perceptions opposites doors gifts
aniccā (impermanence) ___ (stability) ___ (signless) ___ (beginner's mind)
dukkhā (unsatisfactoriness) sukha (reliability) ___ (wishless) ___ (aspiration)
anattā (not self) ___ (self confidence) suññatā (emptiness) karuṇā (compassion)

I find this series of dharma talks by Gil Fronsdal on the 3 perceptions/characteristics/marks to be very interesting

  1. 2015-06-07: annica
  2. 2015-06-14: dukkha
  3. 2015-07-05: anatta

and would like more information on the

  1. 3 opposites to be cultivated
  2. 3 doors to liberation
  3. 3 gifts

Specifically, I would like to know

  1. What pali terms are used to represent these concepts? (see blank spaces in the table above)
  2. What suttas are these discussed in?

1 Answer 1


In Pali, the prefix "a-" is itself the opposite. so the opposite of anicca is simply "nicca"

MN146:6.1: “What do you think, sisters?
MN146:6.2: cakkhu niccaṁ vā aniccaṁ vā”ti?
MN146:6.2: Is the eye permanent or impermanent?”
MN146:6.3: “Aniccaṁ, bhante”.
MN146:6.3: “Impermanent, sir.”

Unfortunately, considering opposites gets us immediately stuck in mud. Unhappy with impermanence, should we consider permanence and chase after continued existence? Ouch, that would just be more suffering.

Well what lies beyond this struggle with duality? Should we consider "adukkhamasukka", that which is neither unpleasant or pleasant? Erm, maybe not--here the Buddha points out a difficulty with even the neutral feeling:

MN146:9.12: But the feeling—whether pleasant, painful, or neutral—that I experience due to these six interior sense fields is permanent, lasting, eternal, and imperishable.’
MN146:9.13: sammā nu kho so, bhaginiyo, vadamāno vadeyyā”ti?
MN146:9.13: Would they be speaking rightly?”
MN146:9.14: “No hetaṁ, bhante”.
MN146:9.14: “No, sir.

Tables are wonderful forms that carve up the world into nice little pieces so that we can grab onto them and consume them, bit-by-bit. In the suttas themselves, tables are mnemonic devices for remembering the teachings. Indeed, Ven. Sariputta himself constructs a rather large 10x10 table in DN34.

But constructing our own tables can lead to difficulties. Tables are forms, and forms are ultimately unsatisfactory:

DN34:1.4.27: Renunciation is the escape from sensual pleasures. The formless is the escape from form. Cessation is the escape from whatever is created, conditioned, and dependently originated.

Stepping back from our own tables for a bit, lets just consider the three terms in the first column. And in DN34, we find them in the context of perceptions as called out in the first column of the table.

DN34:1.8.45: aniccasaññā, anattasaññā, asubhasaññā, ādīnavasaññā, pahānasaññā, virāgasaññā, nirodhasaññā.
DN34:1.8.45: the perception of impermanence, the perception of not-self, the perception of ugliness, the perception of drawbacks, the perception of giving up, the perception of fading away, and the perception of cessation.
DN34:2.2.64: asubhasaññā, maraṇasaññā, āhārepaṭikūlasaññā, sabbalokeanabhiratisaññā, aniccasaññā, anicce dukkhasaññā, dukkhe anattasaññā, pahānasaññā, virāgasaññā.
DN34:2.2.64: the perceptions of ugliness, death, repulsiveness in food, dissatisfaction with the whole world, impermanence, suffering in impermanence, not-self in suffering, giving up, and fading away.

So in Sariputta's own very large table, we see simply that these wonderful perceptions that we should produce lead eventually to the cessation of suffering. The table itself therefore collapses into nibbana and disappears without opposites, without doors, without gifts.

  • 1
    Thank you for this very interesting answer. 1 question: "Tables are forms, and forms are ultimately unsatisfactory". Do I understand correctly that the meaning you are giving to the word "form" (i.e. "rupa") is something like "a predictive model of reality"? Not to be confused with "actual reality"? i.e. "All models are wrong. Some models are useful."
    – Alex Ryan
    Commented Jul 26, 2021 at 14:48
  • Regarding models, we can defer to a master of form: “Physics isn't the most important thing. Love is.” ― Richard P. Feynman
    – OyaMist
    Commented Jul 26, 2021 at 15:10
  • 1
    I was waiting for someone to answer this question. What a wonderful answer!
    – user17652
    Commented Jul 26, 2021 at 20:31

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