What is the equivalent to the 3 Marks of Existence in Vajrayana or Mahayana Buddhism? I heard a version of the Buddha's enlightenment¹, where the Buddha didn't realize impermanence, dukkha and no-self but in place of that he realized the past, the present and the future. That sounded a bit odd to me, is that a popular Vajrayana version of the Buddha's enlightenment?

¹ Here is how the Buddha's enlightenment is narrated in the movie "Kundun":

"Then, at the time of midnight, the Bodhisattva saw a clear light. Then he saw in a single instant the three states of existence,

the past,
the present,
and the future

purified by the clear light. Then, sitting at the Tree of Enlightenment, he conquered all the devils."

2 Answers 2


Most of the time in Mahayana (both Vajrayana and Zen) I hear of Four Marks of Existence: Transience, Unsatisfactoriness, Corelessness, and Nirvana. All four are subsumed under Shunyata (Emptiness) which is equated with Pratitya-Samutpada (Dependent Co-Arising).

Not sure about past, present and future. Anyone?

  • 2
    Do you have a reference for this?
    – Jayarava
    Sep 6, 2015 at 14:26
  • For which one, for Nirvana included in the marks, for subsuming them under shunyata, or for equating shunyata with dependent-coarising? I don't have time for all three references, you have to pick one ;)
    – Andriy Volkov
    Sep 6, 2015 at 14:38
  • I think all of these assertions need backing up. As an answer there's not much to recommend this. But for example I have never seen nirvāṇa included as a fourth lakṣana in any Mahāyāna text. Nor have I seen all four subsumed. The last many Madhyamakas seem to like to argue with, so is at best a moot point.
    – Jayarava
    Sep 6, 2015 at 17:03
  • @Jayarava for the first point, google "Four Dharma Seals" or "shihoin buddhism". See for example lionsroar.com/buddhism-nutshell-four-seals-dharma - I've heard this many times from various teachers - I'm surprised you've never encountered this?!
    – Andriy Volkov
    Sep 6, 2015 at 17:40
  • 1
    "There are here, O monks, some foolish men who study the Teaching; having studied it, they do not wisely examine the purpose of those teachings. To those who do not wisely examine the purpose, these teachings will not yield insight." -- Buddha in MN 22, The Snake Simile Sutra.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Sep 9, 2015 at 13:19

Here the 'Theravada' Tag is added.
So The definitions for "Timeless" is given as like this:

akaliko [akaaliko]: Timeless; unconditioned by time or season. The Dhamma is able to bestow timeless and immediate results here and now, for which there is no need to wait until the future or next existence.

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