Anicca: Impermanence or "not-one's-owness"?

Nicca in Sanskrit is nitya ( नित्य). And it has two meanings in the Vedic litterature.

  • one’s own ( opp. to araṇa ) (RV) .
  • continual , perpetual , eternal (RV) .

अरण araṇa

  • foreign , distant (RV. AV. ŚBr.).

Can one be sure that the habitual use of “impermanence”, throughout all translators, and throughout their translations (in all occurences of anicca), is always proper.

Also, what could be, in your opinion, the relationship between the two concepts.
One has certainly remarked that impermanence and not-one’s-owness (aka, this is not mine) are two concepts dear to the Buddha.


I see a clear relationship between nicca and Atman, because there is the assumption of an essence or “soul” or whatever, something that one “owns” forever. I don’t see such a clear relationship between anicca and anatta in the suttas, because I don’t see how ownership relies on permanence.

Though it does depend on what exactly anatta is negating in the suttas. Is it negating Atman, or is it negating self? I suspect a Hindu would agree with the statement that the aggregates are not Atman, since they would be regarded as Maya, transitory, conditioned and illusory ( see the Phena Sutta ).

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Hi Whippet,

Let’s take SN 22.47 as a start.
Where it is question of self.

The uninstructed worldling sees the khandhas as following - like consciousness for instance:

consciousness as self (viññāṇaṃ attato samanupassati), self as possessing consciousness (viññāṇavantaṃ vā attānaṃ), or consciousness as in self (attani vā viññāṇaṃ), or self as in consciousness (viññāṇasmiṃ vā attānaṃ).

So regarding form…,…consciousness as self, they are not rid of the conceit “I am” (asmi).

Note that, as Olivelle says in his “The early Upanishads”, "atman/atta, is a term liable to misunderstanding and mistranslating because it can also mean the spiritual self or the inmost core of a human being, besides functioning as a mere reflexive pronoun."
Here, we are in the situation where the self as mere reflexive pronoun, believes that he has something to do with the khandhas.
Which (the latter), is what the late Vedic and Upanishadic folks used to believe (making it a spiritual self - a continuous self (owning the khandhas), ultimately reaching and merging with Brahma, in an eternal blissful state).

The process is in two phases.
First, there is the above - where atta (the mere reflexive pronoun,) thinks like an Upanishadic brahmin, who believes that the khandhas are (spiritually) “his”. Which triggers the conceit “I am”.
Secondly, IF this conceit “I am” does not vanish, then there is the descent of the ayatanani (the fields/grounds of sensory experience).
There is contact (transfer of property/phasso).
And ‘I am this’ [particular dhamma,] (‘ayamahamasmī’tipissa hoti) occurs to him.

This is the relationship between anicca(1) as anatta (not self/impermanent) & anicca(2), as na tumhākaṃ (not yours- aka anicca as “not one’s own”).
When one believes wrongly in a continuous and permanent spiritual self (in paticcasamuppada), he experiences things as “mine”.

But the Buddha says that there is no continuous and permanent atta, and that the things we experience are not “ours”.
And He proves it in different ways:

  • the khandhas (leading to dhammas and dhatus) cannot be controled (permanently changed).
  • khandhas (leading to dhammas and dhatus), have an inherent changing nature.
  • khandhas (leading to dhammas and dhatus), and atta’s internal ayatanani ( that actualize sensualy these dhammas and dhatus) are “not yours”.

Therefore the atta (as reflexive pronoun) cannot see himself as the spiritual atta, that is continuous, eternal and blissful. Nor can atta sees himself as having anything to do with the khandhas (leading to dhammas and dhatus).

And the well-learned noble disciple regards these khandhas, contemplate and examine them as they are: not self and not belonging to self.

SN 22.59 shows this very clearly.
The anicca of atta and the anicca of khandhas.

No control, as you put it rightly. Because, primarily, it is not ours. It is “not yours” (na tumhākaṃ), says the Buddha.

So, for instance, is dhammavicaya (the vipassana process of a purified insight, after the citta has been transcended and liberated, ) primarily concerned by the “not ownership” of the khandhas (SN 22.33) and internal ayatanas (SN 35.138) - or by their impermanence?
Or if by both, in which order - and when?

SN 22.89 tells us that we must first get rid of the “not ownership” (na tumhākaṃ/anicca) - the “I am this”.
Then of the “I am”.


As for the Pheṇa­piṇḍ­ūpama sutta, see the Pali and Chinese versions side by side here.

What is important is the following:

The Pali says:
“However one may ponder it
And carefully investigate it,
It appears but hollow and void
When one views it carefully.
Yathā yathā nijjhāyati,
yoniso upaparikkhati;
Rittakaṃ tucchakaṃ hoti,
yo naṃ passati yoniso.
Note: rittaka combined with tucchaka as a standing phrase denotes voidness (रिक्त rikta - AV. ) & vainness (तुच्छ्य tucchya: empty , vain - RV. / later tuccha).

While the Chinese says:
“Carefully attending to it from all sides,
with right mindfulness examining it well,
it is found to be insubstantial and without solidity, there is no a self or what belongs to a self in this bodily aggregate, which is dukkha.

What is meant here, is that one cannot find any substance and solidity in a body that falls apart at death.

You should also read the following to see that this is not emptiness (as suññatā). But the mere ineptitude and hollowness of vanity.
For if everything was empty with suññatā, there would not be the imperishable state.
It is the continuity (santāno,) which is the problem. There is no solid substance, nor even essence (sāro) into that.
The illusion is in the continuity, says the Pali.

When vitality, heat, and consciousness
Depart from this physical body,
Then it lies there cast away:
Food for others, without volition.
Āyu usmā ca viññāṇaṃ,
yadā kāyaṃ jahantimaṃ;
Apaviddho tadā seti,
parabhattaṃ acetanaṃ.

Such is this continuum,
This illusion, beguiler of fools.
It is taught to be a murderer;
Here no substance can be found.
Etādisāyaṃ santāno,
māyāyaṃ bālalāpinī;
Vadhako esa akkhāto,
sāro ettha na vijjati.

Make a refuge for yourself;
kareyya saraṇattano
Yearning for the imperishable state.
patthayaṃ accutaṃ padan”ti.

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That is a difficult question to answer without having gone through every single one of those occurrences. I think there is pretty strong evidence that impermanence is the correct translation for anicca (SN 22.102).

It would be much easier to show, if such a thing actually exists, a place where it is clearly an inappropriate translation, or at least a place where it may hint in that direction.

Otherwise I see no reason to even engage in such a cumbersome endeavor as to check every single occurrence to make sure there cannot be the shadow of a doubt anywhere.

Well, we could start with the principal ones with parallels:

Khandha Saṃyutta:
SN 22.9, 12, 15, 26, 40, 43, 45, 46, 49, 51, 55, 57, 59, 79 to 88, 93, 94, 100, 102, 122, 147, 150 to 152.

Bojjhaṅga Saṃyutta:
SN 46.71, 72.

Ānāpāna Saṃyutta:
SN 54.1, 10, 13.

Sotāpatti Saṃyutta:
SN 55.3, 21, 54.

But one thing for sure, anicca also means “not one’s own”.

One should compare the 13th step in anapanasati, as well as the dhammavicaya sambojjangho - WITH - the two steps in SN 22.89, concerning the riddance of, first the “this is not mine” (anicca as “not one’s own”), and secondly of anicca as what looks again as the first part of SN 22.47, viz. taking the khandhas as (the impermanent) self; aka the “I am”.

In other words, where does insight of the arising and fading of the khandhas takes place in these two processes?
Doesn’t it looks more like being aware of the “not one’s owness” of these external khandhas first.

First "these external khandhas and their conditionned dhammas or dhatus, are not mine.

Secondly, this internal dhamma that I have just builded up with the mano and with the help of the anapanasati process, is not what “I am”.
For there is impermanence in this dhamma. And it can’t be an eternally blissful self kind of pleasure, but just transitory piti and sukka, that I will have to get rid of anyway, in the fourth jhana (for a more subtle experience).

Impermanence of the khandhas (the usual interpretation), is so obvious, that I hardly see what could be seen more in vipassana.
I am going to be very straightforward here, but men are very aware, very early, of what impermanence of pleasure in sex means. Men don’t need insight or a drawing to know that it only lasts for a “moment”.

Impermanence of khandhas (& their) dhammas are really obvious. And that every bhikkus in the suttas knows.

  • "Is form impermanent ? "
  • " Yes Tathagata!"

All of them don’t have their citta liberated. Nor do the householders, to who these usual questions are asked.
However, finding that this is not one’s owness, is another matter.

I don’t think you have read my previous post; otherwise you would not have had asked that question.

I still haven’t seen any convincing evidence for this, while there is strong evidence it means something else entirely (SN 22.102, which is in your own list). Why not starting with your evidence from EBTs, and then maybe we can discuss the rest? Please be concise and straightforward. Thank you.

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SN 22.102 has a Chinese parallel that does not mention the “I am” case.

We have the same problem with SN 22.83 for instance, where the Pali says “I am”, while the Chinese mentions “I am this”.

I believe these suttas with bad parallels, have to be put aside.

Anyway, I think that both meanings of anicca (impermanence & not-one’s-own) are very intricated.

I think the “equation” is somewhat:
Impermanence (anicca) of khandhas => THIS is not mine. THIS I am not. => It’s not yours (not one’s owness/anicca) .

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By such a token, since there are hardly any perfect parallels, you may as well put almost all suttas aside.

Still no evidence from EBTs.

The way I understand Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta has to be understood as one group.
If you try to understand in isolation you will end up with partial understanding of what Buddha taught.
The reason being even non-Buddhist understand the Anicca Dukkha and Anatta.

I suppose anicca as “not-one’s-own” has a lot to do with vipassanā (to see in different places, so to speak) .

विपश्यन vipaśyana [act. vipaś]
विपश् vipaś [ vi-√ paś ]

  • to see in different places or in detail , discern , distinguish RV. AV. AitBr. KaṭhUp.

√ पश् paś [linked to dṛś]

  • sight or eye (RV.)
  • behold , look at , observe , perceive , notice (RV)
  • to see with the spiritual eye (RV., Br., ŚāṅkhŚr.)

When they meditated on the udgitha as the eye, the demons afflicted that with evil. Therefore with it one sees both the sightly and the unsightly, for it is afflicted with evil.
atha ha cakṣurudgīthamupāsāṃcakrire taddhāsurāḥ pāpmanā vividhustasmāttenobhayaṃ paśyati darśanīyaṃ ādarśanīyaṃ ca pāpmanā hyetadviddham
ChUp. 1.2.4
(life [breath] as the udgitha)

Let’s thanks, and have metta for the demons, for that matter.
Let’s breath to vipassanā - Know what is “not ours” (anicca). Go beyond that breath. Cross the flood of life & death. And get away from that evil world (kama loka).
No need for a secretive initiation, in a binding silence.

Instead, it says

The inconstancy-realizer can establish selfless thoughts. The godly Buddha’s son who dwells in selfless thoughts has his heart cut-off from self-pride and there follows the attainment of nirvāṇa

It is 我想, ātmamāna. It’s parallel in the Pāli is at

sabbaṃ asmimānaṃ samūhanati.

It is a rather loose parallel.

I translated this as “inconstancy realizer”.

無 not
常 constant
想 think
者 placed after a verb to indicate the one who does the verb

無常 would be your Chinese anitya. Not much about ownership.

The Chinese here has a direct parallel in “self-think”, if “group-think” can be a coinage.


Things are getting a bit absurd here.

What I am trying to imply here, is that, maybe the translators did use “impermanent”, in certain contexts, where it should be “not one’s own”.
And you are all throwing at me instances where the translation is “impermanence”.
Isn’t that a bit ludicrous?

I only agree a 100%, as far as impermanence is concerned, when there is a mention of “change” in the context.

Also, “not-one’s-own” ( “not yours”) is a pretty important concept in Buddhism. I have a hard time to understand this poorly argumented outcry.

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Let’s keep it simple: can you provide clear cut evidence of this claim [edit: from the EBTs]?

Let’s take SN 22.122 @silence .
You could very well replace impermanence by not-one’s-own.
Because, in this context, “alien” is also mentioned - and moreover, pa-loka has also in Sanskrit pra-lopa, the meaning of absence , (lopa ŚrS.).
And, if we take ruj (luj) as the root, it means to afflict, to cause pain (VS. MBh.)

So the translation would be:

A virtuous bhikkhu should attend to the five aggregates subject to clinging as
not-one’s-own, as suffering, as a disease, as a tumour, as a dart, as misery, as an affliction, as alien, as (an abscence) causing pain , as empty, as nonself.
… pañcupādānakkhandhā aniccato dukkhato rogato gaṇḍato sallato aghato ābādhato parato palokato suññato anattato yoniso manasi kātabbā.

It does not mean that the khandhas are not also impermanent.
It means that both qualities should be looked upon; and not just one.
Depending on the “I am this” and the “I am” riddance attempts.

Maybe SN 12.66 might also help you understand what I mean.

In its Sanskrit parallel SF 158, kṣemata (क्षेम kṣema) means residing (RV.), ātmīyataḥ (आत्मीय ātmīya) means “one’s own” .

Well since we’re making context dependent conjectures, one could argue that in the list of 11 words we are talking about, ‘alien’ (parato) is only 2 words away from anattato and a full 7 words away from aniccato, and should therefore be rather associated with the former than the latter:

“Reverend Koṭṭhita, an ethical mendicant should properly attend to the five grasping aggregates as impermanent, as suffering, as diseased, as an abscess, as a dart, as misery, as an affliction, as alien, as falling apart, as empty, as not-self.

“Sīlavatāvuso, koṭṭhika, bhikkhunā pañcupādānakkhandhā aniccato dukkhato rogato gaṇḍato sallato aghato ābādhato parato palokato suññato anattato yoniso manasi kātabbā.

I see no ‘I am’ or ‘I am this’ neither in the Pali nor in the Chinese version. Once again, I have no clue as to what you are talking about here.

Yes, and ātmīyataḥ comes right after ātmata which already refers to the self, and a full 4 words after dhruvataḥ which means impermanence:

dhruvataḥ kṣemata ārogyata ātmata ātmīyataḥ samanvadrākṣus te tṛṣṇāṃ prāvardhayiṣuḥ

Why not then linking ātmīyataḥ to the adjacent ātmata rather than to the distant dhruvataḥ?

It makes no sense to me.

SN 22.83 is 生法計是我

clinging to dharmāḥ[, one] plans-out this self

& 生是我

clinging to this self

Venerable Anālayo does not want to translate 我 as “self”. He wants to render it as “me”, and 是我 as “I am this” rather than “this self”, it seems.

This makes sense, since that is the normal usage of 我. He is also likely making use of information from parallels to find readings that may not be entirely intuitive from looking at strictly the Chinese alone.

For instance, 生 is a bizarre choice for “clinging”, but thats obviously what it means here. How Ven Anālayo found this reading I wouldn’t know.

Wiktionary lists a certain definition:

(dialectal) to set up; to put in; to settle

I wonder if this contemporary dialectal meaning of 生 stems from an earlier more mainstream usage?

Well, here we are talking about satta. We are talking about clinging aggregates. We are talking about the “I am this”.
If you haven’t yet understood that, there is not much I can do.

Now I could go on saying things like: why does “falling apart” (palokato) comes between “alien” (parato) and “empty” (suññato) ?!?! :thinking:

Sure, because what I say is to link ātmīyataḥ to the adjacent ātmata. :thinking:

Now, not-one’s-own (not yours), is a very important concept in Buddhism.
As important as getting out of the kama loka.

Sorry man, I have misunderstood your argument, then. But I have even more trouble wrapping my head around how linking ātmīyataḥ to the adjacent ātmata helps you bolster the case that anicca = “not one’s own”.

Anyway, I think I have made more than due diligence to investigate this claim. Have a nice day :slight_smile:


在 means “present” or “exist” .
I think therefore I exist.