By J. Martin
So if we’re going to talk big over arching concepts of Buddhism, one of the biggest would be The Three Characteristics of Existence.
They are so prevalent, the Buddha said they are literally woven into the fabric of being. What are they? Anicca (pronounced A-knee-cha), Anatta (pronounced A-nah-tah), and Dukhata (pronounced Du-kah-tah). Those are the Pali words (Pali is the language of early Buddhist Canon, most likely spoken by the Buddha himself). In English the best translation would be Impermanence, Selflessness, and Unsatisfactoriness. As I said these factors are considered to be all up in the mix, meaning they cannot be separated from existence. Whether you’re rich or poor, smart or dull, weak or strong all of us come to know these Three Characteristics of Existence without even realizing it.
I will lay out each Characteristic in turn. First comes Anicca, or Impermanence.
Impermanence is so basic we all know it; we’ve all seen it. Some of us know it through loss of loved ones, friends that have moved away, pets that have passed away and so on. This impermanence is caused by the simple fact that all phenomena—every existing thing or circumstance—is compounded.
Simply stated, nothing exists as an island.
We are born with the fact that we will some day die, we make friends even though we will someday lose them, we pick a job or career despite the fact one day we’ll find another or retire. All of these circumstances and things are built on the foundation of other things—they have no core or nucleus.
It is said that this world of Samsara is oppressed by means of rise and fall. In a sense that is true; we go about our lives with a very narrow scope of reality, while hinging our happiness on things and circumstances that simply cannot last. Nothing endures. Things may seem to last, and in a relative sense they do. As anyone who has watched the Discovery Channel can tell you stars die, planets invert poles randomly, black holes eat solar systems, and all the other crazy phenomenoa that take place over trillions of years. To us, in our small picture mindset, these things seem unending or unchanging because of the scale upon which they operate.
As the Buddha said all conditioned phenomenon will end. Simply stated, if the thing in question has a birthday, it will also have an end. This would be the idea of causality, the idea that for anything to exist it’s causes must be in place and operative.
So when most read this, there is a tendency to feel down about it. I mean if it doesn’t last what is the point, right? The answer lies in your point of view.
I like to see the positive notion that lies implicitly. All things—even the bad ones—end. If your circumstances suck, one way or another it will end. When we use our intention we can influence whether things end badly or not. When we know that all our relationships will someday come to an end isn’t that all the more reason to savor them? Enjoy that hug, meal, day off, party night, quiet night in and so on, because it—like everything else—will one day fade away. Instead of living in mourning of what was, celebrate that it even got to happen at all.
To truly realize Anicca/Impermanence can be a bit of a bummer, but like most things your perception is your reality. Finding the good in all things is a big part of becoming a self-actualized being. Not to mention, it makes you a dope yogi! This characteristic of existence can’t be swerved or changed but it can be accepted. Accepting this factor of life will begin to open the door to gratitude, which is by far the greatest super power we existent beings possess.
So, get out there and look Anicca in the eye and smile, no matter what you believe in nothing, we as finite beings can comprehend, lasts forever. Go ahead and celebrate your Impermanence!
J. Martin is a a 32 year old father of three and has been married for 13 years. He was a mechanic for 15 years, then his true calling found him and he became a firefighter. He has been a practicing Buddhist for nine years, including two years of meditation class at the Theravada temple near his home. His teacher moved on and before he did he told him, “Remember, I don’t teach students, I teach teachers. So do something with what you’ve learned.” So J. went to do what he could to further the meditative arts. Check out his blog, The Unusual Buddha.
Editor: Dana Gornall