Revised February 11, 2020; June 27, 2022
1. Anicca means “we cannot maintain anything to our satisfaction in the LONG RUN”. The time scale of existence is an important factor when we contemplate the significance and implications of this fundamental characteristic of nature.
- So, the question is, “if nothing can be maintained to our satisfaction, what is the point in spending so much time in learning, getting a decent job, making plans for businesses, etc.?”.
- We do need to pursue those short-term goals while keeping the “bigger picture” in mind. The “big picture” is the non-existence of a future birth without suffering. Since investigating that “big picture” takes time, we need to make sure we have the means to live a comfortable life that leaves time for such contemplation/investigations.
Short-Term Goals Are Necessary to Comprehend the “Big Picture”
2. During life, we do see many instances where we can attain certain things (pass exams, get jobs, initiate successful businesses, have a comfortable life, etc) and be happy about such achievements. Of course, there are many times we encounter unexpected things too (coming down with health problems, traffic accidents, floods, hurricanes, loss of jobs, etc).
- That is the nature of existence as a human. It is a mixed bag, at least until we get to old age; then it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain things (especially our bodies) to our satisfaction, and of course, at death, we have to leave everything behind whether we like it or not.
- In the realms above the human, in fact, life is even more predictable and enjoyable, that is of course until death comes calling.
- But the real problems are encountered in the four realms below the human realm. It is increasingly difficult to “maintain things to one’s satisfaction” in lower realms. Animals are truly helpless, especially the vast majority that live in the wild. There are no “old animals” in the wild; they either get sick and die or even worse: they get eaten up as soon as they slow down a bit.
- There is no happiness at all in the lowest realm, the niraya (“ni”+”ra” means without ANY happiness).
The “Big Picture”
3. Thus the main reason why “we cannot maintain things to our satisfaction in the LONG RUN” is that all beings spend most of their lives in the lower four realms; see, “How the Buddha Described the Chance of Rebirth in the Human Realm”.
- It may take time to convince oneself that this “big picture” about the rebirth process is correct. See, “Evidence for Rebirth.”
- When one truly understands that, one will see the dangers of living an immoral life first. Then one will start getting rid of wrong views. Only then one would be able to “see” the bigger picture clearly. It is a step-by-step process. See, “Is It Necessary for a Buddhist to Eliminate Sensual Desires?“
- Then one will see that one’s own actions decide one’s future rebirths. See, “Origin of Life.”
- The above is a very brief summary. It will require a real effort to go through them and the references therein.
Some Implications of the “Big Picture”
4. Then we can examine the question in terms of this “big picture” while keeping in mind the need to attend to “short-term goals.”
- If we do give up everything, we will probably die a miserable death (because we will be poor, unhealthy, etc because we would not be able to even support ourselves), and be born most likely in a lower realm. That it will make the situation much worse.
- We do need to contemplate this situation. If one thinks through this line of thoughts, one can see that one is really helpless in this cycle of rebirths, which is the third characteristic of existence, anatta. Until a Buddha comes to this world and shows humans this “big picture”, AND shows how to get out of it, no one is able to escape this trap.
- The only solution is to at least attain the Sōtapanna stage of Nibbāna in this life. We MAY have some kammic energy left for one or more human lives (see, “Bhava and Jāti – States of Existence and Births Therein”), but this COULD BE the last for a long while, which could be billions of years. Even if we get another human birth, we do not know under what circumstances; it could be somewhere Buddha Dhamma is not readily accessible.
5. There is another point that we need to consider when tackling this issue. We have become indebted to numerous beings in this journey of rebirths, and thus we have debts to pay back. Having all these debts is a hindrance to attaining any stage of Nibbāna; see, “Kamma, Debt, and Meditation”.
6. Therefore, instead of abandoning our families (to whom we owe the most), we need to do our utmost to make sure they are well-off. We also need to make sure that we do not become dependent on society (and thus accumulate more debt). Even in this life, we depend on others for so many things: we are indebted to our teachers, and friends, as well to many unknown people who contribute to providing us with essentials to sustain life; we all are interconnected and have responsibilities for each other. We have “to do our part” to live in a society.
- Therefore, part of the solution is to first prepare oneself (or one’s children if one is a parent) with a good education so that supporting oneself (and a family) is possible. Furthermore, a good education helps with understanding Dhamma too. And if one can make a lot of money (by honest means) then one can do many meritorious deeds too, thereby helping oneself spiritually as well.
- In any case, giving up everything and hiding in a forest will not solve the problem of existence. But there are some who have a sansaric tendency to abandon the “householder life”. What I am saying here is for the majority of people, not for everyone: Of course, we need to sustain the bhikkhus who spend all their time for the benefit of others as well as themselves.
Coping With Both “Long-Term” and ‘Short-Term” Concerns
7. Therefore, what needs to be done is to understand the true nature of existence and realize that the ONLY solution is to try the best to attain at least the Sōtapanna stage of Nibbāna. Then one becomes free of rebirths in the lower four realms forever. This is THE solution to the problem.
In order to do that we need to,
- Fulfill our obligations to our families, friends, and society in general,
- Make our best effort to learn pure Dhamma and attain the Sōtapanna stage of Nibbāna.
When one does this, one will become happy, not depressed, about the outlook. One has understood the problem and knows what to do about it. And when one starts working on it, one’s confidence will grow because one can feel the difference in oneself. One will become even more determined AND energetic, not just to save oneself, but also to help out the others.
Next, “Anicca – The Incessant Distress (“Pīḷana”)“, ……….