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The Three Seals

On Sunday, September 28, 2008, Bill Wright gave a lecture on "The Three Seals" at CMC. Currently a dharma teacher in training, he is a long-term follower of Master Sheng Yen, and teaches workshops on "Dharma 10" and the "Four Noble Truths". The Three Seals are the subject of the Buddha's second sermon after attaining enlightenment.

There are known as the characteristics or marks of existence; according to Bill, everything that we experience in ordinary reality (mental, physical and environmental) have three characteristics-- impermanence, no-self (in Sanskrit, "anatman"), and dukkha & nirvana.

1) Impermanence – Not only is life impermanent, but everything we see during the course of this life is also impermanent. From the highest mountain to the strongest metal, from the most enlightened individual to the brightest star, everything will wither and fade away. Even this Buddhist path that we walk on is constantly evolving, and therefore impermanent.

2) No-Self (Anatman) – There is no "self" that stands apart from everything else; everything in the world is interconnected. This sense of an independent "self" is the cause of suffering. The sense of "self" arises from ignorance. Most people have trouble understanding this concept and end up with extreme views of either nihilism or eternalism. In the West, we may have this attachment to "self" because we are concerned about our legacy and how we will be remembered. If we can accept that everything is interrelated and conditional, this may help allay our fears and anxiety, and allow us to be more accepting and appreciative of our existence and circumstances.

3) Dukkha & Nirvana – The simple definition of "dukkha" is suffering. Our ignorance, i.e. greed, grasping, attachment, is the core of our vexations, which is the cause of suffering. Because of this ignorance, we are conditioned to be unhappy. So, if we fully realize the concepts of "impermanence" and "no-self", we will be released from suffering and attain enlightenment (nirvana).

In the Mahayana tradition, there is what is referred to as the "fourth seal". The "fourth seal" is emptiness (sunyata), or emptiness of self-nature. Everything in ordinary reality is sunyata. Full realization of emptiness is nirvana.

Bill concluded his lecture by encouraging the audience to practice contemplation of emptiness, practice of the six Paramitas, following the Precepts and being mindful.

(Report by Sam & Lydia)

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