The Four Seals of Buddhism and The Meaning of Ott’s Jack’s Cheese and Bread Snack Lyrics

I first heard this song about ten years ago, and loved it, and was intrigued by the lyrics.

Ott - Jack's Cheese and Bread Snack


One: All composite phenomena are impermanent.
Two: All contaminated things and events are unsatisfactory.
Three: All phenomena are empty and selfless.
And four: Nirvana is true peace.


The Four Seals of Buddhism

I can now take a shot at saying what they mean, from experience. First though, I'll mention that intellectually: it's called "Dependent Origination" in Buddhism, and the list of four is called the "Four Seals of Buddhism" or "Four Dharma Seals".

What is the experience of "emptiness" this points to like? That's very difficult or impossible to describe, since that "emptiness " is not an object, and language and the mind are meant for objectification, are "children of time and space". But I can talk about dependent origination, to the best of my ability (disclaimer: I am not a scholar on Buddhism or any other religion, nor am I interested in religion other than the "mystical" heart of them that spawned original revelations, and the psychological and social phenomenon spawned by belief outwardly).

What follows is my understanding based in my experience and understanding of non-duality (Advaita). Enjoy.

One: All composite phenomena are impermanent

Considering separation and oneness: if a phenomenon, an appearance, which is what an object is composed of, must in order to be perceived as a thing in consciousness (what there is, and what all phenomenon appear within), have some sort of border, boundary, or seeming separateness from other things, then it is part of the world of change — you need time and space to have objects, and a self, and movement — then by nature it will come and go. Anything that is born dies; any perception, sensation, or thought arises then goes away; the only thing that does not change is the totality, which cannot be perceived as an object, because it isn’t — and intuitively it must the same as what is reading these words: the one perceiver.

So in short, “composite”, “phenomenon” and “impermanent” all imply each other: so clearly see all what changes and thus is illusory and you will have a glimpse of That which is eternal.

Two: All contaminated things and events are unsatisfactory.

By “contaminated” here means the experience of fear and desire: reactions, unconsciousness, which if acted on, by nature leads to suffering. A reaction is a repeated and automatic tendency (karma: cause and effect) via mind-body patterns of activity. We can use some metaphors to try and point to what is going on. Pure consciousness is “contaminated” in the sense of obscured or filtered: the waters are muddied by personal thinking, a filter of mental activity or vibration coming from separateness. This sense of separation wants to complete itself, but blindly, through objects which it either longs for (desires), or avoids (fears), thinking they are outside itself. And, death as absolute disappearance (non-existence) is implied as a possibility in separateness. All this disturbance is suffering appearing as not-peace, and is unsatisfactory.

In a practical sense or example, one can achieve a lot, be ambitious, but create a lot of wreckage in the process through desire and fear: the separation-driven activity, which creates stress, suffering, disharmony, and addictions – including the core addiction to believing to be a human, a person, a body... Actions coming from the personal, such inappropriate competitiveness, anger, driven-ness, are unconscious. They are the stupidity of learned or clever reactions rather than natural intelligence; but in action through non-attachment the "sage" achieves without doing (wu wei); life is lived through him, not by him.

Three: All phenomena are empty and selfless

Let's define "phenomena" as the content of experience, as contrasted with what is experiencing them. For the sake of understanding, let's call that which is aware of experiencing anything at all "Consciousness", the Totality. Given that seeming small self and others arise together in Consciousness — after all how can there be one without the other — it would just be One. Therefore the seemingly separate or personal self is a phenomenon like any other, composed of passing, illusory sensations, perception, and thoughts, held together by imagination and a concept, the “I” thought. So just as this self does not actually exist in any real and substantial sense, so by implication all others, all of what was considered to be "out there" is "empty", with no inherent separate existence, meaning or self-nature. As such, all phenomenon are as non-existing in-themselves as this self, ultimately. That is, absolutely, all phenomenon do not exist in themselves but as the ultimate witnessing Self-perceiving, which is universal. That unknowable “this-ness” is empty as far as being objective. So from where does the "fullness" and meaning-ful-ness of life come from? Unknown. And that Unknown is our real Home. A total openness and newness...

And four: Nirvana is true peace

Is True Happiness really any different from True Peace?
What is real, is what is permanent, is unchanging, not admitting of division.

It's not One (a thing) and it's not-two.  It's neither, both and unknown.





  1. Henry on February 12, 2021 at 5:33 am

    Ott is enjoyed around the globe.. Namaste, my friend.

    • meestereric on February 12, 2021 at 9:12 am

      Thank you Henry.

      ( I just edited the article to be much improved).

  2. xe4l on March 30, 2022 at 9:30 pm

    Thank you for the confirmation friend!

    Hope all is well!


  3. accadia on July 28, 2022 at 12:10 pm

    Everything changes. There is a sense of surprise and joy of finding this treasure. The analysis containd beautiful and simple expectations. I have experienced Buddhism this last year and your analysis shines a beautiful light on the lyrics I had heard before but did not know the meaning of it. Much love, thank you

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