Thich Nhat Hahn's understanding of 'The Three Dharma Seals'

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JamesNhatHahn
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Thich Nhat Hahn's understanding of 'The Three Dharma Seals'

Post by JamesNhatHahn »

I'm currently reading a book written by Thich Nhat Hahn titled 'The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching - Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation'. It's an excellent book. There is one part I'm having some trouble with. Its Thay's(Thich Nhat Hahns name for short) interpretation of the Three Dharma Seals, or the Three Characteristic's of Existence.

He states that according to him, his interpretation is that the Three Characteristics are Impermanence (anitya), nonself (anatman), and nirvana. As opposed to how I understood them as Impermanence, nonself, and dukkha.

He states in chapter 5: The argument, "Impermanent, therefore suffering, therefore nonself" is illogical. Of course, if we believe that something is permanent or has a self, we may suffer when we discover that it is impermanent and without a separate self. But, in many texts, suffering is regarded as one of the Three Dharma Seals, along with impermanence and nonself. It is said that all teachings of the Buddha bear the Three Dharma Seals. To put suffering on the same level as impermanence and nonself is an error. Impermanence and nonself are universal. They are a "mark" of all things. Suffering is not. It is not difficult to see that a table is impermanent and does not have a self separate of all non-table elements, like wood, rain, sun, furniture maker, and so on. But is it suffering? A table will only make us suffer if we attribute permanence or separateness to it. When we are attached to a certain table it is not the table that makes us suffer. It is our attachment. We can agree that anger is impermanent, without a separate self, and filled with suffering, but it is strange to talk about a table or a flower as being filled with suffering.

Then he states: "The theory of the Three Kinds of Suffering is an attempt to justify the universalization of suffering. What joy is left in life? We find it in Nirvana. In several sutras the Buddha taught that Nirvana, the joy of completely extinguishing of ideas an concepts, rather than suffering, is one of the Three Dharma Seals. This is stated four times in the Samyukta agama of the Northern Transmission( Tsa A Han 262) (Taisho 99) Quoting from yet another sutra, Nagjuna listed Nirvana as one of the Three Dharma Seals( Mahaprajnaparamita Shastra)
To me, it is much easier to envision a state where there are no obstacles created by concepts than to see all things as suffering. I hope scholars and practitioners will begin to accept the teaching that all things are marked by impermanence, non self, and nirvana, and not make too great an effort to prove that everything is suffering."

What do you guys think of this teaching? What is your understanding? Is he right?
I tend to believe in the Theravada Teachings but can understand Thich Nhat Hahn's point also.
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Re: Thich Nhat Hahn's understanding of 'The Three Dharma Seals'

Post by Coëmgenu »

I can say more about this tomorrow, but the Saṃyuktāgama parallel doesn’t actually say “All dharmas are nirvāṇa” like Venerable Nhất Hạnh implies. Sūtra No. 262 actually says:
All formations are inconstant. All phenomena are selfless. Nirvāṇa is peace.
(T99.66b12, Chandakasūtra)

Similarly, the version in the Mahāprajñāpāramitopadeśa (which is not by Venerable Nāgārjuna but is only apocryphally attributed to him) has sarvasaṁskārā anityāḥ, sarvasaṁskārā duḥkhāḥ, sarvadharmā anātmānāḥ, śāntaṁ nirvāṇam, but I need to wait to find a more precise citation.
Then, the monks sang this gāthā:

These bodies are like foam.
Them being frail, who can rejoice in them?
The Buddha attained the vajra-body.
Still, it becomes inconstant and rots.
The many Buddhas are vajra-entities.
All are also subject to inconstancy.
Quickly ended, like melting snow --
how could things be different?

The Buddha passed into parinirvāṇa afterward.

(T1.27b10 Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra DĀ 2)
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Re: Thich Nhat Hahn's understanding of 'The Three Dharma Seals'

Post by circuit »

JamesNhatHahn wrote: Mon Feb 22, 2021 4:55 am
He states that according to him, his interpretation is that the Three Characteristics are Impermanence (anitya), nonself (anatman), and nirvana. As opposed to how I understood them as Impermanence, nonself, and dukkha.

Then make it four:
impermanence, not-self, nirvana, dukkha.

problem solved.
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Re: Thich Nhat Hahn's understanding of 'The Three Dharma Seals'

Post by Coëmgenu »

Well, except for the fact that the Northern āgama transmission doesn’t actually outline nirvāṇa as a characteristic of all phenomena, nor does the śāstra that the Venerable identified. :spy:

I can actually think of someone who said “All phenomena are nirvāṇa,” but he is the author of the Madhyamakaśāstra, the premiere commentary on the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā in East Asia. Regardless if it is true that there is a way in which nirvāṇa can be found in any phenomenon, that is not the view of the Sarvāstivādins and is not what is said in their Chandakasūtra and not even what Venerable Nāgārjuna is purported to have written in the Wisdom Treatise. So it’s a difficult matter. No major transmitted version of the marks of existence have “all dharmas are nirvāṇa.” The Sarvāstivādins transmit two versions, 1) All formations are inconstant, all phenomena are selfless, and nirvāṇa is peace, and 2) All formations are inconstant, all formations are stressful, all phenomena are selfless, and nirvāṇa is peace. The Wisdom Treatise (Mahāprajñāpāramitopadeśa) transmits a list identical to the second Sarvāstivādin list of marks.
Last edited by Coëmgenu on Mon Feb 22, 2021 6:10 am, edited 2 times in total.
Then, the monks sang this gāthā:

These bodies are like foam.
Them being frail, who can rejoice in them?
The Buddha attained the vajra-body.
Still, it becomes inconstant and rots.
The many Buddhas are vajra-entities.
All are also subject to inconstancy.
Quickly ended, like melting snow --
how could things be different?

The Buddha passed into parinirvāṇa afterward.

(T1.27b10 Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra DĀ 2)
JamesNhatHahn
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Re: Thich Nhat Hahn's understanding of 'The Three Dharma Seals'

Post by JamesNhatHahn »

circuit wrote: Mon Feb 22, 2021 5:39 am
JamesNhatHahn wrote: Mon Feb 22, 2021 4:55 am
He states that according to him, his interpretation is that the Three Characteristics are Impermanence (anitya), nonself (anatman), and nirvana. As opposed to how I understood them as Impermanence, nonself, and dukkha.

Then make it four:
impermanence, not-self, nirvana, dukkha.

problem solved.
Yes I've seen a few instances where Nibbana is sometimes included but that still doesn't answer the question of which one is right. I'd tend to think that Nibbana would not be a characteristic of Reality but wanted to hear others thoughts.
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Re: Thich Nhat Hahn's understanding of 'The Three Dharma Seals'

Post by SteRo »

JamesNhatHahn wrote: Mon Feb 22, 2021 4:55 am What do you guys think of this teaching? What is your understanding? Is he right?
If one has an inappropriate understanding of the three characteristics then one might think "illogical" like he does and come up with alternative views. :shrug:

The aggregates are not permanent, therefore unease, therefore not self.
Exhaling अ and inhaling धीः amounts to བྷྲཱུཾ་བི་ཤྭ་བི་ཤུད་དྷེ It's definitely not science but science may provide guidelines nevertheless.
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Re: Thich Nhat Hahn's understanding of 'The Three Dharma Seals'

Post by DooDoot »

Coëmgenu wrote: Mon Feb 22, 2021 5:32 am I can say more about this tomorrow....
lol Coëmgenu - i will answer swiftly today.
JamesNhatHahn wrote: Mon Feb 22, 2021 4:55 am He states in chapter 5: The argument, "Impermanent, therefore suffering, therefore nonself" is illogical.
TNH is correct in principal but wrong according to the fixed law of the dhamma (wrongly translated by Coëmgenu's idol Sujato Monk)

the word "dukkham" in the above context does not mean "suffering". It means "unsatisfactory" or "unable to satisfy", namely, "an impermanent conditioned thing cannot bring lasting true happiness"

therefore, a rock or tree has the characteristic that it cannot bring lasting happiness; however a rock or tree does not have the characteristic of "suffering"

TNH has merely not understood the meaning of words.

TNH has taken the wrong translation of "suffering" and attempted to correctly refute it

however if THN knew the proper translation of "dukkham", he would not have to refute it

its a matter of language

in summary, there are 4 dharma seals rather than 3

the 4 dhamma seals are impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, not-self and nibbana

the 1st two dharma seals apply to conditioned things and do not apply to the unconditioned nibbana

nibbana is permanent true happiness but is also not-self

the above is Buddhism101. if u don't understand then ask more questions

don't let Coëmgenu tell u otherwise :smile:

the buddha taught:
277. "All conditioned things [which excludes Nibbana] are impermanent" — when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering. This is the path to purification.

278. "All conditioned things [which excludes Nibbana] are unsatisfactory" — when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering. This is the path to purification.

279. "All things [including Nibbana] are not-self" — when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering. This is the path to purification.

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitak ... .budd.html
Last edited by DooDoot on Mon Feb 22, 2021 6:30 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Thich Nhat Hahn's understanding of 'The Three Dharma Seals'

Post by Coëmgenu »

DooDoot wrote: Mon Feb 22, 2021 6:13 amnibbana is permanent true happiness but is also not-self

the above is Buddhism101. if u don't understand then ask more questions

don't let Coëmgenu tell u otherwise
As usual, you perennially misrepresent positions of your interlocutors. What did I tell the OP that was “otherwise?” Pray tell. We’re all waiting for you to expose me as a peddler of something “other” than “nibbāna is permanent true happiness” and “is also not-self.” I should hope it’s not something as sophomoric and feeble as objecting to “selfless” on the basis that you’ve a personal preference for the hyphenate. That would truly be pedestrian.
Then, the monks sang this gāthā:

These bodies are like foam.
Them being frail, who can rejoice in them?
The Buddha attained the vajra-body.
Still, it becomes inconstant and rots.
The many Buddhas are vajra-entities.
All are also subject to inconstancy.
Quickly ended, like melting snow --
how could things be different?

The Buddha passed into parinirvāṇa afterward.

(T1.27b10 Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra DĀ 2)
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Re: Thich Nhat Hahn's understanding of 'The Three Dharma Seals'

Post by DooDoot »

Coëmgenu wrote: Mon Feb 22, 2021 6:29 am As usual, you perennially misrepresent positions of your interlocutors. What did I tell the OP that was “otherwise?” Pray tell. We’re all waiting for you to expose me as a peddler of something “other” than “nibbāna is permanent true happiness” and “is also not-self.” I should hope it’s not something as sophomoric and feeble as objecting to “selfless” on the basis that you’ve a personal preference for the hyphenate. That would truly be pedestrian.
:focus: if the above was clear, u would have posted it swiftly, instead of saying Samsara & Nibbana are the same, per your idol Nagarjuna :meditate:
Last edited by DooDoot on Mon Feb 22, 2021 6:33 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Thich Nhat Hahn's understanding of 'The Three Dharma Seals'

Post by Coëmgenu »

DooDoot wrote: Mon Feb 22, 2021 6:31 amif the above was clear, u would have posted it swiftly, instead of saying Samsara & Nibbana are the same, per your idol Nagarjuna
Once again, you perennially misrepresent your interlocutor. You’ve displayed remarkably poor comprehension of what is typed to you as of late, Doot. Nowhere on this thread does a user named Coëmgenu say anything about samsara and nirvana. You made that up and it’s silly. Don’t be silly.

Your accusation is baseless. Please stop wasting peoples’ time with constant misrepresentation.
:focus:
Then, the monks sang this gāthā:

These bodies are like foam.
Them being frail, who can rejoice in them?
The Buddha attained the vajra-body.
Still, it becomes inconstant and rots.
The many Buddhas are vajra-entities.
All are also subject to inconstancy.
Quickly ended, like melting snow --
how could things be different?

The Buddha passed into parinirvāṇa afterward.

(T1.27b10 Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra DĀ 2)
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Re: Thich Nhat Hahn's understanding of 'The Three Dharma Seals'

Post by johnsmitty »

JamesNhatHahn wrote: Mon Feb 22, 2021 4:55 am I'm currently reading a book written by Thich Nhat Hahn titled 'The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching - Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation'. It's an excellent book. There is one part I'm having some trouble with. Its Thay's(Thich Nhat Hahns name for short) interpretation of the Three Dharma Seals, or the Three Characteristic's of Existence.

He states that according to him, his interpretation is that the Three Characteristics are Impermanence (anitya), nonself (anatman), and nirvana. As opposed to how I understood them as Impermanence, nonself, and dukkha.
TNH is from the "samsara and nirvana are both the same thing, emptiness" school of thought, and denies there is any exit from reincarnation, because he says samsara and nirvana are interbeing to each other, and thus his doctrine is not about breaking free of reincarnation but just accepting it and not caring anymore, and he calls this "there is no birth, there is no death." That's how I understand him, but Coëmgenu will call me a liar and say I'm wrong even though he has no clue what he's talking about.
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Re: Thich Nhat Hahn's understanding of 'The Three Dharma Seals'

Post by Coëmgenu »

Continue to pretend that your ignorance is wisdom. And yes, when you say that the Venerable teaches that there is no exit from reincarnation, I consider that a lie as much as “The Pope doesn’t believe Jesus is God — that’s how I understand him” would be naught but a disingenuous fib.
Then, the monks sang this gāthā:

These bodies are like foam.
Them being frail, who can rejoice in them?
The Buddha attained the vajra-body.
Still, it becomes inconstant and rots.
The many Buddhas are vajra-entities.
All are also subject to inconstancy.
Quickly ended, like melting snow --
how could things be different?

The Buddha passed into parinirvāṇa afterward.

(T1.27b10 Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra DĀ 2)
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Re: Thich Nhat Hahn's understanding of 'The Three Dharma Seals'

Post by JamesNhatHahn »

DooDoot wrote: Mon Feb 22, 2021 6:13 am
Coëmgenu wrote: Mon Feb 22, 2021 5:32 am I can say more about this tomorrow....
lol Coëmgenu - i will answer swiftly today.
JamesNhatHahn wrote: Mon Feb 22, 2021 4:55 am He states in chapter 5: The argument, "Impermanent, therefore suffering, therefore nonself" is illogical.
TNH is correct in principal but wrong according to the fixed law of the dhamma (wrongly translated by Coëmgenu's idol Sujato Monk)

the word "dukkham" in the above context does not mean "suffering". It means "unsatisfactory" or "unable to satisfy", namely, "an impermanent conditioned thing cannot bring lasting true happiness"

therefore, a rock or tree has the characteristic that it cannot bring lasting happiness; however a rock or tree does not have the characteristic of "suffering"

TNH has merely not understood the meaning of words.

TNH has taken the wrong translation of "suffering" and attempted to correctly refute it

however if THN knew the proper translation of "dukkham", he would not have to refute it

its a matter of language

in summary, there are 4 dharma seals rather than 3

the 4 dhamma seals are impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, not-self and nibbana

the 1st two dharma seals apply to conditioned things and do not apply to the unconditioned nibbana

nibbana is permanent true happiness but is also not-self

the above is Buddhism101. if u don't understand then ask more questions

don't let Coëmgenu tell u otherwise :smile:

the buddha taught:
277. "All conditioned things [which excludes Nibbana] are impermanent" — when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering. This is the path to purification.

278. "All conditioned things [which excludes Nibbana] are unsatisfactory" — when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering. This is the path to purification.

279. "All things [including Nibbana] are not-self" — when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering. This is the path to purification.

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitak ... .budd.html
Really enjoyed your analysis here. I think you're right on point and helped my understanding. Thank you much.
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Re: Thich Nhat Hahn's understanding of 'The Three Dharma Seals'

Post by sphairos »

JamesNhatHahn wrote: Mon Feb 22, 2021 4:55 am I'm currently reading a book written by Thich Nhat Hahn titled 'The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching - Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation'. It's an excellent book. There is one part I'm having some trouble with. Its Thay's(Thich Nhat Hahns name for short) interpretation of the Three Dharma Seals, or the Three Characteristic's of Existence.

He states that according to him, his interpretation is that the Three Characteristics are Impermanence (anitya), nonself (anatman), and nirvana. As opposed to how I understood them as Impermanence, nonself, and dukkha.

He states in chapter 5: The argument, "Impermanent, therefore suffering, therefore nonself" is illogical. Of course, if we believe that something is permanent or has a self, we may suffer when we discover that it is impermanent and without a separate self. But, in many texts, suffering is regarded as one of the Three Dharma Seals, along with impermanence and nonself. It is said that all teachings of the Buddha bear the Three Dharma Seals. To put suffering on the same level as impermanence and nonself is an error. Impermanence and nonself are universal. They are a "mark" of all things. Suffering is not. It is not difficult to see that a table is impermanent and does not have a self separate of all non-table elements, like wood, rain, sun, furniture maker, and so on. But is it suffering? A table will only make us suffer if we attribute permanence or separateness to it. When we are attached to a certain table it is not the table that makes us suffer. It is our attachment. We can agree that anger is impermanent, without a separate self, and filled with suffering, but it is strange to talk about a table or a flower as being filled with suffering.

Then he states: "The theory of the Three Kinds of Suffering is an attempt to justify the universalization of suffering. What joy is left in life? We find it in Nirvana. In several sutras the Buddha taught that Nirvana, the joy of completely extinguishing of ideas an concepts, rather than suffering, is one of the Three Dharma Seals. This is stated four times in the Samyukta agama of the Northern Transmission( Tsa A Han 262) (Taisho 99) Quoting from yet another sutra, Nagjuna listed Nirvana as one of the Three Dharma Seals( Mahaprajnaparamita Shastra)
To me, it is much easier to envision a state where there are no obstacles created by concepts than to see all things as suffering. I hope scholars and practitioners will begin to accept the teaching that all things are marked by impermanence, non self, and nirvana, and not make too great an effort to prove that everything is suffering."

What do you guys think of this teaching? What is your understanding? Is he right?
I tend to believe in the Theravada Teachings but can understand Thich Nhat Hahn's point also.
But if everything is nirvana, why had he become a monk in the first place? Illogical. Just eradicate the thoughts and concepts and enjoy the life.
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Re: Thich Nhat Hahn's understanding of 'The Three Dharma Seals'

Post by DooDoot »

JamesNhatHahn wrote: Mon Feb 22, 2021 4:55 am I hope scholars and practitioners will begin to accept the teaching that all things are marked by impermanence, non self, and nirvana, and not make too great an effort to prove that everything is suffering."
Actually, possibly my previous post is wrong about TNH making a linguistic error. The above quote appears wrong.

All things are not are marked by impermanence and nirvana.

Nirvana is not marked by impermanence.

Samsara is not marked by nirvana.
There is always an official executioner. If you try to take his place, It is like trying to be a master carpenter and cutting wood. If you try to cut wood like a master carpenter, you will only hurt your hand.

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