How to Cultivate the Anicca Saññā

It takes an effort to get the anicca saññā and get to the Sotapanna stage. Reading about the anicca nature is not enough.

Revised November 26, 2017; major revision June 28, 2022; revised August 25, 2022 (#1)

Acquiring Anicca Saññā Requires an Effort

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

  • 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 spends some time contemplating it. A Sotapanna fully comprehends the anicca nature and the anatta nature. The next step is to fully comprehend dukkha and asubha nature. See, “Vipallāsa (Diṭṭhi, Saññā, Citta) Affect Saṅkhāra.”
  • A Sotapanna Anugāmi may not have diṭṭhi vipallāsa about anicca and anatta, but may have saññā and citta vipallāsa. Thus, it is important to spend time cultivating anicca saññā.
  • 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 needs to contemplate the anicca nature with real examples from one’s life to get that anicca saññā to sink in one’s mind.

2. A Buddha must first point out the essential 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 by 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 one’s own body and mind.
The Mind – Can We Keep It the Way We Want?

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

  • It is not possible to do that. Our minds wander off, seeking “more enticing thought objects.” You will notice that it becomes even more challenging when one’s mind is excited, for example, when one has seen an attractive object or done something strenuous. In the first case, kāmacchanda nīvarana is strong. In the latter, one is breathing hard. In both cases, 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 essential to verify for oneself these examples. Buddha Dhamma is to be experienced, not just read.

  • One can cultivate 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 one cannot keep one’s mind to the way one wants, the next step is to consider whether one can maintain one’s body the way one likes.

  • 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 one can do about that. Thus to a significant extent, we have to live with the body we were born with.
The Body – Can We Keep It to Our Liking?

6. Next, consider our body and see whether we can maintain it like that if we like that appearance.

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

7. Contrary to those who believe that thinking along these lines is “depressing,” it can be liberating to realize the truth. Those who keep trying to “patch up one’s losing body assets” by artificial means end up “highly depressed” and even commit suicide. It is better to have thought about the “inevitabilities of life” ahead of 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 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 dies unexpectedly of an accident or a significant 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 average health. One cannot do things the way one did once, and one cannot enjoy any sensory 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 the truth about the nature of this world, which any average person would not think about themselves. We are too busy enjoying sensory pleasures (or trying to acquire enjoyable objects) even 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 much worse since most births in this cycle of rebirths are in the lower four realms, where the hardships and sufferings are much higher.
  • More importantly, he revealed a way to eliminate this cycle of births wrought with suffering.
We Have a Distorted (Viparīta) Saññā About the World

9. The Buddha explained that we keep returning to this world because 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 in 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“. It is not real nature. The Buddha called it “viparīta saññā.”

  • He said as long as we have this “nicca saññā,” we can never escape future suffering. The solution is in that first truth about suffering (Dukkha Sacca, the suffering that we can eliminate): 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.”
  • Most people do not realize that the mere change of perception can lift a heavy load that one has been carrying. That 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 in actual meditation, which means always trying to “see the anicca nature” around.
Saṁsāric Suffering Maintained With Nicca Saññā

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 into whatever type of existence we crave.
  • But that does not mean if we crave a human rebirth, we will get that. Instead, rebirth is, according to “gati,” the critical aspect 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).
  • In other words, when one has the wrong “nicca saññā,” one tends to do immoral things to get what one perceives to provide sensory pleasures. Then vipāka of those kammā will lead to worse existences in the future, both in this life and, more importantly, in future lives.
Necessary Background to Cultivate Anicca Saññā

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 efforts 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? 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 in the end (even just by leaving oneself agitated, let alone such kamma vipāka that will come down later)? If one can stop such an incident, one can look back and see the “cooling down” resulting from that effort. That is what “Ānāpāna” or “Satipaṭṭhāna” is all about.
  • What is the point in hitting back even if someone physically hurts you? Will you feel PHYSICALLY better by hurting that person? Will your bodily pain go away? That also did not happen without a cause; it resulted from a bad kamma done sometime back (a kamma vipāka).
  • By the way, kamma vipāka are not deterministic. One can avoid many kamma vipāka by not allowing conditions for them to take place; see, “What is Kamma? – Does Kamma determine Everything?“. Thus, when living with “sati,” many such kamma vipāka can be avoided.
Mindfulness – Be Mindful About the Anicca Nature

12. It may take some contemplation to sort these out, but one must look at the broader picture. Ignorance is not being aware of the “whole picture.” We tend to act impulsively by reacting to events. 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.” That 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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