Thanissaro B. mentioned, in a recorded dhamma talk, that the Buddha teaching “The Three Characteristics”, per se, isn’t to be found in the Sutta-s. He also mentioned (citing his mentor, Ajaan Fuang) that they are not characteristics inherent in “the world out there”, but are aspects of perception, of experience, problems the mind creates for itself by expecting (craving?) constancy, satisfaction, and a comfortable sense of enduring identity in worldly life.
The tilakkhana are broadly considered basic Buddhist teaching, but, as far as I can
find, don’t appear named as such in the Sutta-s. Anicca, dukkha and anatta are separately discussed frequently, and all three together in that famous passage in the DhammaPada (277-279 – “Sabbe saṅkhārā aniccā… Sabbe saṅkhārā dukkhā… Sabbe dhammā anattā”). And there, they are in quotes, as what is seen with discernment (i.e. perceptual attainments). A similar formulation is found also at AN Book of Threes, IV.4 (aka 136, B. Bodhi trans pp.363-4). This is found through in index entry for “Characteristics (lakkhana)”.
Searching further the indexes of DN, MN, AN, and SN otherwise doesn’t find tilakkhana or much more, other than also in AN under “Markless (animitta) concentration”, also under “Threes”, VIII, 183-352 (p. 376) – “Emptiness, markless, and wishless concentration”. B. Bodhi points out (in endnote 617, pp. 1676-7), that the same list occurs in DN III, 219 (#33 Sangiti Sutta, p. 486 in B.Bodhi-Walshe), and that the DN commentary correlates that set of three with anatta, anicca, and dukkha, respectively. Somewhere in there B. Bodhi remarked that this sutta, which reads like a sort of mini-Anguttara (or abhidhamma matika), is considered relatively late. He also points out that Buddhaghosa (Vism XXI, 66-73 in Nanamoli) elaborates on that correspondence – “signless” and anicca, “desireless” and dukkha, “voidness” and anatta – calling them “The Triple Gateway to Liberation” and extensively citing the Patissambhida.
Nowadays, teachers regularly talk about “the Three Characteristics” as fundamental in the Buddha’s teaching, and I recall a teacher once giving a talk about them as the “Gateways to Liberation”.
Others may well correct me, but it would seem that tilakkhana / the “Three Characteristics” weren’t labeled as such by the Buddha (i.e. in the EBT). Discussion of anicca, dukkha and anatta, separately, are certainly to be abundantly found, and, as above, a couple of references grouping them. Perhaps this phenomenon exemplifies a way in which later renditions, commentaries, tended to create labels, abstractions to represent aspects of what the Buddha literally taught in more informal ways.
Anyone know where, when the term ‘tilakkhana’ ‘first appears in the Canon?
(Or has this topic been already covered somewhere on this forum?)