Tilakkhaṇa - where does it come from?

Scholar friends,
I was looking for the term tilakkhaṇa (probably in the plural tilakkhaṇā) in the Canon. As you probably know, it is widely used to denote “the three marks” of conditioned phenomena, anicca dukkha anatta. There is even a Wikipedia entry on it.

The teaching itself is of course well documented (ex., DhP verses 277,8,9.). But I can’t find where the Buddha or indeed anyone else called them “the three marks”.

Perhaps someone here can point me in the right direction? Any idea where the term tilakkhaṇa comes from ?

The lakkhaṇa entry in the dictionary is of no help. The relevant item is number 5 but it points to only the following places: Ja.i.48, Ja.i.275; Ja.iii.377. I looked them up on Sutta Central, but on these Jatakas I found nothing. And anyhow, Jatakas seems an unusual source for central doctrinal terminology.

thank you.

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If you search the English term “three characteristics” you get a lot of entries. I think in the Suttas they are called saṅkhatalakkhaṇa as for example in AN3.47.
With Metta

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Thank you Nimal, this is a good advice.
As to the sutta: it describes three marks, but these are not the same three marks that are usually mentioned (anicca dukkha anatta). In AN3.47 the marks are uppādo , vayo , ṭhitassa aññathattaṁ.

And I didn’t find another relevant reference in the search results.
With appreciation, Asaf.

Hi, I’m not sure the Pali word lakkhana is used in the suttas in this context. (It’s used in the Digha Nikaya in a different context)

Of course, there is the Anattalakkhana Sutta, but that title was likely applied later.

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In the Buddha’s time dhamma was held to be an independent law of nature (niyama) (Anguttara Nikaya 3.134). Niyama includes the fixed laws of seasons and kamma. At that time they believed the universe to be intrinsically ethical, (but this does not necessarily mean benevolent).

C.A.F. Rhys Davids was the first western scholar to draw attention to the list of pañcavidha niyama in her 1912 book, Buddhism . Her reason for mentioning it was to emphasise how for Buddhism we exist in a “moral universe” in which actions lead to just consequences according to a natural moral order, a situation she calls a “cosmodicy” in contrast with the Christian theodicy."—Wikipedia

It’s not clear to me what this above answer has to do with the Pali vocab word and context asked about.
Perhaps I have misunderstood the original question?

The term referring to anicca etc. is commentarial, but often people use it as if it’s a fundamental sutta term. Not only that, also clustering them as three is not consistent - they can be five (as in SN 12.66), or eleven (in SN 22.122), or four (AN 4.49)…


Exactly. In English it’s a very common usage but not in the Pali suttas.

AN 3.136 on Sutta Central.

Dhammaniyama as ‘fixed law’ is in AN 3.136 and SN 12.20. However, if have never gained the impression from the Suttas or the Commentaries this applies to laws of seasons and kamma, which seem to be more ‘general’ laws rather than ‘fixed/absolute’ laws. It seems MN 136 supports this. :saluting_face:

My understanding is the same as the above. The word ‘lakkhana’ in relation to the three natural laws pertaining to conditioned phenomena is only found in the belated title to SN 22.59. :dizzy: