Three marks of existence

From Encyclopedia of Buddhism
Jump to: navigation, search
Editor's note: This article needs attention. Review-icon.png

In Buddhism, the three marks of existence are three characteristics (Pali: tilakkhaṇa; Sanskrit: trilakṣaṇa) shared by all sentient beings, namely impermanence (anicca), suffering or unsatisfactoriness (dukkha), and non-self (anatta). These three characteristics are mentioned in verses 277, 278 and 279 of the Dhammapada.


The Three marks are:[1]

  1. "All saṅkhāras (compounded things) are impermanent": Sabbe saṅkhāra aniccā
  2. "All saṅkhāras are unsatisfactory": Sabbe saṅkhāra dukkhā
  3. "All dhammas (all things including the unconditioned) are without self": Sabbe dhammā anattā



Anicca (Sanskrit anitya) "inconstancy" or "impermanence". This refers to the fact that all conditioned things (saṅkhāra) are in a constant state of flux. In reality there is no thing that ultimately ceases to exist; only the appearance of a thing ceases as it changes from one form to another. Imagine a leaf that falls to the ground and decomposes. While the appearance and relative existence of the leaf ceases, the components that formed the leaf become particulate material that may go on to form new plants. Buddhism teaches a middle way, avoiding the extreme views of eternalism and nihilism.[2]


Dukkha (Sanskrit duhkha) or dissatisfaction (or "dis-ease"; also often translated "suffering", though this is somewhat misleading). Nothing found in the physical world or even the psychological realm can bring lasting deep satisfaction. Dukkha is the stress, dissatisfaction and suffering that is experienced by all sentient beings who are not fully enlightened, i.e. free from saṃsāra.[3]


Anatta (Sanskrit anatman) is the teaching that nothing can ever belong to a self, have a self in it, or otherwise be the self. It is unique among the three marks of existence because it is given a much wider designation than the other two; while anicca and dukkha are described as applying to "all conditioned phenomena" (saṅkhārā), anattā is described as applying to "all phenomena" (dhammā) without qualification.[4][5]


According to Buddhist tradition, a full understanding of the three marks of existence can bring an end to suffering (dukkha nirodha or nirodha sacca, the third of the Four Noble Truths). The Buddha taught that all beings conditioned by causes (saṅkhāra) are impermanent (anicca) and suffering (dukkha) and that not-self (anattā) characterises all dhammas, meaning there is no "I" or "mine" in the conditioned as well as the unconditioned (i.e. nibbana).[6][7] The central figure of Buddhism, Siddhartha is believed to have achieved Nirvana and awakening after much meditation, thus becoming the Buddha Shakyamuni. With the faculty of wisdom the Buddha directly perceived that all sentient beings are marked by these three characteristics.


The trilakshana (three marks) of existence appear in Pali texts as, "sabbe sankhara anicca, sabbe sankhara dukkha, sabbe dhamma anatta", which Szczurek translates as, "all conditioned things are impermanent, all conditioned things are painful, all dhammas are without Self".

See also


  1. Walsh 1995, p. 30.
  2. The Buddhist Publication Society. "The Three Basic Facts of Existence". Retrieved 2009-07-14. (ref.1) Change or impermanence is the essential characteristic of all phenomenal existence. We cannot say of anything, animate or inanimate, organic or inorganic, "this is lasting"; for even while we are saying this, it would be undergoing change. All is fleeting; the beauty of flowers, the bird's melody, the bee's hum, and a sunset's glory. (ref.2) There are three types of teachers, the first one teaches that the ego or the self is real now as well as in the future (here and hereafter); the second one teaches that the ego is real only in this life, not in the future; the third one teaches that the concept of an ego is an illusion: it is not real either in this life or in the hereafter. The first one is the eternalist (sassatavaadi); the second one is the annihilationist (ucchedavaadi); the third one is the Buddha who teaches the middle way of avoiding the extremes of eternalism and annihilationism.  line feed character in |quote= at position 344 (help)
  3. "Dukkha". Access to Insight. Retrieved 10 September 2014. 
  4. See the Pali: sabbe saṅkhārā aniccā, sabbe saṅkhārā dukkha, sabbe dhammā anattā
  5. SN 22.90, AN 3.136 [AN 3.134], Dhp 20. 277-279
  6. Nārada, The Dhammapada (1978), pp. 224.
  7. 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. 


  • Walsh, Maurice (1995), The Long Discourses of the Buddha. A Translation of the Dīgha Nikāya, Wisdom Publications 
This article uses material from Three marks of existence on Wikipedia (view authors). License under CC BY-SA 3.0. Wikipedia logo