Anicca Nature, the First Noble Truth, and Paṭicca Samuppāda

July 19, 2021; revised December 11, 2022

Anicca Nature – Connection to the First Noble Truth

1. In the previous post, we discussed the inter-relationships among the “three pillars of Buddha Dhamma,” i.e., the Four Noble Truths, Tilakkhana, and Paṭicca Samuppāda. If you do not recall the pronunciation of the words paṭicca Samuppāda, Tilakkhana, icca, iccha, nicca, niccha, anicca, aniccha, anatta, and anattha, go back and listen to the audio file in the previous post “Noble Truths, Paṭicca Samuppāda, Tilakkhana – Key Relationships.”

  • The critical verses on suffering in the First Noble Truths are, “yam pi icchaṃ na labhati tampi dukkhāṃand “saṃkhittena pañca u­pādā­na k­han­dhā dukkhā” both say that future suffering arises because of our attachment/craving (iccha) for things in this world.
  • As we discussed, IF IT IS POSSIBLE to tailor our future to be free of the suffering that would be our liking (icca or iccha), then we can say that our world is of “nicca” or “niccha” nature, where there would be no suffering.

2. The Buddha pointed out that this world is of “anicca nature,” i.e., the opposite of the “nicca nature

  • That means craving/striving for ANYTHING in this world WILL NOT lead to a future without suffering. Instead, the more attachment we have for anything in this world WILL lead to more suffering.
  • The fundamental reason for this is that ANY saṅkhata (rupa, vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, viññāṇa) in this world is inherently subject to unexpected changes and destruction. We will discuss that in the next post.
  • It is only in Nibbāna that there is no suffering. Therefore, it is Nibbāna that is of a nicca nature. See #9 of the previous post.

3. Craving/striving (icca/iccha) for ANYTHING in this world leads to suffering in two ways.

  • When one struggles to acquire things in this world, that effort itself is suffering and results in suffering. Even if one gets it, one will lose it at death.
  • The second severe type of suffering is due to “bad rebirths” that will arise due to immoral deeds done while trying to get possession of worldly things that one craves. Let us discuss that now.
  • (However, this craving CANNOT be removed without comprehending the “core” of Buddha’s teachings: the Four Noble Truths, Tilakkhana, and Paṭicca Samuppāda.)
Anicca Nature – Connection to Paṭicca Samuppāda

4. Our efforts to “own and enjoy” things in this world ALWAYS lead to more suffering than any short period of happiness. That explanation comes via Paṭicca Samuppāda, the “third pillar” of Buddha Dhamma. We got started on that in the previous post. Let us continue that discussion.

  • Humans do morally acceptable deeds with puñña abhisaṅkhāra and morally corrupt deeds with apuñña abhisaṅkhāra. The former leads to births in the human, Deva, and rupāvacara Brahma realms and the latter leads to births in the apāyās. 
  • Some humans cultivate arupa jhāna. Those involve āneñjā a­bhi­saṅ­khāra  and lead to births in the arupāvacara Brahma realms. More on the types of puñña abhisaṅkhāra below.
  • In the absence of a Buddha, that is all humans can do. None of those lead to a “state without suffering.” All those births end up in death. The worst aspect is that due to the craving for sensual pleasures, humans frequently engage in immoral deeds with apuñña abhisaṅkhāra and end up in suffering-filled apāyās.
  • The reason becomes clear when we examine what is meant by “avijjā paccayā saṅkhārā” in the akusala-mula Paṭicca Samuppāda. 
Births That End With Suffering Are Initiated by “Avijjā Paccayā Saṅkhārā

5. Paṭic­ca­samup­pāda ­Vibhaṅga, explains the term “avijjā paccayā saṅkhārā” in akusala-mula Paṭicca Samuppāda (that leads to suffering) as follows: “Tattha katame avijjā paccayā saṅkhārā? Puññā­bhi­saṅ­khāro, apuññā­bhi­saṅ­khāro, āneñjā­bhi­saṅ­khāro, kāyasaṅkhāro, vacīsaṅkhāro, cittāaṅkhāro“.

Translated: “What is avijjā paccayā saṅkhārā?  Apuññā­bhi­saṅ­khāra, puññā­bhi­saṅ­khāra, āneñjā­bhi­saṅ­khāra, kāyasaṅkhāra, vacīsaṅkhāra, cittāaṅkhāra“. It is quite clear that apuññā­bhi­saṅ­khāra are due to avijjā. But why are the other two are said to be done due to avijjā?

  • Puññā­bhi­saṅ­khāra are, of course, Moral and good deeds AND also the cultivation of rupāvacara jhāna.
  • Āneñjā­bhi­saṅ­khāra involve cultivating arupāvacara jhāna.
  • When a person who has NOT comprehended anicca, dukkha, or anatta engages in those two types of “good saṅ­khāra,” they are still done with avijjāThat is because one has not yet grasped the dangers of remaining in the rebirth process. Thus, avijjā is the ignorance of the Four Noble Truths, Tilakkhana, and Paṭicca Samuppāda.
  • Some examples are discussed in “Vacī Saṅkhāra – Saṅkappa (Conscious Thoughts) and Vācā (Speech).” It is a good idea to read that post to understand this point.

6. We can summarize the above analysis in simple words as follows.

  • ANYTHING that we do without understanding the concepts of the Four Noble Truths, Tilakkhana, and Paṭicca Samuppāda involves three types of saṅkhāra: apuññā­bhi­saṅ­khāra, puññā­bhi­saṅ­khāra, āneñjā­bhi­saṅ­khāra.
  • Immoral deeds or pāpa kamma done with apuññā­bhi­saṅ­khāra lead to rebirths in the apāyās. Moral deeds or puñña kamma done with puññā­bhi­saṅ­khāra give rise to births in human, Deva, and rupāvacara Brahma realms (good births.) Those who cultivate arupāvacara jhāna with āneñjā­bhi­saṅ­khāra are reborn in arupāvacara Brahma realms.
  • All those births end up in death. None of those will lead to a cessation of suffering. 
  • That is why all those three types of saṅkhāra are done with avijjā!
  • So, what type of ­saṅ­khārā can lead to Nibbāna?
Difference Between Puñña Kamma and Kusala Kamma

7. Puñña kamma are “good deeds” done with puññā­bhi­saṅ­khāra with a mundane version of alobha, adosa, and amoha. Those SAME DEEDS would be kusala kamma if done with the comprehension of the Four Noble Truths, Tilakkhana, and Paṭicca Samuppāda.  

  • While puñña kamma leads to rebirths in the “good realms,” kusala kamma leads to Nibbāna.
  • Thus, while puñña kamma are done with “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” in the akusala-mula Paṭicca Samuppāda process, kusala kamma are done with “kusala-mula paccayā saṅkhāra” in the kusala-mula Paṭicca Samuppāda process.
  • For details see, “Akusala-Mūla Uppatti Paṭicca Samuppāda” and “Kusala-Mula Paṭicca Samuppāda .”
  • That briefly explains the difference between puñña kamma and kusala kamma. Those who don’t understand that difference should read the post “Kusala and Akusala Kamma, Puñña and Pāpa Kamma.” It is critical to see the difference.
Puñña Kamma Result With the Wrong View of a “Nicca Nature”

8. This is the CRITICAL point to understand. Without a Buddha, humans have the innate idea that happiness can be attained by owning things one likes. As a child grows, he/she strives to keep friends and “things” that he/she likes. As an adult, he/she would strive to learn skills, get a good job, marry the person of his/her choice and live a “good life.” In the absence of a Buddha, not many people would even think beyond that.

  • Some people worry about what will happen after death, especially when they get old. The world’s major religions teach that an everlasting Creator created this world and that one can “go to him” or ‘merge with him” at death to have a permanent existence of happiness.
  • Of course, there is no way to prove or disprove the existence of such a Creator. One would pledge allegiance to that Creator and promise to live a moral life. But there are many problems with this hypothesis. For example, no matter how grave, any immoral deed can be forgiven by just praying!
  • In comparison, Buddha Dhamma is a complete worldview. It is not a faith-based religion. It is not a religion! One cannot get to Nibbāna by just praying or pledging to be a faithful follower of the Buddha. One needs to comprehend the worldview of the Buddha on how suffering arises, and then it would become clear how to be free of any future suffering. See “Is Buddha Dhamma (Buddhism) a Religion?”   
It Takes a Paradigm Shift to Understand the Anicca Nature

9. We went off on a tangent there, but the point is that most people today fall into two categories. Atheists believe that life ends at death and one should try to “enjoy life” while it lasts. Those who belong to major religions believe in a Creator and expect that Creator will secure them a happy, permanent existence after death.

  • Thus, either way, there is a sense of a “nicca nature.” That is why most people don’t even bother to examine the teachings of the Buddha in detail. That takes a considerable effort. Who would want to spend that much time when there is much fun to have by watching a movie, going to a party, or just having a day with family/friends?
  • But if one makes an effort to study the profound teachings of the Buddha, one can see that it is a fully self-consistent worldview based on the Principle of Causality. It is more profound than modern science because science only deals with material phenomena. That is why science cannot make any progress on the issue of consciousness. I have discussed this in detail in the series on “Origin of Life.”
  • From the above discussion, it should be clear that translating “anicca” as “impermanence” is way off the mark! As explained, “anicca” is intrinsically connected to “icca/iccha” and “upādāna.”
Nicca” Worldview Leads to the Generation of Sankhara with Avijjā!

10. We don’t just start acting with avijjā and initiate Paṭicca Samuppāda (PS) processes with “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra.” Instead, PS processes start with an ārammaṇa that comes to the mind via one of the six sensory inputs (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, mind.)

  • If that ārammaṇa is “mind-pleasing,” we attach to it and start thinking about enjoying it more. Thus, the PS processes start at “salāyatana paccayā phasso.” For example, if we see a mind-pleasing rupa via eyes, then it is the cakkhāyatana that is “activated,” and this step is really “salāyatana paccayā samphassa (san + phassa).” Of course, it is essential to read the post, “What is “San”? Meaning of Sansāra (or Saṃsāra).”
  • Immediately the mind goes through the “samphassa paccayā samphassa-jā-vedanā” step, which is usually stated as “phassa paccayā vedanā.” This “samphassa-jā-vedanā” is a MIND-MADE vedanā that arises due to attachment with liking/craving (icca/iccha.)
  • More information in “Difference between Phassa and Samphassa.”
  • The critical point here is that PS cycles start when we attach to an ārammaṇa with liking/craving (icca/iccha) based on greed, anger, and ignorance of the Four Noble Truths, Tilakkhana, and Paṭicca Samuppāda.
Suffering – Not Getting the Desired (and Getting the Undesired)

11. As we have discussed many times, a passage in the “Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (SN 56.11)“ is “yampicchaṃ na labhati tampi dukkhāṃ” meaning “If one does not get what one likes, that is suffering.”

  • Even in the mundane sense, there is more to it than people perceive. For example, you work hard at your job and get a promotion. So, the outcome is a happy one. But you WORKED HARD to get there. That is “saṅkhāra-dukkha,” as we discussed in “Introduction -2 – The Three Categories of Suffering.” That “saṅkhāra-dukkha” is present in ALL our activities, including breathing. We don’t feel breathing is difficult because we are used to it. An asthma patient knows how difficult it can be.
  • The above succinct statement is true at a deeper level in the rebirth process, as we briefly mentioned in #3 above.

12. we desire to have a “good birth.” Some want to be reborn humans with good health and wealth. Others want to be born Devas to enjoy higher levels of sensual pleasures. Some cultivate jhāna so that they can be born in Brahma realms with “jhānic pleasures.”

  • However, our future rebirths do not materialize according to our wishes (icca/iccha). The world is of “anicca nature.”
  • Anicca nature naturally — and inevitably — leads to dukkha. This is stated as “yad aniccaṃ taṃ dukkhaṃ.” We will discuss that in the next post.
Puredhamma Twitter Account

13. Twitter account for the website: puredhamma (@puredhamma1) / Twitter

  • Twitter handle: puredhamma1
  • Will Tweet a new or re-written post.
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