Aniccaṃ = Impermanent

Greetings in Dhamma!
I am currently engaging with a member of the Waharaka movement in Sri Lanka, which have some quite unorthodox philological takes of certain Pāḷi words with which I do not agree. Among their peculiar interpretations is that aniccaṃ ultimately refers to “non-liking” or “not according to one’s wishes” (i.e., what would be proper Pāḷi: anicchaṃ).

After a quick search, I found one instance in the canon that gives enough context to suggest that aniccaṃ means actually impermanence. This passage is spoken by Brahma: “This is permanent, this is everlasting, this is eternal, this is total, this is not subject to pass away” (idañhi, mārisa, niccaṃ, idaṃ dhuvaṃ, idaṃ sassataṃ, idaṃ kevalaṃ, idaṃ acavanadhammaṃ). You can see the synonyms for niccaṃ (permanent) are all about time, except one (kevalaṃ = total). So, “impermanent” for aniccaṃ makes more sense given the above explanation.

The aṭṭhakathā tradition is specific in its explanation of aniccaṃ: “[Sees] as impermanent [means]: as non-existence after having been, as possessing arising and passing away, as temporary, as opposed to permanence” (aniccatoti hutvā abhāvato udayabbayavantato tāvakālikato niccapaṭipakkhato).

My question would be: Could you share any passages (preferably canonical in this case since it most easily accepted) that show that aniccaṃ means “impermanent” or otherwise?

Thanks a lot!
Ṭhānuttamo

Edit:

I found another passage from the Abhidhamma-piṭaka that explains aniccaṃ in this way: “What is that state of impermanence of that materiality? That which is the destruction, disappearance, breaking up, breaking apart, state of impermanence, vanishing of materiality; this is the state of impermanence of that materiality” (Dhammasaṅgaṇī) – katamaṃ taṃ rūpaṃ rūpassa aniccatā? yo rūpassa khayo vayo bhedo paribhedo aniccatā antaradhānaṃ — idaṃ taṃ rūpaṃ rūpassa aniccatā.

From Ven. Sāriputta’s Niddesa, this is a list of synonyms (all relating to time) in which nicca occurs, showing that it itself relates to time as well: “always, every time, at all times, constantly (niccakālaṃ), permanently” – sadā sabbadā sabbakālaṃ niccakālaṃ dhuvakālaṃ.

In the Vinaya-piṭaka, we also find an instance of Mahānāma inviting the Saṅgha for medicines for life (saṅghaṃ yāvajīvaṃbhesajjena pavāretuṃ). This is followed by a refusal of scrupulous monks, which led the Buddha to fromally allow the acceptance of permanent invitations (niccapavāraṇā). The context clearly shows that the matter is about time and that nicca must be understood in the sense of “permanent”. Hence, we get “impermanence” for aniccaṃ.

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I think it is really important to note that while you will find references to change, arising and falling when describing anicca, it foremost applies to what is dear, which is most difficult to be understood as being subject to change when such things are being enjoyed:

”You should develop the perception of impermanence to give up the view that things are gratifying…” - AN 6.112

”When the perception of impermanence is developed and cultivated it’s very fruitful and beneficial. It culminates in freedom from death and ends in freedom from death.’ That’s what I said, but why did I say it? When a mendicant often meditates with a mind reinforced with the perception of impermanence, their mind draws back from material possessions, honors, and fame.” - AN 7.49

So, while it may be of some benefit to talk about constant change, the fact remains that such an aspect is not what is encountered. We don’t encounter “constant change”, we encounter enduring possessions and gratification. There are no instructions in the suttas that advise to deny a thing’s presence in order to be less enamored with it. Not at all.

This is the reason why King Mahāsudassana did not want to be encouraged to dwell on his possessions when he was on his deathbed:

‘Sire, you have 84,000 cities, with the royal capital of Kusāvatī foremost. Arouse desire for these! Take an interest in life!’

And she likewise urged the king to live on by taking an interest in all his possessions as described above.

When the queen had spoken, the king said to her, ‘For a long time, my queen, you have spoken to me with loving, desirable, pleasant, and agreeable words. And yet in my final hour, your words are undesirable, unpleasant, and disagreeable!’

‘Then how exactly, Your Majesty, am I to speak to you?’

‘Like this, my queen: “Sire, we must be parted and separated from all we hold dear and beloved. Don’t pass away with concerns. Such concern is suffering, and it’s criticized. Sire, you have 84,000 cities, with the royal capital of Kusāvatī foremost. Give up desire for these! Take no interest in life!”’ And so on for all the king’s possessions.

When the king had spoken, Queen Subhaddā cried and burst out in tears. Wiping away her tears, the queen said to the king: ‘Sire, we must be parted and separated from all we hold dear and beloved. Don’t pass away with concerns. Such concern is suffering, and it’s criticized. Sire, you have 84,000 cities, with the royal capital of Kusāvatī foremost. Give up desire for these! Take no interest in life!’ And she continued, listing all the king’s possessions.”

She’s reminding him what was always the case with what was dear and beloved.

Later on in the sutta we find this great exposition:

All those conditioned phenomena have passed, ceased, and perished. So impermanent are conditions, so unstable are conditions, so unreliable are conditions. This is quite enough for you to become disillusioned, dispassionate, and freed regarding all conditions.

Note, the fact that conditions are subject to change is “quite enough”. Doesn’t seem to have anything to do with “non-liking”. The fact is that these things are likable, but even so, they are subject to change and interest in them should be abandoned.

Hope this helps.

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Hi, maybe this is appropriate?

Anicca Sutta SN 36.9

Tisso imā, bhikkhave, vedanā aniccā saṅkhatā paṭicca·samuppannā khaya·dhammā vaya·dhammā virāga·dhammā nirodha·dhammā. Katamā tisso? Sukhā vedanā, dukkhā vedanā, adukkham·asukhā vedanā.

In regard to SDC’s interesting comment above, it can be said that ‘anicca’ is not about a scientific description of phenomena and constant flux, but much more about the constantly dissatisfactory quality of things when taken as I - me - mine.

The ‘not according to one’s wishes’ theory about the word is both etymologically incorrect (probably due to an incorrectly aspirated ‘ch’) and wide of the mark in meaning.

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More precisely, it is connected with self-identification. Self, which is associated with perception of permanence, cannot be identified with what is impermanent, and so emphasizing impermanence, of eye (and so on) Lord Buddha shows to puthujjana, that he is a victim of wrong self -identification, and interpretation of experience in terms “I see”, “I hear” is dependently arisen upon ignorance.

Sutta says that one who sees the eye as impermanent, has a right view, but if we ask such question to common Buddhist, or for that matter to any puthujjana, he would confirm that it is so, that eye Indeed is impermanent.

Definitely annica means impermanence, but to see impermanence means much more, than objective impermanence of things, which anyone sees without any problem.

The following pages (23-31) containing EBTs (such as SN/SA suttas) on “Emptiness from the Viewpoint of Conditioned Genesis as Impermanence” may be useful:

Pages 23-31 from Notion of Emptiness in Early Buddhism Choong Mun-keat.pdf (5.0 MB)

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iti kho, bhikkhu, sabbe te saṅkhārā atītā niruddhā vipariṇatā. evaṃ aniccā kho, bhikkhu, saṅkhārā.

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I could not find this exact unattributed passage, but found something similar in DN 17, Mahā-Sudassana Sutta:

‘‘Passānanda, sabbete saṅkhārā atītā niruddhā vipariṇatā. Evaṃ aniccā kho, ānanda, saṅkhārā; evaṃ addhuvā kho, ānanda, saṅkhārā…

‘‘Aniccā vata saṅkhārā, uppādavayadhammino;

Uppajjitvā nirujjhanti, tesaṃ vūpasamo sukho’’ti.

Rhys-Davids translation:
“See, Ānanda, how all these things are now past, are ended, have vanished away. Thus impermanent, Ānanda, are component things; thus transitory, Ānanda, are component things;…"


“How transient are all component things!
Growth is their nature and decay:
They are produced, they are dissolved again:
Their stilling is happiness.”

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Sorry, above is from Gomayapiṇḍasuttaṃ

Brahmajālasuttaṃ - te mayaṃ aniccā addhuvā appāyukā…

See also Sattasūriyasuttaṃ

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Yes, this is spoken by the Buddha in DN17 and SN15.20, and most famously by Sakka in DN16 after the Buddha’s passing. SuttaCentral

It’s the most recognisable chant at funerals…

Aniccā vata saṅkhārā,
uppādavayadhammino;
Uppajjitvā nirujjhanti,
tesaṁ vūpasamo sukho”ti.

Oh! Conditions are impermanent,
their nature is to rise and fall;
having arisen, they cease;
their stilling is true bliss.”

While it doesn’t use the term annica, realising that all conditioned things are impermanent is crucial to stream entry, i.e. understanding the Noble Truths. See, for example, SN56.11:

And while this discourse was being spoken, the stainless, immaculate vision of the Dhamma arose in Venerable Koṇḍañña:
Imasmiñca pana veyyākaraṇasmiṁ bhaññamāne āyasmato koṇḍaññassa virajaṁ vītamalaṁ dhammacakkhuṁ udapādi:
“Everything that has a beginning has an end.”
“yaṁ kiñci samudayadhammaṁ sabbaṁ taṁ nirodhadhamman”ti.
SuttaCentral

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Here is an analysis of various Waharaka-isms, including this one, by Ven Dhammmanando:
viewtopic.php?p=421520#p421520
There is quite a lot of discussion on that thread…

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Just saying, I think the OP is not looking for an education, but clear unambiguous passages that hits the bull’s eye, so to speak. So no one can play the amaravikkepavadin. Well not easily anyway.

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All those conditioned phenomena have passed, ceased, and perished. So impermanent are conditions, so unstable are conditions, so unreliable are conditions. This is quite enough for you to become disillusioned, dispassionate, and freed regarding all conditions.

Thank you. Yes, that’s a strong passage and a good observation.

This one contains some ambiguity since we also find saṅkhata, which could relate also to something else that is impermanence.

Agreed.

:+1:t2: :pray:t2:

That’s a strong one. Thanks.

Will save this one. :+1:t2:

Exactly.

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Hi Green, I think it is important to keep in mind the level where impermanence is to be discerned: sabbe saṅkhārā aniccā, and when it comes to sense objects/dhammas, the instruction is different: sabbe dhammā anattā. So, yeah, while the impermanence of a sense base does imply that a sense object is also subject to change, the discernment must always reach through the object, and seek its necessary condition, its source. And it is on this level that impermanence applies. (That is why the DN 17 passage is so potent: possessions are a source of great sorrow for those who retain great concern for them, which the Queen mistook as a potential source of strength for her dying husband. What he wanted to be reminded of was to abandon the concern so the possessions would not be a source of sorrow. If the impermanence applied purely to the objects, the king would simply have to destroy his possessions to destroy his sorrow, but it goes without saying why that would not have helped.)

To consider the implications of impermanence with these two different levels grouped as one seems to miss the preciseness of the instructions, not to mention calls into question the usefulness of all those phenomena you mentioned. Not nibbana, of course - being unconditioned (without an immediate saṅkhārā), there is no basis to which aniccā would apply anyway.

Apologies if this is going off topic, but it could be relevant considering what is being argued by the Waharaka movement. This idea of not-liking is not an option if these two levels are not understood - in fact, non-liking for such a person would simply amount to what they’ve identified as unwanted, which really concerns feeling/craving. Impermanence isn’t even recognized in such a case.

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I must warn you that no amount of canonical excerpts would convince a Waharaka follower, for the simple reason that you would be speaking two different languages (even though the vocabulary might seem identical). The article linked here might be of interest:

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Further to the above, in a similar conversation that happened a few years ago (when I wasn’t aware of the true implications of Waharaka bhaṣā nirukti) I quoted multiple texts, as follows, to no avail:

Let’s take one of these EBTs, one that is very well known and also happens to be just the second discourse in the Buddha’s entire life of teaching: Anattalakkhaṇa Sutta, delivered to the first five disciples, who attained Arahantship upon listening to it. Here are parallel excerpts from ancient texts as recorded by various traditions in their languages:

  1. From Pāli Anattalakkhaṇa Sutta (SN 22.59) of Theravāda:

“Taṃ kiṃ maññatha, bhikkhave, rūpaṃ niccaṃ vā aniccaṃ vā”ti
“Aniccaṃ, bhante”.

Translation:
“What do you think, bhikkhus, is form [niccaṃ] or [aniccaṃ]?”
“[Aniccaṃ], venerable sir.”

  1. From Sanskrit Catuṣpariṣat Sūtra (SF 259) of Mūlasarvāstivāda:

“Kiṃ manyadhve bhikṣavaḥ: rūpaṃ nityam anityam vā?”
“Anityaṃ bhadanta.”

  1. From Sanskrit Saṅghabhedavastu of Mūlasarvāstivāda:

“Kiṃ manyadhve bhikṣavo rūpaṃ nityam anityaṃ vā”
“Anityaṃ bhadanta.”

  1. From Sanskrit Mahāvastu (San Lo Mvu 95) of Lokuttaravāda:

“Sacen manyatha bhikṣavo rūpaṃ nityaṃ vā anityaṃ vā”
“Anityaṃ hi taṃ bhagavaṃ.”

As seen in this simple example, Aniccaṃ, Anityaṃ and Anityam are cognates of closely related languages, with identical meaning. Thus, the argument that Anicca doesn’t mean Anitya is easily refuted.

But what if Anicca is indeed identical to Anitya, but the current meaning of these words are different from the original intended meaning? From my experience, this is the fallback argument of the Waharaka followers, which has some merit too: as the Buddha explains in Kinti Sutta (MN 103), disciples may agree about the phrasing but disagree about the meaning.

To unravel the meaning of Anicca, let’s look at some unambiguous instances in the cannon. In the translations I will leave nicca/anicca untranslated so as to not beg the question.

  1. Nandakovāda Sutta (MN 146)

“Seyyathāpi, bhaginiyo, telappadīpassa jhāyato telampi aniccaṃ vipariṇāmadhammaṃ, vaṭṭipi aniccā vipariṇāmadhammā, accipi aniccā vipariṇāmadhammā, ābhāpi aniccā vipariṇāmadhammā. Yo nu kho, bhaginiyo, evaṃ vadeyya: ‘amussa telappadīpassa jhāyato telampi aniccaṃ vipariṇāmadhammaṃ, vaṭṭipi aniccā vipariṇāmadhammā, accipi aniccā vipariṇāmadhammā; yā ca khvāssa ābhā sā niccā dhuvā sassatā avipariṇāmadhammā’ti; sammā nu kho so, bhaginiyo, vadamāno vadeyyā”ti? “No hetaṃ, bhante”. “Taṃ kissa hetu”? “Amussa hi, bhante, telappadīpassa jhāyato telampi aniccaṃ vipariṇāmadhammaṃ, vaṭṭipi aniccā vipariṇāmadhammā, accipi aniccā vipariṇāmadhammā; pagevassa ābhā aniccā vipariṇāmadhammā”ti.

Translation: “Sisters, suppose an oil-lamp is burning: its oil is [aniccaṃ] and subject to change, its wick is [aniccaṃ] and subject to change, its flame is [aniccaṃ] and subject to change, and its radiance is [aniccaṃ] and subject to change. Now would anyone be speaking rightly who spoke thus: ‘While this oil-lamp is burning, its oil, wick, and flame are [aniccaṃ] and subject to change, but its radiance is [niccā], everlasting, eternal, not subject to change’?”

“No, venerable sir. Why is that? Because, venerable sir, while that oil-lamp is burning, its oil, wick, and flame are [aniccaṃ] and subject to change, so its radiance must be [aniccaṃ] and subject to change.”

  1. Puppha Sutta (SN 22.94):

“Rūpaṃ, bhikkhave, niccaṃ dhuvaṃ sassataṃ avipariṇāmadhammaṃ natthisammataṃ loke paṇḍitānaṃ; ahampi taṃ ‘natthī’ti vadāmi.”

Translation: “Form that is [niccaṃ], stable, eternal, not subject to change: this the wise in the world agree upon as not existing, and I too say that it does not exist.”

  1. Gomayapiṇḍa Sutta (SN 22.96)

Atha kho bhagavā parittaṃ gomayapiṇḍaṃ pāṇinā gahetvā taṃ bhikkhuṃ etadavoca: “ettakopi kho, bhikkhu, attabhāvapaṭilābho natthi nicco dhuvo sassato avipariṇāmadhammo sassatisamaṃ tatheva ṭhassati.

Translation: Then the Blessed One took up a little lump of cowdung in his hand and said to that bhikkhu: “Bhikkhu, there is not even this much individual existence that is [nicca], stable, eternal, not subject to change, and that will remain the same just like eternity itself.”

  1. Nakhasikhā Sutta (SN 22.97)

Atha kho bhagavā parittaṃ nakhasikhāyaṃ paṃsuṃ āropetvā taṃ bhikkhuṃ etadavoca: “ettakampi kho, bhikkhu, rūpaṃ natthi niccaṃ dhuvaṃ sassataṃ avipariṇāmadhammaṃ sassatisamaṃ tatheva ṭhassati.

Translation: Then the Blessed One took up a little bit of soil in his fingernail and said to that bhikkhu: “Bhikkhu, there is not even this much form that is [niccaṃ], stable, eternal, not subject to change, and that will remain the same just like eternity itself.

  1. Suddhika Sutta (SN 22.98)

“Natthi kho, bhikkhu, kiñci rūpaṃ yaṃ rūpaṃ niccaṃ dhuvaṃ sassataṃ avipariṇāmadhammaṃ sassatisamaṃ tatheva ṭhassati.”

Translation: “Bhikkhu, there is no form that is [niccaṃ], stable, eternal, not subject to change, and that will remain the same just like eternity itself.”

It doesn’t get any clearer than this, that whatever meaning of “nicca” corresponds to being stable, eternal, not subject to change and remaining the same like the eternity itself. One might as well go ahead and say that “anicca” means impermanence.

Both in phrasing and meaning, anicca means impermanence.

This, of course, may still leave one unsatisfied, because it doesn’t explain how this impermanence of things can cause suffering, when those are things we don’t care about. The short answer is that the assutavā puthujjano, the uninstructed worldling, is simply incapable of even imagining something that is not his or hers. A clue may be found in the all encompassing definition of pañcupādānakkhandā (five aggregates of clinging).

That, however, is a discussion for another day.

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Anyone who understands Pali well (and follows a bit of logic) can see that both the Waharakas and traditional Theravada are wrong about their understanding of the three lakkhanas and how they mean what they mean logically.

Let’s first look at the word meanings.

Skt. anitya (= Pali anicca) = opposite of nitya (= Pali nicca)

  1. non-innate / not one’s own (in Vedic Sanskrit),
  2. non-lasting / unstable / temporal

Skt. anātman (= Pali anattā)

  1. Something other than oneself (ātman).
    Note: Ātman here means what it usually meant to the Vedantins of the Upanishads and was not used in a novel sense by the Buddha.

Skt. Duḥkha (= Pali dukkha) = absence of Sukha (Skt & Pali)

  1. Dis-comfort, dis-ease, a difficult situation, suffering

Now to answer the question you’ve posed above –

  • a. The Pali canon says all the above 3 are interlinked with one another
  • b. Dukkha is a lived experience - it arises and recedes and is therefore temporal (anicca)
  • c. For Dukkha to arise, there are conditions. Without conditioning factors being present, it cannot arise.
  • d. For Dukkha to cease, there are conditions. Without conditioning factors being present, it cannot cease.
  • e. Dukkha does arise and cease in the experience of all beings even without human volition. The question is - when arising and receding are attributes of temporality, how to uproot dukkha permanently such that it cannot grow back or arise again?
  • f. To uproot dukkha permanently, and to separate it from the lived experience of the experiencer, it is necessary to mentally distinguish dukkha (the experience) from dukkhī (the experiencer of the dukkha).
  • g. The one that experiences the dukkha is the psychophysical body (i.e. the living being with its physical body and its mental and sensory perceptions). When a worldling says “I”, “me” or “myself”, this is what they identify themselves with. This is what they call their “self” (ātman). In the worldview of the worldling, their self-identity is limited to their body and their sensory experiences - that is how they sense themselves.
  • h. The Buddha (in my understanding) says that the body is anicca (unstable, transient, temporal) and no part of one’s psychophysical body is fit to be called “oneself” (attā).
  • i. Identifying oneself with something that is anicca (in this case - the thing that is anicca is primarily one’s own psychophysical thinking-sensing body) conditions dukkha to arise when the body ages, gets dis-eased, discomforted, and dies.
  • j. It is not just one’s own body that is anicca, on the other hand, every “thing” is anicca. Therefore the Buddha suggests not to “own” any thing, give up everything voluntarily lest its eventual destruction/loss lead to dukkha. He therefore gives up his relatives, his life, his possessions, everything and becomes a bhikkhu (a beggar). Since he has given up his house and his posessions, he has nowhere to live so he wanders around as a paribbājaka (mendicant).
  • k. If every “thing” is anicca, then the question arises - how can dukkha be avoided, as oneself would arguably be as much anicca as everything and therefore one can find no hope of escape from dukkha? For this the Buddha answers - “everything other than oneself is anicca” (implying by via-negativa that oneself i.e. attā isn’t anicca).

So to conclude anattā (everything other than attā) is anicca, and identifying oneself with (or claiming ownership over) anything that is anicca produces dukkha, and whatever causes dukkha should be seen as anattā (other than oneself). Knowing this, the Buddha transcends the triad of dukkha, anicca & anattā and reaches the realm of nibbāna (which in layman’s terms is = nicca, sukha, attā)

What the Waharakas are doing to anicca, the traditional theravadins do to anattā. Somebody else may yet come around and reinterpret dukkha to mean something else entirely.

How does that work? Karma, karma-vipāka, kartā, kriyā are all interdependent. No kartā = no karma. The Buddha didnt deny the reality of either kartā or the karma

Anattā is anicca and gives rise to dukkha (not cause its cessation). Akartṛka is not anattā.

Taṇhā ‘craving’ (self-attachment) is the arising of dukkha (not anatta ‘not-self’ is the arising of dukkha).

Why is it for the monks so clear that whatever is impermanent (anicca) is also suffering or dukkha?

Maybe they did not understand anicca to be mere a concept of impermanence, but also of things that are inconstant, desintegrate, unstable and therefor cannot be maintained as one would wish and are unreliable. They are not really able to function as refuge or to grasp at as an escape from suffering.

The Buddha somewhere described that one can in practice not seperate sanna, vedana, and vinnana and describe their differences. I feel this is also true for anicca, dukkha and anatta.

I think it is not that bad that the meaning of anicca in the context of Dhamma is more then only impermanence. Maybe the word literally translates that way, but in the context of Dhamma its meaning cannot really be seperated from dukkha and anatta. It overlaps eachother in meaning.

The suttas do say that what is impermanent and unsatisfactory is not fit to be regarded as self. But they don’t say that what is permanent and satisfactory should be regarded as self.
The suttas also say we should not regard the aggregates as “me” and “mine”, so the point is to reduce attachment and identity, and not to find an atta.