The logical implications of anicca

It seems a good idea to set up a new topic as suggested.



There’s also the problem of logical contradiction in a sentence like ‘everything is impermanent’, because does that mean that impermanence is impermanent too?

It’s the same problem as saying “all sentences are false”; to avoid a contradiction one has to say “all sentences are false, except this one”.

I can’t remember the sutta right now, but the Buddha meets a non-Buddhist who holds a view something like “all is displeasing to me”, and the Buddha asks him if that view is displeasing to him as well (I’m paraphrasing, I couldn’t find the sutta through google).

My point being that the Buddha was able to spot a contradictory view when he met one. Also, logic was clearly a part of the culture at the time (as seen in the frequent “A”, “not A”, “A and ‘not A’”, and “not A and not not A” formulations).

So this also makes sense as the Buddha being careful to present his teachings in a logically consistent way.


I strongly suggest to branch off to another topic, no?

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In other words, let’s get back to the topic of this thread? :slight_smile:

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I don’t know, maybe everything relevant has been said to the original topic. But the logical implications of anicca deserves its own treatment, allows others to join in as well, and doesn’t fragment the discussion here.


My point was that I am confused about what Ven. @sujato meant (below) about the use of dhamma rather than sankhara in the formula “sabbe dhammā anattā”. The early texts give examples of classes of things that are regarded as anattā. I can see that the formula “sabbe dhammā anattā” is a principle (dhamma in that sense). The texts assert, for every instance, x, of any khandha, that x is anatta. So the domain of things that are anatta is not restricted to instances of principles of the teachings as Ven. @sujato seems to be saying. Hence my confusion.

Hi JDavid,

It seems that you are over-extending the meaning here.

Because dhammas are anatta does not mean that only dhammas in the sense pointed out by bhante are.

I.e. dhammas are not annica nor dukkha. Nor are they nibbana.

So, all is anatta, which is not true of annica / dukkha.

It might be useful to review the meanings of anicca and nicca.
As I understand it:
Anicca = impermanent, changing, conditioned, unreliable;
Nicca = permanent, unchanging, unconditioned, reliable - which would seem to apply to Nibbana.

I’m still not entirely clear about what is included in dhamma here - is it just the “natural laws” of Dhamma, including anicca?
Is it dhamma as opposed to sankhara, or is it dhamma as including sankhara (conditioned phenomena)?

I guess we’re getting stuck in doubt here :smiley: .

So, I’m (again?) going back to anatta itself (and its scope).

Can you find anything that has a self? Could you say that any phenomena that is dukkha and annica can be a self or belong to a self?

If not, then, why take the meaning of “sabbe dhamma anatta” to only refer to natural laws (themselves), rather than anything / everything that is within / bound by those natural laws?

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Sure, and as I think you observed, the khandhas (aggregates) are regularly described as subject to anatta in the suttas, suggesting that dhamma has a broad and inclusive scope here.

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Continuing a thought of @Erik_ODonnell above, if Dhamma (including the law of anicca & anatta) is invariably true, then why not to see Dhamma as the self?

I assume because the Dhamma is universal and impersonal.
So it’s not personal - not me, and not mine.

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Who says that atta has to be personal? In fact the ancient Indians argued that it was nothing but personal…

May be we should define what is self here.

In the buddha sasana (not)self refers to the bramanical atman at least.

I think it also refer to anything we associate with the 5 khandas that make up the view of self (sakkayaditthi).

In this case dhamma cannot be self, or can it?

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Because it would be like taking the wave equation as a self, i.e. it’s not something that makes sense to take as a self.

Like, given the right assumptions 5+5 is invariably 10 but I wouldn’t take the principle of arithmetic to be my self because of that.


Yes, it’s good to be clear what anatta is negating in the suttas. IMO it is less to do with atta, and more to do with self-view.

It’s not the brahmanical atman actually. The suttas have a very narrow concept of what atman is, and then refute their own concept. See for example Brhadaranyaka Upanisad BU 2.5 which emphasizes that atman is radiant and immortal, the supreme principle (brahman), the Whole.

Or take BU 3.7.3-23

“This atman of yours who is present within but is different from the earth [water, fire, wind…], whom the earth does not know, whose body is the earth, and who controls the earth from within—he is the inner controller, the immortal.”

Doesn’t that sound like MN 1? Anyhow, there are many more passages which conceptualize atman outside of impermanence. Hence, the Buddhist suttas reject the Buddhist atman, not the brahmin one.


There is no logical contradiction if one understands that the truth of anicca is supposed to be a second order or meta-level statement.

But also, “all sankharas are anicca” is not a sankhara, one could say that it is a statement of Dhamma, which is not anicca, but stable.


Yes, and my point was that maybe the type of logical consistency you are describing here, was one of reasons why the Buddha phrased his teaching in this way.

I hope I didn’t come off as saying the Buddha’s teachings on impermanence are illogical? My point is that they are not, even though it would (perhaps) have been easy to speak imprecisely about impermanence and its consequences, the Buddha didn’t speak imprecisely. Which I think is cool :slight_smile:


Do you think the goal of the Buddhist practice is to realize an atman?