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The Three Characteristics
Answer
12/15/11 4:23 PM
Hi All,

I am curious about the philosophy behind the 3 characteristics. I have thought about them a lot, even before I had read anything to do with meditation and Buddha's teachings.

They seem to be steadfastly held truths, yet I am not convinced. I am happy to accept them, and have some faith, if they will enable my meditation to progress quickly, however they seem unnecessary.

To give you an idea of my thoughts, I do believe the nature of these three characteristics to be important, but I do not agree with the assumptions as to which side the truth lays.

Impermanence or Permanence ?
No Self or Everything is Self ?
Everything is Suffering or Everything is Joy ?

I believe that I will transcend these questions. I am not even sure they are really answerable. However, the 3 characteristics seem to take an unnecessarily pessimistic view of these natures.

I have experienced what in my mind was prolonged permanence, well before I started meditation. It was a profound moment/day in my life. Everything appeared to be joyous, and everything in the world, and everyone in the world, appeared to be "me". That event is the source of my doubts about the 3 characteristics.

I would be delighted and very grateful to hear your thoughts.

Best wishes,

Cammil

RE: The Three Characteristics
Answer
12/15/11 4:51 PM as a reply to Cammil Taank.
Hi Cammil,

Welcome to the DhO.

You might start by orientating yourself to how we may see things like the 3 C's here at the DhO by first reading Daniel Ingram's (the founder of this site) book Mastering The Core Teachings Of The Buddha, which you can find in the wiki section of the DhO.

In particular have a read from the following chapter of the same book and follow the links: Three Characteristics

The DhO is all about practice and seeing these things for oneself with more emphasis on experiential knowledge as opposed to treating such notions like the 3 C's as philosophical ideas only. If you have more questions that aren't answered by Daniel's book or you would like to talk about practicing in order to see the 3 C's in your own meditative experience, ask away

Nick

RE: The Three Characteristics
Answer
12/15/11 10:21 PM as a reply to Cammil Taank.
here's one well-written take on the subject:

Thanissaro:

'Almost any book on Buddhism will tell you that the three characteristics—
the characteristic of inconstancy, the characteristic of stress or suffering, and the
characteristic of not-self—were one of the Buddha’s most central teachings. The
strange thing, though, is that when you look in the Pali Canon, the word for
“three characteristics,” ti-lakkhana, doesn’t appear. If you do a search on any
computerized version of the Canon and type in, say, the characteristic of
inconstancy, anicca-lakkhana, it comes up with nothing. The word’s not in the Pali
Canon at all. The same with dukkha-lakkhana and anatta-lakkhana: Those
compounds don’t appear. This is not to say that the concepts of anicca, dukkha,
and anatta don’t occur in the Canon; just that they’re not termed characteristics.
They’re not compounded with the word “characteristic.” The words they are
compounded with are perception, sañña—as in the perception of inconstancy, the
perception of stress, and the perception of not-self—and the word anupassana,
which means to contemplate or to keep track of something as it occurs. For
instance, aniccanupassana, to contemplate inconstancy, means to look for
inconstancy wherever it happens.
Now, it’s true that you’ll frequently find in the Canon the statements that all
things compounded or fabricated are inconstant, that they’re all stressful. And all
dhammas—all objects of the mind—are not-self. So if that’s the way things are,
why not just say that these are characteristic features of these things? Why make
a big deal about the language? Because words are like fingers, and you want to
make sure they point in the right direction—especially when they’re laying
blame, the way these three perceptions do. And in our practice, the direction
they point to is important for a number of reasons.
One is that the Buddha’s concern is not with trying to give an analysis of the
ultimate nature of things outside. He’s more interested in seeing how the
behavior of things affects our search for happiness. As he once said, all he taught
was suffering and the end of suffering. The suffering is essentially an issue of the
mind’s searching for happiness in the wrong places, in the wrong way. We look
for a constant happiness in things that are inconstant. We look for happiness in
things that are stressful and we look for “our” happiness in things that are notself,
that lie beyond our control. The three perceptions of inconstancy, stress, and
not-self are focused on our psychology, on how we can recognize when we’re
looking for happiness in the wrong way so that we can learn to look for
happiness in the right places, in the right ways. The contemplation of these three
themes, the use of these three perceptions, is aimed at finding happiness of a true
and lasting sort.'


http://www.dhammatalks.org/Archive/Writings/CrossIndexed/Published/Meditation4/070821%20Three%20Perceptions.pdf

RE: The Three Characteristics
Answer
7/2/19 10:25 AM as a reply to tarin greco.
Wow. That’s a great explanation of the 3 characteristics/perspectives. I was about to post something along the same lines; philosophizing on the 3 characteristics but now I see that’s a waste of time. Thanks for this. 

RE: The Three Characteristics
Answer
7/2/19 6:10 PM as a reply to Cammil Taank.
Cammil Taank:
Hi All,

I am curious about the philosophy behind the 3 characteristics. I have thought about them a lot, even before I had read anything to do with meditation and Buddha's teachings.

They seem to be steadfastly held truths, yet I am not convinced. I am happy to accept them, and have some faith, if they will enable my meditation to progress quickly, however they seem unnecessary.

To give you an idea of my thoughts, I do believe the nature of these three characteristics to be important, but I do not agree with the assumptions as to which side the truth lays.

Impermanence or Permanence ?
No Self or Everything is Self ?
Everything is Suffering or Everything is Joy ?

I believe that I will transcend these questions. I am not even sure they are really answerable. However, the 3 characteristics seem to take an unnecessarily pessimistic view of these natures.

I have experienced what in my mind was prolonged permanence, well before I started meditation. It was a profound moment/day in my life. Everything appeared to be joyous, and everything in the world, and everyone in the world, appeared to be "me". That event is the source of my doubts about the 3 characteristics.

I would be delighted and very grateful to hear your thoughts.

Best wishes,

Cammil


aloha cammil,

   You are perfectly right in realizing you have already transcended the three characteristics. One taste of nonduality dissipates the fog of declarative sentences, of discursive thought. Of course both sides of every issue contain both truth and falsehood.

  Where does that put you in relation to "others" whose realization has not penetrated to the nondual? 

  There is so much wisdom in the three marks it is always useful to recapitulate.

   Non-self. Why did the buddha tell us there is no self-nature to any dharma, any thing or object? Because we are obsessed with self is why. As soon as a small child is taught to say "me," she ascribes self-hood to everything she sees (think of disney movies, with talking doorknobs and toasters). The self-concept is hard to eradicate. I'm a silversmith in my current re-invention, and if you want to bend metal, you bend it a little too far and let it spring back. It is well known the buddha refused to talk about "the Self." The observation that "objects" have no self nature is inherent in the nature of objects, which require a subject to "exist." In Reality, everything which exists or doesn't exist is all nondually Self/self. "I am everything and nothing." This is a static conception of being, like parmenides: "nothing" - "really" - "changes." But even the idea of "static" implies "change." We are left with the inexpressible, with Silence. Nirvana.

   Impermanence. Again, the human tendency the buddha was trying to remedy is the tendency to cling to what is essentially impermanent, by trying to make it permanent. It was obvious to the buddha that trying to make what is by nature impermanent, permanent, is  a recipe for dissatisfaction. So he pointed out to people that whatever they conceive of cannot be an object that can be kept and held. Anything we may characterize is a passing fancy. Only such truths as that craving causes dissatisfaction and that liberation may be realized are permanent. As long as they are not de-mysticized and thus rendered ineffective. In nonduality, that everything is constantly in flux simply means that nothing changes. (Think over that one.)

   Dissatisfaction being the nature of "things" is the first realization that turns a person toward god, toward the wisdom teachings, the dhamma. The buddha used this as a wedge to gain the attention of the dissatisfied masses for his teaching. Desire is in fact of the nature of fear. One is afraid things will get worse, or they won't get better, and desires to grasp the fabric of reality and make alterations, one thinks and hopes for the better. This never ever ever works out, no matter what we think. We only create the demons we fear.

   In the light of nondual realization, the dialectic applies to any declaration whatever, which is to say, the opposite of any statement is also true, and by considering both sides one comes to a higher realization (and on up, as hegel showed). There may be self, in a manner of speaking, but it is not a thing and cannot be grasped by body-mind, only inferred. Not attached to a thing, this "self" is universal; not attached to existent "objects" (themselves only contingent), it itself does not "exist." This non-existent self which cannot be grasped cannot be thought of as "really existing" and so the buddha tells us. If nothing has the nature of self, that is, real individuality, then whatever we grasp is impermanent. To the sufis, one's own name is as written on the surface of water. And whatever we try to hold on to, trickles like sand through our fingers. What is once satisfactory becomes dissatisfactory, and what once was onerous we become used to and familiar with. 

   All teachings are just words, and once realization comes, you can forget the words. Even forgotten, especially when forgotten, words can express the silence within. It is a cliche in zen that the buddha taught for forty-nine years and never spoke a word.


terry



You're Still Gonna Die
(the macalmans)

You can quit smokin', but you're still gonna die
You might think I'm jokin', but you're still gonna die
Don't eat anything fatty or fried
And you'll get real healthy, but you're still gonna die

You can drink less booze, but you're still gonna die
All the weight you lose, but you're still gonna die
Cut out coffee and never get high
But you're still gonna, still gonna, still gonna die

You're still gonna, still gonna, still gonna die
You're still gonna, still gonna, still gonna die
You can even give aerobics one more try
But when the music stops playin', you're still gonna die

Slow down in your car, but you're still gonna die
Cut nicotine tar, but you're still gonna die
Lose that cellulite off your thigh
Get slimmer and trimmer, but you're still gonna die

Stop gettin' a tan, but you're still gonna die
Eat lots of oat bran, but you're still gonna die
Look for spaceships up in the sky
They might fly you to Mars, where you're still gonna die 

You're still gonna, still gonna, still gonna die
You're still gonna, still gonna, still gonna die
And all the Reeboks and the Nikes and the Adidas you buy
You can jog up to heaven, but you're still gonna die

Put a gym in the cellar, but you're still gonna die
Try high colonics, but you're still gonna die
Get yourself frozen and suspended in time
When they thaw you out, you're still gonna die

You can have safe sex, but you're still gonna die
You can switch to Crest, but you're still gonna die
Move to Scotland where it's sunny and dry
And you'll live to be a hundred, but you're still gonna die

You're still gonna, still gonna, still gonna die
You're still gonna, still gonna, still gonna die
So you better have some fun before you say bye-bye
'Cause you're still gonna, still gonna, still gonna die

You're still gonna, still gonna, still gonna die
You're still gonna, still gonna, still gonna die
So you better have some fun before you say bye-bye
'Cause you're still gonna, still gonna, still gonna die

    

RE: The Three Characteristics
Answer
7/2/19 8:21 PM as a reply to Cammil Taank.
Quick guide:

Impermanence: everything arise and pass away.

No-self: two ways of seeing no-self.

1- Observing that things are doing their one thing without your control. This can be observed with impermanence. Objects arrise do their thing and vanish.

2- Distance, usually we say "I/me/my" What is near us. Its about identity/identification.

My country, my town, my friends, my family, my body, my emotions, my sensations, my thoughts, my ideas, my belif system, my actions.

You can like more or less but that is what we identify our "I". More "near" more "dificult" to see the no-self aspect of it.

Suffering: wanting or not wanting. Clinging for desire (wanting) or rejection of the expirence (not wanting).

In both case we end with suffering. When something we like ends, die, finish we feel sadness or frustration and we cling for more.

When expirencing something we dont like we expirence discomfort, frustration, anger, sadness and we try to avoid the expirence or trying to change it.

The point is to observe this movments of wanting or not wanting and also see the no-self aspect of it. How identify/attatched Im with this desire/expirence...? 

RE: The Three Characteristics
Answer
7/9/19 1:29 AM as a reply to Travis McKinstry.
Travis McKinstry:
Wow. That’s a great explanation of the 3 characteristics/perspectives. I was about to post something along the same lines; philosophizing on the 3 characteristics but now I see that’s a waste of time. Thanks for this. 

It was wrong rather than amazing. Possibly, the writer might try to understand the teachings he tries to translate, such as this: https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an03/an03.134.than.html

RE: The Three Characteristics
Answer
7/9/19 1:34 AM as a reply to Nicky.
Nicky, I think I agree, but can you elaborate on why you think it's wrong?

RE: The Three Characteristics
Answer
7/9/19 1:44 AM as a reply to Cammil Taank.
Cammil Taank:

I have experienced what in my mind was prolonged permanence, well before I started meditation. It was a profound moment/day in my life. Everything appeared to be joyous, and everything in the world, and everyone in the world, appeared to be "me". That event is the source of my doubts about the 3 characteristics.

I would be delighted and very grateful to hear your thoughts.


Points to understand:

1. The three characteristics apply to "conditioned things" (aka "sankhara") and do not apply to "the unconditioned" (aka "visankhara"). For example, when a Buddha attains Nirvana, which is the destruction of afflictive emotions, this experience of the "unconditioned" is permanent happiness for the rest of the life of a Buddha. Therefore, Nirvana is permanent, is satisfactory happiness, however it is also not-self. 

2. The 2nd characteristic ("dukkham") is best described as "unsatisfactory" rather than "suffering". What this means is because conditioned things are impermanent, they do not have the capacity to provide permanent pleasure. Therefore, they are "unsatisfactory", "unreliable" or "imperfect". 

3. As for your experience everything in the world appeared to be "me", this was obviously not permanent. Therefore, it could not have been a real unchanging inherent "me". 

emoticon

RE: The Three Characteristics
Answer
7/9/19 2:11 AM as a reply to J C.
J C:
Nicky, I think I agree, but can you elaborate on why you think it's wrong?

What is not wrong is the statement the word 'lakkhana' is not used in the suttas. This is true yet this is irrelevant. 

What is wrong is AN 3.134 (otherwise AN 3.136 https://suttacentral.net/an3.136/en/sujato) says these three features ('characteristics') of the law of nature permanently and inherently apply to conditioned things, whether or not a Buddha arises who fully realises and reveals them. 

Contrary to what was written, the Buddha’s concern was to give an analysis of the ultimate nature of things outside. If things outside could be permanent, happiness & self (permamently possessed), then they would be valid objects of pursuit. For example, if the drug cocaine could provide permanent happiness then it could be pursued rather than shunned. 

Therefore, they are not mere "subjective mental perceptions" as Bhikkhu Thanissaro appears to claim. They are the inherent characteristic of conditioned things, including things "outside", such as a trillion dollars of gold bullion, that cannot bring permanent happiness.

Thus the Buddha taught "disenchantment towards all of the world" because nothing in "the world" can bring permanent happiness. Only Nirvana (end of craving) is permanent and true happiness. 

Regards emoticon

RE: The Three Characteristics
Answer
7/9/19 2:53 AM as a reply to Nicky.
That seems exactly right to me - Nicky 1, Thanissaro Bhikku 0!

Regarding dukkha, it's not just that things can't bring perfect pleasure or reliable satisfaction. It's more than that - even in the moment, even for the moment they exist, all things and all perceptions have an aspect of suffering to them, and that aspect is duality, also known as self.

RE: The Three Characteristics
Answer
7/9/19 9:07 AM as a reply to J C.
J C:
It's more than that - even in the moment, even for the moment they exist, all things and all perceptions have an aspect of suffering to them, and that aspect is duality, also known as self.

It is such a relief to finally have that experience validated. I have always known that. Things, sensations, experiences were always too far away, except for those moments when I could stop being responsive and merge with everything. They say we autistic people live in a glass bubble, but in that ”bubble” I could glimpse liberation. I think many autistic people intuitively know that.

RE: The Three Characteristics
Answer
7/9/19 12:10 PM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
Linda, how has stream entry changed the "too far away" feeling (if at all)?

RE: The Three Characteristics
Answer
7/9/19 3:45 PM as a reply to Nicky.
Nicky:

1. The three characteristics apply to "conditioned things" (aka "sankhara") and do not apply to "the unconditioned" (aka "visankhara"). For example, when a Buddha attains Nirvana, which is the destruction of afflictive emotions, this experience of the "unconditioned" is permanent happiness for the rest of the life of a Buddha. Therefore, Nirvana is permanent, is satisfactory happiness, however it is also not-self


Not-self doesn't apply to the unconditioned, except when it does?