Revised January 12, 2020; re-written July 20, 2021
Anicca – Inability to Maintain Things the Way We Like
1. As we saw in the post, “Anicca – True Meaning,” anicca describes one of the three primary characteristics of “this world,” namely, no matter how hard we try, “we cannot maintain things to our satisfaction in the long term.”
- When things evolve in a way we don’t like, we suffer. First, we suffer mentally. Then we have to work hard to try to change it to the way we like. It is a constant struggle.
- That is only the mundane meaning. The real suffering arises when we get rebirths that we don’t like!
- But it is good to first contemplate the suffering that we experience due to our physical bodies (and people and things we like.)
Physical World Naturally Evolve Towards Disorder
2. What does the Second Law of Thermodynamics say? It says, “things in a closed system go from order to disorder unless energy is put into the system to keep the order.”
- Thus we can maintain a sort of stability (or “keep things the way we like them to be”) by striving or working hard. This is part of “saṅkhāra dukkha.” See, “Introduction -2 – The Three Categories of Suffering.”
- But as we get old, our ability to do that wanes, and ultimately we become too weak to do anything or die. It does not matter how much money we have accumulated. All sense pleasures lose their vigor as the body gets old, and money or willpower cannot maintain them.
3. A successful business person could say, “look at all the wealth that I created. I have achieved what I wanted”. It is a good accomplishment, but can he enjoy all that in the long term? How much effort does he make to keep them that way?
- Even all that money cannot maintain a simple thing like the taste of food when he gets really old, not to mention the fact that all that wealth will be left behind at death.
- However, when we are young, it SEEMS that we CAN maintain things to our satisfaction. That is why it is hard to explain anicca to a young person. A young boy will say, “look at the muscles I built over the past year by working out at the gym! I am invincible”. A young woman will say, “I look much more beautiful now than I was a year ago.”
- Yet, blossoming at around twenty or so years is just the beginning of a slippery slope. In the end, all those strong muscles will fade, and the beautiful figure will sag and decay. That is the reality.
4. We can see the effects of the Second Law of Thermodynamics at different levels. A nice hot cup of coffee will cool down with time, and we will have to re-heat to enjoy it again. An ice cream bowl will melt if not kept cold by putting it in the refrigerator, which uses energy to run.
- Mom will come and clean a child’s room, only to find the next day that it is back to the chaotic state; she will need to go through all that work again to get it back to presentable condition.
- We build a house with a beautiful garden, only to find that we will have to do repairs to the home, and much work is needed to keep the weeds out of the garden and grass cut, etc.
- The Sun will power our planet for another few billion years, and then it will die. Long before the Sun dies, the Earth will get destroyed.
- Even our universe will “run down” in 15 billion or so more years.
Anicca Is a Universal Characteristic
5. Thus, we can see that the concept of anicca is a universal characteristic of this world. Things can be maintained, EVEN WITH AN EFFORT, only up to a certain time, and NOT forever.
- The Second Law of Thermodynamics describes the impermanence or the “root cause” for anicca. Even though the scientists understand this impermanence, they do not necessarily PERCEIVE that in their minds with regards to themselves. That is the difference between “impermanence” and anicca.
- Just like a scientist who has contemplated on the Second Law of Thermodynamics, anyone who is trying to cultivate “anicca saññā” by contemplating on impermanence is nowhere close to Nibbāna; see, “Saññā – What It Really Means.“
- Thus, like those young people mentioned above, we all have the wrong PERCEPTION that “we can maintain things to our satisfaction,” i.e., we have the false perception of nicca, not the actual reality of anicca.
6. Even when our universe dies, many come into existence. This process has been going on for eternity, and so have we. We have been in the rebirth process forever.
- The problem is that most of those lives were not as good as this one; we have suffered unimaginably, and unless we get out of this predicament, such future suffering is not avoidable. That is the anicca nature; see, “Anicca – Inability to Keep What We Like.”
- Of course, anicca has other related meanings too; see, “Anicca – True Meaning.”
Nibbāna is of Nicca Nature
7. The opposite of “anicca” is “nicca.” Nicca nature means one will never be subjected to suffering. For a comprehensive discussion, see “Basic Framework of Buddha Dhamma.”
- Therefore, the good news is that our minds can become free of this non-stop rebirth process by decoupling from this unstable material base. We are reborn in this “material world” because of our perception of “nicca,” i.e., we believe that we CAN find some suitable place with permanent happiness in this world.
- Once we grasp the reality of “anicca,” our minds will automatically start becoming free, and we will start feeling the niramisa sukha arising from this detachment from the material world; see, “The Three Kinds of Happiness – What is Niramisa Sukha?“.
- That is another way to look at reality and our choices.