If one doesn't know the notion of "impermanence, suffering and non-self", can one see it by one's self?

I know that I don't need to "force" myself to see impermanence: but do I need to keep in mind "impermanence, suffering and non-self" when practising?

EDIT: How much do i need to keep in mind "impermance..", because if it is to low, one can see it but not realise it, if it is to high, one can intellectualize it.

  • 2
    The 3 universal characteristics is such a great teaching, it is liberating, profound and freeing! Once realized, it becomes obvious why clinging is the root to all suffering. You will instantly realize ignorance and wisdom. You will instantly see all the problems of the world, and you will also see how difficult it is to free an ignorant mind. Good luck my friend! Metta
    – user476
    Nov 16, 2014 at 20:30

5 Answers 5


According to my present (non-sectarian) teacher, the way the Three Marks are to be used is not simply as dogma to be mindful of, but rather as a tool for enquiry into our psyche -- our attachments, or preconceptions.

The way to use Three Marks for enquiry into preconceptions is to try accepting one Mark at a time and see what resistance it causes.

For example, you may spend a week trying to accept the truth of impermanence with all its implications. Does it highlight the cases of you trying to solve any problem "once, completely, and forever"? Knowing that a stable state can't be realized -- does it make all your efforts seem futile? Can you get at peace with doing your best despite this futility? Keep saying "everything is temporary" and keep watching yourself in real situations. All kinds of preconceptions, imprints and deep-lying assumptions will come up.

Similarly, spend a week applying the truth of suffering to your situations at hand. Can you see micro-suffering hiding in millisecond-level activities? Frustration of having to apply effort. Unmet expectations. Do you secretly crave for perfect ease, with reality always matching your wishes? Do you secretly hope existence can ever be effortless? Same thing here, keep telling yourself "life is suffering" with regards to real life situations and see what reaction it causes in you. Is there an area that rebels against the inescapable universal suffering? If so, that's the preconception you need to go through.

The same way, spend another week contemplating the truth of corelessness or no-I amidst real situations. If there is no "I", where do my choices are coming from now? What is the source of my thoughts now? Are my convictions and my values really mine or could this thing called "I" be an accumulations of formulas picked up over time? Am I really as all-important as I have always assumed to be? Do people really care what I do, how I do it and even whether I exist? What if free will is illusion and all my actions are predetermined? What if life is completely pointless and has no purpose and no meaning? Watch yourself as you try these thoughts on. In your mind, is accepting pointlessness of life connected with fear of ambiguity, essentially fear of taking responsibility? Is there deep-lying conviction that something you deem of value is trully of absolute importance? If so, that's your preconception, a piece of your ego, look at it carefully.

So, try each of these on for a week: "everything is temporary", "life is suffering" and "in the grand scheme of things I don't really exist, what I think is my life is just a ripple on the surface of reality" and see what comes up. When Buddhism talks about "attachments" that's what these are, now perhaps for the first time you can meet them face to face.

Eventually, the Three Marks should be fully accepted, with all their implications. Interestingly, accepting each Mark has a surprising effect, almost the opposite of what you'd expect:

  • Accepting Impermanence awakens you to the eternal Now.
  • Accepting Suffering makes suffering disappear and turns all existence into bliss.
  • Accepting Pointlessness aka losing self-importance gets us in touch with unconstricted creativity and the endless energy of the absolute.

Altogether, accepting Three Marks of Existence liberates us from Samsara and connects with Spontaneous Perfection of Unconditioned Nirvana.

  • Wonderful Answer. But I have certain doubts about the opposite effects you talk about. Have you really accepted suffering and really experienced bliss? Have you really accepted impermanence and living in the now always? Are these real truths or are we just passing down untested ancient wisdom? You may say "Go find it yourself" But my mind suspects "What if its a wild goose chase and its possible to accept things as they are?" PS: 'You' doesn't necessarily mean 'you'. So pls don be offended at the direct questions. By 'you', I mean people who've really "experienced" things Nov 17, 2014 at 4:32
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    Yes, I'm speaking from experience. However, I'm still a student albeit an advanced one. Accepting Three Marks is not a boolean value, True or False. To the degree that I accept them, I experience the fruit. Learning Nirvana is like learning to ride a bike: these days I can keep balance most the time, but when I start doing tricks I still fall.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Nov 17, 2014 at 12:54

This is something you cannot force. Any form of force is based on craving or aversion hence you loose the balance of your mind.

Through meditation you can realize "impermanence, suffering and non-self" at an experiential level. This is not a concept of thought or notion of it.


I would say it is essential to always keep in mind the 3 universal characteristics.

When meditating, you instantly realize that the breath moving in and out of the body, constantly changing/fleeting, you realize that the nature of everything is impermanent, just like the breath.

Again in meditation when you want the mind to calm down and relax, but it doesn't, this causes suffering....but it's not the mind that is the problem which leads to suffering, it's simply that you wish the mind to calm down and be "different" to what it actually is in that moment, again this shows you the nature of suffering, we all want things to be perfect, but that simply isn't the nature of life or existence. ( The moment is what it is, nothing more, nothing less)

And finally, non-self. Because everything changes, because everything is impermanent, nothing remains the same. We are not the same as we were when we were children and we aren't the same now as we will be in old age, nothing can be said to be or have "self"

I hope this has helped.



Depends on the person's potential and faculties. For some who's already practiced the Path for many lives, s/he'd naturally understand the 3 characteristics. But for some who never had previous exposure, it's important to learn about the 3 characteristics from an experienced teacher or from the sutras/suttas just so that one won't mis-understand these concepts.

The problem with us worldlings is that while we might gain a conceptual understanding of the teaching, we rarely apply them in our daily life. We think about these things when we're at the temple or when we study Dhamma books, but when seeing a woman with a young voluptous body walking by, all we have in mind at that moment is the smell of her perfume and her sexy curves. We'd tend to forget that that beauty is also subjected to impermanence, suffering, and non-self. She will gets old, sick, and eventually die.


Traditionally, I read that both eternalism and nihilism are false concepts.


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