Why is Correct Interpretation of Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta so Important?

Revised March 14, 2021

One cannot strive for the Sotāpanna stage without understanding the true meanings of the three characteristics of nature: anicca, dukkha, anatta. The correct meanings of anicca, dukkha, anatta are explained under the top menu, “Key Dhamma Concepts.”

1. Anicca, dukkha, anatta describe the true nature of “this world” of 31 realms; see, “The Grand Unified Theory of Dhamma.” Nowhere in the 31 realms can one maintain anything to one’s satisfaction over the long term (anicca); thus one gets depressed, unfulfilled, and distraught (suffering or dukkha is the net result). Thus one becomes helpless (anatta).

2. A good analogy is someone attempting to fill a leaky vessel at home by carrying water to it from a nearby river. He makes a trip back from the river, fills the vessel, and is glad to see that it got filled halfway. But soon enough, he sees that water is running out and thus needs to make another trip to the river to bring more water.

  • If he spent a bit of time examining the vessel, he would have discovered the leak and could have fixed it. We are too much involved in the struggle to maintain illusory happiness. We do not take enough time to contemplate whether it makes sense to struggle against a system that is INHERENTLY unsuitable for providing lasting happiness.

3. Before retirement, I was basically working seven days a week. I had deadlines to meet and responsibilities to fulfill, and there was no time even to think whether I should take some time off and contemplate the sensibility of such a hectic life.

  • Whatever vacation time that I had, I wanted to plan a “relaxing vacation.” But I did not realize that I was spending more time planning the vacation and then spent whatever energy that I had on sightseeing. When I got back from the vacation, I was exhausted from the trip itself. The early retirement decision was the best decision that I ever made in my life.

4. If this existence is inherently flawed in the sense that it is not capable of sustaining stability, then all the struggles that we make are in vain. The Buddha discovered that everything in “this world” changes (see “The Grand Unified Theory of Dhamma”). It is INHERENTLY impossible to achieve lasting happiness.

  • Now the question is, how do we know whether this axiom in Dhamma is correct? This is where it takes a bit of time to look at the evidence. I have done a lot of work within the past several years, and hopefully, this website will help you cut down on that research.
  • Actually, scientists also now acknowledge that the universe is “running down.” We need to constantly spend energy to keep chaos and instability out of the way to maintain some stability (in Buddha Dhamma, this is called “saṅkhāra dukkha“); see, “Second Law of Thermodynamics is Part of Anicca!“.

5. After looking at the evidence, if one decides to spend a bit more time carefully examining the three characteristics (anicca, dukkha, anatta), one may see that there is some truth that will set one off on the Dhamma Path.

  • If there is nothing substantial or long-lasting to be had by harming other living beings, stealing from them, lying to them, indulging in excess sense pleasures, or not being intoxicated with power, money, or position, one’s life will automatically change for the better.
  • The five precepts or eight precepts are NOT to be just mechanically followed. The mind needs to SEE the benefit of following them.

6. This is why one MUST spend some time examining the evidence for Buddha Dhamma’s validity. The first stage of Nibbāna, the Sotāpanna stage, is attained just with the clear understanding of the true nature of “this world,” i.e., anicca, dukkha, anatta.

  • When one realizes the futility of the struggle for long-lasting happiness in a world that is inherently not capable of providing it, one will automatically start moving away from clinging to “things in this world.” For example, one will say to oneself, “what is the point of stealing this from another person? Can long-lasting happiness be gained? Rather, my mind will be in an agitated state if I do that”.
  • There is no need to force oneself to obey the precepts. Moral behavior (sila) will automatically follow the true understanding of anicca, dukkha, anatta. Then, when one starts feeling a bit of niramisa sukha, there is no turning back because one can see for oneself the benefits of moral life.

7. Thus Sammā Diṭṭhi (san +  + diṭṭhi = vision to get rid of defilements) is none other than the true comprehension of the three characteristics: anicca, dukkha, anatta.

  • When one gains a bit of Sammā Diṭṭhi (vision), it will try to prevent one from having defiled thoughts (micchā saṅkappa), uttering false speech (micchā vācā), doing wrong things (micchā kammanta), pursuing wrong lifestyles (micchā ājiva). One will also make efforts (Sammā vāyāma) to be on the Path, which will lead to constantly be mindful (Sammā Sati), thus leading to Sammā Samadhi (peaceful and focused state of mind).
  • But it is important to see the distinction between just “good speech” and Sammā Vācā. That is to be understood in the context of anicca, dukkha, anatta. One abstains from “wrong speech” not merely because one does not want to face bad consequences. One abstains from it because one can ALSO see the futility in it. The same holds for all eight. This is worth a lot of contemplation.
  • This is why the Buddha said, “Dhammo ha ve rakkhati dhamma cāri,” or, “once one sees the Dhamma, Dhamma will guide, protect, and direct.”
  • Thus, gaining Sammā Diṭṭhi via contemplating anicca, dukkha, anatta will automatically direct one on the Noble Eightfold Path. This is why removing micchā diṭṭhi via a true understanding of anicca, dukkha, anatta is so important.

7. When one proceeds in this manner, one will attain the Sotāpanna stage of Nibbāna, as these three basic concepts take hold in mind. At that point, the mind will automatically reject doing things that will result in rebirth in the lower four realms.

  • Those are the four greed-based cittā that arise due to micchā diṭṭhi (wrong vision), and the delusion-based citta that arises due to defiled viññāṇa (vicikicca). This is why a Sotāpanna is prevented from rebirth in the lower four realms forever; see, “Akusala Citta- How a Sotāpanna Avoids Apayagami Citta.”

8. When one attains the Sotāpanna stage, one may still have greed, hate, and delusion left in him/her. But a Sotāpanna KNOWS about them and KNOWS how to get rid of them. Then it is just a matter of time before getting rid of those defilements and attaining the other three stages, culminating in ultimate peace and permanent happiness, Nibbāna.

Next, “The Sotāpanna Stage“, …….

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