By noticing my abdomen while breathing , I can feel up and down movement of it . Also I can keep a mental notes as "up" and "down". When it is up there is "rupa of up" and "Nama of up mental note " and vice versa for down. But when it is down both "up rupa and Nama " already gone . So I have a glimpse of " anicca" .

I do not feel directly "dukka" relate to abdomen movement but by applying same "anicca" for other temporary things in life I can get an understanding about "dukka" too .

But I do not still have any clue about "anatta" , how can I understand the "anatta" using above scenario?

  • 1
    i guess you could analyze the way that you are lacking in complete conscious control of your breathing, and so self - and so suffer in the sense of it escaping your conscious desire. just my two cents worth !!!!
    – user2512
    May 16, 2015 at 17:34

6 Answers 6


The three characteristics are not meant to be understood through analysis; they are meant to be understood through direct realization (paññā). Once you truly see anatta for yourself, the next moment is the realization of nibbana. So there is no reason or benefit in seeking out this knowledge intellectually; it has to come by itself through mindfulness.

“sabbe dhammā anattā”ti, yadā paññāya passati.
atha nibbindati dukkhe, esa maggo visuddhiyā.

-- Dhp 279

In truth, you are seeing anatta at every moment - because the experiences arise and cease without remainder, they are not self or anything belonging to self. Eventually, through the practice of mindfulness, you begin to understand this clearly, and give up any attachment to experiences as me, mine, etc.

He sees all formations as not-self for the following reasons: because they are alien, empty, vain, void, ownerless, with no Overlord, with none to wield power over them, and so on.

-- Vism XXI.48 (Nyanamoli, trans)

then, seeing nothing to be taken as “I” or “mine,” he abandons both terror and delight and becomes indifferent and neutral towards all formations.

-- Vism XXI.61 (Nyanamoli, trans)

Mahasi Sayadaw acknowledges the difficulty in understanding the characteristic of non-self in comparison to understanding the other two characteristics, referring to the commentaries and sub-commentaries who acknowledge the same. The sub-commentary points out, however, that this is simply because intellectual knowledge is inadequate to truly understand any of the three characteristics:

The commentary states that the non-self doctrine is so deep that even the Enlightened One had to employ either the characteristics of impermanence or the characteristics of suffering or both of them to facilitate the teaching of the doctrine of non-self.

The sub-commentary explained further that: 'In the above statement of the commentary, the anicca and dukkha known outside the Dispensation are mere conventional terms, by means of which idea of non-self could not be known. Only the anicca and dukkha realized in the absolute sense could be useful in explaining the doctrine of non-self.

Mahasi Sayadaw, Anattalakkhana Sutta

If you want to understand the teaching on non-self intellectually, then, you can do so by reflecting on the characteristics of impermanence and suffering and inferring the characteristic of non-self in a way similar to the Buddha's exposition in the Anatta-Lakkhana Sutta:

"Bhikkhus, how do you conceive it: is form permanent or impermanent?" — "Impermanent, venerable Sir." — "Now is what is impermanent painful or pleasant?" — "Painful, venerable Sir." — "Now is what is impermanent, what is painful since subject to change, fit to be regarded thus: 'This is mine, this is I, this is my self'"? — "No, venerable sir."

-- SN 22.59 (Nyanamoli, trans)

This will not, however, constitute true understanding of any of the characteristics, for which the culmination of insight meditation is required.

  • 1
    How is impermanence painful? Surely, ignorance- believing something is permanent- is painfull, but with wisdom, impermanence is nothing more than a fact of life. Also, in Buddhism, i assume 'mine', 'i' and 'self' is referring to a static, non-changing object or experience? and consequently, nothing can be of self, i or mine.
    – user476
    May 16, 2015 at 18:46


  • At a gross level:
    • Each breath has the start, middle and end
  • At a subtle level:
    • The wind element or breathing, touch sensation and portion of your body at the anchor can be observed until you see arising and passing or phenomena pertaining to the above


  • You cannot control any of the arisen and passing phenomena. Trying to hold on to or control changing something is stressful. If you expect something to be so or not to be so is stressful as something that is changing will not match your expectation. You can see when you see arising and passing through your practice. When you perceive this at the level of perception, the general rendering in the Suttas is: anicce dukkha,saññā if all 3 are covered together. So when you realise Anicha intern you can use this to realise Dukka,


  • There is no unchanging or permanent core (soul) or controller either internally (soul) or externally (God). Everything is in a flux of change, thus things are not in your control and always not to your expectation. This is a process through Dependent Origination. You can see when you see arising and passing through your practice, followed by unsatisfactory (Dukka). When you perceive this, the general rendering in the Suttas is: dukkhe anatta,saññā.



Whatever is impermanent (anicca), is without self (anatta). So to realize ‘without self’ (anatta), one has to contemplate on impermanence (anicca), and this is how it is done:

Contemplating on Impermanence, He Trains (as part of Anapanasati Meditation) “Contemplating impermanence, he breathes in. Contemplating impermanence, he breathes out. Thus, he trains himself.” Anicca means ‘impermanence’. Being able to see everything in terms of impermanence is not something that comes automatically after gaining concentration of mind. Now, he trains himself to breathe in contemplating impermanence, and he trains himself to breathe out contemplating impermanence.

Some meditation teachers declare that impermanence is something that just becomes visible to a mind, like appearing in a meter, and enables one to gain something called ‘vipassana nana’ (insight knowledge) by continuous determination. This theory or view is not in accordance with the Supreme Buddha’s Dhamma.

Impermanence of Breath

Anapanasati is something that should be developed and pursued mindfully and discerningly. Now, he trains himself to breathe in focusing on impermanence, and to breathe out focusing on impermanence. Purity of mind has been achieved through the elimination of the hindrances (nivarana). His effort, mindfulness and concentration are now being directed towards focusing on impermanence. He is contemplating on impermanence within anapanasati. He can see the impermanent nature of his own breath in its rise and fall; the impermanence of his body; and the impermanent nature of the pleasant feeling and perception that he experienced.

Impermanence of Body

What has he seen in the body? What does this body consist of? This physical body contains and comprises the four great elements, which are known as: solidity/earth (pathavi), fluidity/water (apo), heat or temperature (tejo) and air (vayo). We generally use the word rupa (material form) to denote the body. When he is breathing in and out, he is focusing on impermanence of material form which is derived from the four great elements.

Impermanence of Feeling

Thereafter, he is focusing on feelings. Dependent on contact, feeling arises. What is contact? Contact is the coming together of three things. For example, eye, form and eye-consciousness come together, and it is their convergence, that is called contact. Similarly, with ear and sounds, nose and smells, and so on, through to mind and mental-objects.

In this instance, when body, tangible object and consciousness come together, there arises contact. With the arising of contact, simultaneously, there arises feeling (vedana) – feeling born of body contact. Since feeling is conditioned by contact, feeling differs in accordance with the change of contact. This way, he contemplates on the impermanence of feeling.

Impermanence of Perception

Then, there is the recognition of perception. This is called sañña (perception) which is also subject to change as it is conditioned by contact. Perception changes due to impermanence of contact.

Impermanence of Formations

Perception is followed by sankhara (mental formations). If the mental factor was directed to a certain matter, on that occasion there is volitional activity, and this is called sankhara. Here, he observes the impermanence of the mental formation with the change of contact. All these are based on the activities of the mind.

Now he understands every aspect in this life process which was considered as self (form, feeling, perception and formation); or anything pertaining to a self. He has real wisdom to see things as they really are. One may contemplate on impermanence saying “anicca, anicca” continuously, but still be holding onto the notion of “I am” or “mine”. To avoid this, it is important to realize the impermanent, no-self nature in inhalation-exhalation and in any other external object.

Impermanence of Consciousness

Finally, he sees the impermanent nature of all that has been cognized (the rise and fall of breath, rapture, joy, feelings, and perceptions). It is through this insight that the true nature of the five aggregates of clinging is understood and seen in the light of impermanence:

material form (rupa) derived from the four great elements, feeling (vedana) that is conditioned by contact, perception (sañña) that is conditioned by contact, mental formations (sankhara) that is conditioned by contact, and consciousness (viññana) that is conditioned by mentality-materiality (nama-rupa)

Being fully concentrated on anapanasati, he now dwells ardent, with full awareness, and clear comprehension of impermanence. With the base of this awareness, established in anicca (impermanence), he develops an understanding of his own life, the impermanent nature of others who breathe and live, and the impermanent nature of material form, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness (the five aggregates of clinging).

Thus, he observes the impermanent characteristic of phenomenal existence, internally and externally. He does not see a difference in him and the outer world. He sees the characteristic of phenomenal existence as subject to cause and effect. Now he is gaining knowledge, and his comprehension is increasing. He sees things as they really are, in whatever material form: whether past, present or future, far or near, external or internal. He sees the impermanence even of the rapture and pleasure that he is experiencing in breathing mindfully. Now, based on the impermanent breath, he understands the impermanent nature of the five aggregates of clinging.

He realizes that whatever is impermanent and subject to change, is suffering (dukkha). And, whatever is impermanent is without self (anatta). It is through this insight that the true nature of the aggregates is clearly seen; in the light of three signs (ti-lakkhana): impermanence (anicca), suffering (dukkha) and without self (anatta).

He sees the impermanent, suffering and no-self nature of all conditioned and component things. As a result, he knows there is no “I”, no self, or anything pertaining to a self. When he trains himself to breathe in and out focusing on impermanence, he understands that anything taken as ‘mine’ is impermanent; anything taken as ‘I am’ is impermanent; and anything that is taken as ‘my self’ is impermanent. He realizes that whatever is impermanent, is without self. That which is without self, is not ‘mine’, not ‘I am’, and is not ‘my self’. Thus he sees everything as it really is – with wisdom.


To realise not-self, the mind must have some clarity & abandonment (of self-clinging). Not-self is best 1st seen when the mind can see clearly the body breathes rather than "I" breathe. Then if rapture arises, the mind see rapture as rapture rather than "I am happy". It takes a fair amount of mental detachment for not-self to be seen. When not-self is seen, nama is seen as 'nama' and rupa is seen as 'rupa' (rather than seen as "me", "I", etc). The way to develop detachment is to give up judging & give up wanting. Even wanting to concentrate. It is best to just have the mind be still & quiet. This will make the mind clearer. The ordinary effort & wilfulness to meditate is actually an obscuration to clear insight.


Also, the word 'dukkha' in the 3 characteristics does not mean suffering. It means unsatisfactoriness, i.e., the inability to bring lasting happiness. If the impermanence of a thing is seen clearly, it will also be seen that object cannot be relied on for happiness. For example, if you are offered a brand new car with a 5 year warranty versus a very old broken down car, you will take the brand new car because it is more permanent & more satisfactory (reliable). The words 'dukkha' in the 4 noble truths & 3 characteristics differ in meaning, just as the word 'dukkha' in the term 'dukkavedana' differs in meaning. Buddhas experience the dukkha of physical pain & the dukkha of unsatisfactory conditioned phenomena but Buddhas do not experience the dukkha of clinging to the five aggregates, as explained in the 4 noble truths.


The way I understand 'Atta' is ownership. 'Anatta' means there is no one to own that action. It is a result of the causes. Understanding of Dependent Origination (Patichcha Samuppadaya) leads to the realization of 'Anatta'. In order to understand 'Anatta' in breath in and out, one need to analytically view the origination of this 'Nama' and 'Rupa'.

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