All things

“All created things are impermanent.”
Seeing this with insight,
One becomes disenchanted with suffering.
This is the path to purity.

“All created things are suffering.”
Seeing this with insight,
One becomes disenchanted with suffering.
This is the path to purity.

“All things are not-self.”
Seeing this with insight,
One becomes disenchanted with suffering.
This is the path to purity.

Dhammpada, v. 276-278, translated by Gil Fronsdal

These verses describe the insight practice of investigating three basic characteristics in our moment-to-moment flow of experience: impermanence or uncertainty, dukkha or stickiness, and identification with our thoughts and experience.

If you find this idea overwhelming or too confusing, please just skip over this post.

According to the Buddha, whatever we do, say, or think has these three qualities embedded. Most of the time they are invisible to us, but if we look deeply into our present experience, we can find them.

Anicca or impermanence is the quality of instability, the truth that although we usually perceive our experience as solid, reliable and stable, closer inspection reveals that every part of our experience, the physical and the mental, is in constant flux. None of it stays still for even a second.

Dukkha or unsatisfactoriness follows on from anicca. Because our experience is unstable and unreliable and we want it to be stable and reliable, we feel uncomfortable. This discomfort may be below the conscious level, or it may be a clear feeling that something is wrong. If something pleasant is going on, we want it to keep going on, and if something unpleasant is going on, we want it to end; but our wishes cannot be fulfilled, so we are frustrated.

Anatta or not-self follows on from the other two characteristics, though all three are present simultaneously. Anatta simply means that we project a self onto our experience, unnecessarily and unhelpfully. The experience goes on whether we claim it as “me” or “mine” or not, because every experience is a result of prior and present causes and conditions (habits and karma, momentum).

By investigating these characteristics in our present experience (it works less well in remembered or projected experience), we start to understand the nature of things better and our inclination to cling to them starts to loosen. In this way, gradually, step by step, we learn to let go of our self-inflicted suffering.

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