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From Tibetan Buddhist Encyclopedia
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anicca: Inconstant; unsteady; impermanent.Anicca (Pali); impermanence is one of the essential doctrines or Three characteristics of existence in Buddhism.

The term expresses the Buddhist notion that every conditioned existence, without exception, is inconstant and in flux, even gods.

According to the impermanence doctrine, human life embodies this flux in the aging process, the cycle of birth and rebirth (samsara), and in any experience of loss.

The doctrine further asserts that because things are impermanent, attachment to them is futile, and leads to suffering (dukkha).

Under the impermanence doctrine, all compounded and constructed things and states are impermanent.

Buddhists hold that the only true end of impermanence is nibbana, the reality that knows no change, decay or death.

Impermanence is intimately associated with the doctrine of anatta, according to which things have no fixed nature, essence, or self.



The aspect of impermanence

anicca is a pali word composed with two combined words: "nicca" and the private particle "a". "nicca" implies the idea of permanence, of continuity.

anicca means the absence of continuity, the absence of permanence.

anicca is a universal law that is ascribable (can be applied) to all phenomena of the universe, indeed to all our sensual experiences.

Everything that occurs in the world, perceived by us, is inherently subject to decay, as soon as it appears.

The aspect of change, the aspect of impermanence is vividly shown by the simple fact that phenomena appear.

As soon as a phenomenon manifests, we are duly informed about its impermanent nature as before it occurred, it had not manifested yet and then it is here before us.

We can ascertain that it just appeared.

Therefore a change took place, and as a matter of fact, in particular when a phenomenon appears.

Then, this phenomenon will have a limited duration, and it will inevitably disappear. As soon as it appears, a natural law compels it to ultimately vanish.

This is valid for all of them, without exception.

anicca is a characteristic common to all phenomena, ascribable to all realities, which pertain to our conscious and tangible experiences.

Thus, our consciousness undergoes ceaseless mutations and all our experiences, even in the occurrences of meditative, transcendental or else mystical attainments, are transitory by nature.

If, by means of meditation, we succeeded in reaching transcendent, unitary stages, similar to the ones depicted to us in the spiritual literature, we could imagine to have seen "face to face" an eternal substratum, essence or substance.

An immutable substance being not subject to the law of impermanence.

Indeed, the simple fact to have reached this meditative stage or "experience", to have attained something, vividly shows that this object of experience is subject to change. Why is it so?

Because prior to being experienced, this stage had not been reached yet.

There is therefore something that began to manifest, which is a stage of merging, a stage of immersion of consciousness.

It is the result of a training into various spiritual exercises or variegated meditation techniques.

Therefore, this is not yet the refuge we are searching, a refuge endowed with steadiness, with eternity.

Indeed, this refuge doesn't exist.

At the depth, two types of training's can be followed by us. Some of them belong to a category that we can conveniently name samatha while others belong to the category called vipassanā.

vipassanā is a pali word that means direct inner sight or vision, superior vision indeed. Superior vision in the sense that it is superior to others, because it is direct by nature, truly speaking an insight into reality.

What is reality? Reality is a non-reversible fact, which is universally verified and that can be applied to all phenomena. That fact is of a threefold nature:

All phenomena that appeared will disappear.

All phenomena undergo the law of impermanence, the law of change, anicca.

All phenomena that appeared have a limited duration.

They have a specific duration but they do not outlast a short span of time.

They always seem to have too long a duration when they dissatisfy us and we find their life span too short when they give us pleasure.

By this way, they bear a property of dissatisfaction.

As their very occurrence is already a source of dissatisfaction, we call this dukkha. Then, these phenomena cease to be, beyond the power of control of our might, they vanish.

When their root-causes come to naught, phenomena disappear. This uncontrollable character of phenomena, we call it anatta.

This is the absence of characteristics of an "in itself" inherent nature, the absence of control, the absence of directive.

The development of mindfulness

In order to develop vipassanā, we should do what Buddha has taught and named satipaṭṭhāna bhāvanā. bhāvanā is training, mental cultivation; satipaṭṭhāna means:

sati, heedfulness, consciousness (here in the sense of "being heedful"), "patthana", "upatthana", means development, maturation.

Hence satipaṭṭhāna means development, maturation, foundation of mindfulness. bhāvanā, that is the training into the development of mindfulness.

If we follow the advises given by Buddha, to the sake of developing mindfulness, developing heedfulness, at this very moment, naturally, in an unwanted and uncontrollable manner, vipassanā will also develop itself.

As to vipassanā, there is nothing that can be done.

Some people claim teaching vipassanā.

They teach us all kinds of exercises sometimes based on concentration, sometimes on a type of investigation or insight into what they call reality: investigation into the four elements, into the postures, into the sensations.

In reality, this is not vipassanā.

They believe that vipassanā is something which ought to be done, to be "practised", that by doing such and such exercises, we are in vipassanā or else by doing other exercises, we are in samatha.

If Buddha himself had almost never used the word vipassanā, it is no accident. He instead used the word satipaṭṭhāna.

The discourse in connection with the instructions laid down on what is going on, what is performed in vipassanā, is not called "vipassanā sutta", anyway there is no sutta called so. It is called "satipaṭṭhāna sutta", the discourse on the foundation of mindfulness.

In this discourse, he doesn't talk about vipassanā. He just tells what a training into satipaṭṭhāna means.

Thus, what is interesting to us is not vipassanā but satipaṭṭhāna instead. If we undertake a training, if we follow the instructions laid down by Buddha in order to develop mindfulness, consciousness and heedfulness, automatically, in a most uncontrollable and natural fashion, vipassanā will develop itself.

vipassanā is merely the direct inner sight that is the fruit of mindfulness, of heedfulness. Here, what is meant is to turn our attention to reality.