Three Marks of Existence
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Three Marks of Existence

In Buddhism, the three marks of existence are three characteristics (Pali: tilakkha?a; Sanskrit: trilak?a?a) of all existence and beings, namely impermanence (anicca), unsatisfactoriness or suffering (dukkha),[1] and non-self (anatt?).[2][3][4] These three characteristics are mentioned in verses 277, 278 and 279 of the Dhammapada.[5] That humans are subject to delusion about the three marks, that this delusion results in suffering, and that removal of that delusion results in the end of suffering, is a central theme in the Buddhist Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path.


The three marks are:[6]

  1. sabbe sa?kh?r? anicc? -- "all sa?kh?ras (conditioned things) are impermanent"
  2. sabbe sa?kh?r? dukkh? -- "all sa?kh?ras are unsatisfactory"
  3. sabbe dhamm? anatt? -- "all dharmas (conditioned or unconditioned things) are not self"



Impermanence (Pali anicca, Sanskrit anitya) means that all conditioned things (sa?kh?ra) are in a constant state of flux. Buddhism states that all physical and mental events come into being and dissolve.[7] Human life embodies this flux in the aging process, the cycle of repeated birth and death (Samsara), nothing lasts, and everything decays. This is applicable to all beings and their environs, including beings who are reborn in deva (god) and naraka (hell) realms.[8][9] This is in contrast to nirvana, the reality that is nicca, or knows no change, decay or death.[10]


Dukkha (Sanskrit duhkha) means "unsatisfactoriness, suffering, pain".[11][12][13] The dukkha includes the physical and mental sufferings that follows each rebirth, aging, illness, dying; dissatisfaction from getting what a being wishes to avoid or not getting the desired, or because all forms of life are impermanent and without any essence.[11][14][15]


Anatta (Sanskrit anatman) refers to the doctrine of "non-self", that there is no unchanging, permanent Self or soul in living beings and no abiding essence in anything or phenomena.[16][17]

While anicca and dukkha apply to "all conditioned phenomena" (sa?kh?r?), anatt? has a wider scope because it applies to all dhamm? without "conditioned, unconditioned" qualification.[18] Thus, nirvana too is a state of "without Self" or anatta.[18] The phrase "sabbe dhamma anatta" includes within its scope each skandha (aggregate, heap) that compose any being, and the belief "I am" is a mark of conceit which must be destroyed to end all Dukkha.[19] The Anatt? doctrine of Buddhism denies that there is anything called a 'Self' in any person or anything else, and that a belief in 'Self' is a source of Dukkha.[20][21]


In Buddhism, ignorance of (avidy?, or moha; i.e. a failure to grasp directly) the three marks of existence is regarded as the first link in the overall process of sa?s?ra whereby a being is subject to repeated existences in an endless cycle of suffering. As a consequence, dissolving that ignorance through direct insight into the three marks is said to bring an end to sa?s?ra and, as a result, to that suffering (dukkha nirodha or nirodha sacca, as described in the third of the Four Noble Truths).

Gautama Buddha taught that all beings conditioned by causes (sa?kh?ra) are impermanent (anicca) and suffering (dukkha), and that not-self (anatt?) characterises all dhammas, meaning there is no "I" "me" or "mine" in either the conditioned or the unconditioned (i.e. nibb?na).[22][23] The teaching of three marks of existence in the Pali Canon is credited to the Buddha.[18][24][25]

See also


  1. ^ Steven Collins (1998). Nirvana and Other Buddhist Felicities. Cambridge University Press. p. 140. ISBN 978-0-521-57054-1. 
  2. ^ Richard Gombrich (2006). Theravada Buddhism. Routledge. p. 47. ISBN 978-1-134-90352-8. , Quote: "All phenomenal existence [in Buddhism] is said to have three interlocking characteristics: impermanence, suffering and lack of soul or essence."
  3. ^ Robert E. Buswell Jr.; Donald S. Lopez Jr. (2013). The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton University Press. pp. 42-43, 47, 581. ISBN 978-1-4008-4805-8. 
  4. ^ Carl Olson (2005). The Different Paths of Buddhism: A Narrative-Historical Introduction. Rutgers University Press. pp. 63-64. ISBN 978-0-8135-3778-8. 
  5. ^ Maggavagga: The Path Dhammapada Chapter XX, Translated by Acharya Buddharakkhita (1996)
  6. ^ Walsh 1995, p. 30.
  7. ^ Anicca Buddhism, Encyclopædia Britannica (2013)
  8. ^ Damien Keown (2013). Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. pp. 32-38. ISBN 978-0-19-966383-5. 
  9. ^ Peter Harvey (2012). An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices. Cambridge University Press. pp. 32-33, 38-39, 46-49. ISBN 978-0-521-85942-4. 
  10. ^ Thomas William Rhys Davids; William Stede (1921). Pali-English Dictionary. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 355, Article on Nicca. ISBN 978-81-208-1144-7. 
  11. ^ a b Peter Harvey (2015). Steven M. Emmanuel, ed. A Companion to Buddhist Philosophy. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 26-31. ISBN 978-1-119-14466-3. 
  12. ^ Carol Anderson (2013). Pain and Its Ending: The Four Noble Truths in the Theravada Buddhist Canon. Routledge. pp. 1, 22 with note 4. ISBN 978-1-136-81332-0. , Quote: "(...) the three characteristics of samsara/sankhara (the realm of rebirth): anicca (impermance), dukkha (pain) and anatta (no-self)."
  13. ^ Malcolm Huxter (2016). Healing the Heart and Mind with Mindfulness: Ancient Path, Present Moment. Routledge. p. 10. ISBN 978-1-317-50540-2. , Quote: " dukkha (unsatisfactoriness or suffering) (....) In the Introduction I wrote that dukkha is probably best understood as unsatisfactoriness."
  14. ^ Malcolm Huxter (2016). Healing the Heart and Mind with Mindfulness: Ancient Path, Present Moment. Routledge. pp. 1-10, Introduction. ISBN 978-1-317-50540-2. 
  15. ^ Bhikkhu Bodhi (2005). In the Buddha's Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon. Simon and Schuster. pp. 67-68. ISBN 978-0-86171-491-9. 
  16. ^ Anatta Buddhism, Encyclopædia Britannica (2013)
  17. ^ [a] Christmas Humphreys (2012). Exploring Buddhism. Routledge. pp. 42-43. ISBN 978-1-136-22877-3. 
    [b] Brian Morris (2006). Religion and Anthropology: A Critical Introduction. Cambridge University Press. p. 51. ISBN 978-0-521-85241-8. , Quote: "(...) anatta is the doctrine of non-self, and is an exteme empiricist doctrine that holds that the notion of an unchanging permanent self is a fiction and has no reality. According to Buddhist doctrine, the individual person consists of five skandhas or heaps - the body, feelings, perceptions, impulses and consciousness. The belief in a self or soul, over these five skandhas, is illusory and the cause of suffering."
    [c] Richard Gombrich (2006). Theravada Buddhism. Routledge. p. 47. ISBN 978-1-134-90352-8. , Quote: "(...) Buddha's teaching that beings have no soul, no abiding essence. This 'no-soul doctrine' (anatta-vada) he expounded in his second sermon."
  18. ^ a b c Richard Francis Gombrich; Cristina Anna Scherrer-Schaub (2008). Buddhist Studies. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 209, for context see pp. 195-223. ISBN 978-81-208-3248-0. 
  19. ^ Joaquín Pérez Remón (1980). Self and Non-self in Early Buddhism. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 218-222, 234. ISBN 978-90-279-7987-2. 
  20. ^ Peter Harvey (2012). An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices. Cambridge University Press. pp. 57-62. ISBN 978-0-521-85942-4. 
  21. ^ Peter Harvey (2015). Steven M. Emmanuel, ed. A Companion to Buddhist Philosophy. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 34-37. ISBN 978-1-119-14466-3. 
  22. ^ N?rada, The Dhammapada (1978), pp. 224.
  23. ^ Bodhi, Bhikkhu (2003). The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications. p. 1457. ISBN 978-0-86171-331-8. 
  24. ^ Dhammapada Verses 277, 278 and 279
  25. ^ Joaquín Pérez Remón (1980). Self and Non-self in Early Buddhism. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 210-225. ISBN 978-90-279-7987-2. 


  • Walsh, Maurice (1995), The Long Discourses of the Buddha. A Translation of the D?gha Nik?ya, Wisdom Publications 

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