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Anicca, dukkha, anatta

It’s quite common for anicca, dukkha and anatta to be referred to as The Three Marks or The Three Characteristics of all experience. I’ve also heard that anicca, dukkha and anatta are, in the suttas, referred to as perceptions. The logic is that if it’s a characteristic, it becomes a thing rather than a perception.

What are your thoughts about how to frame these? What do the suttas say?

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The suttas say…

SN12.66:12.1: Yepi hi keci, bhikkhave, etarahi samaṇā vā brāhmaṇā vā yaṃ loke piyarūpaṃ sātarūpaṃ taṃ aniccato passanti dukkhato passanti anattato passanti rogato passanti bhayato passanti,
SN12.66:12.1: There are ascetics and brahmins in the present who see the things that seem nice and pleasant in the world as impermanent, as suffering, as not-self, as diseased, and as dangerous.

I understand the escape from the marks of existence to be:

MN43:29.2: “Two conditions are necessary to emerge from the signless release of the heart:
MN43:29.3: focusing on all signs, and not focusing on the signless.

In other words, become aware and free of anicca, dukkha and anatta.

Looking at AN4.49, anicca, dukkha and anatta are characteristics rather than perceptions. Not seeing them is a misperception.

I do wonder though if dukkha here refers to inherent unsatisfactoriness, rather than to personal suffering.

Hmmm.
AN 4.49 says:
“These are the four perversions of perception, mind, and view.”
and
“These are the four corrections of perception, mind, and view”

It sounds to me like the Buddha is describing perceptions, both perverted and corrected. Could the four perverted and the four corrected be characteristics of perceptions?

My question now is, does it make any difference or just splitting hairs needlessly?

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I take “corrections of perception” here to mean seeing things as they really are, with right view, ie anicca, dukkha, anatta and asubha.

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In my understanding, I think the three marks are characteristics “intrinsic” (or objective) to every conditioned phenomena. The training on the Path allow us to develop the perception (or to notice) of such features, but the feature are there, whether we perceive them or not.
‘Marks’ is a concept indicating phenomena; ‘perception’ is “our” mental relation to such marks.

Kind regards!

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Yes, that’s how I read it. These characteristics are inherent qualities of conditioned phenomena, and the aim of practice is to see them clearly.

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“Monks, whether or not there is the arising of Tathagatas, this property stands — this steadfastness of the Dhamma, this orderliness of the Dhamma: All processes are inconstant.”—AN 3.134

Note that this refers to the dhamma itself as a universal law which includes the three characteristics. How we see a thing is a perception, and perceptions are based on formed views. The perception can be that objects are seen as permanent, in which case it is a perversion :

“Monks, there are these four perversions of perception, perversions of mind, perversions of view. Which four? ‘Constant’ with regard to the inconstant is a perversion of perception, a perversion of mind, a perversion of view. ‘Pleasant’ with regard to the stressful… ‘Self’ with regard to not-self… ‘Attractive’ with regard to the unattractive is a perversion of perception, a perversion of mind, a perversion of view. These are the four perversions of perception, perversions of mind, perversions of view.”—AN 4.49

Our task is to change the formed view of permanence by studying the cycle of birth, growth, maturity/ decline, ageing, death in conditioned things. Of the six exercises in mindfulness of the body (materiality in general), three deal with present existence and three with decline and death (MN 118). Further contemplation exercises on the impermanence of materiality are found beginning at Vism. XX 46.

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I wonder how far this question works the same in Pāli (or various other languages) as it does in English and languages related to English. In English we can an adjectival quality or characteristic of almost anything and transform it into a nominal perception, so as an English native speaker I’m constrained in how I can think about your question.

egs
The leaf is green. … I perceive green/the colour of the leaf … I perceive green.
The man is fat and greedy. … I perceive his fatness and greed.

(Easy to see how we get to vedanā from here. :wink: ).

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If the Dhamma as a universal law includes the three characteristics, then how can dukkha here mean personal suffering? If personal suffering is one aspect of a universal law, how can it cease?
In the context of the three characteristics, wouldn’t “inherently unsatisfactory” be a more appropriate rendition of dukkha than “personal suffering”?

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Do one really observe the 3 marks in the practise or those were just a kind of insight ? The 2 marks appear to be universal whereas dukkha not , an arahant suffer ?

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"Monks, whether or not there is the arising of Tathagatas, this property stands — this steadfastness of the Dhamma, this orderliness of the Dhamma: All processes are inconstant.

"The Tathagata directly awakens to that, breaks through to that. Directly awakening & breaking through to that, he declares it, teaches it, describes it, sets it forth. He reveals it, explains it, & makes it plain: All processes are inconstant.

"Whether or not there is the arising of Tathagatas, this property stands — this steadfastness of the Dhamma, this orderliness of the Dhamma: All processes are stressful.

"The Tathagata directly awakens to that, breaks through to that. Directly awakening & breaking through to that, he declares it, teaches it, describes it, sets it forth. He reveals it, explains it, & makes it plain: All processes are stressful.”—-AN 3.134

There are two main meanings to ‘dhamma,’ one is as a universal law, the other (more common) is the teaching. The uninstructed ordinary person experiences suffering without knowing it is suffering, or the release from it. The Buddhist practitioner becomes aware of the suffering in conditioned things, knows the way out of it and experiences freedom to a degree dependent on their practice.

So according to AN 3.134, “all processes are stressful” (dukkha), and this property stands regardless.
How can this property be personal suffering, given that the goal of practice is to end personal suffering? Something which “stands regardless” wouldn’t be able to cease, and there would be no escape from it.
Do you see the contradiction here?

Aha! :man_cartwheeling:

AN4.49:1.5: anattani, bhikkhave, attāti saññāvipallāso cittavipallāso diṭṭhivipallāso;
AN4.49:1.5: Taking not-self as self.

Thanks for that quote. Very helpful to understanding DN1.

The SN (especially SN 22 and SN 35) are more concerned with the logic of anicca-anatta-dukkha

The AN turns this into ‘perceptions’, i.e. meditation practices, where one puts the logic of the SN into practice.

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This recalls one of the exercises in recognizing impermanence in the Vism. The colour transition from a shoot to a leaf, to decline and death, that is birth/maturity/ageing, death. Due to the unwholesome roots, the untutored mind always prefers the mature stage (green leaf). The difference between the uninstructed and educated view is that the former sees what is immediate (the green leaf) and wrongly attributes continuity to that state assuming it will always be green, while the educated sees the present extrapolated into the future dissolution phase (green to neutral colours) and so experiences equanimity or dispassion. This also relates to the memory aspect of mindfulness, where what is known is applied to perceptions rather than an immediate mindless reaction (grasping).

“74. For that to begin with is pale pink; then in two or three days it becomes
dense red, again in two or three days it becomes dull red, next [brown,] the
colour of a tender [mango] shoot; next, the colour of a growing shoot; next, the
colour of pale leaves; next, the colour of dark green leaves. After it has become the
colour of dark green leaves, as it follows out the successive stages of such material
continuity, it eventually becomes withered foliage, and at the end of the year it
breaks loose from its stem and falls off.”—Vism XX 74

Incidentally people will have less suffering if they realize that coronavirus thrives in cold environments like the north of Italy or air-conditioned Singapore and cruise ships, whereas in countries like Indonesia and Cambodia where the minimum is above 20°Cs it is almost absent.

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The application of the term ‘characteristic’ (lakkhaṇa) to anicca, dukkha and anattā seems to be a late development. It’s not found anywhere in the Tipiṭaka other than in sutta titles and section headings.

The nearest you get to it is in AN 3.47, where “arising, vanishing and alteration while it persists” are denoted “characteristics that define the conditioned” (saṅkhata-lakkhaṇāni).

Conditioned

“Bhikkhus, there are these three characteristics that define the conditioned. What three? An arising is seen, a vanishing is seen, and its alteration while it persists is seen. These are the three characteristics that define the conditioned.

“Bhikkhus, there are these three characteristics that define the unconditioned. What three? No arising is seen, no vanishing is seen, and no alteration while it persists is seen. These are the three characteristics that define the unconditioned.”

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Wow! Fascinating point. :open_mouth:

So I guess that COVAD-19 is therefore a disease that afflicts the most voracious consumers in warming countries. :thinking:

Oddly, there’s a sense of balance here…indeed, the air is clearing over China.

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This is indeed very good point.

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