The thorny issue of anatta

Theft, enslavement, separation, broken leg, alzheimers, stroke, coma, old age, death…

I hear a beep. A machine is out there.
I hear a beep. A machine is out there.
I hear a beep. A machine is out there.

So how not true?

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Hello @Gabriel and all.

I agree with you say (quoted below) that the Suttas do not always make a good case for why something that is anicca is necessarily dukkha. I think that anicca is only understood to be dukkha or soon lead to dukkha in the presence of craving or clinging. However, I haven’t found a clear statement of that in the EBTs.


The simple declaration is stated as one would a law of physics, a given:

MN146:6.20: “Yaṃ panāniccaṃ dukkhaṃ vā taṃ sukhaṃ vā”ti?
MN146:6.20: “But if it’s impermanent, is it suffering or happiness?”

MN146:6.21: “Suffering, sir.”

Reading this, one would not hold onto anything that causes suffering, i.e., impermanence. Knowledge of why isn’t required to end suffering. :man_shrugging:

I think you may need to read the suttas (or the Choong’s book pp. 55-56) carefully regarding why anicca is dukkha.

It is correct to say craving (ta.nhaa) leads to the arising of dukkha.

Craving here is closely connected to self-attachment/self-view. Cf. “(2) Various terms for the notion of “not-self”” in the Choong’s book pp. 57-60.

Read the suttas (or the Choong’s book pp. 55-56) carefully regarding why anicca is dukkha.

Remember to follow ‘right speech’ (sammaavaacaa) for the discussion.

Perhaps look at the sequences of cause and effect in Dependent liberation. This is a good place to start :slight_smile:

So from a perspective of causes and conditions one comes to a place where basically Impermanence > No self > No craving…

I’m not sure if the logical links are clear in this cut and paste - but a direction for you to explore some more anyway :slightly_smiling_face:

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So it’s a dogma then, and the monastics answering are indoctrinated. At least that’s a better answer than ‘read the suttas’.

The claim of the five suttas (plus SN 22.84) is that when someone is attached to the khandhas and these khandhas change, this creates suffering. Choong doesn’t add anything else to the argument.

Ok then, I take it literally: I’m attached to perception, and the traffic light changes from red to green --> suffering? I’m attached to feelings, never liked Citizen Kane, suddenly come to like it --> suffering?

Apparently “I’m holding it wrong”, so @Piotr says under bad circumstances (disease, tragic events) the change in the khandhas causes suffering.

But that changes the whole argument of the suttas, doesn’t it? unpleasant anicca --> dukkha. Which would be as tautological as it can get.

But how does DO explicitly touch the question raised of anicca --> dukkha?

When I studied physics, nobody explained why gravity works. Physics is dogma. Even Richard Feynman said quite bluntly:

Why can we use mathematics to describe nature without a mechanism behind it? No one knows.

But even though we can’t explain the why of gravity, we can indeed apply the law of gravity and get results. Physics is reproducible and independently verifiable.

That same principle of independent verification applies to anicca and suffering. We can observe that grasping impermanence is futile and leads to suffering. A simple example is binge-watching TV shows–after the last show everybody feels let down. It’s over. :frowning:

  • Before I read the EBTs, I was indoctrinated. I thought relishing was possible without suffering.

  • After I read the EBTs, I changed my indoctrination. Now I know relishing leads to suffering.

Come jump in the stream with us. :wink:


This is mainly about “craving” or self-view, self-attachment to “anicca” phenomena (body-mind) leads to the arising of dukkha. If one is rid of craving, then there is no dukkha. Hence, anicca is dukkha in the one who holds the self-view of craving.

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Logical thinking can only take one so far, at least in my experience. Hence the importance of meditation/contemplation/insight… For subjects that elude the thinking mind, my approach is to set up the conditions (through ongoing sila and Dhamma contemplation) then just let all the ‘knowledge’ go and meditate - put the mind in ‘neutral’, that is disengage it from thinking and the senses, and let it do it’s own thing. It might be quick, it might take ages :slight_smile: So don’t stress and enjoy the ride :smiley: :sunflower: :bug: :butterfly::hatching_chick::pray:

PS I know you’ve been doing this for a long time - so I’m sure I’m not telling you anything new :wink:


When one takes a close look at the First Noble Truth, one can see that it leaves out some possibilities which are obviously pleasant and bring happiness: youth, health, life, association with the liked, separation from the disliked, getting what you wish for.

I guess that the idea is that common people are blinded by these allures and can’t see the drawbacks of existence (even though they might be obvious) - therefore they lack overall picture and look only at one side of the coin.

In case of the aggregates the allure of them is that they can bring pleasure. The drawback is that they are unstable and liable to unintended change therefore they can bring suffering.

If one wishes to escape the drawbacks one has to let go the allure aswell - so, let’s toss a coin away :wink:

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That’s obviously correct. But when it comes to ebt studies I’d like to clearly distinguish what the texts say and what we think they mean. To present our interpretation as the true meaning of the texts is epistemologically very problematic, both for our ability to read, and for others who might be influenced by us.

Unfortunately it became normal for teachers and lay Buddhists to ‘mansplain’ Buddhism. As if saying for example regarding anatta “Sure, the suttas don’t consistently say ‘there is no atta’, but you must forgive the Buddha, sometimes he had an overly complicated way of expressing himself. Let me break it down for you - because I can describe it a little bit better than the Buddha: ‘There is indeed no atta’.”

That the suttas don’t satisfyingly explain everything doesn’t mean that we have to jump in to save the day, blur the difficulties and mend the cracks with our simple minds. I at least find it more beneficial to differentiate between what the texts say on the one hand, and the sense I make of it on the other.

I know this will not change people’s mind, but at least it explains my annoying insistence on details.


:heart: :man_cartwheeling: :man_cartwheeling: :man_cartwheeling: :tada:


Hello @thomaslaw,

First, I must address your last point

Reminders to follow right speech are always appropriate. However the people addressed, if they were not aware of speaking wrongly, will wonder whether they accidentally caused offence. Please know that I had no intention to offend you or anyone here.

Thank you so much for the reference to Choong’s book,

On page 56, the conclusion, " Hence, impermanence is suffering", does not follow from the argument, which only shows that impermanence under some circumstances leads to suffering. Therefore, “impermanence is suffering” is not taken literally. Instead, it is shorthand for something different.

Best wishes,

Yes, for clearer expression, it should be: “anicca is dukkha in the one who holds the self-view of craving” (i.e. self-attachment to “anicca” phenomena, such as the five aggregates/sense spheres).

So, “anicca is dukkha” does not literally mean “anicca itself is dukkha”; it means the origin of dukkha lies in craving, in self-view, in self-attachment to anicca phenomena/body-mind.

In this connection, one may consider that dukkha is in fact not real. That is, dukkha, being not real, arises; having arisen it ceases completely. It is a result of previous action, but there is no doer (anatta). Dukkha is anatta.


I’m not sure. The suttas just say that whatever is anicca is dukkha, there is no qualification like “but only when craving is present”, or whatever.
The other possibility is that dukkha here means “unsatisfactory”, rather than “suffering”. In other words, suffering arises when you don’t clearly see the unsatisfactoriness of impermanent phenomena. When you do clearly see that unsatisfactoriness, then craving and clinging to phenomena will naturally cease.
In other words, dukkha has different meaning in different contexts. Here in the context of the 3 marks it means “inherently unsatisfactory”, while in the context of the First Noble Truth it means “personal suffering due to craving”.

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While we’re discussing anatta, I still don’t get how anatta is compatible with rebirth when there is no atta/soul to be reborn. Rebirth seems to imply the re-appearance of something in a different form, but what IS that something in the EBT where all is anicca and anatta?
Are there any suttas which directly address this question?

Yes, the aggregates are inherently unstable, and therefore unsatisfactory. So it’s unwise to attach to them as “me” and “mine”, that leads to personal suffering.
This seems to be more about self-view, and less about ontology.

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There’s a sutta which says what is reborn is five aggregates. What’s here now is anicca and dukkha upadana-khandas. They give rise to more clinging-aggregates of the same kind.

Here is a sutta that distinguishes impermanence from impermanence with suffering:

AN6.142:1.3: Aniccasaññā, anicce dukkhasaññā, dukkhe anattasaññā, pahānasaññā, virāgasaññā, nirodhasaññā.
AN6.142:1.3: The perception of impermanence, the perception of suffering in impermanence, the perception of not-self in suffering, the perception of giving up, the perception of fading away, and the perception of cessation.

From Voice results for impermanence suffering

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