What Is Anicca?

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अनिच्च (Pali) / अनित्य (Sanskrit)

Anicca / Anitya (impermanent/unstable)

Anicca Definition

Anicca is the Pali term for impermanence, claiming that all of existence is transient.

It refers to the Buddhist concept that all things, internal and external, are subject to change and are inconstant. Buddhists believe that the only end to this impermanence comes through Nirvana, a place of perfect peace where you are released from the cycle of death and rebirth.

Better it is to live seeing the rise and fall of things, than to live a hundred years without ever seeing the rise and fall of things


Anicca Deep dive

Everything is in flux. All things will change, whether this is our bodies, our houses, our friends, our pets, a mountain, an oak tree that has been on this earth for 600 years, or a house plant that only managed to survive for a year!

Even our thoughts about ourselves are subject to change, sometimes within the space of a few moments.

stages of a flower growing

In Buddhism, Anicca makes up one of the ti-lakkhana or the 3 marks (characteristics) of existence.

These are:

1. Anicca (impermanency)

2. Dukkha (suffering)

3. Anattā (not-self or soul-lessness)

Dukkha and Annatā are deeply intertwined with Anicca due to the idea that we have no fixed nature, essence, or self. It is from the idea of impermanence that the other two characteristics of existence are derived.

The denial of this constant state of flux, according to Buddhists, is the primary reason for our suffering.

If you can understand and accept this concept, you are on the way to enlightenment already! It is this understanding of Anicca that heals Dukkha, consequently leading to Nirvana.

The Five Aggregates of Clinging

The khandha’s, or five aggregates of clinging, are five groups of phenomena that determine our existence. Each one of these is impermanent (anicca), unsatisfactory (dukkha), and insubstantial (anattā).

They make up five material and mental factors that constituent our existence, everything that we attach ourselves to as humans belongs to one of the following:

1. Rūpa khandha (form/matter)

The material form, the body, and the entire material aspect of our reality.

2. Saññā khandha (perception)

Perceptions and impressions that are formed by our thoughts. These are essentially senses that we interpret and then mentally label. It is these perceptions that lead us to the delusion that permanence exists when it doesn’t

3. Vedanā khandha (feeling)

Sensations in and through our bodies as a reaction to mental or physical stimulus

4. Saṅkhāra khandha (mental fabrications)

Our reactions to these different sensations or feelings. These thought constructs and held views, whether conscious or unconscious, lead to our behaviour which may result in unskillful actions

5. Viññāṇa khandha (consciousness)

That which arises due to contact with our five senses and thought, the knowing of everything that happens in our reality.

All of these factors or conditions that make up the human experience are impermanent, and Buddhists affirm that the ‘self’ cannot be found in any of them.

process of caterpillar turning into a butterfly

Anicca vs. Anitya

Whatever has the nature of arising has the nature of ceasing


In Sanskrit, this similar idea is called Anitya. The Anicca Buddhism idea differs a little from the concept of Anitya in Yogic and Hindu philosophy. Whilst the definitions refer generally to the same concept, it does vary based on traditions.

Anicca Buddhism

Everything in existence, both inanimate and animate, is impermanent due to the never-ending “chain” of causes and effects

Anitya Yogic and Hindu thought

Humans have both impermanent and permanent aspects, with discovering the permanent aspect of oneself (union with Brahman, the ultimate, unchanging reality of the universe) being an important aspect of liberation.

In other words:

If we turn our attention to impermanent things, we are bound to suffer. However, if we turn our attention to the infinite permanence of Brahman, we can overcome this state of constant change and achieve liberation.

Anicca in your life

Thanks to Impermanence, everything is Possible

Thich Nhat Hanh

1. The wisdom of impermanence

All conditioned things are impermanent. When one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering. This is the path to purification

Buddha (Dhammapada verse 277)

Life is a progressive moment-to-moment continuous flow of one experience into the next, and this moment is all we ever really have.

We can truly never know what the future will bring. That’s why the wisdom of Anicca brings us great peace of mind if accepted. It makes it easier to embrace the change that goes along with the continual ebbing and flowing of this river called life.

This understanding gives us insight into the fleeting, and sometimes not-so-fleeting, arising and passing of every life experience. Developing a mindfulness or meditation practice, like vipassana, will allow Anicca to become self-evident.

Anicca is an inescapable fact of life. We cannot fight the nature of this impermanence, there are some things that happen for sure in this life: namely, we get older and, eventually, we die. By observing the nature of life and thus accepting Anicca, we can find liberation.

brown autumn leaves on a tree

2. ‘This too shall pass’

It’s not impermanence that makes us suffer, it’s wanting things to be permanent when they are not

Thich Nhat Hanh

Joy, pain, anger, excitement, happiness, sadness, boredom, confusion, fear, happiness – none of these things last. That’s why the only choice we have to live a fulfilled life is to be completely in the moment, every moment!

How many of these ‘negative’ emotions come from us resisting an aspect of our life? Whether it be refusing to let go of the past, wishing we could have made a different decision, longing to relive an amazing time in our life, or wanting something to have never happened to us.

When we practice this art of non-attachment that comes with the knowledge of Anicca, it can help us to accept things without judgment or criticism, as well as knowing these bad feelings cannot possibly last forever.

We can simply remind ourselves, ‘this too shall pass’.

Eckhart Tolle also says something similar to this in A New Earth: ‘nonresistance, nonjudgement, and nonattachment are the three aspects of true freedom and enlightened living‘.

3. ‘This is not me, this is not mine’

Friends, when a learned follower has heard the truth and understands the truth they will no longer cling to form, or to feeling, or to perceptions, or to fabrications, or to the flow of thoughts.

They will see clearly ‘this is not me, this is not mine, this is not myself.’ They are fully released

Samyutta Nikaya 22.95

Nothing has sustainable substance and therefore it is foolish to cling to anything. Whether this is material items, emotions, relationships, thoughts, or words. As Buddha says, ‘life is like a river, do not hold onto things’.

It’s an illusion to believe that the person we are today is the same person we were last week or last year, just as we cannot expect the sun or rain to last forever.

We must not cling to things, this will only cause us suffering because they were never ‘ours’ to begin with and they were never meant to last forever.

There is a freedom that comes with knowing we are continually dying and reborn every moment, that permanence is merely an illusion.

Consciousness is always moving forward, and we don’t know how much time we have on this earth, which makes each and every moment even more valuable.

For me, Anicca teaches me that change is true stability and encourages me to cherish all of life’s experiences, to not run from the bad or cling to the good, because it’s all part of the tapestry of life.

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To go deep and expand your yogic knowledge, access our free Yoga Terms Encyclopedia, where we host a profound wealth of ancient and timeless yogic wisdom in an accessible modern format.

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Liz is a Qigong and Yoga teacher based in Gloucestershire with a love for all things movement, nature & community. She strives to create a trauma-informed space in which everyone is empowered to be their authentic selves. www.elizabethburns.co.uk

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