Anicca, Dukkha, and Anatta: An Exploration of the 3 Dharma Seals Through Poetry and Song

Ksera Dyette and Jess Rhee

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Buddhism offers three fundamental truths of existence that are experienced by all perceiving beings. Although each of these truths can stand alone as an important lesson, together they can also be conceptualized as forming a path to transcendence, leaving suffering behind. 


Anicca | Impermanence

The kindling for transcendence is bound in the flesh of a human being, as well as in the weight of our desires. All this must be burned away before we can be as air above, within, and around our existence.

Poem: “Grounding” written and performed by Jess Rhee

Song: “Legacy” by Jess Rhee, performed by Jess Rhee and Ksera Dyette

Intro to “Grounding:” When approaching the concept of impermanence, I was immediately reminded of the remnants of a forest fire that I had seen while traveling to Alaska through mid-western Canada during my adolescence. This scene was my first confrontation with the idea of impermanence, and I was deeply shaken that something as seemingly untouchable and permanent as Nature could be so destroyed.

Intro to “Legacy:” Perhaps, this song can best be understood as my rebellion against the idea of impermanence, and as expressing my hope that we can all leave something, anything, of substance behind us when we pass on into whatever ether awaits us.


Dukkah | Suffering

Smoke is the unwanted combination of solids, liquid particulates, and gases. It is the residue of combustion, the moment between solidity and dissipation, and the bridge between fire and air. It can be used as a form of communication, and also as a way to expel the unwanted and unacceptable things that lie within us. It can obscure transcendent images, though they might be right before our eyes, much like suffering can obscure our ability to see our experiences as they really are.

Poems: “Triangulation,” written and performed by Jess Rhee

                                         “Echo,” written by Christina Rosetti, performed by Jess Rhee

                        Song: “Aimless,” written by Jess Rhee, performed by Jess Rhee and Ksera Dyette

Intro to “Triangulation,” “Echo,” and “Aimless:” In 2009, there was a serious loss in my life. “Triangulation” came out of a grief-related writing group that I attended through Gilchrist Hospice in Maryland shortly after that loss. I am so grateful to this group of healers, for drawing me out of my silence. I began writing songs for the first time in my life shortly thereafter, in reaction to what had happened—“Aimless” is the first song that I wrote about what I was feeling. “Echo” is a Rosetti poem[1] that I read over and over again during that time. It brought me both pain and comfort, particularly the line “And yet, come to me in dreams that I may live.”


Anatta | Letting Go

As we make our way along the bridge of suffering, the light of knowledge allows the bridge to dissipate, thereby making room for trust that we will not fall, but rather that we will rise into the air around us.

Our presentation endeavors to create a path through fire, smoke, and air using poetry and song as an illustration of this journey. There is a powerful universality to the emotions evoked by these concepts; hopefully, this exploration will lead to an interconnectedness of our emotional experiences and may kindle in each of us an examination of where we stand on this path.

Poem: “The Death of Joe Brown,” written and performed by Ksera Dyette

Song: “Untitled,” written and performed by Ksera Dyette

Intro to “The Death of Joe Brown:” I wrote this poem after someone dear to me lost a close friend of his to a long, painful battle with cancer. The poem reflects the last day that all of Joe’s friends were able to see him in his final moments, and how he found his own transcendence.

Intro to “Untitled:” The “Watchmen” was a comic book series, later collected into a graphic novel, that dealt with themes of time, angst, and impending destruction, originally appearing between 1986 and 1987, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons. In it, there is a scene in which the characters Jon and Laurie are riding around Mars in the giant clock, discussing life. My favorite part of this ongoing dialogue is its conclusion when Jon illuminates thermodynamic miracles, paralleling the odds of such occurrences to the coming into existence of individual persons, “like oxygen spontaneously becoming gold” (p. 26)[2]. “Untitled” embodies the climax of this scene.

For more about Ksera Dyette and Jess Rhee:

  • [1] “Echo” by Christina Rosetti appeared in her anthology, Goblin Market, The Prince’s Progress, and Other Poems, London & New York: Macmillan, 1875
  • [2] Watchmen by Alan Moore (with illustrations by Dave Gibbons), New York: DC Comics, Inc., 2005.

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