saṅkhārā aniccā — “all saṅkhāras (conditioned concepts) are impermanent”
sabbe saṅkhārā dukkhā — “all saṅkhāras (conditioned concepts) are unsatisfactory”
sabbe dhammā anattā — “all dharmas (conditioned or unconditioned concepts) are not self”
I have had a tough time translating sanskara (conditioned) and dharma (unconditioned) in this passage. The question is the what is conditioned and what is unconditioned.
Perhaps it is better to translate sanskara as subjective concepts and dharma as objective concepts. As the fourth category of the skandha (personality) sanskara comes after feelings (vedana, pleasant, unpleasant and neutral) perception (samjna, identification of differences).
So this could be summed up as all subjective concepts are temporary and unsatisfactory. And all concepts – subjective and objective – are without substance.
But what does that say about objective concepts? That they are permanent and satisfactory? But since both subject and objective concepts are without substantiality we are left to wonder what we should be placing our trust in.
So, being equally insubstantial, the objective concept (as a concept) can only be a temporary solution as well. Here lies the paradox.
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Sensation and perception is a limited view and also the only point of access to reality we have. This said, then, we should think it is important. No sensation and perception necessarily means no understanding of and no interaction with reality.
This is, of course, if there is another reality that is unknown. But why complicate things when one reality is already complicated enough. Reality has no cause for being more complex than need be.
The onus is on others to explain why the metaphysical is needed.
I am happy with a mechanistic explanation of us. That the illusion of a self or rationality should be no less plausible than phenomena or representation. To react against the physical reality is really an unnecessary fear that brings about more grief than relief.
As a Buddhist correct understand brings about relief. The explanation is not that different to a philosophically material monist one. The self is not what it seems. A soul is as plausible as a non-soul. To discount non-self is not scientific, not open-minded. It is foreign. It is The Other.
Central to the teaching of Buddhism are the three marks of existence (trilaksana).
The three marks of existence are:
- saṅkhārā aniccā — “all saṅkhāras (conditioned things) are impermanent”
- sabbe saṅkhārā dukkhā — “all saṅkhāras are unsatisfactory”
- sabbe dhammā anattā — “all dharmas (conditioned or unconditioned things) are not self”
Conditioned things (sankhara), according to Buddhism, do not make up the entirety of things. There are also unconditioned things. Together conditioned and unconditioned things are called the dharma – the entirety of the world.
Nirvana (the realization of the non-self or emptiness of everything, conditioned and unconditioned) is neither impermanent nor permanent, and neither unsatisfactory nor unsatisfactory. To say it is permanent would be to not understand its characteristics. To say it is satisfactory would be to not see the inconsistency of duality. The neutral, zero position of Buddhism is something rather hard to grasp. And by being unenlightened is to be not fully understanding the zero position, but be like somewhere between -1 and +1, other than 0. By having a value – positive or negative – we are not understanding the meaning of 0. The irony is, we cannot know zero without recourse to every other number, that is, zero means nothing without something.
The first of the Four Noble Truths attributed to Buddha is life is suffering (dukkha).
But what is meant by this? Is every moment in life suffering? Am I in perpetual sadness?
Obviously, no. I am happy, or at least not sad at this moment. For most of my life I have been fairly happy and content. I can see that others also are not suffering or in constant pain.
What Buddha meant by this that at any moment we are susceptible to suffering. This susceptibility is what is meant by dukkha. Actual instances pain and happiness are “clues” to impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and the self as an illusion.
The standard version of the Ten Bull Pictures used today is the version by Kaku-an, a 12th century monk. The oldest version of this is a 16th century copy in Kyoto, Japan.
The earliest series is considered the one by Seikyo, consisting of five pictures. The first picture starts at the fourth Kaku-an picture (and being slightly different) and ends on the eighth. In between are three pictures which are not found in Kaku-an’s version. A later version that Seikyo’s that was popular in China also has ten pictures but it also starts and ends at exactly the same pictures as Seikyo’s five pictures.
The conclusion to be drawn then is
- Kaku-an’s pictures are independent in design to both Seikyo and the Chinese versions
- Kaku-an’s pictures have a different significance to Seikyo’s
Particularly the second point starting earlier in the timeline means it says more about practitioners at the beginning of their journey. Also, by ending later, it says something about what the purpose (or Zen’s goal) is for enlightenment. These points are worth exploring.
Everything is in flux. (Heraclitus, 6c BCE)
Everything, without exception, is impermanent. (The Buddha, 5c BCE)
Change is the only constant. (signature103, 2018)