Impermanence (anitya) | Definition

Anitya (Impermanence)

Impermanence, as the Sanskrit word anitya or Pāli word anicca are generally translated, is one of the 3 characteristics of the phenomenal world, or the world in which human beings live:

1) Impermanence (Anitya)
2) Suffering (Duḥkha) and
3) No-self (Anātman).

The concept of impermanence is fundamental to all Buddhist schools:
Everything that exists in this world is impermanent.

No element of physical matter or any concept remains unchanged,
including the Skandha (Aggregate) that make up individual persons.

Things in the world change in 2 ways:

1. First, they change throughout Time.

2. Second, everything in this world is influenced by other elements of the world, and thus all existence is contingent upon something else. Because of this state of interdependence, everything that exists in this world is subject to change and is thus impermanent.

Impermanence is the cause of suffering, because humans attempt to hold on to things that are constantly changing, on the mistaken assumption that those things are permanent.

Nirvāṇa is the only thing that lies beyond the reach of change, because it exists beyond the conceptual dualism of existence or non-existence.

Traditionally, Buddhist texts explain that because Nirvāṇa is not de-pendent upon other elements in the world, it is described as “uncreated” and “transcendent.” In short, Nirvāṇa is not subject to change and is therefore not impermanent.

For one who pursues the path toward Enlightenment, the goal is to recognize the truth of impermanence by learning how not to depend upon the notion that things exist permanently in the world.

According to the Theravāda school of Buddhism, the first step in knowing the nature of reality is recognizing that neither the self nor the world exist permanently.

Impermanence is woven throughout all of Buddhism, from its texts to artistic representations of Buddhist concepts.

Momentary existence explained

The theory of moments (kṣaṇa) or momentary existence in most of the later scriptures is not anymore proven but is considered to be commonly accepted. In the treatises on elements, groups, etc. it is considered to be well known:

It consists of hypothesis that each element (dharma) lasts only one very short moment,

and thus the conscious personality is a chain of always changing combinations of moments, which consists of separate elements that manifest themselves only one short moment.

This concept is expressing the observation that the content of the consciousness is changing endlessly. The flow of the consciousness is a chain of moments.

According to the theory of momentary existence, the content of the consciousness is changing so fast that the process of the changing itself we cannot observe directly:

A moment is so tiny particle of time that it is not accessible in the direct knowledge.

Thus, the consciousness and its content are considered to be a chain or flow of equal, endlessly small particles of time.

In the teaching of moments, the moment becomes a synonym to the element (dharma):

2 moments are 2 completely different elements.

Element becomes something similar to a dot in the coordinates of time and space. They are not changing, they are disappearing. What doesn’t disappear also doesn’t exist.

The cause of manifestation of each dharma is a previous moment, which also manifested itself from nothing to disappear in nowhere.

The conclusion from the theory of momentary existence was denial of a movement:

Really existing object, i.e. element, cannot move, because it disappears right after its origination, it doesn’t have time to move:

It doesn’t contradict to the fact that one of the main features of material things is a movement:

Each movement can be divided to a row of separate phenomena or manifestations that are originating in a chain.

For instance, the acceleration of a falling body is explained with differences in a weight and movement in each moment of the falling, because the moment is assembled differently at each moment (AK-2; 46).

Sautrāntika denied the existence of the past and future in the literal meaning, they acknowledged only the reality of the present:

They stated that a future is not really existing until it becomes a present,
but the past is not real after it has been present (AK-5; 24).

However they didn’t deny the influence of the past to the present and future, but explained it by gradual changes as brought by the uninterrupted continuity of the moments.

Here Buddhism leaves the field of psychology and enters into that of ontology – the question about the reality of being:

Because of all the content of our experience is reduced to momentary combinations of momentary elements, it is concluded that there is nothing really existing.

Accordingly to the Buddhists view, we could consider anything to really exist only if it were unchanging and eternal.

But in the analysis of the empirical being we are not able to find anything like this:

This is the reason, why the view of empirical existence as something really existing is an illusion. To the impermanent momentary illusions has been added also the one which we are used to call “I” or “Me”.

New dharmas are originating and disappearing each moment, but it should not be understood as an absolute birth or creation from nothing or from something:

it means they are manifesting themselves out of some transcendental, unknown level of existence and create some momentary phenomena or functions.

The process of origination and disappearing of dharmas is without a beginning.
The endless chain of manifestations creates the illusion of continual empirical being.