How Does Anicca Nature Lead to Dukkha?

August 30, 2021

Both physical rupa (objects we see, sounds, particulates that lead to odors, physical food, objects we touch), AND our memories/hopes based on past, present, and future physical rupa (i.e., rupakkhandha) have the anicca nature. Craving/attachment for either kind will eventually lead to suffering (dukkha.) However, giving up such attachments must come through naturally via comprehension of Noble Truths/Tilakkhana/Paṭicca Samuppāda.

Rupakkhandha and Physical Rupa

1. As we have discussed, rupakkhandha consists of our MENTAL IMPRESSIONS of such physical rupa.

  • But suttas may refer to “rupa” for either kind. But depending on the context, it is not hard to figure out which kind it is or whether the reference is to both kinds.
  • Both physical rupa and rupakkhandha have anicca, dukkha, anatta characteristics.
  • But rupakkhandha originates due to physical rupa.
  • Note that most English translations (including Sutta Central translations) do not make this distinction. They simply don’t understand the difference!
How Did the Buddha Characterize Physical Rupa?

2. Any “physical rupa” has a finite lifetime AND undergoes deformation/stress during existence!

The word rupa is DEFINED in the “Khajjanīya Sutta (SN 22.79)” as follows: “Kiñca, bhikkhave, rūpaṁ vadetha? Ruppatīti kho, bhikkhave, tasmā ‘rūpan’ti vuccati. Kena ruppati? Sītenapi ruppati, uṇhenapi ruppati, jighacchāyapi ruppati, pipāsāyapi ruppati, ḍaṁsamakasavātātapasarīsapasamphassenapi ruppati. Ruppatīti kho, bhikkhave, tasmā ‘rūpan’ti vuccati. “

Translated:Bhikkhus, why do we call it ‘form‘? ‘It is subject to deformation/stress,’ bhikkhus, therefore it is called form. Deformed by what? Deformed/stressed by cold, deformed/stressed by heat, deformed/stressed by hunger, deformed/stressed by thirst, deformed/stressed by flies, mosquitoes, wind, Sunlight, serpents, etc. ‘It is deformed//stressed,’ bhikkhus, therefore it is called form (rupa).”

  • Of course, the above verse specifically refers to our physical bodies. But characteristics of unexpected deformation or change hold for any rupa.
  • Therefore, the “bodies” of Devas and Brahmas are also subjected to the same principle. Even inert rupa like a house or a car is subject to the same principle. They all can undergo unexpected change during existence, and then death is inevitable!
  • Rupakkhandha also has an anicca nature. For example, craving memories of past experiences with rupa also leads to dukkha.
Yad Aniccaṃ taṃ Dukkhaṃ– Anicca Nature Leads to Dukkha

3. The following verse embeds many foundational aspects of Buddha Dhamma: “Rūpaṁ aniccaṁYadaniccaṁ taṁ dukkhaṁyaṁ dukkhaṁ tadanattā; yadanattā taṁ ‘netaṁ mama, nesohamasmi, na meso attā’ti evametaṁ yathābhūtaṁ sammappaññāya daṭṭhabbaṁ” This verse appears in many suttas. See “20 results for “yadaniccaṃ AND taṃ AND dukkhaṃ.”

  • We will be focusing on that whole verse in this series of posts: “Basic Framework of Buddha Dhamma.”
  • This post is on the part of that verse: “Yadaniccaṁ taṁ dukkhaṁ” or “Yad aniccaṁ taṁ dukkhaṁor “whatever is of anicca nature will lead suffering.”

4. Our minds get attached to “mind-pleasing rupa” in this world with a “nicca view.”We think that by accumulating “material wealth,” we can become happy. We have both wrong diṭṭhi and saññā that such rupa can keep us away from suffering.  See, “Vipallāsa (Diṭṭhi, Saññā, Citta) Affect Saṅkhāra.” We will discuss more on that in this series.

  • But as mentioned above, the Buddha pointed out that this whole world is of anicca nature. All rupa change unexpectedly during existence, and they all end up in destruction. For example, we cannot keep our body parts in good condition as we age. Eventually, the whole body dies.
  • Science has confirmed that too for inert things as well. Science agrees that NOTHING in this world is eternal. Furthermore, the Second Law of Thermodynamics says that things tend to become “disorderly even during existence.”
A Simple Analogy

5. Little children take immense satisfaction and joy building sandcastles. They spend hours building them and enjoy looking at the finished product.

  • However, their joy turns to sadness if a strong wave or a running dog destroys that sandcastle. They may even go home happily but would be sad to see their sandcastle destroyed when they come back the next day.
  • This is why adults don’t build sandcastles. As that same child grows, understanding slowly takes place that “building sandcastles is a waste of time” even though a “pleasurable activity.”
  • Yet, fully grown and intelligent adults do the same all their lives. They work tirelessly in hopes of a better life. But only at the moment of death do they realize that all those efforts have gone to waste. Furthermore, if they had cultivated an “immoral mindset” by engaging in immoral thoughts and activities, they are not only going to be disappointed but could be subjected to much suffering in future lives.
  • A sandcastle is of anicca nature. Getting attached to it is inevitably going to lead to disappointment (dukkha). Thus engaging in that activity is unfruitful and non-beneficial to anyone (anatta.)  We will discuss “anatta” in detail soon.
Connection to the Second Law of Thermodynamics

6. The Second Law of Thermodynamics confirms the unstable/unpredictable (not only impermanent) nature of rupa. You may skip this part. But it is about the tendency of worldly things towards disorder. So, it is not hard to understand.

  • The second law of thermodynamics says that the disorder of any isolated system always increases.  In simple terms, that means “disorder increases,” and we need to make an effort to maintain order.
  • That, in essence, is a manifestation of the anicca nature! See, “Second Law of Thermodynamics is Part of Anicca!
  • A simple way to think of the second law of thermodynamics is that a room will invariably become messy and disorderly with time if not cleaned and tidied regularly. You have to make an effort to clean the room, and that is part of  “saṅkhāra dukkha.” See, “Introduction -2 – The Three Categories of Suffering.”
  • Those who only focus on the “impermanent” nature miss this critical part. Furthermore, such saṅkhāra often become abhisaṅkhāra and lead to much more suffering with “bad births.” This is why anicca means much more than “impermanent nature.”
Mental Aggregates Are Also of Anicca Nature!

7. All those suttas referred to in #3, and MANY more, state that all five aggregates (rupa, vedanā, saññā, saṅ­khāra, vinnana) are of anicca nature. We cannot maintain any of those to our expectations OVER LONG TIMES.

  • For example, the “Yadanicca Sutta (SN 22.15)” states (in addition to rupa), “Vedanā aniccā. Yadaniccaṁ taṁ dukkhaṁ; yaṁ dukkhaṁ tadanattā; yadanattā taṁ ‘netaṁ mama, nesohamasmi, na meso attā’ti evametaṁ yathābhūtaṁ sammappaññāya daṭṭhabbaṁ. Saññā aniccā …pe…saṅkhārā aniccā …viññāṇaṁ aniccaṁ..”
  • It is foolish to translate Vedanā aniccā, saññā aniccā, saṅkhārā aniccā, viññāṇaṁ aniccaṁas Feeling is impermanent …Perception is impermanent …Choices are impermanent …Consciousness is impermanent.”
  • Does a Buddha need to arise in the world to teach people that all those are not permanent? Even the dumbest person would see that none of those are permanent!
  • They are not only permanent, but attachment to them WILL lead to suffering! Of course, part of that suffering is when something of liking is destroyed. But the DEEPER POINT is that our actions to keep them the way we like lead to kamma generation and, eventually, bad births.
  • This is why it is important to understand how (abhi)saṅ­khāra generation leads to (undesired) births starting with “avijjā paccayā saṅ­khāra.” We will discuss that in #10 below.
Obvious Contradictions in Sutta Central Translations

8. When we include the next part of the verse, it reads, Vedanā aniccā. Yad aniccaṁ taṁ dukkhaṁAccording to the incorrect translations, that means, “Feeling is impermanent. What’s impermanent is suffering.” See the translations at Sutta Central in the above link. Not only at Sutta Central, but many translations have those obvious contradictions.

  • While the ending of sukha vedanā may lead to suffering, the ending of dukkha vedanā, rather, leads to happiness, like in the case of getting rid of a bad headache. To put it another way, the impermanence of a dukkha vedanā WILL NOT lead to suffering.
  • Just because vedanā are impermanent, that DOES NOT necessarily lead to suffering! In some cases, it leads to happiness.

9. Again, that should be obvious to any person! So, why do these translators make such huge mistakes?

  • I guess that they don’t really try to understand the suttas. They just mechanically translate using the “standard incorrect English translations” for key Pāli words like anicca and anatta (as impermanent and no-self)  without even bothering to see whether they make any sense!
  • Those same people complain about “Waharaka interpretations.” But simple and obvious issues like these do not need any  “interpretation.” They should be self-evident (at least once explained)!
  • I have pointed out several such obvious issues. When are these SERIOUS issues going to be corrected? At some point, enough people will hopefully start asking questions; they will have to correct these glaring inconsistencies.  
Paṭicca Samuppāda Explains How Anicca Nature Leads to Dukkha

10. ALL types of abhisaṅ­khāra (that can have kammic consequences, especially rebirth) belong to 3 categories: apuññā­bhi­saṅ­khāra, puññā­bhi­saṅ­khāra, āneñjā­bhi­saṅ­khāra. All those are saṅ­khāra generated via “avijjā paccayā saṅkhārā” as we discussed in the previous post “Anicca Nature, the First Noble Truth, and Paṭicca Samuppāda” and “Saṅkhāra – What It Really Means.

  • In other words, the akusala-mula Paṭicca Samuppāda (that leads to suffering) process is operational for ALL humans who have not comprehended the Four Nobel Truths, Tilakkhana, and Paṭicca Samuppāda.
  • Kamma generation takes place starting with “avijjā paccayā saṅ­khāra.” Thus the need to fully understand the two posts mentioned above.
  • Therefore, no matter how moral a person is, they will not stop future suffering until comprehending the Four Nobel Truths, Tilakkhana, and Paṭicca Samuppāda.
  • Furthermore, the generation of those types of abhisaṅ­khāra is due to an innate view/perception of a “nicca nature.” That is avijjā!
  • It is impossible to make any more progress until one understands these critical aspects. Please feel free to ask questions because this is critically important!

11. Let me try to make the point in another way. The akusala-mula Paṭicca Samuppāda (that leads to suffering) will be operational for anyone who does not comprehend the Four Nobel Truths, Tilakkhana, and Paṭicca Samuppāda.

  • To put it another way, until one understands that the true nature of this world is anicca nature (and NOT nicca nature), the rebirth process among the realms in the kāma loka, rupa loka, and arupa loka will continue.
  • As we have discussed many times, the problem is that MOST of those rebirths will not be higher realms (at or above the human realm) but will be in the apāyās (the 4 lowest realms.)

12. This is why the Buddha explained, “aniccaṁ khayaṭṭhena dukkhaṁ bhayaṭṭhena anattā asārakaṭṭhenāti.” 

  • As we discussed, that means (attachment to) anything of anicca nature will only lead to the demise of one’s moral qualities (“aniccaṁ khayaṭṭhena.)
  • It will eventually lead to sufferings that one should be afraid of (“dukkhaṁ bhayaṭṭhena.”) Therefore, such cravings are unfruitful and will make one helpless in the rebirth process (“anattā asārakaṭṭhenāti.”)
  • Please read the discussion of two posts back in “Buddha Dhamma – Noble Truths, Paṭicca Samuppāda, Tilakkhana” I suggest printing these posts and keeping them ready to be consulted.
  • We will discuss the third aspect of the anatta nature (“anattā asārakaṭṭhena”) in upcoming posts. That means “craving things of anicca nature leads to dukkha, thus such cravings (and efforts based on such cravings) are in vain/not beneficial.”
Nibbāna – The Absence of Suffering

13. Most people don’t even think in terms of such “long-term” happiness or the “absence of suffering.” They get into the “rat race” and keep working hard to “earn money to enjoy life and have a happy retirement.”

  • That is especially true for those who believe that the physical body defines a person, i.e., mental phenomena arise in the brain. So, when the brain dies together with the physical body, that is the end of “me.” There is nothing to worry about an “afterlife.”
  • The other extreme is the wrong view of an eternal soul or ātman. There is a permanent state of happiness (or misery in hell.)
  • The Buddha taught the “middle way.” A living being exists based on the causes and conditions that led to it. The arising of existence due to causes and conditions is explained in detail in Paṭicca Samuppāda (conventionally translated as “Conditional Arising.” That translation leaves out the relevance of causes, and thus it is better to use the Pāli term.)
  • How can someone decide which of those 3 views is correct? It is always up to each individual to decide that. But it is wise to spend time examining the basis of each of those “theories carefully.”
  • The Buddha never asked anyone to accept his teachings based on “blind faith.” He asked the bhikkhus to raise questions about any doubts or knotty issues. For example, see “Kālāma Sutta or Kesamutti Sutta (AN 3.65).” 
Proposed Draconian Laws in Sri Lanka

14. In this series of posts, I will try to provide a systematic analysis based solely on the Tipiṭaka. As far as I have examined, there are no contradictions with anything in the Tipiṭaka. I would be happy to discuss any logical objections if one is willing to discuss them rationally and logically.

  • As I have pointed out, there is no point discussing Sanskrit texts or later commentaries such as Buddhaghosa’s. See “Buddhaghosa’s Visuddhimagga – A Focused Analysis” and “Preservation of the Buddha Dhamma.”
  • The second post, “Preservation of the Buddha Dhamma,” discusses Buddha’s admonition not to translate his teachings to Sanskrit.
  • Unfortunately, now there is an effort within the Sri Lankan government to enforce such “Sanskrit-based” interpretations and to ban any other interpretation. They may ban printed publications in Sri Lanka but cannot shut down websites like this one.
  • The main issue I have is the following: How do we know those on the “committee” overseeing this enforcement have a true understanding of Buddha Dhamma? Have they attained magga phala? If not, they have no real “authority.”
  • In the “Mahāparinibbāna Sutta (DN 16)” the Buddha allowed anyone to declare magga phala if there is a need. If they do have such attainments, they need to publish that to build public confidence. However, if you ask them, they will admit that they do not have such attainments. Instead, it may turn out that they may be banning publications by people with magga phala!
  • I hope that level-headed people in the government will stop this short-sighted process. See, “Proposed Tipitaka Conservation Bill in Sri Lanka.”
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