Monday, April 12, 2010

The Three Characteristics, Part 2

Today, I will be continuing a short discussion of the Three Characteristics of existence that a things share. These are impermanence (anicca), unsatisfactoriness (dukkha), and the absence of self (anatta).

The concept of impermanence is pretty easy to grasp. We all understand from direct experience that change is the only constant, and so forth. Likewise, the fact that nothing is capable of providing lasting satisfaction is obvious with a little honest reflection. For example, we've all had the experience of getting something we really wanted, felt satisfied with it for a time, and then either lost this thing or grew tired of it.

The fact that no self can be found in any of this, however, is much more difficult for us to accept and understand. It may be easier if we look at all things as coming into existence because of interdependently co-arising causes and conditions, without any self involved. So while we can say that all things are empty of self, they are, at the same time, full of the dharma of causes and conditions.

In the same way, it may help to see all things as verbs, rather than as nouns. When you look at a tree, add an "ing" to the end of it and you have a verb. The object is "treeing." In this way, we can see more clearly that all things, including what we perceive to be ourselves, are a collection of processes, but without any real content.

This is not to deny the miraculous nature of life and existence in any way. To me, it actually makes things even more precious because of the infinity of causes and conditions that have to come together to create even a single-celled organism. 

The Three Characteristics help us to see the nature of things more clearly. When we see things as they are, we can then make more useful and effective choices about how to live our lives. To put this into practice, take a short walk, and with each step repeat inwardly: "impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, no self." Soon you will be able to feel a sense of ease and calm as all the reasons for suffering begin to drop away.


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