Essay: The core dhamma: Impermanence

The axiom that forms the core dhamma is impermanence.

A few people argue that no-self is unique to Buddhism, but no-self is the result, not the catalyst.

The catalyst is Proper Attention (yoniso manasikara). We can prove this by looking at this simple line that caused both Sariputta and Moggallana to become Ariya, when initially told by Assaji to Sariputta.

Whatever phenomena arise from cause:

their cause

& their cessation.

Such is the teaching of the Tathagata,
the Great Contemplative.

Whatever phenomena arise from cause: their cause & their cessation

The cause of the effect, and the removal of that cause, is Proper Attention, it is looking at things in an analytical cause-effect way, and confirming that when the cause is removed the effect is also removed.

Now this is the positive side of impermanence, Proper Attention is impermanence with control. It is the opposite of the “you have no control” wrong view of no-self.

The right view of no-self is that you have no control over suffering that has already arisen out of impermanence. It’s dukkha in anicca, and anatta in dukkha.

Why do you have no control? Because you’re already too late. Whatever is born must die. The cause already happened, you’re too late, and therefore cessation is inevitable.

Would you play a game if it was 100% guaranteed that you will lose? Would you gamble money if you knew that you would lose 100% of the time? Because that’s what you’re doing right now, by existing.

In short, anything that you love and care about, will be taken from you.

Anything that you care about (i.e. crave), will be taken from you (anicca), sooner or later.

Understanding this, how can you not become dispassionate? This dispassion, is the true meaning of no-self. Aka, nothing is worth having or holding onto

The only way to stop dukkha is to become dispassionate and that is the opposite of craving, and that prevents future births, future originations, and that prevention is not too late.

Therefore one who contemplates impermanence will naturally arrive at no-self and will naturally give up craving and will naturally become dispassionate.

Therefore Sati, which means to remember, not mindfulness, and the awakening factor of Sati-sambojanngha, means to Remember the dhamma. More specifically, to remember Impermanence.

If you remember Impermanence, why do anything at all? Why play a game you will lose?

When you do nothing, how can you break a precept? how can you be unwholesome? how can you indulge in sensuality?

When you do nothing you’re forced to deal with the problem head on: discontent, aka boredom, aka misery.

And that is where you should use yoniso manasikara to contemplate and analyze anicca, and attain samma samadhi by naturally becoming dispassionate and letting go.

And there is a reason the Buddha always talks about rebirth and karma before talking about Impermanence. Because if someone knows they’ll lose everything in life, then why not just end it and commit suicide. But if rebirh is true, then suicide is not logical and not sufficient to stopping dukkha and anicca.

So the Buddha always starts with a talk on rebirth and karma to prevent people from jumping from one extreme (eternalism) to another (annihilationism), and instead to the middle way, towards Nibbana.

The Blessed One then gave me a progressive discourse, that is, a talk on giving, virtuous behavior, and heaven; he revealed the danger, degradation, and defilement of sensual pleasures and the benefit of renunciation. When the Blessed One knew that my mind was pliant, softened, rid of hindrances, uplifted, and confident, he revealed that Dhamma teaching special to the Buddhas: suffering, its origin, its cessation, and the path. Then, just as a clean cloth rid of dark spots would readily absorb dye, so too, while I sat in that same seat, the dust-free, stainless Dhamma-eye arose in me: ‘Whatever is subject to origination is all subject to cessation.’ I saw the Dhamma, attained the Dhamma, understood the Dhamma, fathomed the Dhamma, crossed over doubt, got rid of bewilderment, attained self-confidence, and became independent of others in the teaching of the Teacher. Right there I went for refuge to the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Saṅgha, and undertook the training rules with celibacy as the fifth.

  • Ugga the householder

And the response Citta gave to the dieties while he was on his death bed

“Oh, well, that’s because the deities of the parks, forests, trees, and those who haunt the herbs, grass, and big trees said to me: ‘Householder, make a wish to become a wheel-turning monarch in the future!’ So I said to them: ‘That too is impermanent! That too will pass! That too will be left behind!’”


A very powerful essay, thank you :pray:

It is a very subtle point, and I don’t know how successful I’ll be at trying to convey what I mean - but here goes :smile: :slight_smile:

I completely agree that dispassion leads to the eradication of craving, but I have found that contemplations of Not-Self (from the perspective of elements/aggregates) also reinforces dispassion. If there is no permanent entity, there is nothing of substance to do the craving - it is just a part of the process of the aggregates coming together - conditional arising - of craving. So not only is there nothing worth holding onto because it will cease and cause dukkha, the very impetus of craving is the result of an illusion of a self. I have found it useful to ‘undermine’ sense of self from this perspective, which additionally supports the development of dispassion ( and ultimately complete relinquishment), through understanding impermanence. This brings 2 different approaches/strategies to the job of eradicating craving :smiley:

Just some food for thought … :thinking:

with much metta :slight_smile:


I too have found contemplations of Anatta useful - and sometimes viewing the object of craving as without any essence is useful too…not only is there nothing of substance to do the craving - nothing of substance can be identified to be held onto. Which then again leads back to perceptions of flow and impermanence… :face_with_hand_over_mouth:

Just 2 approaches? How about 4? :rofl:
Or maybe 5 is better? :joy:
How about 7?
No, No, No… it has to be 9!
Rubbish… it has to be 10.
And if one is the jhana type… its 11!

That’s what I love about the suttas… diversity of approach.

IMO though, all these essentially boil down to seeing Tillakhana through any of the three frameworks of Anicca, Dukkha or Anatta. Then again, many do say that Anicca is what is directly seen, Dukkha and Anatta are secondary inferences…


Thanks Viveka… For me, cravings are a matter of running away from discontent and boredom, not so much about a self.

For example, I know that the car I drive is not self, but I still use it to get my cravings met. I extend my will/intention over it to control it. Likewise, I know my body, like a vehicle, is not self, but I still wield it to get my cravings met.

So for me, the self is irrelevant, what matters is the feelings that are present and getting rid of the ones that are unpleasant.

Discontent from boredom is unpleasant, when I am weak I will get rid of that discontent temporarily by indulging in sensual pleasures. When I am strong, I will get rid of that discontent temporarily by meditating. Hopefully one day, it will be permanent.

The point is, my identity doesn’t really have anything to do with my means of abating discontent. I don’t see the discontent as my discontent, I just see it as a feeling that is unwanted because it’s unpleasant. Likewise, I don’t see the pleasure as my pleasure, I just see the pleasure (whether from jhana or chocolate) as a feeling that is currently abating the discontent.

Even when I realize my intentions are also not-self, it doesn’t stop the discontent from arising, and having to battle it each time.

I’m not saying that identity is not the underlying cause, which according to the suttas, conceit is one of the causes. I’m saying from a perspective from someone who is not fully enlightened, the issue appears to be the presence of unpleasant states like discontent, regardless if a self is involved or not. So it’s a matter of which treatment is more sufficient in dealing with the illness of discontent, and in my opinion, contemplating Impermanence allows one to abandon lower band aid solutions like sensual desires, because their impermanent nature does not actually solve the problem at hand. In that sense, they are a ritual, because they don’t actually solve the problem, but provide people with comfort.

1 Like

Thanks for the reply :slight_smile:

Each of us has to know what is best and most useful for each stage of the work, and of course only you can know what works best for you.

May the things that lead to progress grow and multiply for you, and those that are obstacles and hindrances diminish :pray: :dharmawheel: :butterfly:


@Thito , I am not so sure about ‘The Core of Dhamma’ but I am sure ‘The Core of Buddha’s Teaching’ is ‘The Way to End Suffering’.

The first noble truth shows that Impermanence and suffering are one in the same.

"Now this, monks, is the noble truth of stress:[1] Birth is stressful, aging is stressful, death is stressful; sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair are stressful; association with the unbeloved is stressful, separation from the loved is stressful, not getting what is wanted is stressful. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are stressful.

Birth, aging, death, loss of loved ones, etc… are all products of Impermanence. Hence, nibbana is the unconditined, not subject to impermanence.

Therefore impermanence and craving are incompatible.

The only way to be happy in an impermanent world, is to remove craving as Impermanence and craving are mutually exclusive.

But you do see the craving as your craving?