How to Cultivate the Anicca Saññā

Revised November 26, 2017

1. Many people tell me, “I think I understand what anicca means. But then what?”.

  • That statement itself says that person has not yet  understood anicca at least to some extent. I am not saying this in a derogatory manner. Even a Sōtapanna is supposed to have comprehended anicca only to a certain extent. Thus if one gets at least a glimpse of what is meant by anicca, that goes a long way. And that is not hard, if one can just contemplate on it.
  • Reading and learning about anicca and experiencing anicca saññā are two different things. First, it is a good idea to figure out what saññā is; see,Saññā – What It Really Means“.
  • One really needs to contemplate on the anicca nature with real examples from one’s own life to get that anicca saññā to sink in one’s mind.

2. It is true that a Buddha is needed to first point out the basic truth about this world, i.e., “that we cannot maintain anything in this world to our satisfaction”. But once told,  it is not difficult to see the truth of it by just critically evaluating that statement.

  • If one CAN maintain ANYTHING to one’s satisfaction, that HAS TO BE one’s own body and mind: “This is my body and these are my thoughts”. Therefore, one should start by contemplating on one’s own body and mind.

3. Close your eyes and try to fix your mind on something, your wife, husband, friend, house, anything at all. Can you keep your thoughts on that one subject for any significant time?

  • It is not possible to do that. Our minds like to wander off, seeking “more enticing thought objects”. You will notice that it is even harder when one’s mind is excited, for example, when one has seen an attractive object or when one has done something strenuous and one is breathing hard (in the first case, kāmacchanda nīvarana is strong and in the second case uddacca nīvarana or the “excitability” is high).
  • Thus when one’s mind is calm it is a bit easier to keep the mind on something, but still not for too long.

4. It is important to verify for oneself about these examples. Buddha Dhamma is to be experienced, not just to read about.

  • One can cultivates wisdom only by “verifying for oneself that what the Buddha said is indeed true”. Blind faith will not get anyone close to the truth. Thus true meditation is to learn the true and pure Dhamma and critically evaluate it based on one’s own experiences.

5. Once we confirm that indeed one is unable to even keep one’s own mind to the way one wants, the next step is to think about whether one can maintain one’s own body the way one likes.

  • It is quite obvious that we cannot change our basic body features like height, the color of the skin or the hair, etc. Furthermore, if one is born blind or without a limb, there is nothing much one can do about that either. Thus to a major extent, we just have to live with the body that we were born with.

6. Next, consider the body that we have at the present time, and see whether we will be able to maintain it like that, if we like that appearance.

  • Of course we can do that for a while, especially if one is young. But it is inevitable that there comes a time when one will not be able to do that. One can verify that by looking at one’s own parents and grandparents: look at their old pictures and see how young and vibrant they were back when they were at your age.
  • Therefore, we need to contemplate on the fact that we cannot even maintain things that we consider as “our own” to our satisfaction in the long run. This is to help cultivate the “anicca saññā” to a large extent.

7. Contrary to those who believe that thinking along these lines is “depressing”, it can be actually liberating to realize the truth. It is those who just keep on trying to “patching up one’s losing body assets” by artificial means end up “highly depressed” at the end, and then even commit suicide. It is better to have thought about “inevitabilities of life” ahead of the time.

  • If one contemplates deep enough, one realizes that no matter how much money one can throw at such problems, in the end one will become helpless.  Just think about any of the old movie stars, beauty queens, bodybuilders, politicians, kings, emperors, etc and see how they died helplessly at the end.
  • Each person dies helplessly at old age or die unexpectedly of an accident or a major illness. There is nothing that can be called “graceful death”. It may seem to outsiders that “one is aging gracefully”, but that person knows how hard it is, even if at normal health. One simply cannot do things the way once one did them and one cannot enjoy any sense pleasure at the same level. All our sense faculties degrade with time.

8. This was the basic message of the Buddha, and it is not something he made up. He just revealed that truth about the nature of this world, of which any normal person would not think about on himself/herself. We are too busy enjoying sense pleasures (or trying to get possession of enjoyable objects), even to take time to think about it.

  • The Buddha also showed that unless we do something about it, this is what we will be doing forever in the future. We will be reborn and will go through the same cycle over and over. It is actually much worse, since most births in this cycle of rebirths is in the lower four realms where the hardships and sufferings are much higher.
  • More importantly, he revealed a way to get rid of this cycle of births wrought with suffering.

9. The Buddha explained that the reason that we keep coming back to this world is the fact that we don’t realize “this unsatisfactory nature”. No matter how much suffering we go through, we always think we can overcome them (and sometimes we do, but at the end we all die). We have the wrong perception that somehow we can “beat the system”, i.e., attain happiness and MAINTAIN that happiness. We have the incorrect “nicca saññā“.

  • He said as long as we have this “nicca saññā” we can never escape future suffering. The solution is embedded in that first truth about suffering (Dukkha Sacca, the suffering that can be eliminated): What we need to do is to fully realize the “anicca nature” of this world, that “we cannot maintain anything to our satisfaction in the long run”.
  • The fact that most people do not realize is that the mere change of perception can lift a heavy load that one has been carrying. This is the basis of “nirāmisa sukha“; see, “Peace of Mind to Nibbāna – The Key Step“.
  • That does not mean one will give up trying to give up everything and go to a forest; see, “If Everything is Anicca Should We Just give up Everything?“. One needs to spend time real meditation, which means always trying to “see the anicca nature” around.

10. When we have this wrong “nicca saññā“, we willingly embrace this world, and that is “Paṭicca” (“pati” + “icca“, where “pati” is bind and “icca” means willingly). When that happens, “sama uppāda” (where “sama” is similar and “uppāda” means birth) follows inevitably; see, “Paṭicca Samuppāda – “Pati+ichcha”+”Sama+uppäda“.

  • Thus, we will be born in whatever the type of existence that we craved for.
  • But that does not mean if we crave for a human rebirth we will get that. Rather the birth is according to “gati“, the key aspects of one’s mindset. If one is excessively greedy, one may be born in the realm of “hungry ghosts”; if one is excessively angry or hateful, one will be born where that mindset prevails, i.e, in the niraya (hell).
  • To put it another way, when one has the wrong “nicca saññā” one tends to do immoral things to get what one perceives to provide sense pleasures. Then those kamma vipāka will lead to worse existences in the future both in this life and more importantly in future lives.

11. As one cultivates the “anicca saññā“, one begins to stay away from the ten immoral actions more and more due to clear comprehension that such actions are unfruitful.

  • What is the point of stealing money at the expense of others and acquiring a “good lifestyle” that will last only 100 years at most? And one will have to pay that with interest?
  • What is the point of verbally abusing someone for a momentary satisfaction, if that will only hurt oneself at the end (even just by leaving oneself agitated, let alone those kamma vipāka that will come down later)? If one can stop with effort such an incident, then one can look back and see the “cooling down” that resulted from that effort. This is what “Ānāpāna” or “Satipaṭṭhāna” is all about.
  • Even if someone physically hurt you, what is the point in hitting back? Will you feel PHYSICALLY better by hurting that person? Will your bodily pain go away? By the way, that also did not happen without a cause; it was a result of a bad kamma done sometime back (a kamma vipāka).
  • By the way, kamma vipāka are not guaranteed. One can avoid many kamma vipāka by not allowing conditions for them to take place; see, “What is Kamma? – Is Everything Determined by Kamma?“. Thus when one lives life with “sati“, many such kamma vipāka can be avoided.

12. It may take some contemplation to sort these out, but one always has to look at the broader picture. Ignorance is not being aware of the “whole picture”. We tend to act impulsively with what is discerned at that moment. But that tendency will diminish when one cultivates the “anicca saññā“.

  • Acting with “sati” or “being mindful” is being mindful of the “anicca nature of this world”. This is the basis of both “Ānāpāna” and “Satipaṭṭhāna“.
  • Nibbāna or “cooling down” can be experienced in this very life by cultivating the “anicca saññā” and thus be motivated to strive harder; see, “Living Dhamma“.

Next,  “How to Cultivate the Anicca Sanna – II“,………..

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