What are the Three Universal Truths?

Three Universal Truths

"All conditioned things are impermanent. When one see’s this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering." ~Buddha

The Three Universal Truths are also known as, The Three Marks of Existence.

The Three universal truths of Buddhism are:

  • Anicca – (Impermanence)
  • Dukkha – (Suffering)
  • Anatta – (Non-self)

Anicca - Impermanence:

Anicca, is the truth of impermanence. The law of Impermanence states that nothing lasts forever, and everything is in a constant state of change. All that is around us will come into being, and eventually change slowly into a state of decay, and finally change form.

Anicca teaches us that everyone we know, including ourselves, and everything that we hold dear to us is impermanent. Everything is inherently temporary. Our emotions, thoughts, friends and family, and the world around us are all impermanent.

Impermanence is necessary in a world of constant change. Without impermanence nothing would change. Babies would never grow up. Trees and plants would never grow from the seed which was planted.

The seed itself could not exist either for that matter. All life as we know it is dependent upon the law of impermanence.

Impermanence leads many of us into Dukkha, suffering. It is not impermanence itself that causes us to suffer, it is our desire for things, emotions, and relationships to be permanent when they are not.

When we are still attached to forms, people, emotions, and our own consciousness, suffering will inevitably befall us. The state of Nirvana is accepting the law of impermanence, and freeing ourselves from attachment.

If you want to end your suffering, you must let go of your attachments, and Embrace Nirvana. (Add shirt here)

Dukkha - Suffering:

Dukkha is the truth of suffering. Dukkha is the First Noble Truth in The Four Noble Truths doctrine states that, there is suffering. Life is indeed suffering. We suffer when we are born, and we will continue to suffer during our lives.

Whether we realize it or not we are all the cause of our own suffering. Our incandescent desire to cling to our attachments is the cause of all of our suffering.

It is not our desire itself that causes us to suffer, but our feeling of dissatisfaction, and discontentedness when we do not receive that which we desire that causes us to suffer. We will feel displeasure when we inevitably lose that which we cling to as well.

It is our craving for material things, situations, and relationships that we think will bring us happiness that is the true cause of our suffering. Happiness is impermanent.

The more we try to cling to feelings of happiness, the less happiness we will attain, and the more pain and dissatisfaction we will experience.

We can end that pain simply by letting go of our attachment to our desires.

We as human beings imperfect as we are fail to understand the first universal truth, the truth of impermanence. This failure to understand allows us to become attached to all that we desire.

If we truly understood that all that we desire is impermanent we would not foolishly waste our time clinging to our desires.

Learn more about Dukkha here...

Anatta: Non-Self

Anatta is composed of two words in the Pali language. The first word is, An which means not, without, or the absence of. The second word is Atta meaning soul.

The universal truth of Anatta (non-self) teaches us that nobody around us including ourselves possesses a permanent self / soul. Nothing living has a permanent entity.

This universal law of non-self is in relation to the first universal law Anicca, the law of impermanence.

Buddha’s doctrine of Anatta is one of the most misunderstood of his teachings.

We all know that our bodies are constantly changing, and growing old, but there is a personality, a consciousness within us that we identify as me, or I. We then identify impermanent material objects, ideas, and even people as belonging to us.

My wife, my car, my dog, my religion, my country… etc.

This belief, and attachment to them is the cause of much of our suffering. (Dukkha)

The Buddha taught, our body is not self, our feelings are not self, mental constructs are not self, our perceptions are not our self, and not even our consciousness is self.

When we see this, we will become detached from these things. When we are detached the passions fade. When the passions have faded one is free, and being free we will know that we are free.

There is no permanent self, but rather there are five aggregates of clinging which make up every individual. The five aggregates are:

  • Physical form
  • Feelings
  • Perception
  • Mental Formation
  • Consciousness

All five of these aggregates are essential to the buildup of each person. It is also important to understand that all of these aggregates like everything else in life are always in a constant state of change.

Suffering comes into our existence because we grasp and cling to the five aggregates which we believe to be our self.

This suffering that we experience will be eliminated from our existence when we let go of our attachments to the five aggregates.

There is no permanent self in any of the five aggregates. The five aggregates exist in the construct of our mind, but as much as we want to believe otherwise, we have no permanent self.

Thich Nhat Hanh a well-respected monk who is very knowledgeable about the teachings of Buddha, refers to the Three Universal Truths as, The Three Dharma Seals. He also uses Nirvana in place of Dukkha as one of The Three Dharma Seals.

Learn more about Nirvana here...

If you are interested in Thich Nhat Hanh, see also…


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Recommended Reading:

Not Turning Away: The Practice of Engaged Buddhism

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The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation

Embracing Nirvana copyright date