Logical Proof that Impermanence is Incorrect Translation of Anicca

This post was written in response to a comment made by Mr. Alexander Ausweger, on the basis of which I slightly revised the post “Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta – Wrong Interpretations” to make it more precise. I would like to get feedback from anyone interested, especially those who are experts on mathematical logic.

1. Using mathematical logic, it is possible to point out the flaw in translating anicca, dukkha, anatta as impermanence, suffering, and no-self. It does not require advanced mathematical concepts, but basic logical structure that is explained in the following Wikipedia article:


2.  As explained in the post, “Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta – Wrong Interpretations“, in the Ajjhattanicca Sutta in the Samyutta Nikāya, the Buddha stated that the three characteristics of “this world” are RELATED to each other:

“yadaniccam tan dukkham, tan dukkham tadanatta”

OR, (anicca → dukkha) and  (dukkha → anatta)

Here, there are two logical statements, which can be written as (with incorrect translations with anicca, dukkha, anatta translated as impermanence, suffering, and no-self respectively):

(impermanence → suffering)  and   (suffering → no-self)

  • There are an infinite physical things in this vast universe and ALL are impermanent. But not all of them cause anyone’s suffering. One’s suffering is caused only by those things that one willingly attaches to with the nicca sanna, as we will see below.

3. First let us consider just the part: (impermanence → suffering)

When we use the law of contraposition,

(A \to B) \Leftrightarrow (\lnot B \to \lnot A)      (“if A implies B, then not-B implies not-A“),

we get:

no suffering → permanence, i.e., if one is not suffering that implies something (the object in question) is permanent.

  • But we can take many examples where “not suffering” does not imply a permanency. For example, when we hear a death of a rival there is no suffering associated with that.
  • In another example  if we get rid of a non-curable disease, that is associated with no-suffering. Thus, in both examples, the “no-suffering” condition did not imply a “permanence”.

Therefore, the original statement, (impermanence → suffering) DOES NOT HOLD.

4. Now let us look at another way to analyze. Normally, the statement A → B does not lead to ¬ A → ¬B  (i.e., not A → not B does not automatically follow).

However, if B is dependent only on A and no other factor, then the statement ¬ A → ¬B would be valid.

  • For an example, (rain → wet street), does not automatically lead to (no rain  → dry street), because the street could get wet due to a garden hose being left open.
  • However, if the only cause for wetness of the street is rain, then (no rain  → dry street) is CORRECT.

5. In the case of the three characteristics, the nature of this world is either nicca or anicca. There is no “in between”, i.e., it is either “nicca” or “anicca“.

The nicca or anicca nature can lead dukha, sukha, AND also neutral feeling. Thus here we will consider just dukha or “no-dukha” for this analysis. Then, there is nothing in between those two.

The third characteristic is either “atta” or “anatta“.

Thus, for this proof, we CAN rewrite the original statement,

(anicca → dukkha) and  (dukkha → anatta)  as,

(nicca → no-dukkha) and  (no-dukkha → natta),

and those two statements are identical.

6. Therefore, if we translate nicca and anicca as permanent and impermanent, then the statement, (impermanence → suffering) also implies,  (permanence → no-suffering), because in our premise that suffering depends only on whether something is permanent or impermanent.

  • Thus, we have, for our particular case: (permanence → no-suffering)
  • Therefore, in our special case for the three characteristics of nature, we have: (permanence → no-suffering) AND (no suffering → permanence).

In the mathematical language of logic, this is written as:

(no suffering iff permanence), i.e., (no suffering if and only if permanence)

This is a strong statement than the one in #3.

However, we have many instances of no-suffering without having permanency associated with, as we discussed in #3.

  • Furthermore, This implies that one can never attain Nibbāna (no suffering), since there is nothing in this world that is permanent LONG TERM. This is yet another contradiction.

7. However, if we take the correct interpretation of anicca as “nothing can be maintained to one’s satisfaction in the long run”, then the above statement reads:

(no suffering) if and only if (everything can be maintained to our satisfaction in the long run).

  • Since we know that “everything can be maintained to our satisfaction in the long run” is not correct, it is impossible to attain a state of “no suffering” as long as one is in this world, i.e., in the cycle of rebirths.
  • We can analyze any  situation and see that “nothing in this world can be maintained to one’s satisfaction in the long run”. Thus everything experienced in this world eventually lead to suffering. The  only way to get rid of suffering is to realize this critical point; that realization itself leads to the end of suffering.
  • Thus “avijjā” is nothing but not realizing this fundamental characteristic of nature.
  • The realization of the truth of “anicca nature of this world” is beyond “just understanding”. The mind has to accept that without any doubt. One needs to analyze as many cases as one encounters in real life and convince oneself that this is the case. If you can think about an exception, please let me know.

8. Now we can also derive a similar strong relationship between anicca and anatta as between anicca and dukkha that we derived in #6 above. Here we use the principle of syllogism:

((A \to B) \land (B \to C)) \to (A \to C)

Thus the original relationship, (anicca → dukkha) and  (dukkha → anatta) lead to:

anicca → anatta

  • Now using the same derivation of #4 and #5, we get,  anatta → anicca.

Thus we again have the strong statement,

  • anatta if and only if anicca

That means anatta is inevitable if the nature (this world) is of anicca nature.

9. Now, again if we take the wrong translations of impermanence and no-self for anicca and anatta respectively, what we derived above means: whatever is impermanent does not have a “self”. This is a meaningless statement for inert objects in this world.

On the other hand, with the correct interpretations, it means:

Nothing in this world can be maintained to one’s satisfaction and therefore one is helpless in this world (i.e., will be subjected to suffering).

  • However, that holds only as long as one TRYING TO maintain things to one’s satisfaction with the wrong perception that it is achievable. When one realizes the true nature, one will stop from attaching to things in this world, and eventually will not be born in this material world. The mind will be released from the “material base” that is the cause of our long-term suffering.
  • Thus, the only way to get out of the “helplessness in this cycle of rebirths” is to get rid of the nicca sanna (the perception that one CAN maintain things to one’s satisfaction), and cultivate the anicca sanna, the correct perception about anything in this world. That is the way to Nibbāna, which it is attained via steps.

10. Thus, it is important to realize that the “loophole” that the Buddha discovered in order to gain release from the inevitable suffering in this world, is to comprehend its “anicca nature” and stop craving for worldly things that “seem to provide sense pleasures”.

  • In other words, the solution is “to realize that seeking happiness in this world is not only unachievable, but it also leads to suffering”. One is subjected to suffering ONLY BECAUSE one is WILLINGLY ATTACHING to worldly things that are intrinsically not setup to provide happiness in the long run.
  • This act of “willingly attaching to things in this world” is called “Paṭicca” (“pati” means bonding and “ichcha” means with liking). And this of course leads to “sama uppäda” (“sama” means same or similar and “uppäda” means another existence in this world). This is the fundamental reason why we can never remove the suffering in this cycle of rebirths as long as we have “avijjā“, the principle of “Paṭicca Samuppāda“; see, “Paṭicca Samuppāda – “Pati+ichcha”+”Sama+uppäda“.
  • Thus now we can see why the akusala-mula Paṭicca Samuppāda cycle starts with “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra“: that is because we have the “nicca sanna“, the perception that we can maintain things to our satisfaction.

11. If the “anicca nature of this world” is a FACT, then the other two logically follow: nothing in this world can be logically expected to provide “no-suffering” (i.e., either happiness or neutral state of mind), and thus one is truly helpless (anatta) and is struggling to achieve something that logically impossible to achieve.

  • The key point is that we normally ACT with “nicca sanna” or with the perception that we can maintain things to our satisfaction. Thus we go against  the nature and will be subjected to suffering in the long run. This is a subtle point to contemplate and comprehend. The “anicca nature” will lead us to suffering ONLY IF we take the opposite view of “nicca sanna“.
  • There are two things to sort out: anicca nature (of the world) and “nicca sanna” (in our MINDS). The way to be released from this world of anicca nature is to comprehend that (i.e., cultivate the anicca sanna) and thereby not attach (Paṭicca) to things in this world.
  • Of course it is not an easy task. The realization is achieved in stages. Even at the Sotāpanna stage one realizes this at a basic level.
  • This is the basis of Buddha Dhamma, and that is explained via many different ways, Paṭicca Samuppāda being the key. The akusala-mula Paṭicca Samuppāda cycle starts with “avijjā paccayā (abhi)saṅkhāra“, which arises due to the “nicca sanna“, and ends up with “jarā, marana, soka, parideva, dukkha, domanassa…..“. We generate our own future suffering by doing abhisaṅkhāra (actions, speech, thoughts generated by greed, hate, and ignorance) due to our nicca sanna.
  • This is also why we cannot get rid of greedy, hateful, and foolish thoughts until we comprehend the true anicca nature of this world and cultivate the anicca sanna. Such thoughts arise AUTOMATICALLY in a mind that has the nicca sanna.



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