The first of the Three Universal Truths is “Anicca,” a term that can be translated to “impermanence” in English. As per the Pali Canon, everything in the world apart from Enlightenment and the Natural Laws of Existence undergoes constant changes, and nothing remains static. This includes our thoughts, feelings, physical experiences, circumstances and situations. In other words, all conditioned things are temporary and will cease to exist when the conditions that created them are no longer present.
From a scientific perspective, the concept of impermanence is reflected in the natural law of entropy, which states that everything in the universe is moving towards a state of disorder and decay. On a personal level, the truth of impermanence reminds us to cherish the present moment and not to become too attached to people, possessions, or experiences.
Impermanence refers to the fact that everything in the universe, whether living or non-living, is constantly changing and passing away. It is a fundamental aspect of the natural world and can be observed all around us.
Think about the changing of the seasons – the leaves on trees bud and grow, change color, and eventually fall off. The flowers in a garden bloom, wither, and die, only to be replaced by new ones the following year. Even the mountains and oceans are slowly changing, though on a timescale that is difficult for us to perceive.
But impermanence doesn’t just refer to physical changes. Our thoughts, emotions, and experiences are also impermanent. One moment we may feel happy and content, and the next we may feel sad or anxious. Our relationships with others can change over time, as can our beliefs and values.
The recognition of impermanence can be a source of discomfort and anxiety for some, as it challenges the idea that things can remain stable and unchanging. However, it can also be a source of freedom and liberation. If we can learn to accept and embrace impermanence, we can let go of our attachment to things and experiences, and find a deeper sense of peace and contentment.
Ultimately, impermanence reminds us that everything in life is fleeting and temporary, and encourages us to appreciate and savor each moment while it lasts.
In a distant kingdom, there was a king who had everything he could wish for. He had the finest clothes, the tastiest food, the most luxurious palace, and the most loyal subjects. But despite his riches and power, the king was never happy. He always felt that something was missing from his life.
One day, the king went for a walk in the palace gardens, and he saw a beautiful flower in full bloom. The king was captivated by the flower’s vibrant colors and sweet fragrance. He plucked the flower and brought it back to his palace to keep in his room.
But the next day, the king noticed that the flower had wilted and lost its beauty. He realized that the flower’s impermanence was the reason why he could not find true happiness. No matter how much wealth and power he had, it would never last forever.
The king began to contemplate the truth of impermanence, and he realized that everything in life is constantly changing. Our thoughts, feelings, and experiences are all subject to change, and nothing remains the same. He also realized that his attachment to material possessions was the source of his discontent.
From that day on, the king decided to embrace impermanence and live in the present moment. He learned to appreciate the beauty of life, knowing that it could disappear at any moment. He also learned to let go of his attachment to possessions and focus on what truly mattered in life, such as his relationships with others and his own inner peace.
The king’s newfound wisdom brought him true happiness and contentment, and he became known as a just and compassionate ruler who cared for his subjects. The people of the kingdom also learned from his example and began to embrace the truth of impermanence, living their lives with greater awareness and appreciation for the present moment.
The story of the king illustrates how impermanence can be a powerful teacher. Like the king, we can become so focused on the pursuit of material possessions and status that we forget to appreciate the beauty of the present moment. We become attached to things and people, believing that they will bring us lasting happiness, only to find that they are subject to change and will eventually fade away.
However, by embracing impermanence, we can learn to appreciate the beauty of life and let go of our attachment to possessions and outcomes. We can find true happiness and contentment by living in the present moment, fully aware of the fleeting nature of all things.
So let us remember the truth of impermanence and cherish each moment as it arises. Let us cultivate gratitude for the people and experiences in our lives, knowing that they are not permanent, and find joy in the ever-changing nature of our world. In doing so, we can live with greater awareness and appreciation, and find true peace and contentment in this impermanent but beautiful life.
The second universal truth is the truth of dukkha, which is often translated as suffering but encompasses a much broader sense of dissatisfaction, unease, and unsatisfactoriness with our experience of the world. Dukkha includes not only physical and emotional pain, but also the impermanence and instability of all things, the inability to control our circumstances and the inevitability of change.
Dukkha arises from our attachment to things, people, and experiences, and our constant craving for more, better, or different. We seek pleasure and avoid pain, but this constant chasing after happiness only leads to more suffering, as we can never satisfy all our desires, and we become attached to what we have and fear losing it.
A parable that illustrates the second universal truth is about a man who seeks happiness in all the wrong places. He is constantly chasing after pleasure, seeking wealth, fame, power, and sensual pleasures, thinking that they will bring him lasting happiness. He accumulates all these things and enjoys them for a while, but soon realizes that they are impermanent, that they can never satisfy him completely, and that he is still subject to pain, illness, and death.
He then goes on a journey to find a way out of suffering, seeking the advice of wise men, spiritual teachers, and philosophers. He hears about various techniques and methods, but none of them seems to work for him. He feels lost, confused, and despairing, until he meets a simple monk who teaches him the true nature of dukkha.
The monk tells him that the root of all suffering is the craving for things to be different than they are, and the attachment to things that are impermanent. He explains that everything in the world is constantly changing, and that our desire to cling to things that are changing leads to disappointment, frustration, and pain.
The man finally understands the nature of his suffering and begins to let go of his attachment to things, people, and experiences. He realizes that true happiness comes not from external conditions, but from within, from cultivating a peaceful, compassionate, and wise mind that is free from craving and clinging. He learns to live in the present moment, accepting things as they are, and finding joy in simple things like the beauty of nature, the kindness of others, and the love in his heart.
In summary, the second universal truth of dukkha teaches us that suffering is an inherent aspect of our existence, arising from our attachment to things that are impermanent, and our craving for things to be different than they are. The parable illustrates how we can find a way out of suffering by letting go of attachment and craving, and cultivating a peaceful, compassionate, and wise mind that is free from the delusions of the ego.
I felt the parable of the man seeking happiness in all the wrong places and finding the true nature of dukkha through the teachings of the simple monk is a powerful illustration of the second universal truth. It shows how attachment to things and constant craving for more can lead to suffering, and how letting go of attachment and cultivating inner peace and wisdom can lead to true joy. This parable highlights the importance of recognizing the impermanence and instability of all things and learning to accept them as they are, without constantly striving for more or different. It also emphasizes the need to let go of the delusions of the ego and cultivate a compassionate and wise mind that is free from craving and clinging.
Regardless of religious or spiritual beliefs, understanding dukkha can help individuals recognize the causes of their own suffering and discontent, such as attachment, craving, and resistance to change, and find ways to cultivate inner peace and joy. By letting go of attachment and cultivating a mind that is free from craving and clinging, individuals can learn to accept things as they are, find joy in simple things, and experience a sense of contentment that is not dependent on external conditions. Additionally, understanding dukkha can also foster empathy and compassion towards others who are suffering, as it recognizes the universality of human suffering and the need to alleviate it.
Anatta, the teaching on non-self, is the third universal truth and the first fetter to eliminate on the path to enlightenment. By realizing the impermanence and interdependence of all things, one can attain the freedom from the illusion of a separate and permanent self. It is the idea that there is no permanent, unchanging, independent self or soul that exists within us. Rather, the self is a collection of constantly changing, impermanent mental and physical phenomena, or aggregates, that arise and pass away according to causes and conditions.
An analogy that can help illustrate this teaching is that of a river. Just as a river is constantly changing, with water flowing in and out, swirling and eddying, and shifting its course over time, so too is the self constantly changing, with thoughts, feelings, sensations, and perceptions arising and passing away. There is no fixed, unchanging essence or core to the self, just as there is no fixed essence or core to the river.
This can be a difficult teaching to grasp, as we often have a strong sense of a solid, unchanging self that we identify with. However, this sense of self is an illusion, created by the mind’s tendency to cling to certain experiences and memories and identify with them as “me” or “mine.” This clinging creates suffering, as we become attached to things that are impermanent and subject to change, and feel a sense of loss and disappointment when they inevitably pass away.
By understanding the teaching on non-self, we can begin to let go of this clinging and attachment, and see things as they really are: constantly changing and interconnected, without any fixed or permanent self at the center. This can bring a sense of freedom, joy, and peace, as we let go of the burdensome weight of the self and see ourselves as part of a larger whole.
The teaching on non-self is the idea that there is no fixed or unchanging self within us, but rather a constantly changing collection of mental and physical phenomena. This can be understood through the analogy of a river, which is also constantly changing and without any fixed essence or core. By letting go of our attachment to a fixed self, we can find greater peace, freedom, and joy in our lives.
The concept of non-self is illustrated by a parable about a wave in the ocean. The wave perceives itself as a separate entity, with its own identity, experiencing emotions like joy, fear, and attachment to its form and movement, and striving to maintain its identity and avoid merging with the ocean. However, in reality, the wave is not separate from the ocean but a temporary expression of its energy, subject to the laws of nature, having no permanent self, independent existence or control over its destiny.
Likewise, human beings consider themselves as independent, permanent entities with unique identities and personalities. We also feel emotions like joy, fear, and attachment to our experiences, seeking to maintain our identity and avoid being overwhelmed by the vastness of existence. But we are not separate from existence and are simply temporary expressions of the universe’s energy, arising and passing away according to natural laws, with no permanent self, independent existence, or control over our destiny.
The teachings on non-self guide us to let go of the illusion of a separate self, realize our true nature as part of the vast interconnected web of existence, and find freedom from suffering. By embracing this perspective, we can cultivate a deep sense of peace, compassion, and wisdom.
Listen closely now, and hear me say,
Of the Three Universal Truths that show the way.
They speak of life’s nature and its flow,
And teach us the path to let go.
The first truth is that all things conditioned are impermanent,
Like a flame that flickers and is transient.
Everything arises and passes away,
And nothing stays the same, come what may.
The second truth is that things are unsatisfactory,
That life is full of suffering, and discontent is mandatory.
From the pains of birth to the sorrows of death,
And all the troubles that steal our breath.
The third truth is that no permanent self can be found,
Impermanent, ever-changing, it is not bound.
An endless stream of changing states,
That arise and pass, and determine our fates.
These truths may seem grim and bleak,
But they show us the path that’s unique,
The path to the end of all suffering,
And the peace that’s forever buffering.
By seeing impermanence, we let go of attachment,
And find peace in the present moment’s detachment.
By seeing suffering, we cultivate compassion,
And act with kindness, love, and passion.
By seeing no-self, we let go of ego and desire,
And find freedom in the infinite, and the vastness of the entire.
These universal truths may seem hard to bear,
But they lead us to freedom, and a life that’s fair.
To summarize, the three universal truths are impermanence, suffering/discontent, and non-self. Impermanence refers to the fact that everything is constantly changing and nothing stays the same. Suffering refers to the fact that all beings experience some form of suffering, whether physical or mental. Non-self refers to the concept that there is no permanent, unchanging self or soul.
To practice these truths, one can begin by reflecting on their own experiences and observing the impermanence, suffering, and lack of permanent self in their own lives. This can lead to a greater understanding and acceptance of the nature of reality, and ultimately a reduction in discontentedness. Additionally, one can cultivate mindfulness and compassion in their daily lives, which can help them to better navigate the ups and downs of life.