Tilakkhaṇa, The Three Basic Facts of Existence

All conditioned phenomena are impermanent

All conditioned phenomena are suffering

All phenomena are without self

When one sees this with Insight-wisdom

One becomes weary of suffering

This is the Path to Purity

(Dhammapada 277-279)

Have you ever seen a woman or a man and suddenly you felt that your heart is jumping and dancing like it won’t stop doing it for the longest time? When your breath suddenly stopped and after a while it continued to the process of inhalation-exhalation with the utmost pace? Let’s say that you fell in love with the person right that time, that moment, that place.

Now, of course with your six senses (mind being the sixth sense), you recognise that feeling, the shortness and full pace of breath, the pumping heart, and the warm feeling on your cheeks which made your face turned maroon. This feeling, might you say, is a crush or a love at the first sight. Or whatever.

But let me ask you one thing: what makes you interested in that person? The face? What part? The nose, eyes, ears, what?  And if you say that you like the person as a whole, you are being desperate. Why? Because the whole is the sum of the pieces. The moment you say that, you are blinded by delusion, for everything could never arise without a cause.

If I ask you: if the person has only one eye, do you still like him/her? I suppose you might say yes to defend your point of view, but I can assure you: that feeling — the shortness and full pace of breath, the pumping heart, and the warm feeling on your cheeks which made your face turned maroon — wouldn’t appear.

So, what’s my point? Well, my point is simple. Like the quotation in the beginning of this article, all phenomena has three basic characteristics. The three characteristic is threefold. This is the very basic facts of existence.

What is the threefold basic character of existence (Pali: Tilakkhaa)?

The first one is all conditioned phenomena are impermanent (Pali: aniccā). The person you have crush with is not eternal. S/he was born, but s/he’s subject to the universal law. Every birth ends in death, like every book has to have an ending (or if not an ending, it has to stop in some point, nevertheless). So if the person is subject to death, why do we have to be attached by her/his physical or psychological beauty?

The second one is all conditioned phenomena are suffering (Pali: dukkha). Man wants to live forever. But that can not be, because in some point, man has to say goodbye to her/his body and mind. Take a person you love, say your wife. You can not be with her for eternity, because someday she will certainly, definitely die. Well, whether she or you who will die first. Every single thing you want to have and be attached with is subject to vanish soon enough.

The third one, probably the most hard to explain and accept, is all phenomena consists of no self nor soul nor core nor ego (Pali: anattā). How can it be? Every teaching, from Hindu, Jew, Christianity, until Islam, they all teach that every living being has a soul, although where that soul might go differs between their (i.e. the religions’) views. Only the Buddha teaches that we don’t have any soul. The Buddha said that every human being consists of five aggregates (Pali: panca khanda), which is body, perception, feeling, mental formation, and consciousness. When a man dies, all five aggregates are also die. No trace of a single soul.

Now, chill. I think you might want to protest the view. But let me explain it.

I already explained that all conditioned phenomena are impermanent and suffering. Now, if all conditioned phenomena are impermanent and soon die, there is no single solid eternal core that remains when, for example, a man dies. Thus, there is no self in each any of us.

Whoa, hold on. If we don’t have any soul, so who am I? Do I exist? Do I not exist? These questions upon existence are irrelevant here, because if there is no single soul, is there any existence? The Buddha said that everthing we sense with our six senses are illusions. This illusion becomes delusion when people thought that they exist when they sense reality according to their six senses.

I know it’s all confusing without no abstract or example. So I will give you an example. Take a man, say me. I consist of five aggregates, which can be simplified by two things, body and mind.

Now, my body consists of various organs. Let’s disintgreate it. I have two hands, two legs, a head, etc. Take my hand for a sample.  My hands have skin. Under the skin, it has muscles, tendons, flesh, bones, and blood. Inside my blood there are blood cells. Deeper, there are atoms. Deeper, a quark perhaps. Now when I die, every single quark inside my hand dies. Then, there is nothing. So, do I have a real body? When you pint me out, I ask, what is the Wind? You probably say, the whole body of yours. But I say, no, we are talking about essence. Do I have essence? No. So, my body doesn’t really exist. When I was born, I was this lump of flesh. But as I grow older, I change. Every second, as science had already proven, my cells die and regenerate continously. So, which one is my ‘self?’ This change will occur until I finally die. Well, again, where is my ‘self?’ (This explaination had already been posted in my previous post, “The Essence of Physical Beauty.”)

Now, my mind. When I say, here and now I AM. As you read this sentence, I say, here and now I AM. Wait. Who’s the real me? The first statement, the second one, or now? I change. Why? Because after I wrote the first statement and then the second statement, my mind changed: my choice of diction, my thoughts, my words, my imagination; the four aggregates of mind, perception, mental formations, and consciousness change. I can not say THIS ME is the same with THIS ME or THIS ONE. Why? Because I change. My mind changes every second, even every milli second, every moment.

The explanation concludes that there is no self, no soul, nor core in everything exists in this world. Everything changes. Mark this: the only constant thing in the universe is change itself.

Another question about the quotation you might find: why do the first two characteristics of existence have a ‘conditioned’ word, whereas the third does not? Condition consists of two things: space and time. Thus, everything that is bound by space and time is impermanent and causes suffering. What about the concept of anattāAnattā doesn’t use the word ‘conditioned’ because space and time is also doesn’t have a single core, they are changing. What changes, doesn’t have a soul. Soul meaning a single solid thing, unchanged. But nothing is solid, for everything changes, including space and time.

A quick brilliant question: does change have the characteristic of anattā? I answer: the question is irrelevant.  Why? Because change is process. Process doesn’t stop, doesn’t have a solid state, always evolving and revolving. This is why change can not be included by this characteristic of anattā.

Now, another seems-to-be-brilliant question yet needs a further long explanation: does Nibbana (or Nirvana… google or wiki it, uh, but not the band) have this characteristic of anattā. I really want to explain it, but I think I will in a different circumstance for this explanation is going to be a single full article.

The last thing you would ask, perhaps, is this: “Ok, Wind, enough of this thing. I want to know the application of this threefold characteristic into reality.”

First of all, the threefold characteristic is real. This first thing should you keep in mind. Second of all, by knowing that everything is impermanent, causes suffering, and soulless, you might want to release your attachment towards everything, including your own ego. Buddha said, “He who has 50 loves has 50 woes. He who has no love has no woe.” By that, I’m not literally saying that you are prohibited to love someone, but just don’t be too attached to the person you love. Understand that s/he is impermanent, causes you to suffer (while you might think that the person also gives you hope and love forever), and that the person doesn’t have any single soul. Why should you attached to something that is subject to change? Instead, knowing that the person is impermanent, causes you to suffer, and soulless will make you realize that change is the only constant. People do change, do not expect that a person will be the same person in time. Adapt yourself to it, to the change.

Someone said to me, “I will marry a woman when I’m ready to lose her.” By saying this, the man is ready to lose her, thus every single second he’d spend with his woman will he cherish as best as he could. This is the understanding of the threefold, although he doesn’t know the concept. This proves that the concept is true and includes all beings without exception. The Ultimate Truth is not a product of any religion, but for every living being in the world.

That is all I want to say in this post. I hope I receive some comments regarding the matter. By doing so, I will learn more and so do you. Thank you for reading this long and winding post. I hope I was clear enough. 🙂

With lots of compassion.




Wednesday, 13 October 2010


Bengawan Solo Coffee Pejompongan


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