Three Marks

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.

3 thoughts on “Three Marks

  1. This invitation is a mark of existence. Joining you as a poet, I teach a course on boundaries to healthcare professionals; boundaries inside and out, physical and psychical.

  2. There is so much truth in these three marks of existence yet the pity here is that they and their deeper meaning remain darkly veiled from the minds of the powerful politicians and fanatics that strive to change our current world. All the wroth of hatred and destruction of these humans is truly a failure by our specie; a failure that spreads and may become the destruction of not only us but many if not all the creatures with whom we share existence. Perhaps it’s best that we remain unaware of any other life in the universe, if for nothing else but they and their space alien worlds remain protected from our specie.
    Perhaps, someday, the beauty and truths of human thought found within the pages of Parabola will be discovered by more people and the Mystery behind the door will be more fully revealed; an epiphany long overdue. Yet the concern here is that very nature of the Mystery is just that, and it takes an epiphany destined for far too few.
    I do not suggest we give up on our fellow travelers; on the contrary we must continue to explore and express our discoveries and, as the butterfly in the Amazon making its tiny difference, believe that knowledge of the truths and meanings of existence may one day become the tsunami that overwhelms the madness of the human existence. Believe in your journey and follow your bliss, it just might make a big difference. As for myself as for Ikkyu, “Having no destination, I am never lost”

  3. The little attention I can muster in myself that is not occurring in proper relationship to a subject, easily evaporates. If it is not pre-occupied, pre-inhabited, pre-invested in a subject; any impermanent, passing thoughts/moods etc may easily take up residence. Then even the attention I had to begin with is lost until they are done with me. Sometimes if fortunate, I wake up a little and return to the subject.

    (Btw, I’m new and this is my first attempt at commenting here.
    TC, you provide a sincere blog which frequently soeaks to the kid in me)

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