Dhamma

Amalasiddhi talks about his life as a Buddhist

Dhamma, also called Dharma, refers to the Buddha’s teachings. The Buddha was a holy man and teacher who achieved enlightenment. Before his enlightenment, he was a noble person called Siddhartha Gautama. The Buddha taught people how to follow the path to enlightenment through good living and understanding his insights. These teachings were later written down and are now known as the Dhamma (or Dharma).

Dependent origination/conditionality (pratityasamutpada)

Pratityasamutpada is the idea of ‘dependent origination’ or ‘conditionality’. This idea is crucial in Buddhist thought. It is one of the key principles of the Buddha’s teaching, or Dhamma. It can best be understood as the interconnectedness of everything in existence.

Dependent origination

Dependent origination means that nothing exists without something else causing it to exist. In other words, nothing has an independent origin and everything is dependent for its origin on something else. The Dhamma contains a list of states of mind that are themselves dependent on previous states of mind.

Conditionality

The principle of conditionality explains that because existence is dependent on previous or connecting factors, it is conditional. This means that one thing can only happen because of conditions that already exist. It also means that if conditions change or cease to exist, aspects of existence dependent on these conditions also change or cease to exist.

Dependent origination in Buddhist life

These two connected concepts – dependent origination and conditionality – are a way to understand and make sense of life. For example, they explain that:

  • people experience sensation because they have senses
  • people experience cravings because they are overloaded with sensation
  • people experience desire because they want to satisfy their cravings

Looking for the dependent origin of craving helps Buddhists to overcome it. Buddhists should try to treat all beings with loving kindness because everything is interconnected and all actions affect others.

Lakshanas – the Three Marks of Existence

An essential part of the Buddha’s Dhamma is the Three lakshanas, also called the Three Marks of Existence. ‘Lakshanas’ can be translated as ‘marks’ or ‘signs’. These are three fundamental marks (or signs) of reality, sometimes also called the Three Universal Truths.

curriculum-key-fact
Dukkha is a basic mark of existence. It means that life is unsatisfactory and all beings will experience suffering. The Buddha discovered this only in adulthood, when he witnessed suffering for himself after being sheltered from it during his childhood by his father.
  1. Anicca is the belief that nothing in the universe is fixed. Nothing stays the same and everything will change. For example, a coastline will look vastly different in 100 years’ time from how it looks today. This is an example of something that is permanent yet changes over time. Anicca means ‘impermanence’. This fundamental mark of existence reminds Buddhists that nothing is fixed or stable.
  2. Anatta is the belief that because everything in the universe changes, so too do human beings. Humans might feel that their personalities are fixed, but this is a mistake. Buddhism teaches that a persons feelings, beliefs and character, even their soul, changes. Sometimes change can happen quickly and sometimes slowly, but these aspects of a person are not fixed. Anatta means ‘no self’.
  3. Dukkha is the idea that people suffer. Life is unsatisfactory, bringing pain, fear and longing. The impermanence of existence (anicca) means that pleasant experiences do not last. Human desires and goals are always shifting (anatta), and life can seem meaningless. Dukkha refers to the ‘unsatisfactoriness’ of existence.
Buddhism infographic showing the Three Marks of Existence: Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta.

The Story of Nagasena and the Chariot

The Story of Nagasena and the Chariot is recorded in a book called the Milinda Panha, which translates as The Questions of Milinda. It recounts conversations between a Buddhist wise man called Nagasena and a king called Milinda.

In this story, Milinda asks Nagasena to explain the idea of anatta, or ‘no self’. Nagasena points to the king’s chariot. The king agrees that the axel is not the chariot, and nor are the wheels, frame or harness. What the king thinks of as a ‘chariot’ is made of several separate elements. There is no ‘chariot’. Likewise, the ‘self’ is made up of several separate and changing elements, and there is no single entity called a ‘self’.

Question

What does dukkha mean?

The unsatisfactoriness of existence, or the suffering caused by existence, which nobody will escape.