Anicca – Worthlessness of Worldly Things

August 20, 2017

1. Anicca (pronounced “anichcha”) is a deep concept that can be comprehended in many ways (impermanence is only a small part of it). We discussed one interpretation as “it is not possible to maintain anything in this world to one’s satisfaction”; see, “Anicca – Inability to Maintain Anything“.

  • Another interpretation: whatever that we believe to provide lasting happiness arises and destroyed, and also is subjected to unpredictable changes (viparināma) while it lasts; see, “Anicca – Repeated Arising/Destruction“.
  • Here we discuss another: There is nothing in this world that is valuable and can provide lasting happiness. Not only that, but more craving can only lead to more suffering!

2. The desire (iccā; pronounced “ichchā“) for any object depends on the value that one places for that object. If one’s mind comes to the realization that the object really does not have any significant value, then one would not have any desire for that object.

  • One has iccā for a given object which one perceives it to be of “nicca” (pronounced “nichcha“) nature, i.e., that one thinks has value and can provide happiness.
  • If one realizes that a given object really does not have a true value, one loses craving for that and sees the anicca nature of that object.

3. Suppose you give the following choices for a five-year old: a large chocolate bar or the title to a brand new house (written to his/her name so that the child will be the owner of the house).

  • What will the child choose? Of course, the child will want the chocolate, and he/she will have no idea how a piece of paper can be more valuable than a tasty chocolate! Thus the child has the perception of nicca for the chocolate, i.e., that it can bring happiness whereas the happiness from the house is hard to be grasped by the child.
  • However, when that same child grows up and becomes an adult, he/she will choose the title to the house without hesitation. By that time, he/she would have come to the realization that a house is much more valuable than a chocolate. The adult will realize the “anicca nature” of the chocolate: it can only bring happiness only for a few minutes!
  • Did anyone have to specifically tell that adult that the title to the house is much more worth than a chocolate? No. One would realize that when one learns more about the world.
  • Just the same way, when one learns Dhamma, one will AUTOMATICALLY realize that nothing in this world has real value. But that realization comes gradually.

4. All immoral deeds (dasa akusala) are done because of the “value” one places on worldly things. A child may hit another over that chocolate. An adult may be willing to lie, steal, or even kill to get possession of a house.

  • When that adult grasps the key message of the Buddha (“anicca nature”), he/she will realize that even just craving for a house is not worth compared to the “cooling down” one can gain by getting rid of the cravings associated with the house; of course, one does not need to get rid of the house.
  • He/she would realize that collecting “valuables” like houses, cars, etc. or making a lot of money (much more than one needs) can bring only suffering at the end (and lose precious time one could have spent on learning Dhamma and making progress towards Nibbāna).

5. Craving for sense objects can have bad consequences in a wide range. At a lower level, just enjoying sense pleasures without harming others will make one bound to the kāma lōka (via “pati iccā sama uppada” or “what one likes is what one gets”); see, “Paticca Samuppada – “Pati+ichcha”+”Sama+uppäda“.

  • However, if one does immoral deeds (dasa akusala) in order to get such “valuables”, then one will be subjected to dukkha dukkha (direct suffering) in the apāyas in future lives; see, “”Introduction -2 – The Three Characteristics of Nature“. This is the worst kind of future suffering and one would not be able to comprehend that if one does not believe in rebirth or that kammā vipāka, i.e., if one has miccā ditthi.
  • Once one gets rid of miccā ditthi, it will be easier to see one aspect of the anicca nature: aniccan khayattena“, which means “anicca nature leads to one to the downside”, i.e., to do immoral acts and to end up experiencing unimaginable suffering (dukkha dukkha) in the apāyas.
  • Thus anicca nature not only means that one cannot maintain things to one’s satisfaction in the long run, but ALSO it can lead to much suffering in the future.

6. One can basically get to the Sōtapanna stage by comprehending the above harsh consequences of anicca nature.

  • Buddha also said, “dukkham bhayattena” or “one should be fearful of the dukkha nature”, when describing the characteristic of dukkha. At the Sōtapanna stage, one can see that anicca nature directly leads to suffering (dukha) in the apāyas, but may not realize that much suffering (even though less than in the apāyas) can also arise due to just being attached to sense pleasures, i.e., kāma rāga.
  • The full impact of “dukkham bhayattena” is realized only at the Anāgami stage (having seen a glimpse of it at the Sakadāgāmi stage). This is when one realizes the dukha associated with just the craving for sensual pleasures.
  • Craving for sense pleasures lead to sankhāra dukha and viparināma dukha, as explained in detail in the post, “Introduction – What is Suffering?“.  Even though I wrote that post a couple of years ago, I did not truly grasp the truth of it until recently.

7. At the Sōtapanna stage one comprehends the “anicca nature”, and one implication of in the second characteristics of dukkha: the dukkha dukkha. Even though one can see the truth of the other two types of dukkha (sankhāra dukha and viparināma dukha), one does not “truly grasp their effects”. Those two aspects of dukkha are present in the higher realms of kāma lōka (human and deva realms).

  • One truly starts comprehending sankhāra dukha and viparināma dukha at the Sakadāgāmi stage, and it will be completed only at the Anāgami stage. This leads to further strengthening of “dukkham bhayattena“. One can see the danger in the types of dukha arising from attachment to sense pleasures (even without engaging in immoral acts).
  • Comprehending that is much harder than seeing the dangers associated with immoral deeds (leading to dukkha dukkha) that is grasped at the Sōtapanna stage.

8. By the time one gets to Anāgami stage, one would have removed the lower 5 types of bonds (ōrambhagiya samyōjana) that bind one to the realms in the kāma lōka; see, “Dasa Samyōjana – Bonds in Rebirth Process“.

  • There are five higher samyōjana associated with higher rupa and arupa realms. First one removes rupa rāga (attachment to rupa jhāna) and then  arupa rāga (attachment to arupa jhāna).
  • Rupa and arupa jhānic pleasures are basically what is mostly experienced in the rupa and arupa realms (highest 20 realms). In those realms dukkha dukkha and sankhāra dukkha are absent and only the viparināma dukkha is present. One lives with jhānic pleasure until the end, when one becomes helpless and could end up even in the apāyas.

9. In comprehending the Three Characteristics of nature, the key step is in realizing that collecting “valuables” (houses, money, etc) as an adult is as foolish as collecting candy wrappers as a child.

  • In order to make that step of “higher wisdom” per Buddha Dhamma, one needs to first understand the “world view of the Buddha”, that the world is of anicca nature, i.e., CRAVING for those “valuables” only lead to suffering in the long run. By “long run” what is meant is not only this life, but over future lives.
  • This is why belief in rebirth is a major requirement to even start on the mundane Path.

10. What the Buddha said was that it is an illusion to believe that ANY object in this world will have the nicca” nature, i.e., that there are things in this world has real, lasting value; the reality is the opposite and is expressed by the word, “anicca. The word “anicca” means there is nothing in this world of value that can bring lasting happiness.

  • However, it is very difficult for one to comprehend this “anicca nature”, unless one believes in the laws of kammā (i.e., that one’s actions will have consequences). A natural extension of the laws of kammā is the validity of the rebirth process.
  • Many actions committed in this life do not bring fruits (their results) in this life; but they will in future lives. Therefore, laws of kammā necessarily REQUIRE the rebirth process.
  • In Pali terminology, one has more “iccā” or more attachment for an object that one perceives to be of high value. One will have iccā for an object which one perceives to provide happiness, i.e., one has the perception of “nicca” nature for that object.  One thinks that it can provide happiness.
  • But the reality is that either that object loses its value OR one dies, making any perceived value zero at the end. One of those two outcomes cannot be avoided.

11. If one does not believe in the rebirth process (i.e., that this is only life that one has), then one could be compelled to do whatever necessary to get possession of those valuable objects, since there may not be any serious consequences.

  • For example, one could steal million dollars and hope to live the rest of life with all the comforts one can hope for (if one is lucky to not get caught by the police).
  • Or, a drug addict could say, “I am just going to enjoy inhaling drugs until I die from it”, thinking that there will not be any consequences after the physical body dies.
  • However, one’s outlook on such things will change dramatically if one can see the reality of the rebirth process. Most people just believe what “science says” and do not even bother to look at the ever increasing evidence for the rebirth process.
  • Science agrees that causes lead to corresponding effects: each action has a reaction. Nothing happens without a reason, a cause. However, since science does not know much about how the mind works, it is unable to provide answers to issues that involve the mind. kammā and kammā vipāka are causes and corresponding effects.

12. Lōbha (abhijjā) is the greed generated in a mind which puts a “very high value” for an object. One is willing to do immoral acts to get possession.

  • One with kāma rāga has desire to enjoy sensual objects, but is not willing to hurt others to get them. Most “moral people” belong to this category. Even a Sōtapanna starts at this stage. A Sakadāgāmi has lost the desire to “own” such sensual objects, but still likes to enjoy them.
  • Thus the desire for sensual pleasures is gradually decreased as one makes progress through the Sakadāgāmi stage, and loses all such desires for sensual pleasures at the Anāgami stage.

13. In other words, one starts losing value that one places for sensual objects (cars, houses, partners, etc) as one progresses to higher stages of Nibbāna.

  • But the critical point to understand is that one LOSES such desires AUTOMATICALLY. One does not need to, and one CANNOT, lose such desires by sheer will power. One needs to “see” the dangers of such desires by developing the “dhamma eye”, or panna (wisdom) by learning and contemplating on the Tilakkhana.
  • Even if one forcefully keeps such desires SUPPRESSED (as yogis even before the Buddha used to do), such desires will just stay dormant (remain as anusaya), and WILL resurface later in this life or in future lives. Those anusaya can only be removed by comprehending Tilakkhana.

Also see, “Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta – According to Some Key Suttas“.

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