Is it correct to say that the tilakkhana (anicca, dukkha, anatta) is ultimate reality?

  • The Buddha didn't use lakkhana but sanna (perception) which might answer the question. How ever, useful to do First things first
    – user11235
    Commented Mar 9, 2020 at 15:48

3 Answers 3


Tilakkhana is Pali for "three lakṣaṇa". "Lakshana" means indication, symptom, attribute, feature, omen, that by which a thing is recognized.

Anicca, dukkha, anatta are the three aspects of all dharmas or all phenomena. Dharmas have many different attributes or qualities, but these three are the subset of qualities that helps us let go of our simplified assumptions about dharmas and to realize their true mode of existence aka "ultimate reality".

The way dharmas really exist does not come in three pieces. Anicca is not separate from dukkha is not separate from anatta. Instead, the ultimate reality is this fluid stuff. We, being equal parts naive and fearless, try to describe this stuff in terms of distinct dharmas, but every time we create these distinctions they are inaccurate, unreliable, and unstable - and that's what trilakshana refers to.

So it would be more accurate to say that trilakshana is a characterization of our description of reality than something that applies to reality itself.

In other words, trilakshana is Samsara we overlay on top of Nirvana - not Nirvana itself which is free of the three marks.

  • In the Theravada, the first two lakkhaṇa do not apply to all dhammas. Nibbāna is not anicca or dukkha. Commented Mar 7, 2020 at 21:01
  • Right, and that's what I concluded with, that they apply not to Nirvana. As to whether Nirvana is included in All dharmas or not, and whether it is Anatta or the more strict N/A, have been the topic of debate since Sthavira Nikaya split from Maha Sangha, so I'd rather not go into those details.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Mar 7, 2020 at 22:30
  • Andrei "fluid stuff" Volkov. Any reference for that part?
    – user8527
    Commented Mar 8, 2020 at 4:40
  • amazon.com/Rice-Seedling-Sutra-Teachings-Dependent/dp/… commentary by Geshe Yeshe Thabkhe.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 12:26

Nibanna has not the tilakkhaṇna marks. Nibanna has only the not self part and it is as real as whatever has the 3 marks. But nibanna is not a product of mano, ie an idea, not an object of the 5 usual senses, and not a material good, so it is a weird object which is why the buddha uses ''direct knoweldge'', instead of the ''intellectual knowledge'' that philosophers claim exists and actually is knowledge, to talk about the knowledge of nibanna.


AN 3.136 explains the tilakkhana (anicca, dukkha, anatta) are invariable natural laws; even when they are not known or perceived.

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