The three lakshanas



The three lakshanas as representative of reality

The Buddhist approach to the human experience is arguably scientific – because it’s about observation and testing – trial and error. It is an empirical approach, compatible with science. We (or monks) can experience the things Buddhism claims.

However, it’s not reliable because we have to take the word of the Monks at face value regarding their experiences of Buddhist teachings/experiences like Anicca and Anatta. We have to assume they have not misinterpreted their own experience. There isn’t really an objective method to test these Buddhist claims because science cannot verify private subjective experiences.

Dukkha appears overly negative on narrow interpretation, but on a wider understanding it does seem to capture the ups and downs of everyday human experience. So it seems representative of reality. Even in positive experience there is the grasping for its continuation despite its impermanance – and this causes dissatisfaction even when we are satisfied. For example, rich celebrities who have anything they could want are sometimes nontheless depressed. Money doesn’t make you happy – this is what the early life of the Buddha discovered. 

Impermanance might seem hard to square with religious views on eternal life and scientific views about DNA and determinism. However, modern scientific understandings about quantum physics seems more compatible with Anicca. In quantum mechanics, things happen for no reason – uncaused. For example, two particles might appear out of nothing and then anihilate into nothing again. This quantum view of reality seems to fit better with impermanance. 

Despite this – the Buddhist teaching of Annata will always conflict with those who believe in a soul. If you think reality contains souls, then Annata cannot be descriptive of reality. Many religious people would claim that human experience involves a soul.

Science would probably back up Buddhism on this point though, because there is no scientific evidence for a soul and scientists claim that our minds are just our brains which are temporary structures of atoms that are impermanant. Anatta is the claim of impermanence about our minds/selves – so we don’t have a permanent self/soul.


The three lakshanas as the most important teachings of Buddhism.

The three lakshanas are in line with the scientific approach of Buddhism.

The three lakshanas are related to the first three of the four sights – which were the foundation of the Buddha’s transformation and teachings.

Most important because: first insights of the Buddha and first point of departure in following the Buddhist path. Understanding the nature of Dukkha is the first thing a Buddhist must do – because it is ultimately the problem Buddhism tries to solve – the problem of suffering due to impermanence. Dukkha is due to Anicca – showing their interrelation.


Anicca: vital for Buddhism because it shows that people can change and become enlightened and advance through meditation stages E.g. metta. 

Nirvana is not Anicca because it is unconditioned (not subject to dependent origination) – highlighting the importance of anicca as something to transcend. Nirvana is more important.

Anatta – the Buddha when meditating realised that the self is really just the five Skandhas. Mahathera Nyanatiloka – Anatta is the teaching on which everything stands or fall (look up).

Change, suffering and not-self are the catalyst for enlightenment and thus the most important teachings.

All Buddhist teachings are interrelated. Certainly the three lakshanas are the catalyst for the Buddhist path – but surely they are equally important to the method of the path (8 fold path) and the goal of the path (enlightenment). Therefore, all Buddhist teachings are equally important as they are all interrelated and equally necessary.