The Four Dharma Seals were never taught by the Buddha as a specific doctrine, but were identified by early followers as elements necessary for any doctrine or teaching to be considered to be Buddhist; conversely, having elements contrary to these disqualifies a doctrine from being considered Buddhist. Some sources omit the second of these Four Dharma Seals, in which case these are called the Three Dharma Seals. Since the Second Seal is completely consistent with the rest of Buddhism, and in the interest of completeness, it will be included in the following description of each of the Four Dharma Seals.

All Compounded Things are Impermanent

To understand the First Dharma Seal requires understanding the what is meant by “compounded.” It simply means things which are made from other things. This includes the universe, galaxies, stars, planets, people, animals, plants, water, molecules, atoms, and even subatomic particles – and all of these things are impermanent.

It is hard to think or even conceive of a non-compounded and hence non-impermanent thing. Upon further reflection, however, it does seem that reality itself is not impermanent, since reality is an expanding eternal infinity; yet, reality does seem to be composed of all of the things which are contained within reality. Is it possible that reality is a compounded thing which is not impermanent?

This is resolved by recognizing that as the constituent parts of reality eternally decay or combine into other things, this is essentially the same as reality eternally changing. A thing which is eternally changing cannot be said to be permanent. In fact, this insight can be used to update the Scionics view of reality as an “eternally expanding infinity,” to an “eternally expanding and changing infinity.” (Of course, expansion is itself a type of change.)

Mathematics, on the other hand, seems to be something which is truly non-compounded and non-impermanent. All of mathematics exists as an infinite, eternal, unitary whole. No part of mathematics can be removed from the rest. It exists as one, and can never not exist.

Information presents an interesting case. Information (other than purely mathematical information) is compounded as it requires some form of substrate (such as matter or energy) for it to be stored, copied, represented, processed, and so on. While the substrate may be impermanent, however, the information itself may transcend this impermanence, at least potentially, precisely because it can be stored, copied, represented, processed, and so on, in some other substrate. Thus (non-purely-mathematical) information is both compounded and impermanent as a pattern in whatever substrate it may be represented, although it may be potentially permanent as a pattern in subsequent substrates; this potentiality is not an actuality, however.

All Dualistic Experience Entails Dukkha

This seal seems to be the one which is translated in the greatest variety of ways, and of which there is also the greatest disagreement regarding the proper expression, although the expression above seems to be the most coherent form for Western readers. Some of the other translations commonly given are:

All compounded things are (or entail) dukkha.
All emotions are (or entail) dukkha.
All stained emotions are (or entail) dukkha

This list is by no means exhaustive.

Dukkha” (as stated earlier) is variously translated as “unsatisfactoriness,” “inadequateness,” “suffering,” “anxiety,” or “stress.” “Stained,” as used in the context of the translations above, refers to something which is driven by “craving,” which in turn is the result of dualistic, ego-driven thoughts and desires. Scionics identifies various “modes of conscious relation,” which include the “driven,” “loving,” “observational,” and “unitary” modes. Such dualistic, ego-driven thoughts and desires as are associated with “dukkha” are primarily the product of the driven mode of conscious relation, although they are also produced to a lesser degree by the loving and observational modes as well. [See: The Protocols of Scionics | 1:2 Consciousness.]Thus, the most direct and accessible translation, as well as the most precise expression of this Dharma Seal is that given by: “All dualistic experience entails dukkha.”

All Compounded Things Have no Inherent Existence

This is very closely related to the First Dharma Seal: “All compounded things are impermanent.” One is almost the corollary of the other. What this Dharma Seal refers to is the fact that all compounded things only exist by virtue of their compounded nature, and that what any such compounded thing really is is are the constituent parts from which they are compounded.

While some compounded thing remains compounded, it may be useful to refer to it or to think of it as a unit. This usefulness, however, should not fool one into the false belief that it ultimately really is a unit. Instead one must always recognize that under the superficial unity of the thing lies any number of constituent parts, temporarily compounded together.

When examining the First Dharma Seal, the special cases of reality, mathematics, and information were examined. These can be examined with reference to this Seal as well.

When the compounded constituents of reality decay or combine into other things, these things which they decay or combine into remain a part of reality. Thus reality does have an inherent existence as a whole, although the compounded things within it do not.

All of mathematics exists as an infinite, eternal, unitary whole. It exists as one, and can never not exist. Mathematics is a case of something being, in a sense, “compound” without being “compounded.” It has many parts, but no part of mathematics can be removed from the rest. Mathematics is non-compounded, non-impermanent, and like reality itself, has an inherent existence.

Information (other than purely mathematical information) is compounded as it requires some form of substrate (such as matter or energy) for it to be stored, copied, represented, processed, and so on. Furthermore, any such substrate will always be compounded, and therefore not have an inherent existence of its own. Such substrate-dependent information is both compounded and has no inherent existence.

Nirvana is Beyond Concepts

Nirvana is typically translated as something like “liberation,” “freedom,” or “peace.” When put in such terms, nirvana does not seem to be “beyond concepts” at all, as these are easily understood and communicated concepts. Nirvana, however, actually refers to something beyond these words: to the freedom from dukkha which arises when all separating, dualistic, ego-based drives and demands are completely eliminated and replaced by the experience of profound unity between oneself and the world – but even these are fairly easily understood and communicated concepts.

It is the experience of nirvana which is beyond concepts. This experience cannot be fully communicated to one who has not experienced it for oneself, just as one cannot fully explain the experience of “redness” to a blind person. To a blind person, certain things about “redness” may be comprehensible, such as the fact that it is distinguishable from other colors or that it is associated with certain wavelengths of light, but the experience of redness would be completely incomprehensible. In the same way, certain aspects of nirvana may be comprehensible, such as that is involves a form of freedom from suffering, for example, but the actual experience of nirvana, by its very nature, is incomprehensible to anyone who has not personally experienced it.

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