💚I've seen teachers translate anicca as uncertainty. Is that a good translation? I mean, you can be certain when something is going to end. I'm just kind of trying to put these translations together and see if any intellectual insights are known by anyone. What about anatta with impermanence &/or uncertainty? One minute I am thinking that they go together and the next I'm thinking that they don't go together. It seems hard to see. Why is it hard for me to see? Am I trying to see intellectually in order to see experientially? What about all of the 3 characteristics &/or uncertainty?

  • 1
    Impermanent things can make people feel uncertain. Thats why in some examples, uncertainty is connoted. But literally, anicca means impermanence. It specifically means that things are not permanent. There are diffferent words available in pali and sanskrit for uncertainty or changing. Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 9:41

9 Answers 9


It is not that everything is impermanent or permanent. What is generally understood as impermanence in the Buddhist context is the incessant need to find something reliable, long-lasting and substantial. Therefore, it is the behaviour that stems from the word impermanence rather than the word itself, or better still, it is the fallacious ideas we hold about a form-based pseudo-reality that can provide any sense of safety: the body is subject to the ravages of the world whether the self likes it or not. It is termed impermanence as a way to challenge these ideas and behaviours, but even the idea that things are impermanent must be let go at a certain point.

Those ideas and behaviours give rise to various degrees of suffering. The idea is that when one understands this, it is seen that there is no-self in any of it and that there never was.

Therefore, impermanence is an illusion we generate in the six sense field and comes directly from the idea that we exist as a central perceiver from the six sense organs, but it is helpful to frame it within an introspective context so that one can come to see that.

In summary, impermanence, unsatisfactoriness & not-self point to the immediate and direct experience that we construct inside the human condition, and how that experience is perpetually looping back onto itself for a remedy to the turmoil it generates. Since we have an intellect alongside a well-versed vocabulary and complex social needs, this perpetual self-referent need to find answers to the human condition looks rather sophisticated, when it is actually rather childlike - and I don't mean childlike in any derogatory fashion.

Impermanence, in the Buddhist context, will help you understand how uncertainty (a type of suffering) are actually very convincing illusory qualities stemming directly from a misperceived and mis-projected six sense experience.

  • nice answer, but what's wrong with viewing the self as an anchor to a ship?
    – blue_ego
    Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 12:44
  • @blue_ego - Principally, the Buddha asks, in many creative ways, what it is that could be anchored. One way he does this is through inspection of the aggregates. The idea that one is trapped - or anchored, as you put it - is a switch-and-bait method of getting you to look introspectively at this supposed anchor. The surprise is, when one looks, the anchor isn't there and never was. The sense of being trapped is just one of many ways the great suchness shows itself, and other people are seen as the perfection of this, thus; they are not there, yet they are.
    – user17652
    Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 18:13
  • i suppose i meant 'what's wrong with a self if it keeps an individual stable?' to question the stability of the self generates uncertainty...it's like do you prefer stability or. emptiness?...hmm
    – blue_ego
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 15:37
  • @blue_ego - self keeps an individual in a perpetual state of neurosis. Interestingly, this is the generally accepted state of the human condition. But yes, you're partially correct. We need to firstly entertain the idea of ourselves in order to appear gathered and functional. It helps us keep safe in an ever-changing and uncertain world - but it's still an illusion which ever way you look at it!
    – user17652
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 15:58

Anicca according to wisdomlib means:

anicca : (adj.) not stable; impermanent.
(Source): BuddhaSasana: Concise Pali-English Dictionary

From the AccessToInsight Glossary for A:

anicca: Inconstant; unsteady; impermanent.

This is elaborated by the Buddha in DN 17:

See, Ānanda! All those conditioned phenomena have passed, ceased, and perished.
Passānanda, sabbete saṅkhārā atītā niruddhā vipariṇatā.

So impermanent are conditions,
Evaṃ aniccā kho, ānanda, saṅkhārā;

so unstable are conditions,
evaṃ addhuvā kho, ānanda, saṅkhārā;

so unreliable are conditions.
evaṃ anassāsikā kho, ānanda, saṅkhārā.

This is quite enough for you to become disillusioned, dispassionate, and freed regarding all conditions.
Yāvañcidaṃ, ānanda, alameva sabbasaṅkhāresu nibbindituṃ, alaṃ virajjituṃ, alaṃ vimuccituṃ.

You may be happy and confident today, based on your close-knit family, dependable friends, good looks, fantastic health, abundant wealth, productive career or business etc.

But all these will not last forever. They are impermanent (aniccā), unstable (addhuvā) and unreliable (anassāsikā). I suppose uncertainty too fits into this, as anassāsikā means something like being unable to provide security or certainty, if you refer to the Pali-English dictionary.

To peg your happiness or sense of self (atta) to these things will bring suffering. That's the relationship of impermanence to suffering.

Also, please see SN 22.93. It links all three characteristics/ marks of existence together.


What you call "experiential" I might think of as "subjective".

Western reasoning has an objective/subjective dual -- which I'm not sure whether that's also a feature of classical Buddhist reasoning.

But the question, "Is it 'impermanence' or 'uncertainty'?", seems to be an example of objective/subjective:

  • "It [the object] is [objectively] impermanent"
  • "Therefore I [the subject] should evaluate its [subjective] relationship with me as being uncertain/unreliable".

A similar dual might be "stable" (a characteristic of the thing) and "dependable" (whether I'd be wise to rely on it).

In a Western or "scientific" worldview I think those are logically primary and secondary characteristics: i.e. something is unreliable because it's impermanent -- not vice versa, impermanent because it's unreliable.

Since I read Ursula Le Guin's Bryn Mawr Commencement Address I beware of objectivity

... many believe this dialect - the expository and particularly the scientific discourse - is the highest form of language, the true language, of which all other uses of words are primitive vestiges.

And it is indeed an excellent dialect. Newton's Principia was written in it in Latin, and Descartes wrote Latin and French in it, establishing some of its basic vocabulary, and Kant wrote German in it, and Marx, Darwin, Freud, Boas, Foucault - all the great scientists and social thinkers wrote it. It is the language of thought that seeks objectivity.

I do not say it is the language of rational thought. Reason is a faculty far larger than mere objective thought. When either the political or the scientific discourse announces itself as the voice of reason, it is playing God, and should be spanked and stood in the corner. The essential gesture of the father tongue is not reasoning but distancing-making ...

In fact one of the reasons I admire and value the Buddhist (instead of the scientific) system of thought, find it practical, is that Buddhism is concerned with what is of benefit to people and with subjective experience.

The usual definitions of anicca that I read -- for example here -- are the more objective adjectives:

  1. adj: inconstant, impermanent, momentary.
  2. n: inconstancy, impermanence, momentariness.

In using that word I don't think that Buddhism intends to exclude the subjective characteristic ("uncertainty"), in fact I think that it's because of the subjective effect that Buddhism considers it an important element of doctrine.

A subjective effect is dukkha, arising as a result of unwisely relying on what's impermanent.

I hoped that the etymology might clarify its meaning, but it doesn't -- this PTS dictionary definition says,

formation fr. ni, meaning “downward” = onward, on and on; according to Grassmann (Wtb. z. Rig Veda) originally “inwardly homely”

It's too basic a word.

I think you can reach a level of wondering exactly what the precise meaning of a word is, and what's the exact translations, and whether it means the same thing is another language. But each word is a blunt instrument -- imprecise or general -- it's when it's used in context, i.e. with other words and/or with real-world experiences, that it acquires "meaning".

And I think it's generally possible to have good translations but not exact translations, and so you must (as you are doing) "make sense" of a text, its direction ("the moon, not the finger").

  • So words are like fingers... Leave it to Zen to obscure the obvious. But you make an excellent point. Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 10:52
  • Great Answer! Subject/object duality is certainly a feature of classical Buddhist reasoning. In Theravada, the subject/object illusion becomes rather apparent at the 6 & 7th fetter. Those two are all about perception; the perception of outside and inside are ideas that support each other through psychological dissonance or stress. That stress is then identified with: "I am these thoughts and feelings of separation". It is the state of being in dis-harmony or off-kilter, and Buddhist reasoning aims to address this dis-harmony.
    – user17652
    Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 10:13

think this:

all you experience/cognize falls under 'what you are able to experience/cognize'.

what 'your experience is' is form/feeling/perception/preparations/conciusness. within wich feeling/perception/consciusness act as the direct appereance of the phenomenon.

whatever you cognize is there because there are causes/determinants/preparations/formations that act as a cause for your experience of those causes/determinants/preparations/formations.

all those preparations on account of wich any experience arises are themselves dependent on preparations on account of wich they arise that are themselces dependent on (etc...)

if anything that arises depends on things that depend on things that depend on things that depend on things than nothing can stand on its own. There is nothing that lasts, there is only a this/that relationship.

in other words, there is nothing that you can hang on to. the floor will eventually collapse on its own nature. the only solution is dispassion for causes/determinants/preparations/formations. the dhamma is for dispassion, for relinquishment.


another way to view the problem...uncertainty is a form of stress, and as you know, the whole of the dhamma is about eradicating stress.

In any case, here is a quote from Means of Escape Nissāraṇīya Sutta (AN 6:13):

“And further, there is the case where a monk might say, ‘Although “I am” is gone, and I do not assume that “I am this,” still the arrow of uncertainty & perplexity keeps overpowering my mind.’ He should be told, ‘Don’t say that. You shouldn’t speak in that way. Don’t misrepresent the Blessed One, for it’s not right to misrepresent the Blessed One, and the Blessed One wouldn’t say that. It’s impossible, there is no way that—when “I am” is gone, and “I am this” is not assumed—the arrow of uncertainty & perplexity would keep overpowering the mind. That possibility doesn’t exist, for this is the escape from the arrow of uncertainty & perplexity: the uprooting of the conceit, “I am”.’

and some more food for thought from the wiki:

According to Thích Nhất Hạnh,[5] the three seals are impermanence, non-self and nirvana. He says in "The heart of the Buddha's Teaching" that "In several sutras the Buddha taught that nirvana, the joy of completely extinguishing our ideas and concepts, rather than suffering, is one of the Three Dharma Seals."


The answer is yes. :)

To understand the meaning of a term used by the Buddha, it helps to understand the context within which the term was used by him.

1: sabbe saṅkhāra annicā
2: sabbe saṅkhāra dukkhā
3: sabbe dhamma anattā

How to interpret this?

sabbe saṅkhāra annicā =>
All saṅkhāra [are] annicā.

This is not referring to the impermanence of the material world.

This is referring to the impermanence of our perception of the material world.

What are saṅkhāra?

saṅkhāra = saṁ + kṛ = “come together” and “do something”

Think of a saṅkhāra as the individual habitualized predictions of sensory experience that guide our movements in this world.

“in THIS context with THIS aim” + “make THIS move”

“I am HERE” and “I want to be HERE” + “make THIS move”

A saṅkhāra is a sensory motor prediction of sensory experience which we construct to guide our movements in the world.

They start off as hypotheses with high “uncertainty”.

But as they predict sensory experience correctly over and over again, and enable us to move skillfully, they become habitualized and we forget that they were ever hypotheses.

99.9% of the time, our saṅkhāra guide our movements skillfullly.

However, when they fail to do so, we experience the first arrow in the heart: The dukkha of misprediction.

This tells us that we SHOULD have “uncertainty” about the saṅkhāra which guided us to make that move. We SHOULD consider that saṅkhāra to be “impermanent” because it is predicting sensory experience incorrectly.

This is what dukkha is.

Dukkha is a notification of misprediction.

The Budhha called such saṅkhāras āsava.

Āsava are saṅkhāra corrupted by avijjā (the choice to ignore unpleasant truths) and sustained by craving and clinging.

The Buddha advised us to destroy the āsava by uprooting craving and releasing the 10th fetter of avijjā which sustains the entire chain of the dependent origination of suffering.

Obviously, that which is to be destroyed should be considered to be “impermanent/temporary”.

And the reason WHY it should be considered to be “impermanent/temporary” is because sensory experience has shown it to be an unreliable predictor.

So it would be more correct to say that …

All saṅkhāra should be considered to be “temporary/impermanent” because if and when they lead to the arising of the dukkha of misprediction, we WILL experience the “uncertainty” of mixed feelings about them.

Mixed feelings because, on the one hand it guided us well for many sensory experiences but, on the other hand, it failed to do so at least once.

Holding this uncertainty/discomfort in spacious non judgmental awareness, teasing apart the inner conflict and then resolving it such that the dukkha of misprediction no longer arises leads to both (1) greater understanding (pañña) and equanimity (upekkha).

This is the reward for destroying the āsava.

This is the reward for summoning the courage to “see the world the way it actually is.”

Think of the dhamma as being a collection of saṅkhāra which constitutes a navigational map of a domain of sensory experience. (The 36 streams of craving describes how saṅkhāra are strung together in this fashion.)


1: sabbe saṅkhāra annicā
2: sabbe saṅkhāra dukkhā
3: sabbe dhamma anattā

1: All habits should be considered to be impermanent.
2: All habits are subject to the discomfort of misprediction. (When this happens, we feel “uncertainty” about them.)
3: All navigational maps should be cleansed of self-absorption in the narrative. (Conceit is the primary reason our maps remain infested with āsava.)

  • so you're saying 99.9% of the time things are normal?
    – blue_ego
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 15:13
  • I don't understand the question.
    – Alex Ryan
    Commented Nov 29, 2022 at 14:49
  • Not exactly. I think I'm describing the reason why dukkha should not be seen as a negative thing. Rather it should be viewed as an enticing call to adventure. A mystery to be solved so that the treasure of deeper understanding can be claimed. To the extent that we change our perception of what dukkha is in this fashion (a notification of misprediction in our model), that which might be called "worry" does not arise. Instead, something like "excitement" arises.
    – Alex Ryan
    Commented Nov 29, 2022 at 18:30
  • @blue_ego: dukkha = notification of misprediction in saṅkhāra. i.e. āsava. i.e. saṅkhāra = sensory motor prediction = predicting sensory experience = in THIS place with THIS aim, make THIS move = saṁ + kṛ = get oriented and go; Where is the error? kāmāsava = with THIS aim; bhavāsava = in THIS place. :)
    – Alex Ryan
    Commented Dec 6, 2022 at 19:56

Anicca is impermanence. Things change. You're happy now, but later you become sad. Then you stop being sad and experience some other emotion.

There's also impermanence of objects. Shit breaks.


"Anicca applies to everything that changes. Often translated as “impermanent,” it’s actually the negative of nicca, which means constant or dependable. Everything that changes is inconstant. Now, the difference between “impermanent” and “inconstant” may seem semantic, but it’s crucial to the way anicca functions in the Buddha’s teachings. As the early texts state repeatedly, if something is anicca then the other two characteristics automatically follow: it’s dukkha (stressful) and anatta (not-self), i.e., not worthy to be claimed as me or mine.

If we translate anicca as impermanent, the connection among these Three Characteristics might seem debatable. But if we translate it as inconstant, and consider the Three Characteristics in light of the Buddha’s original question, the connection is clear. If you’re seeking a dependable basis for long-term happiness and ease, anything inconstant is obviously a stressful place to pin your hopes — like trying to relax in an unstable chair whose legs are liable to break at any time."

~ Thanissaro Bhikkhu "All About Change" https://www.dhammatalks.org/books/PurityOfHeart/Section0008.html


Ashwada. Adeenawa. Nissaranaya.

Ashwada or Assada means what every person — excluding Arihat — chase every moment by whatever amounts. One guy play video games all night. Another takes care of their parents. And another guy sleep and try to live a calm life 24/7.

Everyone tries to find happiness, satisfaction by doing various activities. How do they do it? They assume by doing X, they would find happiness. That process or the endeavor is known as Ashwada or Assada.

Nirukthi definition of the word "Assada" means As + Sadaya. As = Remove, Stop. Sadaya = Attachment via 6 senses — Eyes, Ears, Tongue, Nose, Body and Mind.

Adeenawaya means the problem with that program, process or the endeavor. It has 3 root level problems or qualities. This is known as the Trilakshanaya.

  • Anichcha
  • Dhukka
  • Anatta

It flows like this. → If something is Anichcha, it has to cause Dhukka. If it causes Dhukka, then it has to be Anatta.

Nissaranaya means stopping that blind-desire chase with Raga (Lust), Dwesha (Anger) or Moha (Delusion), first by learning what really happens and then brainstorming that which you learned through Arya Meditation.

The famous English translations given for these 3 words are,

  • Impermanence
  • Suffering
  • No Self

Does it always flow like this?

→ If something is impermanent, it causes Dhukka. If it causes Dhukka, it is no self.

It makes no sense. You feel like something is wrong because these English translations are wrong!

Why is it wrong?

Let me start with the First Noble Truth. The first one in the 4 Noble Truths is not Dhukka. It is Dhukka Arya Satya or the Ultimate Suffering.

It's not the same as dying, being born, being ill and other bad stuffs along the line.

Ultimate Suffering is what we create by expecting happiness from things which it doesn't exist. We create happiness in our mind and then expect it from people around us, objects around us.

This blind desire is the ultimate suffering. It has the same 3 problems,

  • Anichcha
  • Dhukka
  • Anatta

Anichcha means Insatiable — The desire never gets fulfilled or satisfied in an absolute level. It can also be said as things being not the way you want, desire, expect.

Dhukka means the obvious initial sadness/pain coming due previous Karma's outcome + the pain v2 you're creating next thinking about that.

(e.g. You hit your leg on a chair. Pain from that hit is Karma's outcome. Pain you create by thinking about that situation, blaming the chair, the person who created chair etc. and etc. are Pain v2.)

Anatta means Unworthy — that the endeavor and the world is worthless/meaningless due to first 2 problems or qualities.

Why the famous English translation is wrong?

→ Because impermanence does not cause Dhukka every single time, but Insatiable causes Dhukka every single time.

Let's take the following example:

You and your friend is on the streets. A thief stole your iPhone. Both of you started to chase the thief. Your friend is faster than you. And the moment he caught the thief, a huge truck hit both your friend and the thief in front of your own eyes. Friend and the thief died instantly. Your iPhone is broken into pieces.

Now what was your thought about the Thief a moment after he stole from you?

  • "Freaking thief stole my iPhone! Freaking lowlife give it back!!"
  • The slightest discomfort towards that situation, about the thief means you're on Dwesha (Anger) mode. You dislike the situation.


  • Because you had this blind desire to keep the iPhone with you.
  • Because you thought having that iPhone would give you happiness all the time.

What was your thought about the friend when he caught the thief?

  • "Wow! what a friend. He saved my iPhone"
  • The slightest comfort towards that moment, about your friend means you're on Raga (Lust) mode. You like that moment.


  • Because you love the friend and attached to him.
  • Because you thought having that friend would give you happiness all the time.

What was your thought about the thief who died?

  • "Yeah! Karma is a b*tch! So happy the lowlife died because he stole from me."
  • The slightest comfort towards that moment, the death of the thief who wronged you means you're on Moha (Delusion). You like that moment.


  • Because you thought you didn't do anything to have your iPhone stolen, so you developed a discomfort, disinterest and anger by whatever amount towards the thief. You thought what a justice!

What was your thought about the friend who died?

  • "OMG! OMG!! my friend ... is gone! Why the freaking universe did that ..."
  • The slightest discomfort towards that moment and the death of the friend who was trying to help you means you're on Dwesha (Anger). You dislike that moment.


  • Because you love your friend and attached to him.
  • Because you thought your friend didn't deserve to die like that.

What was your thought about the pieces of your broken iPhone?

  • "What the f*ck happened to my beloved iPhone! My contacts! My data!!"
  • The slightest discomfort towards that moment and the broken iPhone means you're on Dwesha (Anger). You dislike that moment.


  • Because you thought to keep using that same iPhone for a long time.
  • Because you have given so much value to that iPhone.

The point of this story is to allow you realize why "Impermanence" and "No Self" are wrong translations. If you're not sure how, let me explain.

  1. When the iPhone was stolen, you felt sadness and pain. You continued to feel the same even after that initial suffering.
  2. When the friend caught the thief, you felt happy and cool. You continued to feel the same even after that initial happiness till the next event.
  3. When the thief died, you felt so happy and relieved. You continued to feel the same even after that initial happiness till the next event.
  4. When the friend also died, you felt extreme sadness and pain. You continued to feel the same even after that initial suffering.
  5. When the iPhone broke, you felt sadness and pain. You continued to feel the same even after that initial suffering.

As you can see, the impermanence of the thief caused you to be happy. While the impermanence of your friend and the iPhone caused you to be sad.

If the Anichcha, Dhukka, Anatta is a universal flow and the qualities of that Blind Desire — Assada —, then it should apply for all the situations exactly the same without a single difference.

Impermanence of the thief didn't cause you Dhukka, because you were having a blind desire to your iPhone. Impermanence of the friend caused you Dhukka, because you were having a blind desire to your friend.

If you never had that blind desire to the iPhone and Friend, it couldn't have caused you Dhukka even if Impermanent things occurred 24/7. Therefore, Anichcha means Insatiable — Not impermanence.

In the Dhammachakka Sutra, Anichcha is expanded like this.

  • Yampichchan na labathi thampi dhukkan
  • Not having the thing which you desire causes you Dhukka.

If your blind desire to the iPhone and Friend caused you Dhukka, then it should be Anatta. How does the "No Self" translation matches with the flow?

iPhone and Friend which cause you Dhukka are not you. Those 2 things are not yourself. You already know that, right? Samma Sambuddha is born to tell you the things you don't know and the things you can never understand by yourself alone without first hearing it from Lord Buddha or one of the 4 awakened persons.

Therefore blind desire isn't "No Self", but a meaningless endeavor.

Just like that Anichcha (Insatiable), Dhukka (Ultimate Suffering) and Anatta (Unworthy) matches with any situation.

Hope this answers your question!

  • Why the downvotes? Any explanation?
    – Genji
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 17:14
  • I downvoted because anicca is impermanence, not insatiable. This is explained in this answer. On SuttaCentral (this page), "Anicca doesn’t mean impermanence" is considered a non-hateful extremist view that is banned from the website.
    – ruben2020
    Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 8:35
  • It's true that a sankhara, which is impermanent, cannot permanently satiate a desire or craving. That's a consequence of its being impermanent and shorter-lived than the person's craving". But the word itself means "impermanent", so far as I know. Maybe it's the desire/craving/lust that could be called "insatiable". Also saying that the first noble truth is "not the same as dying" didn't seem like a clear explanation, it was maybe mixing the first and second noble truths. And I wasn't sure of the logic, which said it cannot mean "impermanence" because impermanence doesn't always cause dukkha.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 11:26
  • @ruben2020 SuttaCentral threads and Questions + Comments on this site have enough explanations + sutra references for one to see a problem with the "Anichcha is Impermanence" conclusion. I'd recommend doing a solid analysis on what you take as the truth. What causes you pain: The death of your mother? Or the death of my mother? Keep brainstorming why.
    – Genji
    Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 19:28
  • @ChrisW The First Noble Truth doesn't mean the usual death, illness or things along that line. Because everybody can see/understand that initial pain. You don't need a Lord Buddha to tell you that it hurts when you're ill. Instead, Buddha comes to tell you what you couldn't recognize — By attaching to that pain with Raga, Dwesha, Moha to create new Karma which causes the Ultimate Suffering. ▬ Anichcha, Dhukka, Anatta applies to everything like 1→2→3. If impermanence does not cause Dhukka some times, how do you justify it as the meaning of Anichcha?
    – Genji
    Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 19:30

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