I was reading some books containing an anthology of Ajahn Chah's Dhamma Talks to both laymen and monks. In the introduction of one of those books, the translator indicated that AC used to translate 'anicca' as 'uncertainty', mainly because, to his eyes, "impermanence" seems too abstract wjen compared to the former translation; we can all relate to the experience of uncertainty, which one can say is the manifestation of impermanence in our daily lives.

While I agree that 'uncertainty' is an specially useful translation, even more when considering the target audience (laymen, unacquainted with buddhist terminology), I'm confused about the accuracy of such rendering when trying to stick to the canonical teachings.

What did the Buddha told about the relation between impermanence and uncertainty?

If we're to believe the texts literally, there are multiple occasions when the Buddha was able to see into future of some individuals. Does that tell us that life may seem uncertain only most people, to those who don't possess such gifts and abilities, but that in the end, reality is "fixed" and already determined? Is reality and future events actually uncertain?

Thanks in advance for your time and patience!

  • When having given a certain cause a certain effect is to be expected, yet it is not sure of what cause one gives: not certain about what is good and what bad. All not for sure... Jan 9, 2019 at 0:06
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    Thanks for your reply! So, Is uncertainty just a feature of those who don't have knowledge of the distinction between good and bad, and knowledge of causes and effects? Is it an overcomable feature born from ignorance? Or is it a feature of reality itself? Jan 9, 2019 at 0:14
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    yes to all, without "or". In addition: For those who don't know the reality of uncertaincy cause a lot of trouble. For those knowing, they are using the certain certency to live out the uncertaincy for final certaincy. That of what one normal defines as reality is uncertain as it is based on a stand/state/view, Nyom. And in asking always oneself: "Sure?" and possible be reminded on the Dhamma, path can be traced. Jan 9, 2019 at 7:08
  • Meaning to stick to the path as means to certaincy, taking only this, the way, even not sure, for sure. This might be of use: The Essence of the Dhamma, Nyom. Jan 9, 2019 at 7:16
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    I think this is two questions -- "is 'uncertainty' a good way to explain anicca" and "to what extent does the Buddha's 'divine eye' imply that the future is predetermined/certain" -- ruben2020 answered the first (below), I think the second is maybe answered on this site in a previous topic (but I haven't looked for it).
    – ChrisW
    Jan 31, 2019 at 21:51

1 Answer 1


Your health, wealth, reputation, career, family are all impermanent. Your life is also impermanent. Nothing lasts forever and everything changes over time. Nothing bad like disease and death can be avoided forever. Nothing good like your loved ones can be preserved forever. This is anicca.

This causes uncertainty for individuals when they think about their future. Uncertainty is one way to summarize the effect of impermanence. Uncertainty is maybe a more directly meaningful term to people than impermanence.

Anicca is also discussed in the context of the five aggregates being impermanent and in fact, all conditioned things being impermanent and changing.

The Buddha saw only a limited future based on cause and effect. Just as if you see the cloudy sky and forecast rain. The Buddha's prediction of the future is not because all events in the future are fixed and predetermined.

In Buddhism, the only thing that's permanent and fixed is Nibbana.

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