There are three characteristics of existence.
This is an important part of the teaching of Buddha. The teaching of the three characteristics is part of what we might call the doctrinal contents of wisdom. In other words, when we talk about the knowledge and the understanding that is implied by wisdom, we have this teaching in mind. The teaching of the three characteristics of conditioned existence (the three lakshanas or ‘marks’) is a teaching of early Buddhism. It is an analysis of the First Noble Truth, the doctrine of dukkha. The three characteristics simply provide a more detailed explanation of what is meant by dukkha, and in what sense our unenlightened experience of the world is one of suffering, frustration, or unsatisfactoriness. The 3 marks of existence is the fundamental basis for the Buddhist world view, it is essentially that everything that exists in our ordinary world is conditioned, impermanent, causes suffering and is dependant on everything else. Buddhists feel the 3 marks of existence are so important because people do not usually realise that the world is like this, and it is this basic ignorance that is the root cause of their suffering.
To attain enlightenment and realise the unconditioned, we need to dismantle our false ideas so that we understand how things really are. We have to see through the false images we have of ourselves and connect with who we truly are. The entire Buddhist path is about freeing oneself from a distorted view of reality and the suffering it brings. Teachings present the 3 marks of existence in a systematic way. The marks of existence are…..
Anicca (The Impermanence Characteristic)The Buddha that everything in the world is impermanent and changing, which implies that there is nothing whatsoever that is permanent. Nothing ever ceases to exist, it just changes form. In nature, a seed grows into a plant, and perhaps creates a flower, which eventually dies and falls to the ground to become part of the earth that grows a new seed. The same is true for all physical objects in some way, including our own bodies. Anicca is also seen in our inner life, in our emotions and thoughts – if we observe our mind and moods we see that they are in a constant state of movement and change, and that we can often hardly remember the emotions or thoughts we experienced so vividly at a prior time. Both pleasure and pain, and everything in between, are transient. Mindfulness and meditation practice help us to see this directly for ourselves. When we observe our own mind, we realize how every thought arises, captures our attention, and then dies away.
If we observe the physical world, we can discover anicca marks all phenomena there as well. Matter is composed of different parts, and all things that are composed must have a beginning middle and end. Compounded things must be put together (produced), and at some point the compound will naturally fall apart and not exist anymore. The Buddha came to the conclusion that there is nothing that is not subject to change. He explained that change, or impermanence, operates on two levels – the gross and the subtle.
The gross level is the obvious physical level of change we see everyday – things we experience like the people around us and the changing seasons. A subtle body is one of a series of psycho-spiritual constituents of living beings, according to various esoteric, occult, and mystical teachings. According to such beliefs each subtle body corresponds to a subtle plane of existence, in a hierarchy or great chain of being that culminates in the physical form. Impermanence is an essential concept of the Dhamma.
Impermanence describes the environment in which unhappiness and stress arises and is maintained. All things in the phenomenal world are impermanent and all events are uncertain as to occurrence, effect and duration. Even the view of yourself changes from moment to moment. Take the body, for example. It is constantly changing.
Almost every cell in the body regenerates after a period, meaning that body you have today is not the same body you had ten years ago. Or you may take a feeling of love you have for somebody. Whether it is a child, a parent, a friend, a pet, or a significant other, you may love another being deeply. Although your love may not wane, it changes. How you loved this being a year ago is not the same way in which you love the being today.
The quality of the love changes. The feeling, thought patterns, and physical sensations change. In “7 Years in Tibet” the main character Heinrich Harrer, impatient with domesticity, leaves his very pregnant wife, Ingrid (Ingeborga Dapkunaite), to join fellow Austrian Peter Aufschnaiter on the hard climb. It is very clear that Ingrid didn’t want him to leave because she was almost due to have their baby and she made it clear to Heinrich that she didn’t want him going either. When she said she wanted to turn the car around and go home instead of dropping Heinrich off at the train station Heinrich got furious. Showing a very selfish behavior. Not thinking of his wife and child on the way and only thinking about what he wanted to do.
It’s also very clear how unhappy she is and lonely even when she’s standing next to her husband. As he got on the train, without giving her a hug or kiss goodbye, the train took off and Ingrid was in tears being comforted by Horst Immerhof, their driver. So when Heinrich reached camp he got a note from Ingrid that she wanted a divorce and that her son would take Horsts last name and not Heinrichs. Ingrid is changing herself and her state of mind. Showing that there is nothing whatsoever that is permanent. At the end of the movie Henrich goes to Horst’s and Ingrid’s home to see his son, Rolf (Harrer) Immerhof, for the first time.
Horst and Ingrid open the door when Heinrich arrives and you can see that Ingrid is happy. She is living in a big and beautiful home and allows Heinrich to go into Rolf’s room by himself to talk to him for the first time. How she was in the beginning, unhappy and feeling unloved by Heinrich is a big change to how she is now. Loved and being taken care of by Horst. Showing that life in fact is impermanent, anything can change.
Anatta (The Not-Self Characteristic)Anatta is unique to buddhism and is developed from the idea of impermanence. The fundamental idea of permanence indicates that nothing has an unchanging self. Everything is process, and everything is simply made up a lot of constantly changing parts. If we believe that things have an unchanging essence and that change affects only their secondary qualities, then if we chop a branch of a tree we still say the tree is a tree. Similarly, if our moods and feelings change over time we still think we are the same person.
Many people feel identity is not dependant on particular states of mind. Many Buddhists and people in general differ in opinion on how many changes must occur before the identity of the object has changed. Anatta is the word the Buddha used to describe what is commonly referred to as “self.” The Buddha describes the mental-physical ego-self as “anatta” to show the impermanent, ever-changing, insubstantiality of the conditioned ego-personality.
What is thought of as self, as me or mine, is a deluded view rooted in ignorance (of the Four Noble Truths.) Anatta, the not-self characteristic, is unique to the teachings of the Buddha, and perhaps the most difficult to observe and understand. The more conditioned thinking is established, the more difficult it will be to grasp this third observable truth. The Buddha did not teach that there is no self, only that the self fabricated through an observable process is not worth defending or continually re-establishing. Anatta, not-self, refers to your ego-personality. It is your ego-personality that is prone to endless confusion and suffering. Though insubstantial and ever-changing, your ego-self’s sole purpose is to continue to establish “itself” in every object, event, view, or idea.
Anatta has created endless views of itself that are all subject to impermanence and suffering. It is in this underlying impermanence that the pervasive unsatisfactory experience of dukkha arises and is maintained.Insight into this one thing, that all views arising from an ego-self cause stress and unhappiness, brings understanding and lasting peace and happiness. Within the framework of The Eightfold Path all views of self are recognized. As new views arise they are quickly abandoned. It is not-self, your ego-personality, that is subject to stress. It is only this impermanent and insubstantial ego-personality that is to be abandoned.
This is why all views of self are to be recognized and abandoned. This is the purpose of insight: to clearly recognize impermanence and all wrong views of self. The main character in the movie “7 Years in Tibet” Heinrich Harrer, is a perfect example of Anatta. In the beginning of the movie it is very apparent that he is selfish and has a big ego.
For example, While Heinrich and Peter Immerhof, the guy he’s climbing with, are walking after escaping from the prison camp they passed a trading post to exchange something of theirs for something they needed. Heinrich told Peter to trade his watch in because Heinrich claimed he didn’t have a watch to trade in. Later on as they were resting and Heinrich is asleep and Peter goes over to his bag and sees 3 watches in his bookbag proving that he lied about not having a watch and showing selfishness that he just didn’t want to give his things up.
Dukkha (The Unsatisfactory Characteristic)Humans do not want certain changes and can’t let go of our desire and craving. We do not see the changing nature of things around us and these changes cause us pain and suffering. Dukkha is a Pali word that means unsatisfactory, uncertain, disappointing, stress, confusion, and all manner of mental and physical suffering rooted in self-referential views. The suffering of conditioned existence refers to the basic dissatisfaction humans have with life, something which arises from things like insecurity and frustration of human limitations. The common human problem is the underlying general unsatisfactory nature of human life.
This is Dukkha. Included in Dukkha is all manner of unsatisfactoriness, from mild disappointment to the most extreme physical and emotional distress. While extreme experiences of dukkha are somewhat individual, dukkha is a common human experience that no one can avoid. All human beings are subject to sickness, aging and death, Along the way all are subject to unsatisfactory, disappointing and unpleasant experiences.
Even pleasant experiences have an underlying unsatisfactory aspect due to impermanence and uncertainty. The ego-personality develops clinging to pleasure-giving experiences, creating stress. A form of clinging is aversion to unpleasant experiences, also contributing stress. Dukkha is both an experience of interaction with the impermanent environment that the self is a part of, and the self.
This is an important point to be developed. Once the understanding that it is the (wrong) view of self that is the cause of confusion, stress and ongoing delusion, these views can now be mindfully abandoned. The fact that we die might make feel life itself seem pointless.
In the movie “7 Years in Tibet” The Dalai Lama shows perfect signs of the dukkha trait. The Dalai Lama had a dream in his sleep of the chinese taking over tibet and was scared for his life and the people he is to protect. Soon after the dream the chinese generals came to tibet to meet The Dalai Lama. After they talked the generals called religion “poison” and disrespected them all.
Later in the movie tibet surrenders to the chinese forcing them to leave tibet. The Dalai Lama was unhappy with the chinese taking over especially that the chinese killed one million Tibetans and then also destroyed 6 thousand monasteries. The Dalai Lama to suffer greatly because the people he is supposed to protect, and his family are being kicked out of their homes and he is terrified. Tibetains have always believed in nonviolence, if you use violence, you will suffer again and again and people will just continue to suffer. which is what caused His Holiness to suffer so greatly because he tried to make amends and be kind to the chinese but they destroyed tibet and killed many because they didn’t believe in them or their religion. Till this day The Dalai Lama is still trying to make every effort to make amends with the chinese. Another characteristic from the movie that shows a good sign of one of the 3 marks of existence is Tairon, the minister of defense. He shows a perfect sign of Anatman because when Heinrich and Peter first showed up to Tibet looking for a place to stay and food to eat Tairon took them in.
Heinrich and Peter saw Tairon’s housekeeper, Tashi, feeding the dog outside so when Tashi went back inside Heinrich and Peter ran to the dog bowl and started eating the dog food and instead of Tairon being upset he invited them to stay with them and stay for dinner because he could see that they needed food and shelter and wanted to help. Another character that showed a mark of the three existence is Pema Lhakti. She picks Peter over Heinrich because it was very clear that Peter was practicing Anatman meanwhile Heinrich was being cocky and had a big ego.
When Heinrich and Peter took Pema ice skating for the first time Heinrich was just showing off his skating skills while Peter was helping her learn and holding her hands for balance. A character that didn’t show any of the marks of existence is the chinese communists (The Generals). In the movie when they first arrived into Tibet to meet The Dalai Lama they step on and destroy the buddhist sand mandala they have been creating for the chinese just for their arrival to welcome them. After their meeting the chinese walk back out yelling “Religion is poison!” In the beginning of the movie Heinrich was rude and selfish. He only cared of himself and didn’t care about others. When Heinrich and the other climbers were in the prison camp Heinrich kept trying to escape not thinking about what that would do to the others or what would happen to them. Another example is when Heinrich and Peter are climbing up the mountain. Heinrich falls and when Peter asks if Heinrich is okay he downplays it even though he had a serious injury in his foot and was bleeding really bad and says “It’s just a scratch, I’ll lead” meaning he wanted to be head of everyone else climbing the mountain.
Peter then falls down the steep mountain and Heinrich grabs the rope while Peter is swinging in mid air. Heinrich then starts screaming because he realized he won’t be able to hang on much longer because he’s putting weight on his foot. He pulls hard and gets Peter up and Peter realizes his injury was a lot worse than what Heinrich told him. Peter said to him “If you ever lie about your injury again you will be kicked off this trip”. Heinrich risked the lives of others just because he wanted to be the lead and in the front and didn’t think about what could happen to the other men if Heinrich couldn’t save them.
Towards the end of the movie you can see Heinrich started to change a lot. As they were taking a break from walking, Heinrich looked over at Peter laying on the ground and saw his shoes ripped open and his feet were purple from frostbite. Heinrich takes his shoes off and puts his shoes on peter to protect his feet. Showing a great sign of change and selfless.