Impermanence and No-self (Aniccha and Anatta)

Hello everyone!
I have a doubt I hope I can get answer here.

  1. What is the difference between Aniccha(Impermanence) and Anatta(No-self) Or are these both terms same and can they be used interchangeably!?
  2. Also (in case both are not same) when noble disciple is practicing insight, does the knowledge/realisation both the Aniccha and Anatta come simultaneously or if not then which one comes before the other?

As far as I know, stream-enterer is defined as having knowledge of impermanence and of No-self. So what is the order and what is the difference between these 2?
(It will be really blessing for me if somebody points out related sutta…)

  1. Lastly can we equate emptiness (Shunyata) to No-self? I mean can they be same, denoting the same thing ?

Thank you for your time respected teachers! :pray:

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I am not a teacher, below is just my understanding:

I don’t think anicca and anatta are the same. Whatever anicca must also be anatta. Whatever anatta does not necessarily also be anicca. They can not be used interchangeably.

I think anicca must come before anatta.

You can see the famous SN 56.11 Dhammacakkappavattanasutta that the Buddha first taught the Dhamma, Ven. Koṇḍañña realized “yaṁ kiñci samudayadhammaṁ sabbaṁ taṁ nirodhadhamman”ti.
This is anicca.

After that, in also another famous SN 22.59 Anattalakkhaṇasutta, it was about anatta.

For normal persons, they can realize more or less anicca. Other ascetics can also see anicca at certain level. However, that level of anicca is not profound enough to realize “yaṁ kiñci samudayadhammaṁ sabbaṁ taṁ nirodhadhamman”ti.

Similarly, normal persons can realize anatta too but the level is far from enough to realize any stage of enlightenment and can mistakenly fall into wrong view.

They need to realize both anicca AND dukkha in order to correctly realize anatta.

Emptiness (suññatā) can be seen in MN 121 Cūḷasuññatasutta and MN 122 Mahāsuññatasutta. In that context, they do not look like the same as anatta to me.

In other context, suññatā is used to dispel craving as “They contemplate the phenomena there—included in form, feeling, perception, choices, and consciousness—as impermanent, as suffering, as diseased, as a boil, as a dart, as misery, as an affliction, as alien, as falling apart, as empty, as not-self.” in MN 64 Mahāmālukyasutta. In that context, they are similar.

In another context, it refers to the experience coming out of the cessation of perception and feeling in MN 44 Cūḷavedallasutta such as “They experience three kinds of contact: emptiness, signless, and undirected contacts.”

Maybe there are other contexts in the Pali canon (not in Mahayana texts) that I don’t recall, hopefully that other people will help to contribute here.

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Hi,

I am not a teacher as you know but i like to share. Your questions, at least parts of them, are worked out in detail in Patisambhidamagga. I read it long ago. There something like this is said (often in my own words and from memory):

People have different inclinations, different focus, different abilities, different capacities. For some they focus especially on anicca. They have most feeling for this. Others on dukkha and others on anatta. That is a matter of which powers or abilities are dominant in someone. This is something personal.

All three are called gateways to liberation. I remember that those in which wisdom faculty is dominant they are more inclined to contemplate on anatta, and they are liberated by the socalled “emptiness gateway to liberation”. Other persons have or faith or concentration as their dominant powers and their gateway to liberation is, resp. called: signless and uninclined (sometimes undirected or desireless) gateway to liberation

It is said: “a meditator who has been focusing on the theme of inconstancy (anicca) will first apprehend Nibbana as signless; one who has been focusing on the theme of stress (dukkha) will first apprehend it as undirected; one who has been focusing on the theme of not-self (anatta) will first apprehend it as emptiness”.

So, anicca, dukkha and anatta are here threated as 3 gateways to liberation. I believe this is not really worked out in the sutta’s, like many is not really worked out. That’s why commentaries are handy.

One enters a gateway like entering a door. That seems to be the function of anicca, dukkha and anatta as it is explained in Patisambidhamagga. As gateway it leads to dispassion. Dependend on the gateway one takes, one apprehends Nibbana first as the signless (connected to anicca nupassana) or as uninclined and desireless (connected to dukkha nupassana) or as emptiness (anatta nupassana). These are all aspect of the unconditioned, Nibbana. So, they arrive at the same.

AN4.49 makes also clear what the function is of anicca, dukkha, anatta and asubha. They are meant to remedy our usual distorted perception or vision on things as nicca, sukha, atta and subha. This is a matter of perception. How things are viewed at a certain moment while they are arising. Viewing with a perception of nicca, atta, subha, sukha happens all the time. If i see a cookie i see it as sukha. If i become ill and are afflicted about it, it shows i see health as nicca. If i see a woman i see nicca, sukha, subha and atta and a lot more :slight_smile:

Nicca, subha, sukha and atta is a wrong kind of attending to things seen, heard, sensed, known. Ofcourse a wrong viewing. It is connected to the arising of defilements and increase of those arisen. So, that is like entering a wrong gateway. A wrong development of the mind. You know all this.

Patisambhidamagga also says there is no difference between anattanupassana and sunyatanupassana. Only in words but not in meaning. This is explicity stated. If you want i can give you the exact reference.

And it also teaches that Nibbana is ultimate sunyata or ultimate emptiness.

There are also somewhere sutta’s that teach that from contemplating anicca, the perception of anatta also stabilises. So they are also connected but Patisambhidamagga explains that persons have more feeling for one, but arrive at the same.

I have read especially ‘the treatise on voidness’ and ‘treatise on liberation’ of Patisambhidamagga with great interest. There is so much not explained in the sutta’s. And those works are great, i feel.
I believe it is said that this treatise is connected to Sariputta.

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The order “anicca, dukkha, anatta” is intentional and for a purpose, anicca leads to comprehending dukkha and anatta.

“The other two characteristics of conditioned existence – dukkha (unsatisfactoriness) and anattã (absence of a self) – become evident as a consequence of a direct experience and thereby realistic appreciation of the truth of impermanence. The discourses frequently point to this relationship between the three characteristics by presenting a progressive pattern that leads from awareness of impermanence (aniccasaññã) via acknowledging the unsatisfactory nature of what is impermanent (anicce dukkhasaññã) to appreciating the selfless nature of what is unsatisfactory (dukkhe anattasaññã).42
The same pattern features prominently in the Anattalakkhana Sutta (Samyutta Nikaya 22.59), in
which the Buddha instructed his first disciples to become clearly aware of the impermanent nature of each aspect of subjective experience, expounded in terms of the five aggregates. Based on
this, he then led them to the conclusion that whatever is impermanent cannot yield lasting satisfaction and therefore does not qualify to be considered as “I”, “mine”, or “my self”.43 This understanding,
after being applied to all possible instances of each aggregate, was powerful enough to result in the full awakening of the first five monk disciples of the Buddha”

—Analayo

Stream entry is defined as abandonment of the first three fetters:

“He attends appropriately, This is stress… This is the origination of stress… This is the cessation of stress… This is the way leading to the cessation of stress. As he attends appropriately in this way, three fetters are abandoned in him: self-identity view, doubt, and grasping at habits & practices.”

MN 2

A word of caution, rushing to the conclusion of non-self as the goal causes the misfortune of bypassing the practical path for the theoretical.

Here can be seen the gradual progression of practitioners as they overcome the ten fetters, and the perception of impermanence is at the beginning stage that should be the main focus:

The Buddha’s outline of the practical path

""In this community of monks there are monks who are arahants, whose mental effluents are ended, who have reached fulfillment, done the task, laid down the burden, attained the true goal, laid to waste the fetter of becoming, and who are released through right gnosis: such are the monks in this community of monks.

"In this community of monks there are monks who, with the wasting away of the five lower fetters, are due to be reborn [in the Pure Abodes], there to be totally unbound, destined never again to return from that world: such are the monks in this community of monks.

"In this community of monks there are monks who, with the wasting away of [the first] three fetters, and with the attenuation of passion, aversion, & delusion, are once-returners, who — on returning only once more to this world — will make an ending to stress: such are the monks in this community of monks.

"In this community of monks there are monks who, with the wasting away of [the first] three fetters, are stream-winners, steadfast, never again destined for states of woe, headed for self-awakening: such are the monks in this community of monks.

"In this community of monks there are monks who remain devoted to the development of the four frames of reference… the four right exertions… the four bases of power… the five faculties… the five strengths… the seven factors for awakening… the noble eightfold path: such are the monks in this community of monks.

"In this community of monks there are monks who remain devoted to the development of good will… compassion… appreciation… equanimity… [the perception of the] foulness [of the body]… the perception of inconstancy: such are the monks in this community of monks.

“In this community of monks there are monks who remain devoted to mindfulness of in-&-out breathing.”

—Majjhima Nikaya 118

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This book, The Notion of Emptiness in Early Buddhism by Choong Mun-keat, may be useful.

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Thank you for detailed answering sir @Clarity . So that means this order is kind of there, one first realises Aniccha then dukkha and then lastly Anatta. And they are also not same. I understand now. I have gone through all the reference suttas you have given link to. It helped me really well. But I still wonder is it possible to realise first Anatta(No-self), based upon Aniccha and Dukkha but not penetrating completely Aniccha and Dukkha? What will be your response?

Wow this is new for me. Thanks for pointing out sir @Green . I really wish to know more.

Plz do give the exact reference sir. I would like to go through it.

I will search over web directly for ‘treatise on voidness and treatise on liberation’. Plz do tell me where can I check that out if possible. Thank you.

This is also part of my question sir @paul1. Thank you for pointing out. Can you plz tell me, is it possible to understand Anatta(No-self) first only based upon Aniccha and Dukkha, but without penetrating Aniccha and Dukkha?

Thank you sir @thomaslaw for giving reference, I will check that out now.

Anatta means “not mine”, “not me”, “not what I am”, etc.

Impermanence is one of the things that indicate that it is “not fit” to be taken as mine/me.

So your body, your feelings, the view out your window are things you can observe, can observe changing, can observe dissapearing, can observe falling apart, but in all these things we cannot observe a permanent, valuable, real explination or definition of “me”.

The buddha explained that by abandoning anything that one can see hear, touch or think about, by giving up all the “mine”, there was no longer anything in the changing, phenomenal, impermanent, ill fitting, world for which a “me” was needed.

Aftwr that he didn’t die or become unconscious like a robot or anything like that, the physical body that was still there had simply been let go of along with all the rest.

People got to talk to him about it for the next 40 odd years.

He had thrown off the yoke and achieved freedom.

Not even god could tempt him with eternal heaven.

That’s more or less it.

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Yes it is possible to get a conceptual understanding by pondering the fact that self is just a layering of experiences and changes (anicca) with age. The sense of self is like any other subject of impermanence meditation, it gives the illusion of continuity which must be penetrated. But non-self is just an ultimate position, the necessity of a self reference when dealing with practical matters is also a theme in the suttas. More practically important than searching for non-self is to recognize and accept the division between ultimate and conventional reality and act accordingly. This is what ‘skillful’ means:

“An arahant monk,
one who is done,
effluent-free, bearing his last body:

Would he say, ‘I speak’?

Would he say, ‘They speak to me’?”

“An arahant monk,
one who is done,
effluent-free, bearing his last body:

He would say, ‘I speak’;

would say, ‘They speak to me.’

Skillful,
knowing harmonious gnosis
with regard to the world,
he uses expressions
just as expressions.”

—Samyutta Nikaya 1.25

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There is very little basis for this position in the ebt.

Hi there,

This info can be found in the internal commentary work of the Pali Canon called Patisambhidamagga. I read the translation of Nanamoli.

That Nibbana is called an ulitmate emptiness you can find in Patisambhidamagga, Treatise on Voidness, §6.

That sunnuta nupassana is the same in meaning as anattanupassana you can find in the same book, but now Treatise on Liberation, §82

If you want to read it, i recommend Treatise on Voidness and Treatise on Liberation. There you will find what i shared.

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Hi. Nibbana is anatta but is not anicca.

SN 56.11 does not sound like anicca. It sounds like SN 56.11 is only saying the craving & suffering that is subject to arising can all be subject to cessation. SN 56.11 does not sound like is saying the sun or moon or a cloud is subject to arising (samudaya) & cessation (nirodha). When the suttas, for example, refer to the arising (uppajjati; uppāda) of consciousness dependent upon a sense base, they do not use the word ‘samudaya’. The word ‘samudaya’ sounds like it means ‘growth’ or ‘production’.

As I said in my post above:
“Whatever anicca must also be anatta. Whatever anatta does not necessarily also be anicca. They can not be used interchangeably.” and

“normal persons can realize anatta too but the level is far from enough to realize any stage of enlightenment and can mistakenly fall into wrong view.”

This can be seen in MN2 Sabbāsavasutta:

the view ‘I perceive not-self with self’ arises in him as true and established; or the view ‘I perceive self with not-self’ arises in him as true and established

Also, because nibbāna is anatta but NOT anicca. If you ever start with any anatta dhamma and go backward to realize that dhamma as also anicca dhamma, you can NOT start with nibbāna. That means, you are forbidden from the start to even have a clue of nibbāna, in other words: the attainment of stream-entry is out of reach. It might explain why such approach is most suitable for someone who prefers Saṃsāra (for whatever purpose, due to his wrong view).

Regarding the possibility of “to realise first Anatta(No-self), based upon Aniccha and Dukkha but not penetrating completely Aniccha and Dukkha”, it seems to me, it is a possibility. As my understanding, from Sotāpanna to Sakadāgāmi to Anāgāmi, they still do not fully see yet anicca and dukkha in form realm and formless realm.

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True. I suppose you meant this as a counter example but it turns out to be an illustrative example because I said in my post “Whatever anatta does not necessarily also be anicca.”

This seems to me another illustrative example to what I said “For normal persons, they can realize more or less anicca. Other ascetics can also see anicca at certain level. However, that level of anicca is not profound enough to realize “yaṁ kiñci samudayadhammaṁ sabbaṁ taṁ nirodhadhamman”ti.

It also explains why Ven. Koṇḍañña realized Sotāpanna level while others do not. If your understanding were correct, you should already have been at Sotāpanna level.

Anyway, for my own protection, I need to ask for forgiven if I were wrong and you are indeed at Sotāpanna level or more. :pray:

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Hi. Thank you for your considerate words however my original reply to you was suggesting most Buddhists read too much into the phrase: "yaṁ kiñci samudayadhammaṁ sabbaṁ taṁ nirodhadhamman”ti.

SN 56.11 is about two subjects: the arising (samudaya) of dukkha; the cessation (nirodha) of dukkha and, imo intellectual/academic opinion, this is all the phrase is about.

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Sry to ask again but can you plz explain this in slightly simpler words if possible? I am finding it hard to understand it. I didn’t quite get what going backward means here.

In saying ‘forbidden’ do you mean it is wrong to have clue of nibbana from start? Or do you mean that it is wrong to say that one can have any clue from the start about nibbana in the first place? What is it sir?

Ok I am starting to understand that it may be possible to reach Anatta somehow on experiential level (if we can equate it with emptiness) and not just intellectual level but I didn’t quite understand what you are referring by ‘approach’. If possible can you plz clarify further?

Ok you said (as per your understanding offcourse), from Sotapanna to Sakadagami to anagami, they still don’t fully see Aniccha and Dukkha…so according to you do they see full Anatta? Or just like Aniccha and Dukkha they don’t fully see even Anatta? Or according to you Sotapanna, as his definition goes about destroying fetter that is, ‘I’, has already seen Anatta completely and hence completely understood Anatta… I wonder what you’ll say. (Pardon my words if I mis-defined something)

Btw sir sadhu🙏 to you for being so considerate with right speech of n8fp!

Hello sir!

“Patisanbhidamagga”, “sunnataupassana”, “treatise on voidness”, “treatise on liberation” …I will go through then definitely. Thank you!

I suppose if I go through above themes I’ll get the answers because what you said above…that destination is same, one arrives at the same, it’s just another gateway for liberation…might just be the answer for my question. Thank you sir @Green. But I also want to know what others have to say.

As you have gone through them, then can we say that three people, each one of them entered gateway of liberation from resp. Aniccha,Dukkha & Anatta…so according to you are they all equally equivalent to steam-enterer(Sotapanna)?

When I said is it possible to realise Anatta(No-self) I didn’t mean conceptual understanding, I was literally meaning experiential realisation!

So what do you think sir is it possible to reach non self(realising experientially) and then start from non-self(the ultimate position as you said) to realise dukkha and Aniccha completely? Or my question is wrong just like asking what happens after arhat dies?

So do you mean that I had this question about starting from Anatta because I am mixing these 2 things, resp. Ultimate reality and Conventional reality? @paul1

First a disclaimer: I am not a realised person. At most, really at best, i am on the path to sotapanna.

That said: What i see in the sutta’s is that things are described as gradual. I can say that this aligns with my own experience. At least that feels that way.

I feel this is a gradual proces of grounding, sobering up, loosing drama. Unlike an escape from what is felt, seen, heard, known, it is exactly the opposite. It is becoming more and more close to it. That is the escape from suffering.

The Path for me feels like a gradual proces of becoming sober, simple, realistic. I feel like i am at the beginning of this. But it is still vulnerable, but i have faith it can become more stable.

I believe that understading anicca, dukkha and anatta is also gradual. Gradually one gets more feeling for it. For example, it the mind becomes more subtle, less coarse, it also becomes more clear how that coarseness was dukkha. In the midst or coarseness one does not see this. Some people are very burdened but because this is their standard level they do not really have another reference and do not really feel it is intens burdened. But this can change.
And as we all know, things that we at first found attractive or interesting, can loose our interest totally and loose their sign of attractiveness.

This seems to be the real meaning of contemplating anicca. It is about the inconstancy of our subjective experience. There is nothing that changes so rapidly as the mind. One moment one likes someone or something and another moment one hates it. This constant change, this inconstancy, if seen with wisdom, leads to a sense that the signs one sees, the emotional attitutes towards someone or something, have nothing to do with what one sees, hears, feels etc. One starts to understand that the nature of mind is really signless but a long carreer in life has created strong habits to perceive signs.
But when wisdom starts to increase one starts to take all this subjective mind change less seriously because one is so familiarised that this is all very inconstant. So, anicca and the signless liberation of mind are related.

Those who have a feeling that the mind is in fact no atta but empty will probably take the emptiness gateway to liberation, contemplating anatta, emptiness. Nothing is self nor a possession of a self.

I do not think that ‘entering a gateway to liberation’ is really the same as the fruit of sotapanna but more like entering the Path to the fruit of sotapanna. One has allready a certain level of understanding of anicca, dukkha and anatta, but the level of understanding of a sotapanna, i believe, this is still more deep. I believe this continues to arahantship. Understanding deepens more and more.

wish you well

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Thats a Very clear explanation for the question I asked you. So we cannot equate entering gateways(Anatta, dukkha, anicca) of liberation as entering stream of nibbana, it is more like entering a path that can lead to stream of nibbana. Thank you sir @Green.

Yes, i believe so, and also those practicing for the fruit of sotapanna, a saddhanusari (faith-follower) and dhammanusarin (dhamma-follower), already belong to the noble Sangha. They are not a worldling anymore. Their kind of understanding is described in: SN25.1 - SN25.8 and SN25.9 and SN25.10.

A fragment: …" They’ve arrived at surety in the right way, they’ve arrived at the level of the true person, and they’ve transcended the level of the untrue person".

"They can’t do any deed which would make them be reborn in hell, the animal realm, or the ghost realm. They can’t die without realizing the fruit of stream-entry’…
“They can’t do any deed which would make them be reborn in hell, the animal realm, or the ghost realm. They can’t die without realizing the fruit of stream-entry”

So the sutta’s more or less state that at the beginning stages the focus lies on anicca. I do not think it means that this is the only way. But probably an understanding of anicca, the rapid changes of the mind, arises more easily then a feeling for anatta.

I have always been very aware of anicca because that has always been my experience. The mind can go from extremely calm to extremely restless, from very coarse to subtle, from full of hate to loving and friendly, from dark suddenly into light. From bored to very devoted and inspired. It is amazing how fleeting it all is. One can feel tense, and talk to someone, and a moment later feel very relaxed, freed.
It is all so conditional.

I think that the moment one begins to take all this less serious, and can handle with is, relativize it, one allready has some understanding of anicca. I think it deepens and deepens gradually. ofcourse, i one has a feeling for anicca one also sees how things are not really under controll and one also begins to see that is quit useless to want to maintain feelings, states, emotions that are liable to cease.
So one becomes more directed to just letting to. Less desire. Dispassion.

One can even arrive at a point that one sees that mind is not local and that even the personal local perspective on the world s anicca. Arises dependend on causes and conditions.
This is what the mystics write about and also Maha Boowa and others. For us, the personal perspective that arises via the combined working of the senses, brain, mind, is so nicca, so fixed, just how nature is, but even this seems to be anicca.

Anyway, i do not feel the sutta’s must be read as…it must be like this…

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I meant “going backward” as: going from anatta to anicca. The order that the Buddha taught us is going instead from anicca to dukkha then to anatta.

I was just trying to explain more for your original question in your very first post.

I was trying to explain more of what I said just above “If you ever start with any anatta dhamma and go backward to realize that dhamma as also anicca dhamma, you can NOT start with nibbāna.”

I meant “forbidden” in the sense of “restrictions that not possible to break”. Here is an illustration:
You start the spiritual journey by contemplating X as anatta instead of anicca. Now, X can be your house, your job, your money, your future, your wife, your father, your mother, your children, your teacher, your country, your body, your mind, your meditation itself, etc.

So far so good, you contemplate and realize, this anatta - so anicca, that anatta - so anicca too, ah another anatta - anicca too, yes another anatta - anicca too, yup anatta - anicca, anatta here - anicca, anatta there - anicca, anatta coming - anicca, anatta going - anicca, etc. Then, gradually, you come to the thought that they are interchangeably as the Truth.

Then, when you contemplate on what the sutta said, or what your teacher told you, or when your mind came to the end of investigation: “This is the peaceful, this is the sublime, that is, the stilling of all formations, the relinquishing of all attachments, the destruction of craving, dispassion, cessation, Nibbāna.”, you go like “aha anatta” then inevitably you jump to conclusion: “anicca”. That means, you will be lost - you don’t really understand Nibbāna - the attainment of stream-entry is therefore, out of reach.

Maybe the Annihilationism views at experiential level of formless realm in Brahmajālasutta DN1 are relevant for you here? Those ascetics also had plenty of so-called “anatta” at experiential level but they are still stuck in Saṃsāra.

As my understanding, only Arahant can fully see anatta while Sotāpanna to Sakadāgāmi to Anāgāmi do not fully see anatta yet. This is well illustrated in SN 22.89 Khemakasutta.

Just a reminder that I said in my first post, “normal persons can realize anatta too but the level is far from enough to realize any stage of enlightenment and can mistakenly fall into wrong view.” It’s like when you try to capture a snake unskillfully, you will get bitten (MN 22 Alagaddūpamasutta)

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