They are universal characteristics of existence, existing in all un-enlightened life. The arahants, who go beyond to the other shore, reach nibbana, which is the only permanent state where the three characteristics of existence do not apply.
- Anicca or impermanence. This refers not only to the fact that all conditioned things eventually cease to exist, but also that all conditioned things are in a constant state of flux. (Visualize a leaf growing on a tree. It dies and falls off the tree but is soon replaced by a new leaf.)
- Dukkha or unsatisfactoriness, "dis-ease" (also often translated "suffering," though this is somewhat misleading). Nothing found in the physical world or even the psychological realm can bring lasting deep satisfaction.
- Anatta or no-self is used in the suttas both as a noun and as a predicative adjective to denote that phenomena are not, or are without, a permanent self, to describe any and all composite, consubstantial, phenomenal and temporal things, from the macrocosmic to microcosmic, be it matter pertaining to the physical body or the cosmos at large, as well as any and all mental machinations, which are impermanent.