The three marks of human existence


When we turn our life over to the Dharma, we surrender to the teachings of the Buddha. What are those teachings? There are many, and I encourage you to explore and see what resonates for you. They are all doorways onto the path of liberation, freedom and a new understanding of happiness.

Perhaps one of the most accessible teachings is the three Laksanas (The three marks of human existence.) In brief;

Dukkha (unsatisfactoriness) – suffering comes up time and time and again in the Buddhist teachings, it is the back bone of the Four Noble truths – a teaching that connects all Buddhist traditions. The Buddha taught: (1) that there is suffering, (2) a path that leads to more suffering (3) the end of suffering (4) there is a way out of suffering.

‘The Buddha was asked, what is the difference between how an ordinary person and a wise person responds to pain? He replied with the analogy of the two darts. All of us experience pain – whether that is physical pain like catching your finger in the door or mental pain such as when someone rejects you. This is the first dart, which we could call primary suffering.

An ordinary person then gets caught up in trying to push away or avoid the pain; in blaming themselves or others, or feeling self-pity. This has the effect of making matters worse: the second dart, which we can call secondary suffering. A wise person just has the first dart. They don’t get stuck in avoidance or obsessing about the pain. Instead they mindfully accept it for what it is, without making it worse with secondary suffering.’ Eight Step Recovery – Using the Buddhas Teachings to Overcome Addiction, publication date 2014.

What is suffering?
Papanca – Proliferation of thought
Identifying with thought
Listening and believing the stories we tell ourselves
Identifying with pain

Anicca (impermanence)– Everything changes. You can’t get more radical than that. It means if you have an addiction you can change. It means if you keep on relapsing you can change. If we surrender to change we will find the teachings of the Buddha working in our life. Because everything is changing all the time, so if we resist change, it will bring about suffering. If we go with the flow – Higher Power will manifest as peace, as equilibrium and as calm in our life.

What is impermanence?
All conditioned existence is in constant state of flux
It is the cycle of birth and rebirth
It is the experience of loss
It is ageing, sickness and death

Anatta (Not self/or the illusion of self )- There is no separate self. It has been said that ‘consciousness is all there is and we are that.’ We think there is a separate self, because we have created a story about who we are. When we have suffered from addiction there will be many stories that we have created, and others too would have created stories about us. But these stories are not us. We think they are us, because we have strongly identified about all the things that have been said about us or what we tell ourselves. Recognizing the illusion of a separate self will inevitably help with the cessation of suffering. The many selves we can create, can keep us incarcerated in our minds. For as long as we believe in all the stories we tell ourselves there will be suffering. The things we experiences through the senses are not I, or mine, or yours, as soon as we think they are I, or mine or yours, unhappiness will rise. The separate self that we create can begin to dissolve when we sit directly with our experience, suffering will begin to loosen it’s grip. When we stop identifying with thoughts which create the illusion of self, the sensations of desire and craving will begin to loosen.

What is not self/the illusion of self ?

You can not intellectualize this. You can only experience it. Because there is nothing for the mind to take hold of. We can begin to experience no self if we have the courage to let go of our suffering. The courage to let go of proliferation of thought. No self is the absence of self. But what is no self?

“Be crumbled. So wild flowers will come up where you are.’ Rumi
‘Saying goodbye to your ‘I’ and hello to freedom.’
‘Nothing to gain and everything to lose’ Tejananda

If we can begin to experience the three marks of existence in our lives, we will begin to find a new happiness and freedom. A start can be stop believing the mental noise in your minds. There are many other teachings from the Buddha that will liberate us. Take a look on the wildmind site and you will find many.

A reflection

Let go of the past and of the future. Just sit in the present, with out labeling the sensations of the body or the mind. And what are these sensations? Thoughts, feelings, judgements, interpretations. And in that experience it may be possible to let go of the illusion that we have created, that we hold on to, that we believe in. Just sit or lie down in the present moment of experience, and let go of thinking you are in control and see what flows.

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3 Comments. Leave new

  • I’ve attended three of the Monday meditations but am irregular because I live in Burnaby. I learn a lot reading your Wildmind essays. I’m a retired college English teacher and have noticed occasional grammatical lapses in your writing. I know it’s trivial and probably most people don’t notice or care, but if you like I volunteer my proofreading services free of charge. I will forward my resume separately. Many thanks for your wise words.

    • Hi, Stan.

      Thank you for your kind offer. When you spot errors, please feel free to post a correction in the comments. I’d appreciate that very much.

      All the best,

  • Hi Stan do email me at, I would welcome your proof reading skills. I also volunteer my time to write this monthly blog, and it would be great to have support with this gift I offer to the world.


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