Anicca; Nicca


nicca: everlasting

nicca: lasting

nicca: constantly

anicca: unlasting

anicca: unlastingness


Step-by-step change

Anicca concerns change that is either step-by-step or continuous. For example, the Sattasuriyuggamana Sutta (A.4.100) describes seven successive disasters that will step-by-step destroy Planet Earth. Firstly the vegetation will be destroyed, then the rivers and lakes, the oceans, the mountains, and finally the planet itself. Each destructive step is said to illustrate anicca (evaṃ aniccā bhikkhave saṅkhārā).

• Bhikkhus, there comes a time when for many hundreds and thousands of years there is no rain. Without rain, all grass and vegetation, all trees yielding medicine, all the palms and giants of the jungle become parched and dried up and are no more. Thus unlasting are originated phenomena.
evaṃ aniccā bhikkhave saṅkhārā (A.4.101).

Continuous change

More usually, however, anicca refers to a continuous process, where the practice involves the uninterrupted observation of change. For example:

• Some person abides contemplating unlastingness in relation to all originated phenomena, perceiving unlastingness, experiencing unlastingness ☸ idhekacco puggalosabbasaṅkhāresu aniccānupassī viharati aniccasaññī aniccapaṭisaṃvedī

… continuously

… without a break

… uninterruptedly

… intent upon it mentally
cetasā adhimuccamāno

… penetrating it with penetrative discernment
paññāya pariyogāhamāno (A.4.13).

We illustrate this idea with the following quote:

• As swift as are the sun and moon, and as swift as are the devas that run before the sun and moon, the factors essential to life perish even more swiftly than that. Therefore, bhikkhus, you should train yourselves thus: ‘We will abide diligently applied [to the practice]’
☸ yathā ca candimasuriyānaṃ javo yathā ca yā devatā candimasuriyānaṃ purato dhāvanti tāsaṃ devatānaṃ javo tato sīghataraṃ āyusaṅkhārā khīyanti. Tasmātiha bhikkhave evaṃ sikkhitabbaṃ appamattā viharissāmā ti (S.2.266).

The problem of ‘impermanent’

Anicca is usually termed ‘impermanent.’ And if permanent means ‘continuing or enduring without fundamental or marked change’ (Webster’s), then impermanent means continuing or enduring with fundamental or marked change. In which case, permanence means lastingness without change, and impermanence means lastingness with change. But the concept that things last, continue, or endure to the slightest degree is not supported by the scriptures.

1) Firstly, we have noted that anicca is continuous and uninterrupted, and this discounts any degree of lastingness.

2) Secondly, there are three marks of the originated.
Tīṇi’māni bhikkhave saṅkhatassa saṅkhatalakkhaṇāni

• an arising is discernable
uppādo paññāyati

• a disappearance is discernable
vayo paññāyati

• a changeability while persisting is discernable
ṭhitassa aññathattaṃ paññāyati (A.1.152).

The idea of ‘changeability while persisting’ again negates any possibility of lastingness. Hence ‘impermanence’ is unsatisfactory for this reason.

Nicca: lasting and everlasting

Nicca stems from ni, which means ‘downward’=onward, on and on, says PED. We give it two meanings corresponding with the two meanings for anicca.

1) When we call it ‘everlasting’, it is commonly linked to ‘eternal’:

• Having passed on, that I will be―everlasting, enduring, eternal, of an unchangeable nature; I will endure like unto eternity itself’:
☸ so pecca bhavissāmi nicco dhuvo sassato avipariṇāmadhammo sassatisamaṃ tatheva ṭhassāmī ti (M.1.138).

2) Where nicca is linked to ‘unlasting’ we call it ‘lasting’:

• Is bodily form lasting or unlasting?
rūpaṃ niccaṃ vā aniccaṃ vā ti (S.3.187).


Illustration: niccā, lasting

There are among humans no sensuous pleasures that are lasting.
na santi kāmā manujesu niccā (S.1.22).

Illustration: aniccaṃ unlasting

You should abandon fondness for what is unlasting.
Yaṃ kho bhikkhu aniccaṃ tatra te chando pahātabbo ti (S.3.76).

Illustration: aniccato, unlasting

Seeing all states of individual existence [according to reality] as unlasting
Aniccato sabbabhavaṃ vipassaṃ (Th.v.1091).

Illustration: anicca, unlastingness

How is the perception of the unlastingness [of the five aggregates] developed and cultivated?
☸ kathaṃ bhāvitā ca bhikkhave aniccasaññā kathaṃ bahulīkatā…

Such is bodily form, such its origination, such its vanishing etc
Iti rūpaṃ iti rūpassa samudayo iti rūpassa atthaṅgamo (S.3.155).

Illustration: anicca, unlastingness; aniccaṃ unlasting

And what, Ānanda, is the perception of the unlastingness [of the five aggregates]
katamācānanda aniccasaññā

In this regard, Ānanda, a bhikkhu… reflects
iti paṭisaṃcikkhati

The five aggregates are unlasting
☸ rūpaṃ aniccaṃ vedanā aniccā saññā aniccā saṅkhārā aniccā viññāṇaṃ aniccan ti

Thus he abides contemplating unlastingness in relation to these five aggregates
aniccānupassī viharati (A.5.109).

Illustration: anicca, unlastingness

What, Ānanda, is the perception of the unlastingness of all originated phenomena?
Katamācānanda sabbasaṅkhāresu aniccasaññā

In this regard a bhikkhu is revolted, appalled, and disgusted by all originated phenomena.
idhānanda bhikkhu sabbasaṅkhārehi aṭṭīyati harāyati jigucchati.

This, Ānanda, is called the perception of the unlastingness of all originated phenomena
ayaṃ vuccatānanda sabbasaṅkhāresu aniccasaññā (A.5.111).

Illustration: anicca, unlastingness

To abandon the view that there is sweetness in originated phenomena the perception of the unlastingness [of the five aggregates] should be developed .
Assādadiṭṭhiyā pahānāya aniccasaññā bhāvetabbā (A.3.447).

Illustration: anicca, unlastingness

If a bhikkhu’s mind is imbued with the perception of the unlastingness [of the five aggregates], his mind draws back, bends back, turns away from gains, honour, and renown and is not attracted to it, and either indifference or loathing is established in him.
Aniccasaññā paricitena bhikkhave bhikkhuno cetasā bahulaṃ viharato lābhasakkārasiloke cittaṃ patilīyati patikuṭati pativaṭṭati na sampasārīyati upekkhā vā paṭikkūlyatā vā saṇṭhāti (A.4.47).

Illustration: anicca, unlastingness

When one abides contemplating unlastingness in relation to the six senses, a repulsion to sensation is established in oneself;
☸ Chasu kho nāgita phassāyatanesu aniccānupassīno viharato phasse pāṭikkūlyatā saṇṭhāti (A.3.30).

Illustration: aniccā, unlasting

In the past this Mount Vepulla was called Pācinavaṃsa, and the people were called Tivaras whose lifespan was 40,000 years. They could climb Mount Pācinavaṃsa in four days and descend in four days. At that time the Blessed One Kakusandha, arahant, perfectly enlightened, had arisen in the world. His two chief disciples were named Vidhura and Sañjīva, an excellent pair. Now see, bhikkhus! That mountain’s name has disappeared, those people have died, and that Blessed One has passed away to the Untroubled-without-residue.

• Thus unlasting are originated phenomena, thus unenduring are originated phenomena, thus unconsoling are originated phenomena. It is time enough, bhikkhus, to be disillusioned with all originated phenomena, to be unattached to them, to be liberated from them.
Evaṃ aniccā bhikkhave saṅkhārā evaṃ addhuvā bhikkhave saṅkhārā evaṃ anassāsikā bhikkhave saṅkhārā. Yāvañcidaṃ bhikkhave alameva sabbasaṅkhāresu nibbindituṃ alaṃ virajjituṃ alaṃ vimuccituṃ (S.2.191).

Illustration: aniccatā, unlastingness

Now there comes a time, friends, when the external Gaseousness Phenomenon is agitated. It blows away village, town, city, district, and country. But there comes a time when, in the last month of the hot season, people try to stir a breeze with a fan or bellows, and even the grass at the fringe of a thatch roof does not stir.

So when even in the external Gaseousness Phenomenon with all its vastness, unlastingness is discernable, destruction is discernable, disappearance is discernable, changeableness is discernable, then what to say of this short-lasting body?
Tassā hi nāma āvuso bāhirāya vāyodhātuyā tāva mahallikāya aniccatā paññāyissati khayadhammatā paññāyissati vayadhammatā paññāyissati vipariṇāmadhammatā paññāyissati. Kiṃ panimassa mattaṭṭhakassa kāyassa (M.1.185-9).

Illustration: niccaṃ, constantly

They extinguish the fire of attachment, constantly perceiving the foul.
☸ Te nibbāpenti rāgaggiṃ niccaṃ asubhasaññino (It.93).

Illustration: niccaṃ, constantly

I go constantly through the mechanism of thought, for my mind, brahman, is joined to him.
Saṅkappayantāya vajāmi niccaṃ mano hi me brāhmaṇa tena yutto (Sn.v.1144).

Illustration: niccaṃ, constantly

With those who are constantly energetic.
niccaṃ āraddhaviriyehi (S.2.158).