Tag Archives: dharma

Conditioned and unconditioned things

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.

What the Buddha taught

Upon discovering the way to liberation from suffering the Buddha went to his former companions who had abandoned him. Noticing his changed disposition they listened and realized that he had reached their common goal.

He taught them that everything without exception is impermanent, that to understand otherwise is the cause of suffering, and that the most expedient way to liberation is to accept the impermanence of the self (non-self).

The Buddha summarised it (The Four Noble Truths) in this way:

      1. life is suffering,
      2. it is cause by our desires (thirst),
      3. to cease suffering one must detach from desires, and
      4. the way to do it (The Eightfold Path) is by having correct
        1. understanding
        2. thought
        3. speech
        4. action
        5. livelihood
        6. effort
        7. mindfulness
        8. concentration

He also taught the nature our personality (skandha) and explained what the chain of rebirth (paticca-samuppada) is in detail so that we can deal with it practically. He taught that we must end rebirth (samsara) and not to perpetuate it by sowing the seeds (karma) that bring about further becoming, and he showed that a careful moderate lifestyle will quell future becoming.

He taught this one teaching (Dharma) for forty-five years until he died from accidental food poisoning.

Today, as a religion, Buddhism is practiced by venerating the Three Jewels of the Buddha (the founder), the Dharma (teachings) and the Sangha (community).