Basic Buddhist Teachings – I

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The Three Characteristics of Existence

According to Buddhism, the three universal characteristics of existence are:

  1. transience (anicca),
  2. pain or suffering (dukkha), and
  3. the non-self, the non-soul, the non-egoism (anattā).

​As the Buddha stated:
“Whether the Buddhas appear in the world or not, this secular element (dhātu), this constant state, this eternal law, this conditional domination still exists, that is: all activities are transient (sabbe saṅkhārā aniccā), all activities are pain and suffering (sabbe saṅkhārā dukkhā), and all phenomena are non-self (sabbe dhammā anattā)”. (AN Uppāda Sutta).

​1. Transience (Anicca)

Transience points out the basic fact that nothing in the world is fixed or permanent. Instability and change prevail in all activities and energies, in all the mental and material phenomena that all have the nature to rise and fall.

​Although the phenomena around us give us the impression that they are permanent and unchanging, in reality they are elusive processes that are constantly changing.

​We ourselves are not the same people, either physically or emotionally or spiritually as we were ten years ago or even ten minutes ago. Therefore, living as we live as moving beings in quicksand, it is not possible to achieve lasting security and happiness.

​Thus, each person is essentially subject to constant change, as his body, his feelings, his perceptions, his thoughts, etc. change from time to time.

​2. Pain, Suffering (Dukkha)

The word dukkha means the physical and psychological pain one experiences due to attachment to transient and unstable things, such as material and mental phenomena, and in general the unsatisfactory and imperfect nature of life itself.

​The oppressive nature of all mental and material phenomena due to their constant rise and fall thus becomes the basis of suffering, pain and suffering in the unstable world.

However, this does not mean that Buddhists believe that life contains only pain. They believe that there are moments of happiness in life, but they do not last because they are subject to the law of change and transience.

3. The Non-Self, the Non-Soul, the Non-Egoism (Anattā)

The notion of the non-self points out that in the final analysis there is nothing eternal or unchanging in human nature that one can call “self”, “soul” or “I”, and anchor a fixed sense of “I”. The whole concept of “I” is in fact a fundamentally wrong idea that tries to settle into an unstable and temporary aggregation of material and mental elements.

​Although everything gives the impression that it is compact, but in reality they are nothing but assembled and composed of various elements. If we remove tiles, beams, bricks, stones, etc. from a house that seems to be solid, then there will be no “house” separate from these elements. The name “house” that we gave is just an assembly, a pile of building blocks that lasts as long as those elements are placed in this shape. The same elements can be disconnected and reconnected like something else.

​Similarly, what we call “I”, “self” or “soul” and which gives us the impression that it is compact, is in fact just a set (khandha) of various elements that includes:

  1. the material body (rūpa – khandha)
  2. the feeling (pleasant, unpleasant, neutral) (vedanā – khandha)
  3. the perception (saññā – khandha)
  4. mental functions (saṅkhāra – khandha), and
  5. consciousness (viññāna – khandha)

​And these elements are constantly changing. They are fluid like a river, which retains an apparent identity, although the water droplets that shape it are different at all times. Similarly, a person maintains an apparent identity, which he calls “self”, “I” or “soul”, although the body, emotions, perceptions, ideas, and consciousness that shapes it is subject to constant change and is different every moment. Thus the terms “self”, “I”, or “soul” are an illusion when one tries to identify with one of the five assemblies, or with all of them.

​In the supreme reality (paramattha-sacca) there are only changing processes of physical and mental phenomena that are constantly rising and falling according to causes and conditions (hetu-paccaya) which themselves are constantly changing. Rise and fall is a fundamental feature of the entire universe and is characteristic of condition-dependent phenomena. Dependence on conditions, like causality, are integral parts of existence.

All phenomena in the material, physical and spiritual worlds are produced by a combination of causes and conditions. They are not absolute, self-existent, unchanging, independent and irrelevant to other things. They consist, are formed, shaped, formed, shaped and created by conditions. They depend on and are interdependent on conditions. That is why they are called dependent on conditions. And all conditions are constantly rising and falling according to other conditions and causes. Thus, ups and downs reveal that the nature of conditions is transient, temporary, short, temporary, momentary, fleeting, transient, unstable, non-permanent.

​In the final analysis, neither inside nor outside the mental and material phenomena can be found something that could be considered as an autonomous, independent, separate ego, soul or any other substance that is unchanging, unchangeable, permanent, continuous, lasting. , fixed, immovable, unbreakable, self-existent, autogenous, eternal, eternal, immortal and incorruptible.

​What exists is the changing process of conditions (paccaya) and the effects of conditions (paccayupanna-dhamma), not a being, a person, a woman, a man, a self, something that belongs to a self, an ego and something mine, someone and something that belongs to someone.

Beings are complex and constantly changing, with existence not autogenous but dependent on causal factors. The words ‘self’, ‘soul’, ‘personality’, ‘I’, ‘person’, ‘man’, ‘woman’, etc., are mere ordinary expressions; relevant, ceremonial, conventional truths (vohāra- vacana, loka-vohāra, sammuti-sacca).

All knowledge of the supreme reality (paramattha-sacca) can be achieved through methodical and systematic observation through insightful meditation (vipassanā) which eliminates ignorance (avijjā) or delusion (moha).

Ignorance or delusion about the three characteristics of existence is considered to be the first link in the whole process of saṃsāra (sansara) —the birth and death “, or the” cycle of rebirth “— where a being is subject to repetitive beings in an endless cycle of suffering.

Thus, eliminating this ignorance through direct insight into the three characteristics puts an end to the saṃsāra and, consequently, to the pain and suffering as described in the third of the Four Noble Truths about the cessation of pain (dukkha nirodha or nirodha sacca).

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