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Feb 12, 2010

Anicca (impermanence)

Impermanence is the central fact that we must realize in order to emerge from our suffering, and the most immediate way to experience impermanence is by observing our sensations."

The Global Pagoda, Mumbai, India, shares the immeasurable benefits of Vipassana. Vipassana is the universal, non-sectarian process of purifying the mind by directly experiencing anicca (impermanence) within oneself, at the level of bodily sensations.


Change is inherent in all phenomenal existence. There is nothing animate or inanimate, organic or inorganic that we can label as permanent, since even as we affixed that label on something it would undergo metamorphosis.

Realizing this central fact of life by direct experience within himself, the Buddha declared, "Whether a fully Enlightened One has arisen in the world or not, it still remains a firm condition, an immutable fact and fixed law that all formations are impermanent, subject to suffering, and devoid of substance." Anicca (impermanence), dukkha (suffering), and anatta (insubstantiality) are the three characteristics common to all sentient existence.

Of these, the most important in the practice of Vipassana is anicca. As meditators, we come face to face with the impermanence of ourselves. This enables us to realize that we have no control over this phenomenon, and that any attempt to manipulate it creates suffering. We thus learn to develop detachment, an acceptance of anicca, an openness to change, enabling us to live happily amid all the vicissitudes of life.

Hence the Buddha said that:
To one who perceives the impermanence, O meditators, the perception of insubstantiality manifests itself. And in one who perceives insubstantiality, egotism is destroyed. And (as a result) even in this present life one attains liberation. The comprehending of anicca leads automatically to a grasp of anatta and dukkha, and whosoever realizes these facts naturally turns to the path that leads out of suffering.

Given the crucial importance of anicca, it is not surprising the Buddha repeatedly stressed its significance for the seekers of liberation. In the Mahā Satipatthāna Sutta, the principal text in which he explained the technique of Vipassana, he described the stages in the practice, which must in every case lead to the following experience
The meditator) abides observing the phenomenon of arising . . . abides observing the phenomenon of passing away . . . abides observing the phenomenon of arising and passing away.

This above could again be state of the Global Pagoda in March, 5005 A.D...... decay and impermanence are inherent in all things.... Nothing lasts forever...... Vipassana helps us cope with this reality of change, in the path to true happiness and total liberation from all suffering.

We must recognize the fact of impermanence not merely in its readily apparent aspect around and within us. Beyond that, we must learn to see the subtle reality that every moment we ourselves are changing, that the "I" with which we are infatuated is a phenomenon in constant flux. With this experience we can easily emerge from egotism and so from suffering.

The Buddha said: The eye, O meditators, is impermanent. What is impermanent is unsatisfactory. What is unsatisfactory is substanceless. What is substanceless is not mine, is not I, is not my self. This is how to regard eye with wisdom as it really is.The same formula is for the ear, nose, tongue, body and mind—for all the bases of sensory experience, every aspect of a human being.

Then the Buddha continued: Seeing this, O meditators, the well-instructed noble disciple becomes satiated with the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind (i.e., with sensory existence altogether). Being satiated he does not have the passion for them. Being passionless he is set free. In this freedom arises the realization that he is freed.

In this passage the Buddha makes a sharp distinction between knowing by hearsay and by personal insight. One may be a sutavā, that is, someone who has heard about the Dhamma and accepts it on faith or perhaps intellectually. That acceptance, however, is insufficient to liberate anyone from the cycle of suffering. To attain liberation one must see truth for oneself, must experience it directly within oneself. That is what Vipassana meditation enables us to do.

If we are to understand the unique contribution of the Buddha, we must keep this distinction firmly in mind. The truth of which he spoke was not unknown before him and was current in India in his time. He did not invent the concepts of impermanence, suffering and insubstantiality. His uniqueness lies in having found a way to advance from hearing truth to experiencing it.

One text that shows this special emphasis of the teaching of the Buddha is the Bāhiya Sutta, found in the Samyutta Nikāya. In it is recorded an encounter of the Buddha with Bāhiya, a wanderer in search of a spiritual path. Although not a disciple of the Buddha, Bāhiya asked him for guidance in his search. The Buddha responded by questioning him as follows:

What do you think, Bāhiya: is the eye permanent or impermanent?
Impermanent, sir.
That which is impermanent, is it a cause of suffering or happiness?
Of suffering, sir.
Now, is it fitting to regard what is impermanent, a cause of suffering, and by nature changeable, as being "mine," being "I," being one's "self?
"Surely not, sir.

The Buddha further questioned Bāhiya about visual objects, eye consciousness and eye contact. In every case, this man agreed that these were impermanent, unsatisfactory, not-self. He did not claim to be a follower of the teaching of the Buddha, and yet he accepted the facts of anicca, dukkha and anatta. The Sutta thus documents that, among at least some of the contemporaries of the Buddha, ideas were current that we might now regard as having being unknown outside his teaching.

The explanation, of course, is that for Bāhiya and others like him the concepts of impermanence, suffering and egolessness were simply opinions that they held—in Pāli, mañña. To such people the Buddha showed a way to go beyond beliefs or philosophies, and to experience directly their own nature as impermanent, suffering, insubstantial.

What, then, is the way he showed? In the Brahmajāla Suttanta the Buddha provides an answer. There he lists all the beliefs, opinions and views of his time, and then states that he knows something far beyond all views:

For having experienced as they really are the arising of sensations and their passing away, the relishing of them, the danger in them, and the release in them, the Enlightened One, O monks, has become detached and liberated.

Here the Buddha states quite simply that he became enlightened by objectively observing sensations as the manifestation of impermanence. It behoves anyone who aspires to follow the teachings of the Buddha to do likewise.

Impermanence is the central fact that we must realize in order to emerge from our suffering, and the most immediate way to experience impermanence is by observing our sensations.

Again the Buddha said:There are three types of sensations, O meditators (all being) impermanent, compounded, arising owing to a cause, perishable, by nature passing away, fading and ceasing.

The sensations within ourselves are the most palpable expressions of the characteristic of anicca. By observing them we become able to accept the reality, not merely out of faith or intellectual conviction, but out of our direct experience. In this way we advance from merely hearing about the truth to seeing it within ourselves.