Anatta, Aniccam, Dukkham

These were foreign words I encountered earlier today. If I was asked to guess what they meant, I would have said they were names of gorgeous Indian sirens.

Anatta sounds suspiciously like Anita. I know of one Anita. Anita Keating, former wife of Paul who is a former PM of Australia. He told her their marriage was over, publicly at a dinner party. Urghhling. I later found out Anatta means you cannot stop someone from doing what they want to do. So, Anita, I hope you had the wisdom to practise Anatta when Paul shattered your marriage in front of your friends, the moment you felt he stabbed you right in your heart. I am glad since then you have got your own life back and he can’t ever control you anymore.

Then there’s Annie. The first thing that comes to mind about Annie is the movie. There have been many repeats about the orphan Annie’s story, in Hollywood movies and Broadway musicals. Actresses who play the role of Annie come and go. Shirley Temple, Carol Burnett, Sarah Jessica Parker, Allison Smith to name a few. Aniccam isn’t a derivation of Annie, but it coincidentally also means they come and they go. So, Anita, let’s try to observe Aniccam: urghhlings, they come and they go. Ignore them.

When a friend mentioned these three words to me this afternoon, he aroused my curiosity. The last one was Dukkham, and I inexplicably thought of Victoria Beckham. There were numerous plots to kidnap her, and she has received death threats too. Dukkham, you want to get rid of something but you can’t. Threats to one’s safety and security is a big price for the likes of Beckham. Wealth attracts the undesirables, you can’t get rid of them even if you try.

Anatta, Aniccam, Dukkham. These are actually words in the Tipitaka, which is the sacred canon of Theravada Buddhism. These three are essential doctrines, key to the concept of enlightenment or wisdom. Aniccam, the doctrine of impermanence, asserts that all things in life are temporal, the only constant is change and even life itself is transient, subject to decline and decay. Because no physical or mental object is permanent, any attachment to or desire for either will lead to pain and disappointments. Anatta is the doctrine of no permanent soul, no essence, without self, that is the nature in living beings. This denial of self is what distinguishes Buddhism from other religions. The “I” or “Me” is greatly diminished. Correctly practised, there will be less of the ills of today’s societies: the ridiculous sense of entitlement, the impotence of self importance and the foolishness of selfishness. Dukkham is usually explained as suffering but it’s more than that, it’s also unpleasantness, the mundane, boring, undesirable and unsatisfactory. Something we want to avoid in life, get rid of it, but we can’t, not without wisdom, not without Anatta, Aniccam, and Dukkham.

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