand the third mark of anatman, or lack of an unchanging soul. We Buddhists are taught by our Lord that the mind and all our thought – our characters and all that we commonly call “I” or “Me”, change just as much as our bodies or anything else. There is nothing about a person that is permanent.
Those who like to criticise Buddhism often say that we Buddhists deny we have souls. That statement is true or untrue, depending on what is meant when we use the word “soul”. Our teaching is that character is a more accurate term to use in this case than soul. Character is the sum or total of a person’s thoughts and acts. It is his karma and is his true personality. We deny that anyone has a “soul” that is an unchanging something, a something different from the total of his character.
THE THREE SIGNS
Dukkha, Anicca, Anatta,
The leaves are falling fast,
The reign of the rose is ended,
The sky is overcast.
The whole world is filled with sadness,
From city and jungle rise
The cry of life’s suffering children -
The daylight slowly dies.
Our Lord looked with love and pity
Upon every living thing,
From the lowliest child of nature
To the mightiest crowned king.
For hatred, delusion, passion
Still claim and enslave us all,
And each alike on the wheel of change
Must suffer, and rise, and fall.
Dukkha, Anicca, Anatta,
Tho’ every life knows pain
He who faithfully walks the Path
Will not look for help in vain.
The Law of the Tathagatha
Forever will light the way;
It is our moon to shine by night,
Our sun to illume the day.
In Lord Buddha we take our Refuge,
His Law of Good our guide,
To pilot us as we toss and drift
On being’s remorseless tide.
With the Dharma’s light to steer by
Some day we’ll fear rocks no more,
But, merit won, each will moor his barque
On Nirvana’s changeless shore.
THE ETERNAL REFUGE
We thirst for something lasting, something real
In this our world of constant change and strife;
A spot wherein our spirits may find rest,
Amid the storms and agony of life.
But while we seek confused by things of sense,
Bewildered by the calls of self and sin,
We oft forget the words Lord Buddha spoke:
The gateway of the Kingdom lies within.
Great tempests rage o’er oceans mighty face,
While angry billows seep and surge around,
But in the depths far hidden out of sight,
Eternal Peace and Perfect Calm are found.
So are there depths within the spirit hid,
Where storms and winds of passions never blow;
And all who rest within this hallowed spot,
The hidden joys of Truth shall surely know.