Three marks of existence

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Template:Qual 3 The three marks of existence (Skt. trilakṣaṇa; P. tilakkhaṇa; T. phyag rgya gsum; C. sanxiang) or the three characteristics of conditioned phenomena are, in brief:

In the Theravada tradition, these three marks are used to distinguish between Buddhist beliefs and non-Buddhist belielfs. According to the Theravadan Visuddhimagga, realization of the truth of the these three marks constitutes enlightenment.Template:Princeton inline

Full expression in Pali texts

The complete statement of the three marks, from the Pali texts, is:

  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 anattāTemplate:Sfn



Impermanence (Sanskrit: anitya; Pali anicca) refers to the fact that all conditioned things (saṅkhāra) are impermanent, constantly changing, in a constant state of flux. Piyadassi Thera writes: Template:Quote

Smith and Novak write: Template:Quote


Because all conditioned things are impermanent, and because we fail to recognize this and instead cling to things as if they are permanent, there is suffering, pain, unsatisfactoriness, sorrow, affliction, anxiety, dissatisfaction, discomfort, anguish, stress, misery, frustration, and so on. This is dukkha.

Dukkha is the stress, dissatisfaction, suffering, and so on, that is experienced by all sentient beings who are not fully enlightened.[1]


Upon careful examination, one finds that no phenomenon is really "I" or "mine"; these concepts are in fact constructed by the mind. By analyzing the constantly changing physical and mental constituents (skandhas) of an individual, the practitioner comes to the conclusion that neither the respective parts nor the person as a whole comprise a self.


Realization of

According to Buddhist tradition, a full understanding or realization of the three marks of existence can bring an end to suffering (dukkha nirodha). In other words, realization of the truth of the these three marks constitutes enlightenment.Template:Princeton inline

Within Vipassana meditation

Sayagyi U Ba Khin writes: Template:Quote

Other formulations

The formulation of the basic tenets, or dharma seals, is expressed differently in other traditions.

Three seals

In the East Asian Buddhist tradition, the three dharma seals are:

  • Impermanence
  • No-self
  • Nirvana

Four seals

In Tibetan Buddhism, and sometimes in East Asian Buddhism, the basic tenents are expressed as the four seals. These four seals include the three marks of existence + nirvana.Template:Sfn

Core beliefs of Buddhism

These three marks, or one of the variations used in the Mahayana traditions, are generally accepted as core beliefs of Buddhism by all Buddhist traditions.

Carol Anderson writes:

In the 26 centuries since the life of Shakyamuni Buddha, Buddhism has developed into a diverse religion rich with culture, beliefs and practices that can vary between the different traditions. As Buddhism spread into new regions, it became enmeshed in the regional religious beliefs. New religions sprang up that were Buddhist in appearance but which retained little of the Buddha's teachings. As well, new schools of Buddhism arose that approached the original teachings in fresh new ways. With these changes, questions arose as to the true nature of Buddhism. Regardless of the title, the Three Dharma Seals, the Three Marks of Existence, the Four Seals of the Dharma and the Three Universal Characteristics refer to the same concepts. All schools of Buddhism based on Shakyamuni Buddha's teachings accept these concepts as the core of their beliefs thus distinguishing true Buddhism from other religions that might look like Buddhism. It follows then that any teaching that contradicts theses concepts is not a true Buddhist teaching.Template:Sfn


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".

Alternate translations for this concept in English are:

  • Three Marks of Existence
  • Three characteristics of conditioned phenomena
  • Three Dharma seals
  • Three universal characteristics

See also





External links

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