The three characteristics
(anicca, dukkha, anatta)
3 common properties
Everything in the universe have three common properties: anicca, dukkha, and anatta. People, animals, things, towns, mountains, planets, stars, joy, money, knowledge, memories, everything you may imagine, everything you can't imagine. Every possible thing is anicca, dukkha, anatta. These three words are Pali words (Pali was the language spoken by the Buddha). Let's together examine what they mean...
"anicca" (pronunciation: "anicha") means "unpermanent". Nothing possibly lasts forever without ending sometime, one day. When you enjoy eating a good chocolate cake, even if your pleasure lasts long, it can't last forever. It's the same for everything.
Some things do not last long, for instance: butterflies, flowers, batteries, handkerchiefs... Other things last long: houses, mountains, rivers... Nevertheless, even these things will come inevitably to an end.
That's why, if one is reasonable, one tries to know reality better and better to be less and less involved in clinging. That's the aim of practising dhamma (buddhist practise). More we cling, more we suffer. For instance, if you cling to a toy or a book, you will be desapointed or stressed if you lose it. If you cling to a place, you'll be sad when moving from there. If you cling to a principle, or an idea, you'll be frustrated if one goes the other way. If you do not cling to anything, you'll never be desapointed or irritated.
"dukkha" (pronunciation: "dook-kha") means "suffering" or "unsatisfaction". Nothing can be wholy satifying, completely pleasant. Everything in life includes a part of suffering, even best ones, because of limits. Everything we can do is always unperfect. When a moment is pleasant, when all is well, it never lasts long. You enjoy something now because you were in pain before.
Even if the whole world was yours, if you could do everything you want, you will surely find something wrong.
The only way to always feel happy is to possess nothing, not to be involved in entertainments, and to be satisfied with very few things in life. Even so, you may be sick, injured, or get other trouble.
A wise person can see clearly that suffering, or insatisfaction, is everywhere. That's why one stays more quietly and knows how to feel good with few things.
"anatta" (pronunciation: "anat-ta") means "does not exist by itself". Every existing thing is only the combination of several things, is divided in several elements. When you admire a nice phone or a nice bike, this thing does not exist by itself: it's just a combination of small pieces. It's the same for everything.
Even you do not exist by yourself: you are the result of a natural process and your whole body is a set of particles, like pieces of a puzzle: there are eyes, teeth, hair, bones, flesh, blood, grease, and so on.
When one knows properly how to face the reality, one gets less involved in desires, because one understands that all existing things are nothing but succession of causes and results. One knows that nobody can force something to happen just as he wishes, because every happening things never depends of one single thing. In the other way, one cannot everytime avoid what he doesn't want.
More you long for things, more you get worry, because things almost never happen like we want. Better you get satisfied with situations as they happen, better you feel.
The Four Noble Truths (concise Buddhism)
The whole teaching of the Buddha can be resumed in four sections, which are called The Four Noble Truths. Each of these four sections was discovered by the Buddha and can be verified by anyone who practise dhamma correctly (the purpose of this whole site is to explain what is dhamma and how to practise it in day-to-day life).
The first teaching of the Buddha
1. The Noble Truth of suffering
All existing thing is subject to suffering or insatisfaction. No living one can avoid one or other kind of suffering: suffering of being separated from things or persons we like, suffering to be obliged to stay with things or persons we do not like, suffering of starving, chilling, or any kind of troubles in our life, suffering because of sickness, old age, death...
2. The Noble Truth of the arising of suffering
Each kind of suffering is bound to a cause, a reason, that makes it come out. Suffering is caused by mental impuritities: anger, desire, fright, jealousy, pride... All these impurities are formed because of craving (one wants to own something), aversion (one wants to escape from something) and ignorance (one doesn't know things as they really are). To eradicate suffering, we have to eradicate these bad elements which are like poisons for the mind.
3. The Noble Truth of the cessation of suffering
If desire, anger and ignorance are the cause of suffering, we have to destroy them, in the purpose to put an end to suffering. So the cessation of desire, anger and ignorance leads to the cessation of suffering. The experience who is able to destroy these "poisons" in the mind is called nibbána in Pali language, or is also called Awakening. To reach nibbána, we have to train to vipassaná (the direct vision in the reality).
4. The Noble Truth of the path leading to the cessation of suffering
To definitively eradicate mental impurities, which are cause of suffering, one has to follow the noble path (or way) of the dhamma. Here, the word "way" is used as a symbol. This is not like a path in the country, but it's a set of habits to get and develop. This path is a "noble" path, that is: a pure path, respectable and full of benefits, for it brings best results for all. This noble path is the path of the dhamma, which leads to the right understanding of the reality.
Practising dhamma leads little by little to nibbána, the end of suffering. In the purpose to be wholesome and lead to the end of suffering, this practise must be fully achieved. And for this practise to be achieved, one must follow an eightfold training (that's why the dhammadána logo is divided in eight parts):
- right understanding (to understand correctly the dhamma),
- right thought (thought with no craving, no jealousy, no ill will or no cruelty involved),
- right speech (including no lies, no traducing, no vulgarities, no useless chatterings),
- right action (i.e. no killing, no stealing, no sexual misconduct, no alcohol drinking nor drug ingestion),
- right livelyhood (one has to honestly earn one's living, avoiding harmful actions),
- right effort (overcoming et avoiding unwholesome things, and maintaining wholesome ones),
- right awareness (direct observation in the reality),
- right concentration (staying concentrated on a single thing).
Wisdom is mostly worthy, because it only brings positive things and because no one can remove it from us. When one is wise, one understands really well things, people, situations and all actions are kusala (good actions, good speech, good thought), and one comes very estimated by others.
To develop wisdom correctly, meditation training is necessary. To get propitious meditation, one has to practise generosity and virtue.
As soon as you are able to observe correctly what is arising at your six sensory doors, you become a very wise person. For a wise person is someone who knows reality... as it is. And reality is everything arising at the six sensory doors. Do you know the six sensory doors? Here they are:
- Sight: one can see with the eyes. For instance, with sight, you can see the street, the shops or the flowers when you're walking outside.
- Hearing: one can hear sounds with the ears. For instance, you can hear what your friends are talking about.
- Taste: we can taste savours with the tongue. For instance, you can taste food and know if it's yet healthy.
- Smell: one can smell something with the nose. For instance: you can smell and know if something is burning.
- Feeling: we can feel physical sensations with the body. For instance: you can feel if a cup of milk is very hot.
- Mind: one can get mental sensations with the mind. For instance: with the mind, you can have some thoughts, dreams, reflections or emotions.
Any action brings a result. In the other way, all that is happening is the result of one of several actions. This natural law is called kamma in pali language (and karma in sanskrit language) and no chance is involved in it. It explains why we experience all our deeds, good or bad. One is thus responsible even for his least actions; if one commits wholesome actions (kusala), one will get happy consequences, if one commits unwholesome actions (akusala), one will get unhappy consequences.
Like any other person, you are thus responsible for all your actions; nothing can be hidden or changed. That's why it so important to have wholesome behaviour, speech and thoughts, avoiding unwholesome behaviour, speech and thoughts.
If one is very lucky in life, rich and always healthy, with a pleasant figure, good intellectual faculties, with lot of friends around, it's so because one has done good actions in his past lives. On the contrary, if one is unlucky in life, poor and always unhealthy, with unpleasant figure, intellectual deficiencies, with lot of enemies, it's so because one has done unwholesome actions in his past lives.
So, the way you spend your present life is the result of your actions in your past lives, and your actions in your present life will produce as a result what (good or bad) you will experience during your next lives. Of course, a lot of actions will have a result in this present life, or in this present year, or in this present day, or even immediately after.
The only way not to be under the influence of the kamma, is to come out of samsará, which is the endless cycle of existences. Wise persons do practise dhamma very diligently because it's the only way to reach the peace of nibbána, and to be free from this unlimited cycle of unsatisfactions in which we're all involved.
Reality is so, but do not just believe in that: see that. The only way to verify is to train a long time to observe reality in your day-to-day life, with all details and in the most direct way (see: vipassaná).