Space aliens, robots, and clones don’t have belly buttons—this is a common trope and test of otherness on TV and in the movies. Yet I remember finding this devastatingly clever when I first encountered it on TV as a child. You could be perfectly human in every way, but if you lack this one tiny, seemingly insignificant detail, and you are revealed to be not of this world. It felt like an important lesson: little facts that are easily overlooked can turn out to be crucial. Did Adam and Eve have navels? How could they? Yet what did it mean if they did not? This silly little mark turned out to be a door to Mystery.
In the same way, the Buddha’s three marks or seals of existence can seem like insignificant details of our lives, no big deal…until they are. The first of the marks is that all things in this phenomenal and temporal world (including you and I) are impermanent. Everything changes yet nothing disappears completely—the state of things change. Secondly, all things in this world (including our mental constructs and machinations) lack a separate and inviolate selfhood—everything is subject to causes and conditions, everything is influenced by other things and made up of other smaller parts that themselves contain smaller parts. The third mark or seal of existence is knowing that such a changeable, dependent world is bound to lead to frustration, anxiety, unease, suffering—“dukkha” in the language of the early Buddhist’s texts. Nirvana is waking up from the fever dream that we can control such a world.
This week, if you wish, join some of us as we continue to observe these marks of existence as they manifest in our lives, remembering that we are all in this together, that no one can really stand apart, on higher ground.