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A Thai Buddhist painting demonstrating the impermanenant nature (anitya) of human life.

Anitya [alt. anityatā] (P. anicca; T. mi rtag pa མི་རྟག་པ་; C. wuchang; mujō; k. musang 無常), translated as "impermanence," "change," etc., is a central concept of Buddhism.

Anitya expresses the concept that all compounded phenomena (all things and experiences) arise due to causes and conditions and are subject to change, decline and cessation.[1] Hence, all phenomena are unstable, unreliable, and constantly changing.

Smith and Novak state:

The Buddha listed impermanence (anicca) as the first of his three marks of existence—characteristics that apply to everything in the natural order—the other two being suffering (dukkha) and the absence of independent existence (anatta). Nothing in nature is identical with what it was the moment before; in this the Buddha was close to modern science, which has discovered that the relatively stable objects of the macro world derive from particles that are so ephemeral that they barely exist. To underscore life’s fleetingness the Buddha called the components of the human self skandhas—skeins that hang together as loosely as yarn—and the body a “heap,” its elements no more solidly assembled than grains in a sandpile. But why did the Buddha belabor a point that may seem obvious? Because, he believed, we are freed from the pain of clutching for permanence only if the acceptance of continual change is driven into our very marrow.[2]

Encyclopedia Britannica states:

That the human body is subject to change is empirically observable in the universal states of childhood, youth, maturity, and old age. Similarly, mental events come into being and dissolve. Recognition of the fact that anicca [anitya] characterizes everything is one of the first steps in the Buddhist’s spiritual progress toward enlightenment.[3]


The Pali word anicca is a compound word consisting of "a" meaning non-, and "nicca" meaning "constant, continuous, permanent".[4] While the word 'Nicca' refers to the concept of continuity and permanence, 'Anicca' refers to its exact opposite; the absence of permanence and continuity.

Anitya and "not-self"

Anitya is intimately associated with the doctrine of anatta (not-self),[5] which posits that what we call "self" is a collection of constantly changing "heaps" or "aggregates".

Understanding anyitya/anicca and anatta are steps in the Buddhist’s spiritual progress toward enlightenment.[6][7][8]

Cessation of suffering

From the Buddhist point of view, all things in the material world, as well as all of our mental states, are impermanent. All of our possessions, thoughts and experiences are subject to change. Hence, when we grasp to things as if they are permanent, we suffer. However, through contemplating on the impermanent nature of things, our attachment descreases, and so does our suffering.

Rupert Gethin states:

In the normal course of events our quest for happiness leads us to attempt to satisfy our desires—whatever they be. But in so doing we become attached to things that are unreliable, unstable, changing, and impermanent. As long as there is attachment to things that are unstable, unreliable, changing, and impermanent there will be suffering—when they change, when they cease to be what we want them to be. Try as we might to find something in the world that is permanent and stable, which we can hold on to and thereby find lasting happiness, we must always fail. The Buddhist solution is as radical as it is simple: let go, let go of everything. If craving is the cause of suffering, then the cessation of suffering will surely follow from ‘the complete fading away and ceasing of that very craving’: its abandoning, relinquishing, releasing, letting go. The cessation of craving is, then, the goal of the Buddhist path, and equivalent to the cessation of suffering, the highest happiness, nirvāṇa (Pali nibbāna).[9]

Contemplating impermanence

The contemplation of impermanence refers to seeing conditioned phenomena arising and passing away while observing their individual characteristics.

Pali tradition

According to the Visuddhimagga, one should understand three aspects of this contemplation: impermanence (anicca), the characteristic of impermanence (anicca-lakkhana), and the contemplation of impermanence (anicc'-anupassana).

Tibetan tradition

Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche states:

Understanding impermanence is no magical feat, but it dramatically, almost magically, changes our experience of the world. It makes us capable of actions that used to be impossible. We begin to look at our world and ourselves from a completely new perspective, and that profound shift in outlook is actually at the heart of all Dharma practice. In fact, we can measure our spiritual progress by how often we remember that all conditioned phenomena are impermanent. For the most accomplished practitioners, this happens quite spontaneously. They have already then let go."[10]

Dudjom Rinpoche states:

The benefits of meditating day and night just on death and impermanence are said to be boundless. One sees that everything that appears is perishable and thereby gains a deep sense of nonattachment to outer objects. The fire of diligence in the performance of positive actions is set ablaze. One begins to feel an uncommon and heartfelt fear of the sufferings of cyclic existence. From recognizing that at the time of death nothing can help one, one gives up the activities of this life. One uses one’s body, speech, and mind to practice the Dharma, without taking even a moment of ordinary leisure. One sees how actions mature as results, and this gives rise to determination to be free and disenchantment. As one knows that the time of death is unpredictable, one does not count on anything. Numerous virtues that one did not have before are born in one’s mindstream. One stops believing things are eternal. One does not have attachment to friends and relations or hatred for enemies. One is constantly diligent in performing positive actions. One understands that life is a delusion. One completes the two accumulations of merit and wisdom, and so on.[11]

Trulshik Rinpoche states:

If we really meditate on impermanence, it is said that in the beginning it can be the cause of us practising the Dharma, in the middle it can provide the conditions for us progressing along the path, and at the end it can cause us to achieve the result of complete and perfect awakening. So impermanence is of the utmost importance.[12]

See also


  1. Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. anitya.
  2. Smith & Novak 2009, p. 57.
  3. Anicca Buddhism, Encyclopædia Britannica (2013)
  4. Thomas William Rhys Davids; William Stede (1921). Pali-English Dictionary. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 355, Article on Nicca. ISBN 978-81-208-1144-7. 
  5. Anatta Buddhism, Encyclopædia Britannica (2013)
  6. Brian Morris (2006). Religion and Anthropology: A Critical Introduction. Cambridge University Press. pp. 51–53. ISBN 978-0-521-85241-8. 
  7. Ray Billington (2002). Understanding Eastern Philosophy. Routledge. pp. 56–59. ISBN 978-1-134-79348-8. 
  8. John Whalen-Bridge (2011). Writing as Enlightenment: Buddhist American Literature into the Twenty-first Century. State University of New York Press. pp. 154–155. ISBN 978-1-4384-3921-1. 
  9. Gethin 1998, "The Cessation of Suffering:Nirvana".
  10. Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, Sadness, Love, Openness: The Buddhist Path of Joy (Shambhala, 2018)
  11. Dudjom Rinpoche, A Torch Lighting the Way to Freedom (Shambhala, 2011), s.v. "The Advantages of Meditating on Impermanence"
  12. RW icon height 18px.png Impermanence, Rigpa Shedra Wiki


External links