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Three Marks of Existence

The Three Marks or The Three Basic Facts of Existence

In Buddhism, the Three Marks of Existence are three characteristics shared by all sentient beings, namely impermanence (anicca), suffering or unsatisfactoriness (dukkha), and non-self (anatta).

AnnicaImpermanence – Nothing ever stays the same, and change is often painful in some way. You fall in love with your young lover who promises their love is forever. They then grow old with you. Then they die. As they grew older, they changed, becoming slower, in more pain, and perhaps with difficulty thinking straight. Once they die, they change physically; one way or another they decompose, returning to the environment and becoming part of something new. Remember hearing about the “Cycle of Life?” A cycle is a series of changes.

DukkhaSuffering – We’ve talked about this a lot here in the past. This isn’t simple physical pain that we’re talking about, although that’s certainly a part of it. Some of the dukka results from our desire to fight impermanence. You want to hold on to the things that are changing. No one wants to grow old and die, and sometimes it’s a real fight. Dukka isn’t always this dramatic though- sometimes it’s a simpler desire- like the desire to smack that guy in the restaurant who won’t get off his cell phone, or the need for a new car. What all these various types of suffering have in common is desire, the root of all suffering.

AnnataNon-Self – (Also called Anatman) This is the hardest to grasp for most of us. I mentioned a decomposing body above; aren’t you really the same body right now? Isn’t part of you made up of people that came before, both physically (raw materials) and genetically? Are you the same person you were when you were five years old? Are you even the same person you were yesterday? Which part of your body is really you? You can’t pick a single point? You can sense many parts of your body, but can’t you also sense what’s going on around you in the room? Are you a part of the room? Yes. Is the room a part of you? That’s one to meditate on.

1 comment to Three Marks of Existence

  • slidnbob

    What really attracted me to Buddhism is the expressed lack of dogma, of items of faith that are to be believed without support, without evidence. Instead I have found Buddhism to be built on “… this is what we think, try it for yourself”, which appeals to both my rational and sacred sides. However, I’ve always been a bit skeptical of the Three Marks, afraid that they were faith statements in Buddhist clothing. Thanks to your clear statement, Brian, it is clear that the first two are observationally based. Look around, anyone can see change and suffering. The third still has me concerned though. I’m new to Daily Buddhist so perhaps I’ve missed it, but a podcast or article on how non-self is not dogma would be greatly appreciated.