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Kieu Quan Thuan

The Three universal truths of phenomena

Buddhism appeared in India more than 2500 years a go, and during a few centuries, Buddhism spread
all over the world. In Buddhism, Buddhists have not used violence to survive, and Buddha did not
give teachings to advice followers using violence to propagate Dharma. Also Buddhists didnt use
benefits to attract anyone to become a Buddhist. Buddhism with lots of methods form Buddhas
teaching has been attracting lots of people, they could be non-religion or they could be followers of
other religions. Buddhists do not have the purpose to convert anyone to be a Buddhist. Buddhists only
give the best advice and best methods of the Lord Buddha to help people, who are seeking for good
way to practice on their process of improvement of their minds or their spirits. It is known that there
are 84000 methods for practice in Buddhism, and every method is a perfect way that the Buddha gave
us; every method can lead people to enlightenment or Nirvana. But to understand deeply and to bring
benefit on practice, we should have basic understanding about Buddhas teaching. And the three truths
of universe are basic and most important knowledge that we should study to understand the nature of
The first of three truths is impermanence. Buddha said that all things are impermanent.
Impermanence can be known in other word change. We can realize the change in every material
thing around us. For instance, the flower in our garden, think about a point of time in the past, when
we went to our garden, we saw some flowers which were beautiful, but the next day after that, when
we looked at those flowers, we could realize that they were withering, and not beautiful as the last
days. Those flowers changed. For other example, looking at a fish which we have fed from a small
fish, we can realize that it grew up fast; one moth ago, it was a small fish, but now it is bigger. Or,
lets think about ourselves when we were in primary school, at that time we were so short and small;
but right now, we are different from that time; we are stronger and taller than at that time.
Furthermore, every abstract thing also changes moment and moment. Such as time, time also changes.
Our minds change moment after moment, too. Because of continuity of thought, we always think that
the mind is unchangeable. But in fact, our minds are compounded by small segments of thoughts. Our
minds are influenced by outside objects; when we hear, when we see, the minds always run following
outside object. Let us think back the time when we were children, at that time we had a superficial
thinking about every thing. But now we are different from that time; we have deep understanding
about things and phenomena than we were as children.
What did change us? Someone might think that the time is the cause of change, but the time also
changes. Precisely, time is separated into three categories: past, present and future; so we have
yesterday, today and tomorrow; this concept about time indicates that time also changes. According to
Abhidharma Pitaka, time is the concept of human kind; it is measure by action of events or actions of
phenomena. It is clearer; when in recent centuries, people use duration of circle of the earth moving
around the sun to measure the time. Even though, we cannot measure the time without basing on
action of things, but we cannot deny, time does not exist. Anyway, time is not factor that make us
change moment after moment. We also cannot find out anything that makes us change. Because,
according to Buddha, changing is the truth of universe.

In addition, impermanence is necessary for the development and improvement of every of us and
society. Without impermanence the seed cannot develop into a plant, then a tree. Also without
impermanence, a baby cannot develop into an adult person. Without impermanence we dont have
modern technology. Instead, we could be in the condition as our ancestors. At that time, people had to
hunt animal and get fruit to eat. Naganarjuna, a famous Buddhist scholar lived in the 1 st BC, in his
works on emptiness, said that impermanence is the necessity of the life. Like other aspect of a coin;
impermanence is the other aspect of survival. Impermanence leads every thing to be changing, and
then ceasing. If every thing does not change, what is the problem? The spaces will not enough to
content the things that will be appeared in future. Nagarjuna also mentioned that impermanence is a
valuable gift that we have, because it is important thing in our lives and our activities.
Besides, impermanence is also the cause of our suffering .The change, whether good or bad, can turn
our emotions from suffering to happiness and vice versa. For instance, we love someone very much,
and we always want to live close to that person, but one day we have to separate with that one, then
our suffering will appear. For other example, when we hate someone very much, but we have to meet
that one every day, every time we meet that one, we feel anger and ours destructive emotions will
appear, then one day, that one moves away, then we will feel happy. These two examples give us a
thinking of influence of change. Of course, impermanence does not always bring suffering to us, and
the Buddha, in some of his teachings, talked about impermanence as one of causes of suffering.
To base on Buddhas teachings, in specific analysis, there are eight kinds of sufferings. Firstly,
suffering that causes by birth. Most people have the same thinking that why does birth cause
suffering? Nowadays, scientists found out that when a mother gets pregnant which more than six
months, the baby in the mothers womb is affected by the temperature of the mother when a mother
eats food, water that the mother eats and drinks. Also the process of going out the mothers womb is
so suffering for mother and the baby. Secondly, the suffering causes by old age. When we were
young, the physical body often stay healthy, at that time we could run for long time, could swim, or
could play some kinds of sport that require quick and strong actions. But when we are in the old ages,
our physical bodies often stay weak. At that time we are difficult even to walk around our even though
around our gardens. When we are at 60 years old, may be we can but in the age of 70 or more than
that for some people, it is difficult, even for eating. Apparently, when the state of body is
uncomfortable, it makes us suffer.
Thirdly, suffering causes by sickness. We all, in some point of time in the past, got sick. Sickness,
whether serious or unserious, cause us to suffer. Sickness, generally, is separated into two types:
physical sickness and spiritual sickness. Physical sickness involves all kinds of sickness that body
may get; Such as, headache, stomachache; toothache, sore eye; cancer, flu; and so on. Spiritual
sickness includes all kind of sickness that concerning mentality, spiritual sickness, itself, is state of
Fourthly, suffering causes by death. Most of people feel frightened when they think about the death,
and when some are going to die they are often in bad mood because they do not want to die, they fear
that death is going to happen to them. If we go to the hospital, we can observe how people suffer
when they are in the state of waiting for death; of course, they look so bored and sad.
Fifthly, suffering that causes by separation from things or people that we love very much. Because of
attachment, we always want to prolong our possession with what we have had. But nothing last
forever, so our possession to what we have had also cannot last forever. We suffer when we have to

separate from what we love very much. Such as, a person has kept a gift that his best friend gave him
for ten years, and one day, if he lose it, he will suffer.
Sixthly, suffering that causes by living together with those we hate very much. The nature of human
being is that we love what is interesting and attracting to us, and we hate what make us feel tedious.
And when we have to live or face those tedious things, we suffer. Such as, we suffer when we have to
listen to a very boring story. We suffer when we have to see those people that we hate every day.
Opposite, we are happy and pleasant when we are far away from thing or person that we hate very
Seventhly, suffering that causes by not getting what we want. Desire is one of three characteristics of
human beings. Desire makes us develop, make us happy, and also it makes us suffer. According to
Buddhist view, desire of us is unlimited. Normally, we never satisfy with what we have had. We
always try to get more and more to satisfy our desire. For human being, desire seemingly is pointless.
And when we cannot get what we attach very much, we suffer.
Finally, suffering that causes by five aggregates. Our physical body and our spirits are made by
compound of five aggregates, form, feeling, perception, mental formation and consciousness. When
they are not in good state, they also make us suffer. When five aggregates do not work well together,
we get sick, and sickness is one cause of suffering. Sometimes, we feel that the body is somehow that
cannot be control by us completely; it is also causes us to suffer. For instance, when we stay in a place
where there is nobody else, at night we feel frighten ghosts, we try to remind our- self that do not
think about ghost any more, but our mind at that time seem not to follow us, that will make us have to
feel frighten of ghosts. For other example, when our body get cancer, we cannot order it, please, be
Why did Buddha talk about suffering in most of his lessons? With perfect wisdom and great
compassion, Buddha wanted to help us free from suffering. But it is not easy to us to free from
suffering if we do not understand suffering. Also if we do not understand why do we have to free from
suffering? We, of course, never want to practice to free from suffering. For instance, if a prisoner
wants to escape from the prison, the first thing he should know clearly about the prison; otherwise, he
will not be able to escape from the prison.
In addition, understanding about suffering is very useful for us. In the way to work for living,
unpleasant things can approach to us whenever. So the knowledge of suffering will be a good fortune
for us; we can apply our understanding about suffering whenever we suffer. In this way, we will
become spiritual therapist of ourselves; and we can also be the spiritual therapists for others. Also, the
understanding about suffering is the way to live with happiness. We all do not want to live with
suffering, so if we comprehend suffering, we can know how to limit its approach to us. Also,
understanding of suffering is the first necessary step of the process of practicing Dharma.
The last of three universal truths is non-self. According to Buddhas teachings, all things are non-self;
there is no any single thing that can create a thing or phenomenon.The good example is about a car. A
car is called car when it is compounded by the wheels, machine, glass, chassis and so on. When we
separate it into parts, at that time, every of part can not be called a car. Similarly we are compounded
by five aggregates, when they get together, there are our bodies, our spirits, but when they are
separated, there is nothing can be called our body, our spirit. A common question concerning non-self
is that if we are non-self, what will reborn in afterlife? Basing on the law of Karma, there should be
something that continues to reborn into six realms. So it seems to be opposed with non-self. But, we
cannot refuse neither the law of Karma nor non-self. We always have doubt about things that we

cannot understand them clearly. According to Abhidharma Pitaka, the mind-consciousness will store
all our Karma and bring Karma to next life. Mind-conciousness is not a mortal self; it can be
understood as one kind of energy; that is easy way to understand it. But it is not exactly like that.
In some braches of Buddhism, people believe that each of us has got six faculties (eye, ear, nose,
tongue, body and mind faculty), Manas and Alaida. Alaida, is believed, is the storehouse of Karma of
us. Alaida is the only thing that will take rebirth in the afterlife. But this theory is not accepted by
some traditions; because, if we accept Alaida, we unintentionally refuse with the teaching on non-self
of Buddha. Non-self is the way to get Nirvana, if we do not follow it, we are going far from Buddhas
In conclusion, the three universal truths are the fundamental understanding about Buddhas teaching.
It also the first step on the process of practice Buddhas teaching. It is not for Buddhists only. It is for
every person who is finding the way to happiness or finding the way to free from suffering.