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Translations of
English impermanence
Pali anicca (Dev: अनिच्चा)
Sanskrit anitya (Dev: अनित्य)
Chinese 無 (常)
Japanese 無常 (mujō)
Khmer វេទនា
Korean 무상 (musang)
Tibetan མི་རྟག་པ་
(Wylie: mi rtag pa;
THL: mitakpa
Thai อนิจจัง (anitchang)
Vietnamese vô thường

Anitya (Sanskrit; Pali: Anicca), typically translated as impermanence, is a central concept of Buddhism.

It expresses the Buddhist notion that all compounded phenomena (all things and experiences) are inconstant, unsteady, and constantly changing.

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.[1]

All temporal things, whether material or mental, are compounded objects in a continuous change of condition, subject to decline and destruction.[2][3]

All physical and mental events, states Buddhism, come into being and dissolve.[4] 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 have reincarnated in deva (god) and naraka (hell) realms.[5][6] This is in contrast to nirvana, the reality that is Nicca, or knows no change, decay or death.[2]

Impermanence is intimately associated with the doctrine of anatta, according to which things have no essence, permanent self, or unchanging soul.[7][8] The Buddha taught that because no physical or mental object is permanent, desires for or attachments to either causes suffering (dukkha). Understanding Anicca and Anatta are steps in the Buddhist’s spiritual progress toward enlightenment.[9][10][11]


The Pali word anicca is a compound word consisting of "a" meaning non-, and "nicca" meaning "constant, continuous, permanent".[2] While the word 'Nicca' refers to the concept of continuity and permanence, 'Anicca' refers to its exact opposite; the absence of permanence and continuity.

The term appears in the Rigveda, and is synonymous with Anitya (a + nitya).[2][3] The term appears extensively in the Pali canon.[2]

Attachment to unreliable things

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 grasp to things as if they are permanent, we suffer. However, by contemplating on and accepting the impermanent nature of things, our attachment descreases, and so does our suffering.

Rupert Gethin states:

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... 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.[12]

Meditation on

The contemplation of impermanence (anicc'-anupassana) refers to seeing conditioned phenomena arising and passing away while observing their individual characteristics.

Theravada 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 Buddhist 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."[13]

See also


  1. Smith & Novak 2009, p. 57.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Thomas William Rhys Davids; William Stede (1921). Pali-English Dictionary. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 355, Article on Nicca. ISBN 978-81-208-1144-7. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Robert E. Buswell Jr.; Donald S. Lopez Jr. (2013). The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton University Press. pp. 47–48, Article on Anitya. ISBN 978-1-4008-4805-8. 
  4. Anicca Buddhism, Encyclopædia Britannica (2013)
  5. Damien Keown (2013). Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. pp. 32–38. ISBN 978-0-19-966383-5. 
  6. 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. 
  7. Anatta Buddhism, Encyclopædia Britannica (2013)
  8. [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 extreme 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."
  9. Brian Morris (2006). Religion and Anthropology: A Critical Introduction. Cambridge University Press. pp. 51–53. ISBN 978-0-521-85241-8. 
  10. Ray Billington (2002). Understanding Eastern Philosophy. Routledge. pp. 56–59. ISBN 978-1-134-79348-8. 
  11. 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. 
  12. Rupert Gethin (1998). The Foundations of Buddhism. Oxford University Press. 
  13. Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, Sadness, Love, Openness: The Buddhist Path of Joy (Shambhala, 2018)

External links

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