The logical implications of anicca


Kathaṃ “Aniccānupassī assasissāmī”ti sikkhati, “Aniccānupassī passasissāmī”ti sikkhati?
aniccanti kiṃ aniccaṃ?
Pañcakkhandhā aniccā.
Kenaṭṭhena aniccā?
uppādavayaṭṭhena aniccā.
(Catutthacatukkaniddeso, Ānāpānassatikathā, Paṭisambhidāmaggapāḷi)

Using above phrase, we can make a closer understanding about anicca.
Anicca can be experienced in bare senses, as time, aging, decaying, etc. However, to attain nibbana, one should see the real picture of five aggregates.
In 16 types of Ānāpānassati (mindfulness of breathing) one should experience impermanence of aggregates with right wisdom (sammappaññāya passati) where, it is experienced as an arising and vanishing of aggregates.


Obviously not. But from the outside we can still see that early Buddhism refuted a very specific atman-concept while Brahmanism had a rich variety of atman-concepts - some of them being conceptually closer to how the suttas present their goal.

It’s fair to say, I think, that most spiritual traditions aim at a goal which is permanent - why else spirituality??

But then the faith-framework of the different movements comes in, and Buddhists say “Well, your atman is still impermanent, while our nibbana is not”. Brahmins then might jump in “That’s just because you don’t see the real atman, which encompasses the whole world and your nibbana” etc.

It’s different religious traditions fighting for supremacy and why one shouldn’t get hung up on terms only. Not that all paths are the same either, but comparative work needs more detailed analysis than just slogans - especially when judging other traditions.


So you think the goal of Buddhism is to attain some permanent state? Genuine question btw, just trying to understand where you’re coming from :slight_smile:


I don’t see why that solves the problem. One could argue for example that God is also a second (or third)-order reality which is permanent. And it still would be unacceptable to traditional Buddhism.

So why are some second-order realities acceptable as unchanging truths (e.g. the cyclical expansion-collapse of the universe) and some not (e.g. the God-principle)?


Leave away ‘state’ and then, of course! Nibbana and amata defeat death and rebirth and are beyond impermanence. Call it deathless, immortal, highest bliss, the other shore, the ultimate refuge, or permanence.

We can do hancy-fancy philosophy now and say “nibbana is not a state, and it’s not a non-state” etc. but that borders nonsense.

Just as well I could say “Nibbana is not a goal, and not a non-goal, neither both, nor neither, and it’s impossible to say anything about it anyway”. But eh, that’s just spiritual mumbo-jumbo, and where does it leave us?

When it comes to these logical arguments there is only hope in re-contextualization and close reading of the texts, I think.


I said stable or constant (dharmasthitita) not permanent, the Buddha did not use the word niccam to refer to Dhamma.

In Christianity and monotheistic religions, they are basically making a metaphysical or ontological claim. Buddhism is just offering a particular description which is skillful or wholesome (kusala). The way I see it, this statement that Dharma is stable is not making some kind of metaphysical argument, but it is simply an empirical description. It is a fact that can be clearly observed, things always change, and this lawlike observation can be called stable or constant. Like the laws of nature described by science, there is no need to posit somekind of metaphysics behind these laws, we are simply making an empirical statement of what is observed.


Do you think of nibbana as having any properties, like conscious experience or anything like that?


Very clearly not - which I think is quite an orthodox position. It can’t be an experience or have properties. Because then you would introduce the medium for the experience/properties, which is problematic.

Even if citta is ‘vimutti-ed’ and is radiating happily away it is probably only how nibbana ‘expresses itself’ in a body-mind and not meant as surviving death.

So even if nibbana is at times described as highest bliss, I think it’s allegorical.

But you know these things as well :wink:


Nibbana is no thing at all. It is the bliss of freedom from all the things. Because every thing is impermanent.

Koṭṭhita, you should give up desire for what is not-self.


It that from the suttas?


If he is translating sankhara as things, then yes, since nibbana is asankhata.


Very interesting. I have also been trying to investigate what the brahmins meant by atman. It seems to me that they were well aware that the world of the senses is fleeting and unsatisfactory. Hence the search for something permanent or some essence.

What the Buddha Dhamma seem to be saying is those who search for some thing permanent will find none, when this is seen with wisdom that is the end of searching right there. End of all craving, nibbana in other words.

Those who search for something satisfactory will find none, when this seen with wisdom that is the end of searching right there.

Those who search for some essence, some pith, some core will find none, when this is seen with wisdom that is the end of searching right there.


I think it’s us readers who try to impose a clarity on the suttas which they don’t have - the path to abhidhamma. Is it that unreasonable that some passages suggest permanent immortality (amata), even a state, or bliss, while others are more abstract (e.g. asankhata)?

How about this often repeated (and old) stock passage where the bhikkhu

“realizes for himself with direct knowledge, in this very life, that unsurpassed brahmacariyapariyosāna for the sake of which clansmen rightly go forth from the household life into homelessness, and having entered upon it, he dwells in it
(SN 6.3, SN 7.1, SN 7.2, SN 7.10, SN 12.17, SN 21.4-6, SN 21.11, SN 21.12, SN 22.35, SN 22.63, SN 35.64, SN 35.89, SN 35.95, SN 41.9, SN 47.3, SN 47.15, SN 47.16, SN 47.46, AN 2.5, AN 3.130, AN 4.257, AN 5.56, AN 5.180, AN 6.55, AN 6.60, AN 7.56, AN 8.30, AN 8.63, MN 7, MN 26, MN 27, MN 57, MN 70, MN 73, MN 75, MN 82, MN 85, MN 86, MN 89, MN 92, MN 124, DN 8, DN 9, DN 16, DN 25, DN 26, Snp 1.4)

If I leave all philosophizing aside, that sounds quite simply like they found an ideal state and then stayed in it. Of course we can superimpose a fancy non-state nibbana here, but if you read this passage like a normal person then you simply understand “they completed their spiritual studentship and then stayed ‘there’”. The problem arises only, I think, if we try to find an understanding which fits all different contexts of liberation.


I think you are right. I have been reflecting on my own path. At first when I read the dhamma it spoke to the heart this made me want to investigate it, after all this acquisition of knowledge it it seems to me it’s all just spinning around in thought going no where. So it’s not unreasonable at all because I don’t know. But I hope this will spur me to find out for my self.


The pith is the Path.


It makes more sense to me that Nibbana is included in dhamma but not for that to imply that it is necessarily nicca.

If Nibbana is included under the umbrella of dhamma here, I do not think we can necessarily infer that then Nibbana must be nicca (permanent). Just because something is not white does not mean it is black. Being not anicca does not mean it is nicca! :slight_smile: The suttas, e.g. the Vacchagotta Sutta SN44.8, seem to imply that the dual category of existence and non-existence falls squarely into the domain of sankhara/the conditioned (and simply does not apply to Nibbana). I guess perhaps something similar could hold for the nicca/anicca duality.

It would seem to make more sense to me for Nibbana to fall in this dhamma category. It doesn’t seem very likely to me that some of the other principles would be realistic candidates for a self fixation, whereas there’s a real danger than Nibbana could be (has been) transformed into some kind of universal overself. If Nibbana is left out of the dhamma category, wouldn’t that be a reasonable logical inference? Nibbana certainly isn’t sankhara. And sankhara is said to be impermanent and unsatisfactory. Without the third, “sabbe dhamma anatta” and we just had “sabbe sankhara anatta”, might not a person be likely to ask: well, if there’s no self in the conditioned, hang on, maybe there’s still room there in the unconditioned??? IMO the third statement clears that up and does not have to necessarily imply anything else about Nibbana.


Hi @sukha.
That sounds right. So the question becomes what is the domain of things that are anatta. Presumably anything that is clung to or craved is anatta (by nature not self or belonging to self). One can presumably crave a non-present nibbāna, but to cling to or crave a present nibbāna is incoherent.



Anicca doesn’t just mean impermanent, it also means inconstant, unreliable and subject to conditions (ie conditioned).
So I think Nibbana would qualify as nicca.


Nibbana as nicca is not ruled out by the “sabbe sankhara anicca, sabbe sankhara dukkha, sabbe dhamma anatta” statement but I’m not sure it’s actually logically ruled in either.

Nicca seems to primarily mean something like constant, continuous, permanent, and hence anicca its opposite, but saying sankhara/the conditioned is “X” doesn’t necessarily mean the Unconditioned is “Not X”, e.g. saying the conditioned exists doesn’t necessarily imply that the Unconditioned does not exist. Maybe the Unconditioned is nicca. It’s hardly anicca but perhaps these terms just don’t apply. I suppose it has been referred to as sukkha in some places (in Iti43 come to think of it) but whether that’s meant in an ontological sense is another question.


It’s actually interesting to look up the occurrences of nicca in the suttas - very down-to-earth, and not philosophical at all. Sometimes it means ‘all the time’ in a mundane sense, for example.

The horribly inconsistent term dhamma is part of the problem here, I think. It would be much easier if nibbana wasn’t included there, but, alas, it is (occasionally). See for example SN 35.33 (ff.): “sabbaṃ jātidhammaṃ” - “Everything is birth-dhamma”, or “all is liable to be reborn’” as Sujato translates it. Including nibbana? of course not, and the sutta goes on to clarify that the salayatana are meant. Yet, it says ‘sabba’.

Even worse, AN 8.83, AN 10.58: “chandamūlakā sabbe dhammā” - “all dhamma are rooted in desire”.

Why btw is it that sabbe saṅkhārā are anicca & dhukkha, but dhamma are anatta?
We find the claim that all dhamma are anatta in SN 22.90, SN 44.10, AN 3.136, AN 7.18, MN 35, (Dhp 20)…