Scriptural Definitions for the Three Signs

2. Scriptural Definitions

The teach­ings on the five aggre­gates (pañ­ca-khand­ha) in chap­ter 1, and on the six sense bases (saḷāy­atana) in chap­ter 2 of Bud­dhad­ham­ma, empha­size the inter­nal life of human beings. The teach­ing of the Three Char­ac­ter­is­tics expands the scope of inves­ti­ga­tion to cov­er both the indi­vid­ual per­son and exter­nal objects. It is a study of human beings and the entire world.

The mean­ing of each of the three char­ac­ter­is­tics has already been described in a rudi­men­ta­ry way. At this point they will be ana­lyzed in more detail, based on Scrip­tur­al teach­ings.

1. Impermanence

The Paṭisamb­hidā­mag­ga offers a sim­ple def­i­n­i­tion for anic­catā: some­thing is con­sid­ered imper­ma­nent ‘in the sense that it ceas­es’ (khaya-aṭṭhena).1 All con­di­tioned things exist momen­tar­i­ly, at a spe­cif­ic time and place, then cease imme­di­ate­ly. An object in the past does not exist in the present; an object present now does not exist in the future. Post-canon­i­cal texts expand on this def­i­n­i­tion and offer a range of expla­na­tions. For exam­ple, at first glance, one sees that a person’s life begins at birth and ends at death. Upon clos­er inspec­tion, one notices an accel­er­at­ing rate of birth and decline, of an age peri­od, a year, a sea­son, a month, a day, a few min­utes, to the rise and fall of each moment, which is dif­fi­cult for most peo­ple to dis­cern. Mod­ern sci­en­tif­ic dis­cov­er­ies, not least in physics, have helped to reveal and demon­strate imper­ma­nence. Many sci­en­tif­ic the­o­ries, say of the birth and death of stars or of atom­ic dis­in­te­gra­tion, illus­trate the law of imper­ma­nence.

The com­men­taries define anic­catā in many dif­fer­ent ways. For exam­ple, some­thing is con­sid­ered imper­ma­nent ‘because it is uncer­tain and unsta­ble’ (anic­can­tikatāya), and ‘because it has a begin­ning and an end’ (ādi-anta­van­tatāya).2 A com­mon and fre­quent­ly used def­i­n­i­tion is: some­thing is con­sid­ered imper­ma­nent in the sense that ‘it has exist­ed and then ceas­es to exist’ (hutvā abhā­vaṭṭhena).3 Addi­tion­al text is some­times added to this phrase, for exam­ple: some­thing is con­sid­ered imper­ma­nent ‘because it aris­es, pass­es away, and becomes oth­er­wise’ (uppā­davayaññathat­tab­hāvā hutvā abhā­va­to vā).4

A detailed list of def­i­n­i­tions is as fol­lows. There are four rea­sons why some­thing is con­sid­ered impermanent:5

1. Uppā­davayap­pa­vat­ti­to: because it aris­es and dis­in­te­grates; it ris­es and ceas­es; it exists and then ceas­es to exist.

2. Vipar­iṇā­ma­to: because it is sub­ject to change; it is con­tin­u­al­ly altered and trans­formed.

3. Tāvakā­lika­to: because it is tem­po­rary; it exists momen­tar­i­ly.

4. Nic­ca­paṭikkhep­a­to: because it is incon­sis­tent with per­ma­nence; the change­abil­i­ty of a con­di­tioned object is inher­ent­ly in con­flict with per­ma­nence; when one accu­rate­ly observes the object no per­ma­nence is found; even if some­one tries to regard it as per­ma­nent, it refus­es to accom­mo­date that person’s wish­es.

2. Dukkha

The Paṭisamb­hidā­mag­ga offers a con­cise def­i­n­i­tion for dukkhatā: some­thing is con­sid­ered dukkha ‘in the sense that it is sub­ject to dan­ger’ (bhaya-aṭṭhena).6 Bhaya can also mean ‘dan­ger­ous’ or ‘fright­en­ing.’ All con­di­tioned phe­nom­e­na invari­ably dis­in­te­grate and dis­solve; they there­fore offer no true safe­ty, relief or assur­ance. Any such phe­nom­e­non is threat­ened by destruc­tion and dis­in­te­gra­tion. The object thus cre­ates danger—both fear and a peril—for any­one who attach­es to it. The com­men­taries elab­o­rate the mean­ing of dukkhatā, includ­ing these two fre­quent­ly used def­i­n­i­tions: First, some­thing is con­sid­ered dukkha ‘in the sense that it is under per­pet­u­al pres­sure through aris­ing and dis­in­te­gra­tion’ (uppā­davaya-paṭipīḷanaṭṭhena7 or uppā­davaya-paṭipīḷanatāya8). There is pres­sure on every­thing that inter­acts with that object, and the object itself is under stress from its com­po­nent elements.9 Sec­ond, ‘because it is a foun­da­tion for suf­fer­ing’ (dukkha-vatthutāya10 or dukkha-vatthuto11). An object beset by dukkha is a basis for suf­fer­ing, for exam­ple by caus­ing pain. Sim­ply speak­ing, dukkha means to cause pain.

The most com­plete com­pi­la­tion of def­i­n­i­tions for dukkha in the com­men­taries is as fol­lows. Some­thing is con­sid­ered to be dukkha for these four reasons:12

Abhiṇha-sam­patipīḷana­to: because it is con­tin­u­al­ly oppressed; it is sub­ject to con­stant pres­sure due to aris­ing and dis­so­lu­tion; there is per­sis­tent fric­tion amongst com­po­nent parts or amongst asso­ci­at­ed objects.

Dukkham­a­to: because it is ‘hard to endure’; it is not durable; it is unable to be sus­tained in an orig­i­nal state; it is oblig­ed to change, become oth­er­wise, and lose iden­ti­ty, as a con­se­quence of aris­ing and ceasing.13

Dukkha-vatthuto: because it is a foun­da­tion for suf­fer­ing; it pro­duces var­i­ous kinds of afflic­tion, e.g., pain, dis­com­fort and distress.14

Sukha-paṭikkhep­a­to: because it oppos­es and obstructs hap­pi­ness (sukha). Hap­pi­ness exists only as a feel­ing. The basic con­di­tion is that of dukkha—pres­sure, ten­sion and friction—which is an attribute of all for­ma­tions. This pres­sure caus­es feel­ings of oppres­sion and stress, which we call ‘pain’ (dukkha-vedanā). The reduc­tion of pres­sure, or the free­dom from pain, we call ‘hap­pi­ness.’ The greater the dis­com­fort (duress, depri­va­tion, yearn­ing, hunger, etc.), the greater the hap­pi­ness when one is released from the dis­com­fort. For exam­ple, a per­son who moves from the hot sun into the shade feels refreshed and cool. Like­wise, a per­son expe­ri­enc­ing great plea­sure (sukha-vedanā) will expe­ri­ence a sim­i­lar­ly strong dis­com­fort (dukkha-vedanā) when the plea­sur­able cir­cum­stances are dis­turbed. Even small amounts of dis­com­fort, which are nor­mal­ly not felt as such, may be a tor­ment. A per­son leav­ing a com­fort­ably warm room into the cold, for exam­ple, may find the tem­per­a­ture extreme, even though those around him are not both­ered.

Hap­pi­ness, or a hap­py feel­ing (sukha-vedanā), is not an end of dukkha. We call an increase or reduc­tion of pres­sure ‘hap­pi­ness’ because it cre­ates a feel­ing of plea­sure. But an alter­ation of this plea­sur­able ten­sion results in a con­di­tion that requires endurance or is intol­er­a­ble, a con­di­tion we call ‘suf­fer­ing,’ i.e., we feel pain (dukkha-vedanā). In truth only dukkha—pres­sure and stress—exists, which either increas­es or decreas­es. A sim­i­lar sub­ject is that of heat and cold. Cold does not real­ly exist; there exists only a feel­ing of cold. The basic con­di­tion is heat, which increas­es, decreas­es, or is absent. When one says that one is pleas­ant­ly cool, one is refer­ring only to a feel­ing; actu­al­ly, one is expe­ri­enc­ing a degree of heat. If more or less warm than that degree, then one is not at ease. In this sense, hap­pi­ness, or to speak in full ‘a feel­ing of hap­pi­ness,’ is one lev­el of dukkha. Hap­pi­ness is depen­dent on pres­sure and ten­sion, and nec­es­sar­i­ly changes and van­ish­es. In oth­er words, dukkha, which is the basic con­di­tion, pre­vents hap­pi­ness from being sus­tain­able.

As quot­ed above, the Paṭisamb­hidā­mag­ga defines dukkha in the con­text of the Three Char­ac­ter­is­tics as ‘sub­ject to dan­ger.’ In the sec­tion explain­ing the Four Noble Truths (ariya-sac­ca), it defines dukkha—the first of the Noble Truths—in four ways. Some­thing is iden­ti­fied as dukkha in the sense that it is oppressed (pīḷanaṭṭha), con­struct­ed (saṅkhataṭṭha), burns (san­tā­paṭṭha), and changes (vipar­iṇā­maṭṭha).15 These four def­i­n­i­tions of dukkha can also be used in the con­text of the Three Char­ac­ter­is­tics. Def­i­n­i­tions one and four (pīḷanaṭṭha and vipar­iṇā­maṭṭha) have already been described (def­i­n­i­tion 1 of dukkha and def­i­n­i­tion 2 of imper­ma­nence above, respec­tive­ly); here are the oth­er two:

Saṅkhataṭṭha: ‘in the sense that it is fash­ioned (saṅkha­ta)’; it is con­struct­ed by con­di­tion­ing fac­tors; it depends on such fac­tors; it is incon­stant.

San­tā­paṭṭha: ‘in the sense that it burns’; it burns up, end­ing in decay and destruc­tion; more­over, it burns some­one with defile­ments, who grasps and clings to the object, caus­ing tor­ment and agitation.16

A. The Three Characteristics and the Four Noble Truths

Dukkha appears in three key teach­ings:

1. On feeling/sensation (two ver­sions):

a) Three vedanā: Painful (dukkha), pleas­ant (sukha), and neu­tral (adukkham’asukha or upekkhā).

b) Five vedanā: Dukkha, sukha, domanas­sa, somanas­sa and upekkhā.

Its com­plete name in this con­text is dukkha-vedanā.

2. In the Three Char­ac­ter­is­tics: anic­ca, dukkha and anat­tā. In this con­text its com­plete name is dukkha-lakkhaṇa.

3. In the Four Noble Truths: Dukkha, samu­daya (ori­gin), nirod­ha (ces­sa­tion) and mag­ga (path). Its com­plete name is dukkha-ariyasac­ca.

The def­i­n­i­tions of dukkha in these three groups over­lap; they are dif­fer­ent aspects of one truth. The dukkha with the broad­est mean­ing and is all-inclu­sive is dukkha of the Three Char­ac­ter­is­tics, also referred to as dukkha-lakkhaṇa or dukkhatā. This is the con­di­tion of insta­bil­i­ty, the inabil­i­ty to be sus­tained in an orig­i­nal shape, due to the pres­sure, stress and fric­tion from ris­ing and dis­in­te­gra­tion, as explained above. It is a char­ac­ter­is­tic of all con­di­tioned phe­nom­e­na (sabbe saṅkhārā dukkhā), encom­pass­ing the same range as imper­ma­nence: what­ev­er is imper­ma­nent is also dukkha (yad’aniccaṃ taṃ dukkhaṃ).

The dukkha with the most restrict­ed mean­ing, and is sim­ply a con­se­quence of the dukkha of the Three Char­ac­ter­is­tics, is dukkha as feel­ing, called dukkha-vedanā: a feel­ing of pain. It is a feel­ing occur­ring when pres­sure reach­es a cer­tain lev­el in rela­tion to a person’s body and mind.17 This pain is includ­ed in the dukkha of the Three Char­ac­ter­is­tics, as is all oth­er feel­ing, both pleas­ant and neu­tral. All kinds of feeling—painful, plea­sur­able, and neutral—are dukkha as deter­mined by the Three Char­ac­ter­is­tics.

Dukkha in the Four Noble Truths (dukkha-ariyasac­ca) is one aspect of dukkha in the Three Char­ac­ter­is­tics, but it is lim­it­ed to things that cause prob­lems for human beings. All for­ma­tions are under pres­sure, which is the dukkha of the Three Char­ac­ter­is­tics. These for­ma­tions (not all of them and not always) oppress human beings; this oppres­sion is the dukkha of the Four Noble Truths. (These phe­nom­e­na are oppres­sive, how­ev­er, because they them­selves are sub­ject to stress.) Dukkha-ariyasac­ca refers specif­i­cal­ly to mat­ters con­cern­ing the five aggre­gates of cling­ing (upādā­na-khand­ha). Tech­ni­cal­ly, the dukkha of the Four Noble Truths refers specif­i­cal­ly to the suf­fer­ing aris­ing on account of the sense bases (indriya-bad­dha). It excludes pres­sure inde­pen­dent of the sense bases (anin­driya-bad­dha), which is clas­si­fied as dukkha of the Three Char­ac­ter­is­tics but not of the Noble Truths. (Note that dukkha-ariyasac­ca is dukkha of the Three Char­ac­ter­is­tics. Samu­daya (the cause of suf­fer­ing: crav­ing—taṇhā) and mag­ga (the eight­fold path) are as well, but they are not dukkha-ariyasac­ca.)

The scope of dukkha in the Four Noble Truths is deter­mined as fol­lows:

Dukkha as the first noble truth is asso­ci­at­ed with human life and human prob­lems. It aris­es as a result of the sense fac­ul­ties (indriyabad­dha); it does not include dukkha inde­pen­dent of the sense fac­ul­ties (anin­driyabad­dha). It is not the dukkha men­tioned in the pas­sages ‘all con­di­tioned phe­nom­e­na are dukkha’ (sabbe saṅkhārā dukkhā), and ‘what­ev­er is imper­ma­nent is dukkha’ (yad’aniccaṃ taṃ dukkhaṃ), which refer to the all-inclu­sive dukkha of the Three Char­ac­ter­is­tics.

It orig­i­nates from a person’s inten­tion­al action and defile­ment (kam­ma-kile­sa). It is a result of dukkha-samu­daya (the ori­gin of suffering—the sec­ond noble truth); it is a result of crav­ing—taṇhā. It refers specif­i­cal­ly to mat­ters con­cern­ing the five aggre­gates of cling­ing (upādā­na-khand­ha).

It is the focus of the duty (kic­ca) relat­ing to the first noble truth: par­iññā-kic­ca. Par­iññā is com­pre­hen­sion or knowl­edge of things as they tru­ly are. To acquire knowl­edge of and to ful­ly under­stand per­son­al prob­lems is our respon­si­bil­i­ty vis-à-vis dukkha of the Four Noble Truths. Dukkha here is con­fined to this sub­ject of under­stand­ing human suf­fer­ing.

It empha­sizes the mean­ing of the ori­gin of suf­fer­ing (dukkha-vatthutāya) rather than the mean­ing of the pres­sure, ten­sion and fric­tion of aris­ing and falling (udayab­baya-paṭipīḷanaṭṭhena), which is the essen­tial mean­ing of dukkha in the Three Characteristics.18

B. Types of Dukkha

The dukkha most often ana­lyzed in the scrip­tures is dukkha of the Four Noble Truths, because it con­cerns human beings direct­ly. We should reflect upon this suf­fer­ing, to be released from it through Dham­ma prac­tice. As for the all-inclu­sive dukkha of the Three Char­ac­ter­is­tics, it is illus­trat­ed just enough for accu­rate under­stand­ing of real­i­ty. The chief, most fre­quent­ly men­tioned groups of dukkha in the scrip­tures are list­ed below:

1) The 3 Dukkhatā:19 This is a key group, which includes the mean­ing of dukkha in the Three Char­ac­ter­is­tics:

1. Dukkha-dukkhatā:20 Phys­i­cal and men­tal pain, as gen­er­al­ly under­stood, for exam­ple aches, dis­com­fort and fatigue; in oth­er words, ‘painful feel­ing’ (dukkha-vedanā).

2. Vipar­iṇā­ma-dukkhatā: Dukkha result­ing from or inher­ent in change. This refers to plea­sur­able feel­ing (sukha-vedanā), which in truth is a degree of dukkha. Plea­sure is equal to con­cealed pain, or always has pain furtive­ly in pur­suit. Once a feel­ing of plea­sure changes, it trans­forms into a feel­ing of pain. In oth­er words, the fun­da­men­tal incon­stan­cy of plea­sure pro­duces pain. (Anoth­er expla­na­tion is that plea­sure is pain, of a par­tic­u­lar degree.)

3. Saṅkhāra-dukkhatā:21 Dukkha that is inher­ent in con­di­tioned phe­nom­e­na, inher­ent in every­thing that orig­i­nates from caus­es. In oth­er words, the five aggre­gates are dukkha; they are of the nature to be pres­sured and coerced by the ris­ing and decay of oppos­ing fac­tors, pre­vent­ing them from remain­ing in a sta­ble, orig­i­nal state. This third dukkha com­pris­es the dukkha of the Three Char­ac­ter­is­tics.

2) The 12 Dukkha: This group elu­ci­dates the mean­ing of dukkha in the Four Noble Truths:22

1. Birth (jāti): Birth is suf­fer­ing because it is a basis for var­i­ous kinds of afflic­tion:

A. Gabb­hokkan­timūla­ka-dukkha: The suf­fer­ing of con­fine­ment in the womb: a foe­tus dwells in a dark, sti­fling place, full of repug­nant sub­stances.

B. Gabb­ha­pari­haraṇamūla­ka-dukkha: The suf­fer­ing of car­ry­ing the womb. When­ev­er the moth­er moves, or eats hot, cold, or spicy food, it affects the child in the womb.

C. Gabb­havipat­timūla­ka-dukkha: The suf­fer­ing from mis­for­tunes of the womb, for exam­ple ectopic preg­nan­cy, still­birth or Cae­sare­an oper­a­tion.

D. Vijāyanamūla­ka-dukkha: The suf­fer­ing of child­birth, includ­ing the pound­ing, twist­ing, squeez­ing and severe pain while exit­ing the nar­row canal.

E. Bahinikkhamanamūla­ka-dukkha: The suf­fer­ing of emer­gence into the out­side world. The new­ly born infant, whose skin is sen­si­tive as a wound, feels acute pain when han­dled and washed.

F. Attupakka­mamūla­ka-dukkha: The suf­fer­ing that results from self-inflict­ed actions, for exam­ple sui­cide, extreme asceti­cism, refus­ing to eat due to resent­ment, or oth­er self-inju­ri­ous acts.

G. Paru­pakka­mamūla­ka-dukkha: The suf­fer­ing caused by oth­ers’ deeds, for exam­ple being assault­ed, mur­dered or impris­oned.

2. Age­ing (jarā): Age­ing weak­ens the organs. The fac­ul­ties, for exam­ple the eyes and ears, func­tion defec­tive­ly, vital­i­ty wanes, and agili­ty is lost. The skin wrin­kles; it is no longer fair and lus­trous. Mem­o­ry becomes inco­her­ent and faulty. A person’s con­trol, both inter­nal and exter­nal, weak­ens, caus­ing great phys­i­cal and men­tal dis­tress.

3. Death (maraṇa): If one has com­mit­ted bad deeds dur­ing the course of one’s life, they appear as men­tal images (nimit­ta) at the time of death. One must be sep­a­rat­ed from cher­ished peo­ple and things. The con­stituent parts of the body cease to per­form their duties, there may be intense phys­i­cal pain, and one is impo­tent to rem­e­dy the sit­u­a­tion.

4. Grief (soka), for exam­ple from the loss of a rel­a­tive.

5. Lamen­ta­tion (paride­va), for exam­ple keen­ing at the loss of a rel­a­tive.

6. Phys­i­cal pain (dukkha), for exam­ple wounds, sprains and sickness.23

7. Dis­tress and anguish (domanas­sa), which cause, for exam­ple, cry­ing, beat­ing one’s breast, and com­mit­ting sui­cide.

8. Frus­tra­tion and despair (upāyāsa), for exam­ple the tor­ment of unmit­i­gat­ed grief.

9. The asso­ci­a­tion with dis­agree­able peo­ple or things (appiya-sam­payo­ga), for exam­ple the need to engage with a per­son whom one detests.

10. The sep­a­ra­tion from cher­ished peo­ple or objects (piya-vip­payo­ga), for exam­ple sep­a­ra­tion from loved ones or the loss of pos­ses­sions.

11. Not obtain­ing what one wants; dis­ap­point­ment (icchitālāb­ha).

12. The five aggre­gates, which are the foun­da­tion for cling­ing (upādā­na-khand­hā). All of the afore­men­tioned suf­fer­ing stems from the five aggre­gates as objects of cling­ing. To sum up, one can say that suf­fer­ing is the five aggre­gates of cling­ing.

3) The 2 Dukkha (A):24

Paṭic­cha­n­na-dukkha: Con­cealed, not clear­ly man­i­fest suf­fer­ing, for exam­ple a latent ear- or tooth-ache, or the mind smoul­der­ing with the ‘fires’ of lust and anger.

Appaṭic­cha­n­na-dukkha: Overt suf­fer­ing, for exam­ple being pricked by a thorn, whipped, or cut by a knife.

4) The 2 Dukkha (B):25

Pariyāya-dukkha: Indi­rect or implic­it dukkha, that is, every form of dukkha men­tioned above exclud­ing painful feel­ing (dukkha-vedanā).

Nip­pariyāya-dukkha: Explic­it dukkha, which is also called dukkha-dukkha: the feel­ing of pain.

The Mahānid­de­sa and the Cūḷanid­de­sa offer many addi­tion­al cat­e­gories of dukkha.26 For mat­ter of sim­plic­i­ty, they can be sort­ed into the fol­low­ing groups:

Suf­fer­ing as birth (jāti-dukkha), age­ing (jarā-dukkha), ill­ness (byād­hi-dukkha), death (maraṇa-dukkha), sor­row, lamen­ta­tion, pain, anguish and despair (soka-paride­va-dukkha-domanas­sa-upāyāsa).

The suf­fer­ing of hell-beings (ner­ayi­ka-dukkha), of ani­mals (tirac­chā­nay­oni­ka-dukkha), of ghosts (pit­tivisayi­ka-dukkha), and of humans (mānusa­ka-dukkha).

The suf­fer­ing expe­ri­enced from tak­ing birth in a womb (gabb­hokkan­timūla­ka-dukkha), from liv­ing in a womb (gabb­heṭhitimūla­ka-dukkha), and from exit­ing a womb (gabb­havuṭṭhā­namūla­ka-dukkha); the suf­fer­ing inher­ent in one who is born (jātassū­pani­band­hi­ka-dukkha); the suf­fer­ing of one who is born, due to being depen­dent on oth­ers (jātas­s­aparād­heyya­ka-dukkha); self-inflict­ed suf­fer­ing (attū­pakka­ma-dukkha); and suf­fer­ing inflict­ed by oth­ers (parū­pakka­ma-dukkha).

Pain (dukkha-dukkha), the dukkha of for­ma­tions (saṅkhāra-dukkha), and dukkha inher­ent in change (vipar­iṇā­ma-dukkha).

Var­i­ous kinds of dis­eases, for exam­ple eye and ear dis­eases; thir­ty-five kinds of dis­eases are men­tioned.

Ill­ness result­ing from eight caus­es, includ­ing bile, phlegm and wind, or a com­bi­na­tion of these caus­es; ill­ness result­ing from changes in the weath­er and irreg­u­lar exer­cise; afflic­tions due to oth­er people’s actions—for exam­ple being mur­dered or impris­oned, and the effects of per­son­al actions.

Suf­fer­ing owing to cold, heat, hunger, thirst, defe­ca­tion, uri­na­tion, wind, sun, flies, mos­qui­toes and crawl­ing crea­tures.

Suf­fer­ing result­ing from the death of one’s moth­er, father, broth­er, sis­ter or child.

Suf­fer­ing due to loss of rel­a­tives, loss of pos­ses­sions, loss through sick­ness, loss of moral con­duct, and loss of cher­ished views and opin­ions.

In the Mahā­dukkhakkhand­ha and the Cūḷadukkhakkhand­ha sut­tas, the Bud­dha described many exam­ples of the ‘mass of suf­fer­ing’ (dukkha-khand­ha), the plights afflict­ing humans because of sense desire.27 They are sum­ma­rized as fol­lows:

  • The hard­ship or even loss of life due to one’s occu­pa­tion.
  • The dis­ap­point­ment expe­ri­enced when one’s labour is in vain.
  • The suf­fer­ing in try­ing to pro­tect acquired wealth.
  • The grief that ensues when such pro­tec­tion is unsuc­cess­ful and wealth is lost, for exam­ple to thieves or fire.
  • The dis­putes and vio­lence between rulers, between house­hold­ers, between par­ents and chil­dren, between sib­lings, and between friends, lead­ing to death or seri­ous injury.
  • The slaugh­ter and severe agony of war.
  • The injury and death result­ing from inva­sion.
  • The com­mit­tal of crimes, for exam­ple bur­glary or adul­tery, fol­lowed by arrest and con­vic­tion, and end­ing in tor­ture and exe­cu­tion.
  • The per­for­mance of phys­i­cal, ver­bal and men­tal mis­deeds, lead­ing after death to states of depri­va­tion, perdi­tion and hell.

More ref­er­ences to dukkha are locat­ed through­out the scrip­tures and com­men­taries. In some places the descrip­tions have no spe­cif­ic name (as in the exam­ples of the Mahā- and the Cūḷadukkhakkhand­ha sut­tas men­tioned above), while in oth­ers dukkha is iden­ti­fied by spe­cial terms such as saṁsāra-dukkha,28 apāya-dukkha, vaṭṭamūla­ka-dukkha or āhāra­pariyeṭṭhi-dukkha,29 to list just a few.30 It would be pos­si­ble to elab­o­rate much more on this sub­ject of suf­fer­ing, since human beings encounter so many prob­lems, includ­ing the afflic­tions faced by all liv­ing crea­tures, and suf­fer­ing spe­cif­ic to cer­tain time peri­ods, regions and cir­cum­stances, but it is not nec­es­sary to offer a drawn-out expla­na­tion. More impor­tant is to real­ize that the many scrip­tur­al descrip­tions exist to pro­mote an under­stand­ing of the true nature of suf­fer­ing. With this under­stand­ing we can respond cor­rect­ly to suf­fer­ing. We acknowl­edge that we must engage with suf­fer­ing, rather than resort to eva­sion, self-decep­tion, or to the denial that either suf­fer­ing does not exist or that it can not affect us. Such decep­tion only cre­ates more com­plex prob­lems and more severe afflic­tion. Our respon­si­bil­i­ty is rather that of fac­ing and under­stand­ing suf­fer­ing (par­iññā-kic­ca), to have vic­to­ry over it, and to be freed from it: this is the prac­tice of walk­ing the path lead­ing to suffering’s ces­sa­tion, a ces­sa­tion both tem­po­rary and per­ma­nent.

 

*****

Form is like a lump of foam,

Feel­ing like a water bub­ble;

Per­cep­tion is like a mirage,

Voli­tions resem­ble a plan­tain trunk,

And con­scious­ness an illu­sion.

(S. III. 142–43)

*****

 

3. Anattā: The Characteristic of Nonself

A. Scope

As explained ear­li­er the qual­i­ty of non­self (anat­tatā) has a broad­er appli­ca­tion than the qual­i­ties of imper­ma­nence and dukkha. One sees the dif­fer­ence clear­ly in the Buddha’s pre­sen­ta­tion:

Sabbe saṅkhārā anic­cā: All con­di­tioned phe­nom­e­na are imper­ma­nent.

Sabbe saṅkhārā dukkhā: All con­di­tioned phe­nom­e­na are sub­ject to pres­sure.

Sabbe dham­mā anat­tā: All things are non­self.

This teach­ing indi­cates that con­di­tioned phe­nom­e­na (and all con­di­tioned phe­nom­e­na) are imper­ma­nent and dukkha. But some­thing exists apart from such phe­nom­e­na, which is nei­ther imper­ma­nent nor sub­ject to stress. All things with­out excep­tion, how­ev­er, are anat­tā: they are non­self. Noth­ing exists which is a self or pos­sess­es a self.

The def­i­n­i­tion of dham­ma encom­pass­es all things. As dham­ma includes all things it can be sub­di­vid­ed with­out end. One can, how­ev­er, clas­si­fy things into groups and cat­e­gories. The divi­sion per­ti­nent to this dis­cus­sion is into con­di­tioned things (saṅkha­ta-dham­ma) and the Uncon­di­tioned (asaṅkha­ta-dham­ma).

Saṅkha­ta-dham­ma refers to things cre­at­ed by con­di­tion­ing fac­tors (pac­caya). These things can be sim­ply called saṅkhāra, and include all mate­ri­al­i­ty and men­tal­i­ty, con­sti­tut­ing the five aggre­gates. Asaṅkha­ta-dham­ma, the Uncon­di­tioned, is nei­ther cre­at­ed nor sup­port­ed by con­di­tion­ing fac­tors; it is also called visaṅkhāra: the state tran­scend­ing the five aggre­gates, or Nib­bā­na.

One can describe this law of nature in more detail as fol­lows:

All con­di­tioned things (the five aggre­gates) are imper­ma­nent.

All con­di­tioned things (the five aggre­gates) are dukkha.

All things, both con­di­tioned things and the Uncon­di­tioned, are non­self.

B. Basic Definition

Anat­tā can be trans­lat­ed as ‘not-self,’ ‘self­less,’ or ‘non­self.’ As anat­tā is a nega­tion of attā, to com­pre­hend the char­ac­ter­is­tic of non­self we must first under­stand the mean­ing of attā. Attā (San­skrit—ātman) refers to an eter­nal self or sub­stance, which is the pur­port­ed essence or core of any par­tic­u­lar thing, resid­ing per­ma­nent­ly in an object. It is both own­er and con­troller, the essen­tial recip­i­ent of expe­ri­ence and agent of action. It is that which lies behind all phe­nom­e­na, includ­ing all life, able to direct things in con­for­mi­ty with its needs and desires.

Some reli­gions elab­o­rate by claim­ing that a supe­ri­or ‘Self’ or ‘Spir­it’ lies behind all world­ly phe­nom­e­na, reign­ing over the souls or sub­stance of all liv­ing beings and inan­i­mate objects. They claim that this supreme Spir­it cre­ates and gov­erns all things, or that it is the source and des­ti­na­tion of all things and all life. In Hin­duism, for exam­ple, it is called Brah­mā or Paramāt­man.

The gist of the teach­ing on anat­tā is the nega­tion of this fixed abid­ing self, both mun­dane and tran­scen­dent; it asserts that this self is sim­ply an idea stem­ming from a mis­ap­pre­hen­sion by unawak­ened human beings, who do not see the true nature of the world. Peo­ple cre­ate a (con­cept of) self and super­im­pose it on real­i­ty; this (con­cept of) self then obstructs them from see­ing the truth. A clear under­stand­ing of non­self dis­pels the mis­ap­pre­hen­sion and dis­solves the obscur­ing (idea of) self. The teach­ing of non­self bids us to dis­cern with wis­dom that all things, all com­po­nents of real­i­ty, exist and pro­ceed in con­for­mi­ty with their own nature. No hid­den, abid­ing self exists as own­er or direc­tor; things are not sub­servient to an inter­nal or exter­nal con­trol.

A basic def­i­n­i­tion of self­less­ness, both in regard to con­di­tioned phe­nom­e­na and the Uncon­di­tioned, is that all things exist in com­pli­ance with their nature, and are not sub­or­di­nate to an exter­nal author­i­ty. To elab­o­rate on this def­i­n­i­tion one must exam­ine the dis­tinc­tion between con­di­tioned phe­nom­e­na and the Uncon­di­tioned. The Uncon­di­tioned, or Nib­bā­na, on the one hand, is an absolute truth (dham­ma-dhā­tu), exist­ing inde­pen­dent of con­di­tion­ing fac­tors. It is nei­ther a being, nor a con­scious­ness, nor a self (nis­sat­ta-nijjī­va); it can­not be pos­sessed or con­trolled; nor does it act in any sort of cre­ative role. Com­pound­ed phe­nom­e­na, on the oth­er hand, are depen­dent on and con­form to those fac­tors which act as cat­a­lysts or cre­ative agents. These phe­nom­e­na are void of an inner sub­stance that expe­ri­ences the for­ma­tive process or con­trols the five aggre­gates, com­mand­ing them to fol­low desire inde­pen­dent of the laws of cause and effect.

C) Implied Definition

Before pro­ceed­ing, one needs to under­stand that the Bud­dhist teach­ing refers to a self sole­ly on a con­ven­tion­al lev­el: the self is a rel­a­tive truth; it is not believed to be absolute. This is made clear by the Buddha’s state­ment that a Per­fect­ly Enlight­ened Bud­dha does not estab­lish a self as part of his doc­trine; he does not regard the self as real:

The teacher who does not declare a self as real or true, either in this world or the next, is called the Per­fect­ly Enlight­ened Bud­dha.31

Con­se­quent­ly, the Bud­dhist teach­ings do not con­cern them­selves with the exis­tence of self or engage in a diag­no­sis of self. More­over, the Bud­dha stat­ed:

It is impos­si­ble for a per­son endowed with right view (i.e., a stream-enter­er) to grasp any thing (dham­ma) as self.32

With the real­iza­tion of the supreme state, no rea­son remains for an ara­hant to con­tem­plate a self. This is sub­stan­ti­at­ed by the Buddha’s des­ig­na­tion of an ara­hant as one who has ‘aban­doned the self’ or ‘dis­card­ed the self’ (attañ­ja­ho/attañ­ja­ha):33 an ara­hant has aban­doned the belief in a self, the view of exist­ing as or pos­sess­ing a self. Some pas­sages describe an ara­hant as ‘hav­ing aban­doned the self, not cling­ing to any­thing’ (attaṃ pahāya anupādiyāno).34

Although a self does not tru­ly exist, most peo­ple embrace a notion of a fixed self. The Bud­dha reject­ed the valid­i­ty of such a notion, and encour­aged peo­ple to aban­don the attach­ment to self. In Bud­dhism, a sub­stan­tial self is of no impor­tance; it is not a mat­ter requir­ing spec­u­la­tion. Bud­dhism focus­es on the attach­ment to self or on the con­cept of self that is the object of such attach­ment. Bud­dhism teach­es peo­ple to release the attach­ment. With its release one’s respon­si­bil­i­ty is ful­filled, and a fixed sta­ble self no longer has rel­e­vance.

To sum­ma­rize, once a per­son under­stands that con­di­tioned things are self­less, the top­ic of self ver­sus non­self is over. A per­son who has real­ized the Uncon­di­tioned no longer iden­ti­fies with any­thing as a self. Fur­ther­more, any expla­na­tion for the self­less nature of the Uncon­di­tioned, Nib­bā­na, becomes redun­dant. To elab­o­rate on Nib­bā­na as anat­tā is unnec­es­sary for the fol­low­ing rea­sons:

The only things that peo­ple attach to and are able to attach to as self are con­di­tioned phe­nom­e­na or the five aggre­gates.

All that unawak­ened peo­ple rec­og­nize, know, and think about lies with­in the con­fines of the five aggre­gates. Even when speak­ing of Nib­bā­na, the Nib­bā­na they refer to is not the real Nib­bā­na, but part of the five aggre­gates.

The duty of a teacher in this con­text is only to prompt peo­ple to know and then aban­don their mis­un­der­stand­ing which leads them to grasp con­di­tioned things as self.

Once peo­ple are aware, aban­don­ing erro­neous views and ceas­ing to grasp the five aggre­gates as self, they do not search for any­thing else to cling to as a self, because they have clear­ly real­ized Nib­bā­na, which tran­scends the five aggre­gates along with all belief in self. Those who have real­ized Nib­bā­na dis­cern by them­selves the self­less qual­i­ty of the Uncon­di­tioned; there is no fur­ther need to dis­cuss this mat­ter. Tran­scend­ing the state of an ordi­nary per­son (from the lev­el of stream-entry upwards) results in the end of cling­ing and doubt­ing; the neces­si­ty to dis­cuss the self­less nature of the Uncon­di­tioned van­ish­es auto­mat­i­cal­ly.

The stan­dard scrip­tur­al expla­na­tions of anat­tā there­fore refer to con­di­tioned phe­nom­e­na, which are of every­day rel­e­vance to peo­ple and com­prise all things that ordi­nary unawak­ened peo­ple are able to con­ceive of from expe­ri­ence.

D) Scriptural Explanation

As stat­ed above, the com­mon scrip­tur­al expla­na­tions of anat­tā focus on con­di­tioned things because these teach­ings are pre­sent­ed to ordi­nary peo­ple and touch upon every­day issues. Fur­ther­more, those things that ordi­nary unawak­ened peo­ple are able to con­ceive of as self are lim­it­ed to con­di­tioned things (saṅkhāra) or lim­it­ed to the five aggre­gates. There­fore, the expla­na­tions of non­self con­cen­trate exclu­sive­ly on the five aggre­gates. This cor­re­sponds with the Buddha’s words:

Monks, whichev­er ascetics and brah­mans who regard self in var­i­ous ways all regard the five aggre­gates sub­ject to cling­ing, or a cer­tain one among them. What five?

Monks, the unin­struct­ed, ordi­nary per­son … regards form as self, or self as pos­sess­ing form, or form as in self, or self as in form. He regards feel­ing as self … per­cep­tion as self … voli­tion­al for­ma­tions as self … con­scious­ness as self … or self as in con­scious­ness. This way of regard­ing things thus becomes his fixed belief that ‘I exist.’35

In oth­er words, (belief in) a self only exists where the five aggre­gates exist, and exists because of cling­ing to these aggre­gates, as explained by the Bud­dha:

Monks, when what exists, by rely­ing on what, by adher­ing to what, does such a view as this arise: ‘This is mine, I am this, this is my self’?….

When there is form, monks, by rely­ing on form, by adher­ing to form, such a view as this aris­es: ‘This is mine, I am this, this is my self.’ When there is feel­ing … per­cep­tion … voli­tion­al for­ma­tions … con­scious­ness, by rely­ing on con­scious­ness, by adher­ing to con­scious­ness, such a view as this aris­es: ‘This is mine, I am this, this is my self.’ 36

At this point let us exam­ine some of the numer­ous scrip­tur­al expla­na­tions of non­self. The Paṭisamb­hidā­mag­ga defines some­thing as anat­tā in the sense that it is ‘insub­stan­tial’ (asārakaṭṭhena).37 Insub­stan­tial means to be with­out essence, to be with­out a core, and to pos­sess noth­ing that is tru­ly sta­ble or endur­ing.

Insub­stan­tial means the absence of an essen­tial, nuclear self (atta-sāra), which is thought of as a self (attā), an abider (nivāsī), an agent (kāra­ka), an expe­ri­encer (veda­ka), or an autonomous mas­ter (sayaṁ­vasī). For what­ev­er is imper­ma­nent is dukkha; it is unable to pre­vent its tran­sience or its oppres­sion from ris­ing and falling. How then can it exist as a doer, and so on? Hence, the Bud­dha said: ‘Monks, if this phys­i­cal form, for exam­ple, were self, sure­ly it would not be sub­ject to afflic­tion.’ 38

Note that this def­i­n­i­tion of non-essence or self­less­ness includes the absence of a cre­ative role or a lack of intrin­sic con­trol. If one were to pos­sess a sta­ble endur­ing self as a core, then one could resist change; one would not be sub­ject to change. Sim­i­lar­ly, if one were mas­ter over things, one could manip­u­late pos­ses­sions accord­ing to desire. Real­i­ty, how­ev­er, is not this way. A dis­tinc­tive fea­ture of the absence of an abid­ing self is the inabil­i­ty to dom­i­nate con­di­tions, and their oppo­si­tion to desire. (Note that Bud­dha-Dham­ma con­sid­ers even Brah­mā, God, or whichev­er supreme cre­ator deity to exist with­in the con­di­tioned world, to be con­fined to the five aggre­gates, and thus wield­ing restrict­ed pow­er.) In this sense, the com­men­taries pre­fer to define anat­tā as ‘the inabil­i­ty to con­trol’ or ‘not sub­ject to con­trol’ (avasa­vat­tanaṭṭhena or avasa­vat­tana­to).39 Like­wise, they explain that no one can force for­ma­tions into sub­servience, in defi­ance of cause and effect, by demand­ing that arisen phe­nom­e­na not exist, that exis­tent phe­nom­e­na not age, and that age­ing phe­nom­e­na not perish.40 They quote the Buddha’s words:

A per­son can­not in regard to phys­i­cal form obtain (as wished for): ‘May form be this way, may form not be that way.’ [Same with the oth­er aggregates.]41

When one thor­ough­ly exam­ines the nature of all things, one finds that no fixed and per­ma­nent self exists, as is implied by giv­ing things par­tic­u­lar names. There is mere­ly a nat­ur­al process (dham­ma-pavat­ti)—a process of conditionality—or a process of mate­ri­al­i­ty and men­tal­i­ty (khand­ha-pavat­ti), which orig­i­nates from the con­flu­ence of man­i­fold con­stituents. All of these con­stituents arise and cease in a con­tin­u­al, inter-causal rela­tion­ship, both with­in a sin­gle iso­lat­ed dynam­ic, and with­in all cre­ation. This being so, we should take note of four sig­nif­i­cant points:

  • There is no true, endur­ing self with­in any phe­nom­e­non, exist­ing as an essence or core.
  • All con­di­tioned things arise from the con­ver­gence of com­po­nents.
  • These com­po­nents con­tin­u­al­ly arise and dis­in­te­grate, and are co-depen­dent, con­sti­tut­ing a spe­cif­ic dynam­ic of nature.
  • If one sep­a­rates a spe­cif­ic dynam­ic into sub­or­di­nate dynam­ics, one sees that these too are co-depen­dent.

The man­i­fes­ta­tion and trans­for­ma­tion of a dynam­ic is deter­mined by the rela­tion­ship of its com­po­nents. The dynam­ic pro­ceeds with­out the inter­ven­tion by a ‘self.’ No sep­a­rate self exists, nei­ther an inter­nal endur­ing self that resists cause and effect and is able to direct the activ­i­ty accord­ing to its wish­es, nor an inde­pen­dent exter­nal agent.

Human beings con­fer names to many of these assem­blies and for­ma­tions, for exam­ple ‘per­son,’ ‘horse,’ ‘cat,’ ‘ant,’ ‘car,’ ‘shop,’ ‘house,’ ‘clock,’ ‘pen,’ ‘Mr. Jones,’ and ‘Miss Smith.’ These names, how­ev­er, are sim­ply con­ven­tion­al labels, estab­lished for con­ve­nience of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. The enti­ties do not real­ly exist: they do not have a real self, a sep­a­rate iden­ti­ty dis­tinct from their col­lec­tive com­po­nents. Upon analy­sis of these enti­ties what remains is each unit or part with its own spe­cif­ic name. It is not pos­si­ble to find a self with­in such enti­ties, no mat­ter how deeply one search­es. By giv­ing names to things one cre­ates a pro­vi­sion­al self that is super­im­posed on the true con­di­tion. It is super­im­posed ran­dom­ly, with­out any direct rela­tion­ship to, con­trol over, or affect on that par­tic­u­lar dynam­ic, except when one clings to the con­ven­tion­al des­ig­na­tion (cling­ing is then one com­po­nent of the process). If names are just con­ven­tion­al labels, arbi­trar­i­ly super­im­posed, then it is self-evi­dent that they are pow­er­less.

When ele­ments con­vene and man­i­fest as par­tic­u­lar forms, we assign agreed upon names to these forms. As long as the com­po­nents are con­joined, they sus­tain the par­tic­u­lar shape which cor­re­sponds to a con­ven­tion­al iden­ti­ty. When the com­po­nents split up, how­ev­er, or the sur­round­ing con­di­tions are unsup­port­ive, the form dis­ap­pears. For exam­ple, when tem­per­a­ture ris­es above a cer­tain lev­el, ice melts; the enti­ty called ‘ice’ van­ish­es, with water remain­ing. With a fur­ther increase in tem­per­a­ture, water evap­o­rates, turn­ing to steam; that enti­ty of ‘water’ ceas­es to be. Like­wise, when paper is burned, only ash­es remain; the enti­ty called ‘paper’ is no longer found.

The dynam­ics of nature occur in line with cause and effect; they do not obey desire, and they are not influ­enced by these ran­dom­ly estab­lished iden­ti­ties. They do not obey desire because, speak­ing accu­rate­ly, desire does not serve an autonomous self; desire is one com­po­nent with­in a causal process, and it is not the agent that accom­plish­es a deed. Desire is only able to pro­duce results when it acts as an impe­tus, affect­ing sub­se­quent con­di­tions like effort or action, in con­for­mi­ty with cause and effect.

A dis­tinct, inde­pen­dent self can­not exist; were it to exist, it would not be sub­ject to causality—it would be fixed. It would impede the causal flow, ren­der­ing all oth­er ele­ments dis­pens­able. Any flu­ent dynam­ic would be nul­li­fied. Such a self could inter­fere with and mod­i­fy con­di­tions, caus­ing a devi­a­tion from causal­i­ty. In truth, how­ev­er, all con­di­tioned things pro­ceed accord­ing to cause and effect. A sep­a­rate self does not tru­ly exist, either with­in a dynam­ic or exter­nal­ly. The only self that exists is the con­ven­tion­al self, which needs to be under­stood or else it ends up deceiv­ing and oppress­ing peo­ple.

The basic mean­ing of anat­tatā—that all things arise as a com­po­si­tion of inter­re­lat­ed parts fol­low­ing cause and effect, are void of an endur­ing self, and are with­out a fixed cre­ative agent—is con­firmed by many ref­er­ences in the scrip­tures, for exam­ple:

Just as when a space is enclosed by tim­ber, twine, clay and thatch, it comes to be called a ‘house,’ so too, when a space is enclosed by bones and sinews, flesh and skin, it comes to be called a ‘body’ (rūpa).42

Māra asked Vajirā Bhikkhunī:

Who cre­at­ed this being (per­son)? Where is the cre­ator of beings? Where does a being orig­i­nate? Where does a being cease?

Vajirā answered:

Māra, do you believe in a being? Do you hold [such] a view? This is pure­ly a mass of for­ma­tions; here, no being can be found. Just as with the com­bi­na­tion of var­i­ous parts, the term ‘wag­on’ ensues, so too, with the five aggre­gates the con­ven­tion­al term ‘being’ ensues. Indeed, there is only dukkha that aris­es, abides and pass­es away. Noth­ing but dukkha comes to be, noth­ing but dukkha ceas­es.43

Māra asked the same ques­tion to Selā Bhikkhunī, who answered:

No one fash­ioned this shape; no one cre­at­ed this being. Depen­dent upon caus­es, it has arisen; with the end­ing of caus­es, it ceas­es. Just as seeds when sown on a field will sprout, owing to both the nutri­ents in the soil and the mois­ture with­in the seeds, so too, these aggre­gates, ele­ments, and six sens­es arise depen­dent upon caus­es, and cease with the dis­so­lu­tion of those caus­es.44

A col­lec­tion of sol­diers, vehi­cles and weapons is called an army. We call a group of build­ings, hous­es, peo­ple and enter­pris­es a city. A hand with fin­gers placed in a cer­tain posi­tion is called a fist. Uncurl the fist and only a hand with fin­gers remains. Sim­i­lar­ly, when one sep­a­rates a hand into ancil­lary parts, then it too no longer exists. One can con­tin­ue to sub­di­vide, but one will be unable to find any sta­t­ic units or ele­ments. The sut­tas con­tain only teach­ings of mate­ri­al­i­ty and men­tal­i­ty (nāma-rūpa); there is no men­tion of a fixed ‘being’ or ‘person.’45

There are four prin­ci­pal def­i­n­i­tions of anat­tā com­piled by the com­men­ta­tors. Some­thing is con­sid­ered non­self for the fol­low­ing reasons:46

Suñña­to: because it exists in a state of empti­ness; it is with­out a self as essence or core (atta-sāra). It is void of a real iden­ti­ty as ‘per­son,’ ‘I,’ ‘him,’ or ‘her.’ There is no occu­pant, agent or expe­ri­encer apart from the causal process, or apart from pro­vi­sion­al des­ig­na­tions. Things exist inde­pen­dent­ly from their assigned iden­ti­ties, for exam­ple ‘man,’ ‘woman,’ ‘I,’ ‘you,’ ‘object A’ or ‘object B.’

Assāmika­to: because it is own­er­less; it does not belong to a per­son or to a self. No sep­a­rate self exists that pos­sess­es phe­nom­e­na; there is mere­ly a nat­ur­al causal process.

Avasa-vat­tana­to: because it is not sub­ject to con­trol; it does not depend on any­one. A relat­ed term used is anis­sara­to, trans­lat­ed as ‘non-ruler’ or ‘pow­er­less.’ We have no absolute pow­er over things; we must con­cur with caus­es. In some places one finds the term akā­makāriy­a­to, trans­lat­ed as ‘unable to do as one pleas­es.’ Things do not obey desires; the mind of desire can­not dic­tate things. If one wants things to be a cer­tain way, then one must con­form to or bring about the prop­er caus­es and con­di­tions. Things depend on caus­es, not on someone’s pow­er or desire. For exam­ple, it is impos­si­ble to order some­thing that has arisen to dis­ap­pear, or to not change, or to not dete­ri­o­rate.

Atta-paṭikkhep­a­to: because it is incon­sis­tent with or oppos­es a self. The causal process of inter­re­lat­ed com­po­nents is inher­ent­ly incom­pat­i­ble with a sep­a­rate, autonomous self, which would dic­tate or inter­fere with that process. Such an iso­lat­ed self can­not exist. If it were to exist, a causal dynam­ic could not occur; the course of events would nec­es­sar­i­ly fol­low the dic­tates of self. Fur­ther­more, the law of causal­i­ty is intrin­si­cal­ly com­plete; it does not require a con­trol­ling agent to inter­vene.

There are two addi­tion­al def­i­n­i­tions of anat­tā, which, although includ­ed with­in the four points men­tioned above, are par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant and should thus be dis­tin­guished. They high­light the dynam­ic nature of phe­nom­e­na:

Sud­dha-saṅkhāra-puñ­ja­to or sud­dha-dham­ma-puñ­ja­to: Things exist pure­ly as a mass of for­ma­tions, or as a mass of phe­nom­e­na (dham­ma), that is, mate­ri­al­i­ty (rūpa-dham­ma) and/or men­tal­i­ty (nāma-dham­ma). Anoth­er term used is aṅga-samb­hāra­to, mean­ing that things exist as a com­po­si­tion of sub­sidiary parts. They arise from the gath­er­ing togeth­er of such parts. They are not absolute endur­ing ‘units’ or ‘enti­ties.’ There is no real ‘being,’ ‘per­son’ or ‘self’ over and above these com­po­nents. (This def­i­n­i­tion is already stressed in point 1 above.)

Yathā­pac­caya-pavat­ti­to: Things exist fol­low­ing caus­es and con­di­tions. They exist as a col­lec­tion of inter­re­lat­ed and co-depen­dent parts. Things do not fol­low a person’s desires, and no self exists, either as an inter­nal essence or as an exter­nal agent, which resists or directs the process. (All four of the above points include this def­i­n­i­tion, espe­cial­ly points 3 and 4.)

To sum up, all things exist accord­ing to spe­cif­ic caus­es. If the deter­mi­nant caus­es exist, a phe­nom­e­non orig­i­nates in con­for­mi­ty with these caus­es. If these caus­es cease, the phe­nom­e­non ceas­es (to exist in that way). Things do not obey sup­pli­ca­tion or desire. They are not ‘enti­ties’ or ‘things’ as com­mon­ly iden­ti­fied, and they do not belong to any­one. As explained ear­li­er, these def­i­n­i­tions of anat­tā pre­sent­ed here focus on con­di­tioned phe­nom­e­na.

One of the major mis­un­der­stand­ings for peo­ple is the belief that a ‘thinker’ exists apart from think­ing, a ‘plan­ner’ exists apart from voli­tion, a ‘feel­er’ exists apart from feel­ings, or an ‘actor’ exists apart from actions. This mis­un­der­stand­ing has trapped many of the great philoso­phers, who were there­fore unable to real­ize the truth and be free from the enshroud­ing influ­ence of self-view. René Descartes, the famous French philoso­pher, is an exam­ple, who after much con­sid­er­a­tion, pos­tu­lat­ed, ‘I think, there­fore I am.’47 The belief in a dis­tinct self or soul is com­mon to unen­light­ened beings every­where. This belief seems true and log­i­cal through ordi­nary aware­ness, but once one thor­ough­ly inves­ti­gates the premise of self, con­tra­dic­tions appear.

Peo­ple often posed ques­tions about the self to the Bud­dha, for exam­ple: Who makes con­tact (who cog­nizes)? Who feels? Who craves? Who clings? The Bud­dha answered that these are unsuit­able ques­tions, which stem from a false assump­tion; they are not con­sis­tent with real­i­ty. Appro­pri­ate ques­tions are: What is the con­di­tion giv­ing rise to con­tact? What is the con­di­tion giv­ing rise to feel­ing? What are the con­di­tions giv­ing rise to crav­ing and clinging?48

Just as thought, inten­tion, desire, and feel­ing are com­po­nents of a phys­i­cal and men­tal process, so too the expe­ri­ence of a ‘thinker’ or a ‘design­er’ is a com­po­nent of this process. All of these com­po­nents exist in an inter­causal rela­tion­ship. There is sim­ply thought and an expe­ri­ence of a ‘thinker’ (i.e., a false belief in a thinker—a thinker does not exist) aris­ing with­in a sin­gle dynam­ic. The expe­ri­ence of a thinker is actu­al­ly a thought pat­tern; it is one instant in the thought process. The erro­neous belief in a thinker aris­es due to a person’s inabil­i­ty to dis­tin­guish the relat­ed parts, and to dis­tin­guish each momen­tary event with­in the con­tin­u­um. At the time of thought, there is no expe­ri­ence of a ‘thinker’; and at the instant of expe­ri­enc­ing a ‘thinker’ there is no (oth­er) thought. While think­ing of a cer­tain sub­ject, one does not reflect upon a ‘thinker’; and while reflect­ing upon a ‘thinker,’ one does not think about that pre­vi­ous sub­ject of con­sid­er­a­tion. Think­ing of a sub­ject and expe­ri­enc­ing a ‘thinker’ (think­ing of a ‘thinker’) are actu­al­ly dif­fer­ent moments of thought, which exist in the same dynam­ic. The ‘thinker’ is just a men­tal fab­ri­ca­tion, which then becomes an object for fur­ther thought dur­ing anoth­er instant of time.

The fal­la­cy men­tioned above results from a lack of thor­ough atten­tion (ayon­iso-man­asikāra) and is clas­si­fied as one of the six views men­tioned in the Buddha’s teach­ing:

When that unen­light­ened being attends unwise­ly in this way, one of the six views aris­es in him: There aris­es in him the (fixed) view, as true and estab­lished, that ‘I have a self’ … ‘I do not have a self’ … ‘I know the self by way of the self’ … ‘I know non­self by way of the self’ … ‘I know the self by way of non­self’; or else he has some such view as this: ‘It is this self of mine that dic­tates, feels, and expe­ri­ences here and there the fruit of good and bad actions.’49

It was men­tioned ear­li­er how a name assigned to a par­tic­u­lar enti­ty is a con­trived and arbi­trar­i­ly super­im­posed self, which, unless clung to, has no rela­tion­ship to or affect on the causal dynam­ic. Although such a self does not tru­ly exist, cling­ing to that idea of self cre­ates prob­lems. This is because the cling­ing becomes a part of the dynam­ic, deter­min­ing oth­er com­po­nents, and affect­ing the dynam­ic as a whole. Cling­ing is an unwhole­some fac­tor since it stems from igno­rance; it con­t­a­m­i­nates oth­er ele­ments of the process, inter­fer­ing adverse­ly with the causal stream.

One effect of cling­ing is that it pro­duces a con­flict with­in the dynam­ic, result­ing in a feel­ing of oppres­sion or suf­fer­ing. Peo­ple who hold tight­ly to the con­ven­tion­al self as real are afflict­ed by this grasp­ing. Those who ful­ly com­pre­hend con­ven­tion­al labels, on the oth­er hand, do not cling to the idea of a self, see­ing mere­ly a causal con­tin­u­um. These peo­ple use whichev­er term is com­mon­ly assigned to a par­tic­u­lar object, but they can enhance the dynam­ic as they please, by act­ing in har­mo­ny with its deter­min­ing fac­tors. They do not allow crav­ing and cling­ing to oppress them, thus avoid­ing the con­se­quent suf­fer­ing. Such peo­ple know how to ben­e­fit from con­ven­tion­al labels with­out suf­fer­ing the harm of attach­ing to them.

Anoth­er detri­men­tal effect of cling­ing to a self is the pro­duc­tion of unwhole­some mind states, known as ‘defile­ments’ (kile­sa). In par­tic­u­lar, these include:

Taṇhā: Crav­ing; self­ish­ness; the lust for grat­i­fi­ca­tion.

Māna: Con­ceit; self-judge­ment; the yearn­ing for per­son­al pow­er.

Diṭṭhi: The firm grasp­ing to per­son­al opin­ions; the stub­born, unyield­ing belief that one’s views rep­re­sent the truth.

These three defile­ments inten­si­fy both inter­nal and exter­nal dis­cord. Peo­ple who do not see through con­ven­tion­al labels cling to ran­dom­ly estab­lished iden­ti­ties as the truth and allow these defile­ments to dic­tate their behav­iour, com­pound­ing mis­ery for them­selves and oth­ers. Those who pen­e­trate the rel­a­tive truth of con­ven­tion­al labels, how­ev­er, do not cling to them, and are freed from the influ­ence of these defile­ments. They are not deceived by such thoughts as ‘this belongs to me,’ ‘I am this way,’ or ‘this is who I am.’ They con­duct their life with wis­dom. A clear under­stand­ing of con­ven­tion­al labels, and action in har­mo­ny with caus­es and con­di­tions, is the basis from which true safe­ty and free­dom from suf­fer­ing extends.

Anoth­er error that tends to entan­gle peo­ple is vac­il­la­tion from one extreme opin­ion to anoth­er. Some peo­ple strict­ly believe in the self as real and per­ma­nent; they think that the self makes up the essence of a human being, and that it is not just a con­ven­tion­al enti­ty. Each per­son, they say, has a real, sta­ble, eter­nal self; even when a per­son dies the soul/self/spirit (ātman/attā) con­tin­ues unchanged: the self does not dis­ap­pear or dis­in­te­grate. Some believe that this soul rein­car­nates, while oth­ers believe that it awaits judge­ment from the high­est God for eter­nal sal­va­tion or damna­tion. Such views fall under the cat­e­go­ry of eter­nal­ism (sas­sa­ta-diṭṭhi or sas­sa­ta-vāda): the belief that the self or soul is real and ever­last­ing. Anoth­er group of peo­ple believe that such a self exists, that a per­son exists as a def­i­nite iden­ti­ty, but that this self is tem­po­rary: it dis­in­te­grates. At death, they claim, the self breaks apart and ceas­es. This view is called anni­hi­la­tion­ism (ucche­da-diṭṭhi or ucche­da-vāda): the belief that the self or soul is imper­ma­nent; it exists tem­porar­i­ly and then breaks up and van­ish­es.

Schol­ars of Bud­dhist stud­ies may also embrace one of these views if they lack clear under­stand­ing. Those who study the law of kam­ma (Sanskrit—karma) in con­nec­tion to the round of rebirth (saṁsāra-vaṭṭa) may hold an eter­nal­ist view, regard­ing the self as per­ma­nent. Those who mis­ap­pre­hend the teach­ings of anat­tā, on the oth­er hand, may hold an anni­hi­la­tion­ist view, believ­ing that noth­ing exists after death. The com­mon point of mis­un­der­stand­ing for pro­po­nents of these two extremes is the belief that a being or per­son exists as a real, fixed enti­ty. One par­ty believes that this enti­ty is con­stant and eter­nal, while the oth­er believes that this enti­ty breaks up and van­ish­es at death.

Besides these two, there is anoth­er group with an even more extreme view, believ­ing that the absence of self means that noth­ing at all exists. If no one exists, then no one expe­ri­ences results. There­fore, actions have no con­se­quences, actions are insignif­i­cant, and there is no account­abil­i­ty regard­ing actions. Speak­ing sim­ply, there is no kam­ma. One can divide this kind of belief into three cat­e­gories. One fac­tion believes that actions are mean­ing­less, or that actions bear no fruit. This is called the doc­trine of the inef­fi­ca­cy of action (aki­raya-diṭṭhi or akiriya-vāda). Anoth­er fac­tion believes that things occur hap­haz­ard­ly, by chance, with­out any caus­es. This is called the doc­trine of non-causal­i­ty or acci­den­tal­ism (ahetu­ka-diṭṭhi or ahetu­ka-vāda). The third fac­tion believes that absolute­ly noth­ing exists: noth­ing exists with any val­ue or mean­ing. This is called nihilism (natthi­ka-diṭṭhi or natthi­ka-vāda).

Since all things exist as a causal con­tin­u­um, orig­i­nat­ing from the merg­ing of com­po­nents, there is no self which either endures or dis­in­te­grates. In this very instant no ‘per­son’ or ‘self’ exists; where can one find an endur­ing or dis­solv­ing self? This teach­ing negates both eter­nal­ism and anni­hi­la­tion­ism. Since the dynam­ics of nature con­sist of inter­re­lat­ed, causal­ly depen­dent com­po­nents, how can one claim that noth­ing exists, or that things occur hap­haz­ard­ly and by chance? The teach­ing negates the doc­trines of nihilism and non-causal­i­ty. As dynam­ics change accord­ing to inher­ent causal fac­tors, each agent with­in a dynam­ic pro­duces an effect; none is void of effect. More­over, results ensue with­out a need for a ‘receiv­er’ of such results; results are intrin­sic to the dynam­ic. Notion­al­ly, one can say that the dynam­ic itself is the recip­i­ent. These results are more cer­tain than if a sta­ble self were to exist as the receiv­er, since the self could reject unwel­come results. As the law of causal­i­ty exists, how can one claim that actions are mean­ing­less or have no results? The teach­ing negates the doc­trine of the inef­fi­ca­cy of action.

The fol­low­ing pas­sages from the Visud­dhimag­ga cor­rob­o­rate the expla­na­tions pre­sent­ed above:

Tru­ly, in this world there is only men­tal­i­ty and mat­ter. But here there is no being or per­son to be found. This men­tal­i­ty and mat­ter is emp­ty. It is fash­ioned (by con­di­tion­ing fac­tors) like an instrument—just a mass of insta­bil­i­ty (dukkha) like grass and sticks.50

 

Suf­fer­ing exists, but no suf­fer­er can be found. Actions exist, but no agent. Nib­bā­na exists, but no one who is quenched. The Path exists, but no way­far­er.51

 

There is no doer of a deed, or one who reaps the deed’s results; phe­nom­e­na alone flow on. This is right view. While kam­ma and fruition (vipā­ka) thus causal­ly main­tain their round, as seed and tree suc­ceed in turn, no first begin­ning can be known. Nor in the future round of births (saṁsāra) can an absence of this cycle of kam­ma and fruition be dis­cerned. Adher­ents of oth­er sects, not know­ing this, have failed to gain self-mas­tery [asayaṁvasī—they are depen­dent on oth­ers because of wrong view]. They assume a being (sat­ta-saññā), view­ing it as eter­nal or anni­hi­lat­ed. They adopt the six­ty-two kinds of views, each con­tra­dict­ing the oth­er. The stream of crav­ing bears them on, the mesh of views entan­gles them. And as the stream thus bears them on, they are not freed from suf­fer­ing. A dis­ci­ple of the Bud­dha, with direct knowl­edge of this fact, pen­e­trates this deep and sub­tle void con­di­tion­al­i­ty.

There is no kam­ma in fruition, nor does fruition exist in kam­ma; though they are emp­ty of one anoth­er, no fruit exists with­out the act. Sim­i­lar­ly, fire does not exist inside sun­light, a (mag­ni­fy­ing) glass, or in cow dung (used for fuel), nor yet out­side them, but is gen­er­at­ed by their con­junc­tion. So nei­ther can fruition be found with­in kam­ma, nor with­out; nor does kam­ma still per­sist (in the fruit it has pro­duced). Kam­ma of its fruit is void; no fruit exists yet in an act. And still the fruit is born of kam­ma, depen­dent on kam­ma. For here there is no Cre­ator God, no Cre­ator of the round of births; phe­nom­e­na alone flow on, depen­dent on the mar­riage of con­di­tions.52

 

Nat­ur­al phe­nom­e­na arise whol­ly from caus­es, are sub­ject to pres­sure, imper­ma­nent, unsta­ble and incon­stant. All things arise from oth­er things in mutu­al depen­dence. There is no per­son­al or exter­nal self with­in this con­tin­u­um.

Phe­nom­e­na give rise to oth­er phe­nom­e­na, by the union of caus­es and con­di­tions. The Bud­dha taught the Dham­ma for the ces­sa­tion of caus­es. With the ces­sa­tion of caus­es, the cycle (vaṭṭa) is bro­ken, and revolves no more. The sub­lime life (brah­macariya) exists to end all suf­fer­ing in this way. When no being can be found, there is nei­ther anni­hi­la­tion nor eter­ni­ty.53

To sum­ma­rize, the teach­ing of anat­tā con­firms the fol­low­ing points:

It negates both the doc­trines of eter­nal­ism and anni­hi­la­tion­ism.

It negates the belief in a supreme God who cre­at­ed the world and gov­erns the des­tiny of human beings, i.e., the­is­tic deter­min­ism (issara-nim­mi­ta-vāda).

It is con­sis­tent with the teach­ing of kam­ma as defined by Bud­dha-Dham­ma, at the same time negat­ing the fol­low­ing doc­trines: The claim that actions have no results (doc­trine of the inef­fi­ca­cy of action); the doc­trine of past-action deter­min­ism (pub­bekatavā­da), for exam­ple of the Nigaṇṭha Order (Jain­ism); the doc­trine of kam­ma involv­ing a soul or a caste sys­tem (for exam­ple of Hin­duism); the claim that things occur by chance, with­out caus­es (acci­den­tal­ism); and the doc­trine of nihilism.

It reveals the supreme state, the final goal (para­ma-dham­ma) of Bud­dhism, which dif­fers from the goal of reli­gions that pro­fess a soul (attavā­da).

Summary

The three char­ac­ter­is­tics of anic­ca, dukkha and anat­tā are linked; they are three facets of the same truth, as is seen in the Buddha’s fre­quent teach­ing: What­ev­er is imper­ma­nent is dukkha; what­ev­er is dukkha is non­self (yad’aniccaṃ taṃ dukkhaṃ, yaṃ dukkhaṃ tad’anattā). This pas­sage is often fol­lowed by the state­ment: What­ev­er is non­self should be seen with cor­rect wis­dom, as it tru­ly is thus: ‘This is not mine, I am not this, this is not my self.’54 The rela­tion­ship is also evi­dent in the fre­quent exchange of ques­tions and answers:

Is mate­r­i­al form, etc., per­ma­nent or imper­ma­nent?’

Imper­ma­nent.’

Is what is imper­ma­nent pleas­ant or painful?’

Painful.’

Of that which is imper­ma­nent, painful and of the nature to change, is it prop­er to con­sid­er thus: “This is mine, I am this, this is my self?”’55

A brief expla­na­tion of the rela­tion­ship between the three char­ac­ter­is­tics, and of the fact that they are three aspects of the same truth, can be for­mu­lat­ed thus: All things orig­i­nate by the union of com­po­nent parts. Each of these parts aris­es, is sus­tained, and dis­in­te­grates, act­ing in turn as a con­di­tion for the oth­er parts, in per­pet­u­al trans­for­ma­tion. One can refer to this com­pos­ite as a ‘causal con­tin­u­um,’ which has the fol­low­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics:

The aris­ing and dis­in­te­gra­tion of com­po­nents; the insta­bil­i­ty of the com­po­nents or of the entire process: anic­catā.

The pres­sure on the com­po­nents or on the entire dynam­ic by rise and decline, their being sub­ject to alter­ation, and their inabil­i­ty to remain in an orig­i­nal state: dukkhatā.

The absence of a fixed ‘core’ that gov­erns the col­lec­tion of com­po­nents, and the require­ment for the com­po­nents to accord with caus­es and con­di­tions; the char­ac­ter­is­tic of non­self: anat­tatā.

By observ­ing these three char­ac­ter­is­tics simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, any object con­ven­tion­al­ly referred to as a sin­gle enti­ty is seen as a com­pos­ite of myr­i­ad clus­ter­ing con­stituents. These con­stituents are unsta­ble, con­tin­u­al­ly ris­ing and ceas­ing. They split up and dis­perse sub­ject to rec­i­p­ro­cal stress and fric­tion, result­ing in trans­for­ma­tion. They depend upon the rela­tion­ship of caus­es and con­di­tions, which con­trol and give form to the par­tic­u­lar con­tin­u­um. None of the com­po­nents exists as a self; they pro­ceed in line with causal­i­ty, not in com­pli­ance with desire.

Although that which is imper­ma­nent is dukkha, and that which is dukkha is non­self, the con­verse is not always true, that what­ev­er is non­self must be imper­ma­nent and dukkha. All con­di­tioned phe­nom­e­na (saṅkhāra) are imper­ma­nent, sub­ject to pres­sure, and self­less, yet all things (dham­ma), both con­di­tioned things and the Uncon­di­tioned (visaṅkhāra), although non­self, need not invari­ably be imper­ma­nent and dukkha. Some­thing exists which is per­ma­nent and free of dukkha. The Uncon­di­tioned (Nib­bā­na), although self­less, is beyond both imper­ma­nence and dukkha. In this sense, the def­i­n­i­tions of the three char­ac­ter­is­tics as facets of one truth apply to con­di­tioned phe­nom­e­na, fol­low­ing the expla­na­tion of non­self men­tioned ear­li­er. Sim­i­lar­ly, the self­less qual­i­ty of the Uncon­di­tioned should be under­stood in con­for­mi­ty with the implied def­i­n­i­tion described above. 

 

1 Ps. I. 37; referred to at Vism. 610.

2 Vism. 611.

3 Alter­na­tive­ly, ‘it has appeared and then dis­ap­pears.’ E.g.: Vism. 628.

4 Alter­na­tive­ly, ‘it has exist­ed and then ceas­es to exist’ (Vism. 640).

5 Vism. 618; MA. II. 113; VbhA. 48; The Vis­mṬ. Mag­gā­mag­ga-ñāṇadas­sana-visud­dhinid­de­savaṇṇanā, Rūpasat­takasam­masana-kathā­vaṇṇanā states that these four def­i­n­i­tions refer only to mate­r­i­al phe­nom­e­na, but the Vib­haṅ­ga Aṭṭhakathā shows that they can be used in regard to all con­di­tioned phe­nom­e­na. See also VinṬ. Mahākhand­hakaṃ, Anat­ta­lakkhaṇa­sut­tavaṇṇanā.

6 Ps1. 37; referred to at Vism. 610.

7 Vism. 628.

8 Vism. 611.

9 Vis­mṬ. Mag­gā­mag­gañāṇadas­sanav­i­sud­dhinid­de­savaṇṇanā, Cat­tārīsākāra-anu­pas­sana-kathā­vaṇṇanā.

10 Vism. 611.

11 E.g.: Vism. 502.

12 Vism. 618; MA. II. 113 (the first def­i­n­i­tion is san­tā­pa); VbhA. 48.

13 The lit­er­al trans­la­tion ‘hard to endure’ appears to refer to feel­ings (dukkha-vedanā), for exam­ple pain or suf­fer­ing, which can be defined as ‘some­thing that is hard for humans to endure.’ Actu­al­ly, this Pali idiom mean­ing non-durable or unsus­tain­able is a char­ac­ter­is­tic of all for­ma­tions, as explained above. 

14 The com­men­taries and sub-com­men­taries describe an object marked by dukkha as a basis for the 3 dukkhatā (see below) and for saṁsāra-dukkha; e.g., VinṬ. Mahākhand­hakaṃ, Anat­ta­lakkhaṇa-sut­tavaṇṇanā; Vis­mṬ. Mag­gā­mag­ga-ñāṇadas­sana-visud­dhinid­de­savaṇṇanā (Cat­tārīsākāra-anu­pas­sanakathā­vaṇṇanā & Rūpasat­ta­ka-sam­masanakathā­vaṇṇanā).

15 Ps. I. 19; Ps. II. 104; referred to in Vism. 494; VbhA. 83; MA. II. 113 clas­si­fies san­tā­pa as the first of the four mean­ings above.

16 This is the author’s def­i­n­i­tion; for the com­men­tar­i­al and sub-com­men­tar­i­al expla­na­tion see: PsA. I. 100, 102; Vis­mṬ. Indriyasac­canid­de­savaṇṇanā, Sac­cavit­thāra-kathā­vaṇṇanā.

17 See item four above: sukha­paṭikkhep­a­to.

18 The impor­tant sources for research in this mat­ter are: Yam. I. 174–5; Pañ­cA 167; Vism. 510–13; Vis­mṬ. Indriyasac­canid­de­savaṇṇanā, Mag­ganid­de­sa-kathā­vaṇṇanā.

19 Also known as the ‘3 Dukkha’; D. III. 216; S. IV. 259; S. V. 56; Vism. 499; VbhA. 93; VinṬ. Dham­macakkap­pa­vat­tana-sut­tavaṇṇanā; Vis­mṬ. Indriyasac­canid­de­savaṇṇanā, Dukkhanid­de­sakathā­vaṇṇanā.

20 Also known as dukkha-dukkha.

21 Also known as saṅkhāra-dukkha.

22 E.g.: D. II. 305; S. V. 421; Vism. 498–501; Vis­mṬ. Indriyasac­canid­de­savaṇṇanā (from Sac­cavit­thārakathā­vaṇṇanā to Pañcupādā­nakkhan­danid­de­savaṇṇanā). The divi­sions of birth’s afflic­tions, #1 a‑g, are from the com­men­taries.

23 Note that this group of dukkha does not include ill­ness (byād­hi), which nor­mal­ly would fol­low age­ing. The com­men­taries explain that ill­ness is not an inevitable form of suf­fer­ing: many peo­ple have ill­ness, but some may not. Also, ill­ness is includ­ed in this item (#6) of phys­i­cal suf­fer­ing (Vis­mṬ. Indriyasac­canid­de­savaṇṇanā, Sac­cavit­thāra-kathā­vaṇṇanā). In some places of the Canon, how­ev­er, ill­ness is list­ed sep­a­rate­ly in this group of dukkha; for such cas­es see the expla­na­tion at VinṬ. Dham­macakkap­pa­vat­tana­sut­tavaṇṇanā.

24 Vism. 499; VbhA. 93; Pañ­cA. 167; VinṬ. Dham­macakkap­pa­vat­tana-sut­tavaṇṇanā; Vis­mṬ. Indriyasac­canid­de­savaṇṇanā, Dukkhanid­de­sa-kathā­vaṇṇanā.

25 Ibid.

26 Nd. I. 17–18, 45–47; Nd. II. 7, 14, 54.

27 M. I. 83–90, 91–95.

28 E.g., Vism. 531; VbhA. 145, 149; In some places of the Cūḷanid­de­sa print­ed in Thai script, e.g., Nd. II. 7, one finds saṁsāra-dukkha, but these are mis­prints; it should read saṅkhāra-dukkha.

29 These last three kinds of suf­fer­ing are men­tioned fre­quent­ly in the eight sub­jects that prompt a sense of urgency (saṁve­ga-vatthu), e.g., at Vism. 135; DA. III. 795; MA. I. 298; SA. III. 163; etc.); āhāra­pariyeṭṭhi-dukkha (suf­fer­ing result­ing from the search for food) cor­re­sponds to item (A) above. The oth­er two terms are includ­ed in the descrip­tions above, if not direct­ly then indi­rect­ly.

30 Somdet Phra Mahāsamaṇa Chao Krom Phraya Vaji­rañāṇavaro­rasa, in the Dham­mav­icāraṇa (Mahā­maku­ta Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1958), pp 14–19, lists var­i­ous kinds of dukkha, from dif­fer­ent sources, into ten groups. Some of the groups are giv­en new names by the author. They are as fol­lows: 1) sab­hā­va-dukkha: dukkha inher­ent in con­di­tioned phe­nom­e­na, i.e., birth, age­ing and death; 2) paki­raṇa­ka-dukkha or dukkha-cara: sor­row, lamen­ta­tion, pain, grief and despair (includ­ing asso­ci­a­tion with the dis­agree­able, sep­a­ra­tion from the loved, and the non-acqui­si­tion of the desired); 3) nibad­dha-dukkha: con­tin­u­al or res­i­dent suf­fer­ing, i.e., cold, heat, hunger, thirst, and the need to defe­cate and uri­nate; 4) byād­hi-dukkha (ill­ness) or dukkha-vedanā (pain); 5) san­tā­pa-dukkha: the burn­ing and agi­ta­tion of the heart due to the ‘fires’ of defile­ment; 6) vipā­ka-dukkha: the fruits of actions, i.e., remorse, pun­ish­ment and the fall into states of perdi­tion; 7) saha­ga­ta-dukkha: con­comi­tant suf­fer­ing; the suf­fer­ing accom­pa­ny­ing mun­dane, agree­able con­di­tions, e.g., the suf­fer­ing of need­ing to pro­tect mate­r­i­al pos­ses­sions; 8) āhāra­pariyeṭṭhi-dukkha: the suf­fer­ing of seek­ing food; the same as ājī­va-dukkha—the suf­fer­ing result­ing from mak­ing a liv­ing; 9) vivā­damūla­ka-dukkha: suf­fer­ing caused by dis­putes, e.g., fear of los­ing an argu­ment or law­suit; and 10) dukkha-khand­ha: the entire­ty of suf­fer­ing, i.e., the five aggre­gates as objects of cling­ing are suf­fer­ing.

31 Kvu. 68; Pug. 38.

32 A. III. 438.

33 Sn. 155.

34 Sn. 157.

35 S. III. 46.

36 S. III. 203–4.

37 Ps. I. 37, 53; Ps. II. 200; referred to at Vism. 610.

38 Vism. 610.

39 Vism. 628, 640; occa­sion­al­ly one finds avasa­vat­ti­to.

40 Vism. 618; VinṬ. Mahākhand­hakaṃ Anat­ta­lakkhaṇa­sut­tavaṇṇanā.

41 VbhA. 49; VinṬ. Mahākhand­hakaṃ Anat­ta­lakkhaṇa­sut­tavaṇṇanā refers to the Buddha’s ser­mon in the Anat­ta­lakkhaṇa Sut­ta (S. III. 66).

42 M. I. 190.

43 S. I. 135.

44 S. I. 134.

45 See Vism. 593–5.

46 Vism. 618; MA. II. 113; VbhA. 48; See also VinṬ. Mahākhand­hakaṃ Anat­ta­lakkhaṇa-sut­tavaṇṇanā; Vis­mṬ. Mag­gā­mag­gañāṇadas­sana-visud­dhinid­de­savaṇṇanā, Rūpasat­ta­ka-sam­masana-kathā­vaṇṇanā.

47 Cog­i­to, ergo sum (R. Descartes, 1596–1650).

48 S. II. 13–14.

49 M. I. 8.

50 Vism. 595.

51 Vism. 513.

52 Vism. 602–3; based on Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli’s trans­la­tion.

53 Vis­mṬ. Paññāb­hūminid­de­savaṇṇanā, Bhava­cakkakathā­vaṇṇanā.

54 E.g., S. IV. 1.

55 E.g., S. III. 68.