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Tri Lakshana

By Amarasiri Weeraratne
Courtesy : Vesak Lipi
The Three Characteristics of Existence

In the Anguttara Nikaya 111. 134, the Buddha teaches as follows:"Whether Perfect Ones appear in the world or not, it still remains a firm condition, an immutable fact, and fixed law that all formations (sankharas) are impermanent, that they are subject to suffering, and that every thing is without and Ego."

These three characteristics of Anitya, Dukkha and Anatma, are the salient features of sentient existence. In the Buddha-Dharma these are called the "Trilakshana" or The Three Cardinal Features of Life.

Everything that undergoes change, is impermanent and unstable. There is the process of arising, reaching a peak, and passing away. The transitory nature of life is recognised in all religions and philosophies. It was the materialist Omar Khayyam, who wrote:-
"Each morn a thousand roses brings you say, Yes, but where goes the rose of yesterday? And that same summer which brings the rose, Shall take Jamshid and Kaikhobad away."
Even the priceless inventories of ancient time are gradually wearing away.

Our own bodies too undergo change and lead to the inevitable decay and death. Thus we see that impermanence is the first cardinal feature of life. The Buddha says that, what is not stable is not worth clinging to, and is not worthy of our attachment. The glory of Greece is no more, and the grandeur of Rome is relegated to the limbo of the forgotten past. It is so with all things in this world. Truly as Thomas Gray said "The paths of the glory lead but to the grave". The Buddha points out the unsatisfactory nature of life, and tells us that's its first characteristics is transiency. He advocates the cultivation of the qualities of non-attachment and dispassion to this phantom show that we all call life. His doctrine is one which leads to non-attachment (viragaya), and disgust or dissatisfaction (nibbidyaya) with the fleeting vicsisitudes of life. Nirvana is not a heaven up in the sky with its unspeakable boredom of eternal life and eternal happiness, but it is a state of happiness that comes with the eradication of greed, ill-will, and ignorance. The person grounded in virtue (sila) who trades the Noble Eightfold-Path can transcend the impermanence, and the unsatisfactory nature of life, and attain the enduring bliss of Nirvana.

Parents suffer when their children fall ill, but when they recover the parents are happy. But is there any guarantee that the child will not fall ill again? It is so with all things. A Latin author said "Eheu fugaces labuntur anni". Alas! the fleeting years slip away, and we with them". Therefore the first cardinal feature of life and all things therein is its instability or Anityata. It is this instability that makes Dukka or the unsatisfactory nature of life bearable. Otherwise human beings would die of boredom with what we call pleasure, and the agony of what constitutes suffering. How long can we revel in seeking satisfaction with this process of change, decay, and death? Surely, when one realises with intuitive wisdom that comes from Vidharshana meditation, that all things are transcient, he will get disgusted with this process of mutability. That disgust will pave the way for progess towards Nirvana. Therefore it is said in verse 287 of the Dhammapada.

"That all things rise and cease to be, when with wisdom one does see, fed up with ill, he will be trading the way to purity."

In Pali:- Sabbe sanhara anicca ti Yada pannaya passati Atha nibbhindati dukkhe Esa maggo visudhiya"

Dukkha means suffering, orthe unsatisfactory nature of life. Etymologically du meand "difficult or unpleasant." Kha stands for to bear. Thus Dukkha connotes difficult to bear and what is unpleasant, to be born of life's difficulties and sorrow from the slightest irritations, boredom, frusrtations, to actual ganger mental and physical pain. To be able to comprehend dukkha fully, one must be able to take into consideration the entire process of perpetual wandering in Sansara, the long chain of rebirths, and not merely one single-life-time which may sometimes not be very painful. On the other hand, no right thinking man who who sees the vast process of suffering around him in this world can be happy and unmoved by it even though he may not be having a bad quota of suffering due to his good kamma in the past.

The problem of suffering is universally recognised. It has grappled the attention of thinkers, theologicians and religionists in all climes and ages. In the words of a Hebrew prophet, "Man is born to trouble as sparks fly upwards." It was the celebrated Greek poet Homer who said, "For men on earth it's better not to be born at all, or being born to pass through the gates of Hades with all speed." Socrates the sage of Greece, remarked that, if the troubles of men were to be reshuffled and distributed, each man would be content with his own quota, and would not like to share that of another. So much steeped and ingrained in suffering is the world. Contd>

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