Root Cause of Anicca – Five Stages of a Sankata

Revised February 3, 2019

1. Anicca is the key to the Sōtapanna stage. Once one comprehends anicca, one can see how dukkha arises, and thus why one is totally helpless (anatta) in this rebirth process; then one “sees” that the only permanent happiness is attained via seeking Nibbāna.

  • “Uppada vayattena anicca”, or “anicca because everything that arises in this world cannot be maintained the way we like”
  • Thus in order to understand anicca better, we need to realize that everything that we EXPERIENCE in this world has causes for its arising and when those causes (kammic energy) are depleted they are destroyed too. Not only that, during the time they are in existence, many of them change unpredictably (this is called viparināma versus parināma if things change orderly). Anything that arises in this world is called a “sankata; see, “Difference between Dhamma and Saṅkhāra (Sankata)”.
  • Thus a sankata can be defined as something that arises due to causes, since nothing arise without causes. Thus the only entity that is not a sankata is Nibbāna, which is attained via removing all causes. 

2. A sankata (pronounced “sankatha”) is an entity arising due to a saṅkhāra; a saṅkhāra is also a sankata, because just like any other sankata, any saṅkhāra arises and falls; thus saṅkhāra is sometimes used to include both; see below.

  • A saṅkhāra arises directly in one’s mind. What we normally call sankata arise DUE TO those saṅkhāra.

3. Therefore, a sankata is normally reserved for something that arises due to saṅkhāra  (a living being, house, nest, a thought, hopes and dreams, etc) and eventually is destroyed. Nothing in this world lasts forever.

  • At the deepest level, anything in this world arises due to the mind. It will take us some more time to get to that, but that is what was meant by the Buddha when he said, “manōpubbangamā dhammā……” or “mind precedes everything else…”.
  • This was described in detail in the Aggañña sutta, but please do not bother to look it up on the internet, because ALL existing translations are embarrassingly erroneous. I have discussed it briefly in, “Buddhism and Evolution – Aggañña Sutta (DN 27)“.

4. In “sabbē saṅkhāra anicca…..”, by saṅkhāra what is meant is saṅkhāra AND sankata, everything in this world except “nāma gotta”, which are just records of events.

  • Thus all we experience are sankata. Anything that experience lasts only momentarily; then it goes to “the past” and gets incorporated into pancakkhandha. Thus anything included in pancakkhandha is born as a sankata.
  • It is easy to see that all vedana, saññā, saṅkhāra, viññāna are sankata.

5. However, here we pay special attention to material things, because those are ones that give us a perception of “valuable things worth taking possession of”, sometimes via “any means possible”. Until we get this perception out of our minds, intentionally or unintentionally we will be doing immoral things that will force us to be reborn in the lowest four realms.

  • Any sankata has a lifetime: a fly with a lifetime of a few days, a human with a lifetime of about 100 years, the Chinese Great Wall lasting tens of thousands of years, or a whole universe lasting billions of years, are all sankata (of course none of them made directly by saṅkhāra; they are the end result. This cannot be explained even with many essays, and will take a while to get to). But we will take a few simple examples to explain the fundamental idea in this post.

6. What is the difference between a “material sankata” that is inert and another that is “alive”?

  • For example, a tree is a sankata; it grows starting from a seed and eventually dies; that IS the end of the tree. The causes to form the tree that were embedded in the seed led to the growth of the tree, but as the causes got depleted the tree died.
  • But when a human dies, of course the physical body decomposes, but death is not the end of that being. Because a living being grasps a new existence with a new abhisaṅkhāra (strong forms of saṅkhāra that can give rise to rebirth) at the moment of death.  Even though an Arahant may have kamma bīja due to old abhisaṅkhāra, any of those will not grasped at death.
  • All inert things in this world came into existence a long time ago, and how they come about ORIGINALLY from saṅkhāra involves Dhamma that is very deep. But they all, and the whole physical universe will come to an end when the universe dies in billions of years.
  • Yet the sentient beings have been in existence from beginning-less time. Each time we die, we come back with a new existence (new bhava).

7. During the lifetime of a sankata, it goes through five loosely-defined stages; there are no clear-cut delineations in between adjacent stages. This is because a sankata is changing every moment.

  • A good simile is the rising of the Sun and its disappearance at the end of a day. Since the cycle remains virtually unchanged through the year, let us consider this cycle in a country close to the equator. There from about 4 am to about 7 am it is called a sunrise; from that time to Noon the sunshine grows and is peaked around Noon. The “full Sun” is there from about 11 am to about 4 pm, where the power of the Sun is optimum. Then it starts going down and around 7 pm it starts to get dark; then the last part of the night takes over. Yet at each moment, the Sun is moving and the status keep changing.

8. In the same way, a sankata goes through five stages: udayaṃgama (rising), atthangama (growing), assāda (optimum), ādinava (decay starts), and nissarana (last stages leading to death); see, “Assāda, Ādīnava, Nissarana – Introduction“.

    • Understanding these five stages of a sankata is the key to the anuloma nana, without which one cannot get to the sammatta niyama, and eventually to Nibbāna; see, “Sotāpanna Anugami and a Sotāpanna“.

9. For example, a seed germinates and starts a bud; this is the arising (udayaṃgama) stage. Then it grows to a healthy young tree; this is the growing (atthangama) stage where there are no flowers or fruits yet. Then comes the assāda (optimum) stage where the tree is flourishing and is full of flowers and fruits. But then with time, the tree will give less fruits and is on the way down; this is the ādinava (decaying) stage where it can come down with various diseases too. This process continues as the nissarana stage until it dies.

    • A human or animal (the only realms we can see) will go through the same process. A human life starts not as a baby but a single cell in the womb; from there to a baby of couple of years is the arising (udayaṃgama) stage. Then comes the growth (atthangama) stage until about 15 years or so. Life peaks from there to about 30-35 years, and that is the time one really enjoys life, the assāda (optimum) stage. But then inevitably, the decay process starts and one starts feeling aches and pains, diseases, etc in the ādinava stage. This stage is continued in the final stage (somewhere starting from 50-100 years depending on individual) of nissarana leading to death.
    • Here is a video produced for the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. Someone has taken a lot of time to put together this video, and it shows four stages of her life. Each of us can do the same (but we of course don’t have enough pictures taken to put together a video like this):

  • Even an inert object like a house, a star, or even a whole universe goes through the same process.

10. This is the underlying nature of this anything in this world, and that is why it is anicca: no matter how much we try, we will not be able to maintain anything to our satisfaction over long times.

  • And the reason that this process does not stop for a living being is that during a life, a living being makes more than enough causes for this process to start all over.
  • Some of these causes are good and will lead to “good existences”, where there is relatively more happiness, but more often the causes are bad (due to ignorance of this basic fact), and will lead to existences where the suffering is very great.
  • Thus we can see how dukkha (suffering) arises due to the transient nature of sankata, which in turn leads to the conclusion that one is truly helpless (anatta) in this saṃsāric process. If one truly understands this fact, that itself leads to the Sōtapanna magga stage of Nibbāna (one of the “atta purisa puggalā”).

11. These five stages in between the arising and perishing can be seen in anything or any event, and in order to understand the ever-changing nature of everything, we need to see this in everything/every action around us.

  • Let us take an example of eating a meal. Sitting down to eat is the uadayaṃgama stage; then with a few bites one is into the attangama stage, and then one really starts enjoying the meal in the assāda stage. But then the hunger goes away, and one starts feeling full and getting tired of eating; this is the ādinava stage. Finally, one stops eating and that is nissarana.
  • One develops an urge to listen to music, and start the playing device (uadayaṃgama); one starts listening (atthangama), and starts to enjoy the music (assāda). But after a while, the satisfaction wares away, and the enjoyment kind of fades away (ādinava), and finally one had enough of it and stops (nissarana).
  • The more we start seeing this we can get rid of the two extremes of “something is there with a sense of long-lasting” and “there is nothing there at all”. Things have a transient existence; they exist for finite durations as long as the underlying causes are there, changing every moment.

12. This above analysis was given by the Buddha to help us realize that there are no “permanent” or “existing” entities “in this world”. But we cannot say “nothing exists” either. The Buddha rejected both “exists” and ‘does not exist” extremes, just as he rejected “self” and ‘no-self” extremes. Things and living beings exist, not as enduring entities but as ever-changing entities; AND the suffering is real.

  • People who do not comprehend the message of the Buddha try to come up with “sophisticated looking” statements about the existence, suffering, and Nibbāna.
  • The message of the Buddha was profound (because it had never been known), but simple once explained: There is no reason to be arrogant because we are born human (may be with lot of wealth) or to be depressed if one is born to poverty; this life lasts only a fleeting moment in the saṃsāric scale. We should try to end this suffering-filled rebirth process without delay, because no one knows when the death comes, and in the next life we could be in a REALLY helpless existence.

13. There are CAUSES for sankata to arise: that knowledge embedded in the “udayavaya nana”; see, “Uadayavaya Nana – Introduction“.

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