Three characteristics of “existence”

matt lange, modified 1 Year ago.

Three characteristics of “existence”

Posts: 7 Join Date: 11/29/19 Recent Posts
It would be helpful if someone who know can tell me what term in Pali is commonly translated into "existence". I have read on the Internet, I think somewhere on Wikipedia, that the term for existence is a actually "sankhara" (or conditioned formation or volitional formation). This then would implications for proper understanding of the Dhamma. Also, I have read that Nibbana is a dhamma (lower case)- as such it is nonself, but it is permanent and satisfactory. 

therefore, I am asking for a skillful description and/or explanation of: 1) the term commonly translated as "existence" in the phrase "three marks of existence, 2) if this term is in fact sankhara, am explanation of the term and its relation to dhamma (lower case), 3) if the term is sankhara, where or not the three characteristics apply to the other skhandas (or bundles). 

my intention is to develop an understanding that is conducive toward arising of the path and the end of "my" dukkha (therefore, skillful descriptions and/or explanations). 

-KT (ML)
shargrol, modified 1 Year ago.

RE: Three characteristics of “existence”

Posts: 1490 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
matt lange:
It would be helpful if someone who know can tell me what term in Pali is commonly translated into "existence".

...

my intention is to develop an understanding that is conducive toward arising of the path and the end of "my" dukkha (therefore, skillful descriptions and/or explanations). 





I'm glad you are focused on the understanding that is helpful for actual practice (and not just dogma or strict translation).
 
Here's some thoughts:

The interpretation of the three marks of existence changes in subtly as we develop our practice, so let’s look at it sort of sequentially…

In terms of normal life: All of us want to survive, but we face changing situations and the inevitability of death. All of us want to always have good experiences, but our experiences either suck or are somehow incompletely satisfying. All of us want to be somebody that is praised and respected or be a nobody that no one blames or shames, but our sense of self depends on others. This is normal, conventional life.

Maybe we begin to see how our attitudes toward impermanence, suffering, and self makes our life more difficult. This is the beginning of a more spiritual and less material outlook on life. We start seeing that if we ignore these three aspects of experience, then our old psychological patterns keep repeating. In spiritual “code” we would say “samsara is characterized by the three marks of existence. samsara is the cycle of rebirth.” If we crack the code, then we would say “if we don’t notice how our personal experience of the world is changing, incomplete, and our sense of self can change, then we react to our emotions and thoughts as if they are “really real” and we wind up repeating our psychological patterns over and over again.”

So maybe we start a spiritual practice. The tricky thing is that many of our normal concerns get sort of carried into the way we think of spiritual practice. The classic way to fall into spiritual traps is to want a kind of spiritual permanence, spiritual bliss, and spiritual purity or oneness. Notice how this is just a fancy way to have a desire for survival, control, and being somebody/nobody.

Just to spell it all out:
material survival = spiritual permanence
material pleasure/control = spiritual bliss
material being somebody/nobody = spiritual purity/oneness

But thank goodness that there are spiritual practice that can cut at the root of material _and_ our somewhat immature spiritual desires -- and they lead to true freedom.

The way to work on the survival/permanence aspect is to forget about the future and pay attention to the NOW. The now is always available, regardless of what the future may hold. So mindfulness of the present moment is the antidote to all the concerns/worry about the future.

The way to work on a desire for pleasure/control/bliss is to LET things be as they are. The present moment is arising and passing on it’s own. So allowing anything to come up without preference – greed, aversion, or indifference --- positive, negative or neutral --- and to focus on simply being mindful of how they really are is the antidote to always seeking pleasure/control/bliss.

The way to work on a desire to be somebody/nobody/pure/one-with-everything is to notice the INTERDEPENDENCE of things. Noticing how everthing effects each other, noticing how all paired opposites (big-small, dirty-clean, etc.) define each other only by contrast rather than by ultimate meaning, noticing how wanting to be pure is paradoxically a form of ultimate hatred (of impurity), noticing how wanting to be one-with-everything is actually a kind of ultimate greed (wanting to own everything as self).

So spiritual practices of "now", "let", and "seeing interdependence" undercut our normal ways of clinging to survival, desires, and sense of independent self.
 
In the Mahayana they like to say that the three marks of existence are also the three gates to freedom:
* annica/impermanence becomes the freedom of reality having no fixed characteristics
* dukkha/suffering becomes the freedom from having having no fixed aspirations
* anatta/non-self becomes freedom of the "emptiness" of personal experience
 
Hope this helps in some way!
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Bardo Cruiser, modified 1 Year ago.

RE: Three characteristics of “existence”

Posts: 259 Join Date: 9/14/19 Recent Posts
Shargrol,

That was such a beautiful read! 
shargrol, modified 1 Year ago.

RE: Three characteristics of “existence”

Posts: 1490 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
Thanks for the kind words! emoticon
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terry, modified 1 Year ago.

RE: Three characteristics of “existence”

Posts: 1641 Join Date: 8/7/17 Recent Posts
Bardo Cruiser:
It can be very tricky to condense some pali words into a single English word. The pali terms are extremely rich in their definitions so many times an English equivalent does not do justice to their meanings. I've found that I've had to feel my own way in with some of this which comes from observing my own behaviour and seeing how this aligns with the definitions I've read.

Sankharas as existence - In my view, sankharas are the prior movements of karma manifesting in thought, speech and bodily actions. Sankharas cannot be seen to have independence as they are an interdependent component of other phenomena. They operate alongside other components namely: form, feeling, perception and consciousness, and these aggreagtes are part of a much larger process which is best summarized in the Paticca-samuppada-vibhanga Sutta. Sometimes sankharas can be translated as existence and I suspect this come from how sankharas change us and our physical world. So sankaras lead to karmas or actions. They are the intent-energy that culminates in the final action. When we think, speak and perform actions, something in the world changes which amounts to creation or something existing.

So, a better translation of existence is consciousness (from the aggregate perspective) which arises through the sense organs: eyes. ears, nose, tongue, body and mind. Here is a snapshot: attention is placed at the eye organ; the eye organ locates a visible form. These three aspects - attention, eye organ and form - create a circuit called consciousness. You become conscious of forms.

Here's a macro view of consciousness: Due to being repeatedly exposed to forms through the senses we develop default modes of perception. We name and form and thus create a substandard version of the world in our minds. All of this naming and forming is woven together into a kind of multidimensional algorithmic soup. It's multidimensional because we have six ways of perceiving and endless ways of interpreting; It is algorithmic because there are predetermined endpoints or conditionings; it's soup-like because those ways of perceiving are melded together. This sort of perception moves very quickly. It has such impetus it creates time and space and from that the identity of you emerges. This is human consciousness although quite crude (apologies).

This fits nicely into anicca, dukkha and anatta. They are the three marks of human consciousness as described above. If you want to use the word existence, then fine. Anicca - we have limitations in viewing the world through our senses and those limitations are rooted in mind. We reduce the world to words and mental images creating a sense of permanence through various attachments. Dukkha - through this misperceiving we experience pain because things are actually ephemeral. Anatta - this is the polarity that causes all of this to occur. It's reality in resistance to the misperception or you in resistance to reality. You could call it our inner wisdom asking us to wake up from the dream. We are not the permanence we think we are nor the suffering that it generates. 

When you become more adept at examining how you interface with your environment some of these concepts will become clearer to you. You will acquire direct experiential knowledge. Seeking heavy intellectual endeavours can become a hindrance to the greater task at hand although they are helpful as a general guide.  



existence is a drop of oil on the buddha's foot...

consciousness and existence are equivalent, as you say...

froth on the ocean of nonexistence...
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Nicky, modified 1 Year ago.

RE: Three characteristics of “existence”

Posts: 484 Join Date: 8/2/14 Recent Posts
matt lange:
It would be helpful if someone who know can tell me what term in Pali is commonly translated into "existence". 

my intention is to develop an understanding that is conducive toward arising of the path and the end of "my" dukkha (therefore, skillful descriptions and/or explanations). 


The Pali word for the existence of things is "atthi" and for ego-existence is "bhava". The suttas do not refer to three charactertics of "existence". In fact, the suttas does not even use the word "characteristics" (apart from in the belated title of SN 22.59). The word "sankhara" does not mean "existence". The word "sankhara" means "compounded thing" (made from causes & conditions). The suttas (SN 22.59) first say the five aggregates are impermanent, unsatisfactory (can't bring lasting happiness due to impermanence) & not-self. The first aggregate examined in Buddhist meditation is the breathing of the body. Therefore, meditation starts with seeing the impermanence & not-self of the breathing. Not-self of the breathing means seeing clearly the body breathes rather than the 'self' breathes. Its not rocket science. 
Romeo Stevens, modified 1 Year ago.

RE: Three characteristics of “existence”

Posts: 5 Join Date: 12/18/19 Recent Posts
I found the 3 marks somewhat mysterious until realization that they are specific, low level, ubiquitous mental fabrications rather than inherent in 'external' 'existence.' ie that they can be thought of as the negations of the tendency towards fabricating things as potentially permanent, satisfactory, and controllable/owned/identified with.
As for whether they apply to the skhandas, I've found it enormously fruitful to apply all the various factors to themselves and each other. Feels like a cheat code for insight sometimes.

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