Who can explain what suffering is?

Gilana's picture

Average: 3 (2 votes)

What the heck is suffering? Can anyone define it for me?

I never considered I was suffering because there was only pain--not resistence, not making it bigger or holding onto it or thinking it shouldn't happen. Only pain, but more and bigger gratitude to even be here and subsequently have pain.

Then...a friend said that I have suffering in my eyes. She said that deying the "self" results in suffering.

Who knows about this?

Asanga's picture

Dukkha or Suffering (From Wiki)

Dukkha (Pāli दुक्ख; Sanskrit दुःख duḥkha; according to grammatical tradition derived from dus-kha "uneasy", but according to Monier-Williams more likely a Prakritized form of dus-stha "unsteady, disquieted") is a Pali term roughly corresponding to a number of terms in English including suffering, pain, unsatisfactoriness, sorrow, affliction, anxiety, dissatisfaction, discomfort, anguish, stress, misery, and frustration. In Buddhism, the Four Noble Truths on dukkha are taught as the primary means to attain the ultimate aim of nirvana.


Sargeant, et. al. (2009: p.303) provides the etymology of the Sanskrit words sukha and duḥkha:

"It is perhaps amusing to note the etymology of the words sukha (pleasure, comfort, bliss) and duḥkha (misery, unhappiness, pain). The ancient Aryans who brought the Sanskrit language to India were a nomadic, horse- and cattle-breeding people who travelled in horse- or ox-drawn vehicles. Su and dus are prefixes indicating good or bad. The word kha, in later Sanskrit meaning "sky," "ether," or "space," was originally the word for "hole," particularly an axle hole of one of the Aryan's vehicles. Thus sukha … meant, originally, "having a good axle hole," while duhkha meant "having a poor axle hole," leading to discomfort."

Sanskrit prefix 'su' is used as an emphasis suggesting wholesome, high, evolved, desirable, strong and such.


In classic Sanskrit, the term duḥkha was often compared to a large potter's wheel that would screech as it was spun around, and did not turn smoothly. The opposite of dukkha was the term sukha, which brought to mind a potter's wheel that turned smoothly and noiselessly. In other Buddhist-influenced cultures, similar imagery was used to describe dukkha. An example from China is the cart with one wheel that is slightly broken, so that the rider is jolted each time the wheel rolls over the broken spot.

Although dukkha is often translated as "suffering", its philosophical meaning is more analogous to "disquietude" as in the condition of being disturbed. As such, "suffering" is too narrow a translation with "negative emotional connotations" (Jeffrey Po), which can give the impression that the Buddhist view is one of pessimism, but Buddhism is neither pessimistic nor optimistic, but realistic. Thus in English-language Buddhist literature dukkha is often left untranslated, so as to encompass its full range of meaning.

Non-English translations

Dukkha was translated as kǔ (苦 "bitterness; hardship; suffering; pain") in Chinese Buddhism, and this loanword is pronounced ku (苦) in Japanese Buddhism and ko (苦) in Korean Buddhism. In Tibetan it is sdug bsngal (སྡུག་བསྔལ་).

Buddhist literature

Dukkha is the focus of the Four Noble Truths, which state its nature, its cause, its cessation, and the way leading to its cessation. This way is known as the Noble Eightfold Path. Ancient texts, like Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta and Anuradha Sutta, show Siddartha Gautama, the Buddha, as insisting that the truths about dukkha are the only ones he is teaching as far as attaining the ultimate goal of nirvana is concerned.

The Buddha discussed three kinds of dukkha or suffering:

* Dukkha-dukkha (pain of pain) is the obvious sufferings of :

1. pain
2. illness
3. old age
4. death
5. bereavement

* Viparinama-dukkha (pain of alteration) is suffering caused by change:

1. violated expectations
2. the failure of happy moments to last

* Sankhara-dukkha (pain of formation) is a subtle form of suffering arising as a reaction to qualities of conditioned things, including the

1. skandhas
2. the factors constituting the human mind

Dukkha is also listed among the three marks of existence: impermanence (anicca), suffering (dukkha) and not-self (anatta). Dukkha denotes the experience that all formations (sankhara) are impermanent (anicca) - thus it explains the qualities which make the mind as fluctuating and impermanent entities. It is therefore also a gateway to anatta, not-self.

Insofar as it is dynamic, ever-changing, uncontrollable and not finally satisfactory, unexamined life is itself precisely dukkha. The question which underlay the Buddha's quest was "in what may I place lasting relevance?" He did not deny that there are satisfactions in experience: the exercise of vipassana assumes that the meditator sees instances of happiness clearly. Pain is to be seen as pain, and pleasure as pleasure. It is denied that happiness dependent on conditions will be secure and lasting.

In the early texts, the skandhas explain what suffering is. According to Noa Ronkin, "What emerges from the texts ... is a wider signification of the khandhas than merely the aggregates constituting the person. Sue Hamilton has provided a detailed study of the khandhas. Her conclusion is that the associating of the five khandhas as a whole with dukkha indicates that experience is a combination of a straightforward cognitive process together with the psychological orientation that colours it in terms of unsatisfactoriness. Experience is thus both cognitive and affective, and cannot be separated from perception. As one's perception changes, so one's experience is different: we each have our own particular cognitions, perceptions and volitional activities in our own particular way and degree, and our own way of responding to and interpreting our experience is our very experience. In harmony with this line of thought, Gethin observes that the khadhas are presented as five aspects of the nature of conditioned existence from the point of view of the experiencing subject; five aspects of one's experience. Hence each khandha represents 'a complex class of phenomena that is continuously arising and falling away in response to processes of consciousness based on the six spheres of sense. They thus become the five upādānakhandhas, encompassing both grasping and all that is grasped.'"

The Buddha himself on Dukkha

“ Birth is dukkha, aging is dukkha, death is dukkha; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, & despair are dukkha; association with the unbeloved is dukkha; separation from the loved is dukkha; not getting what is wanted is dukkha. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are dukkha. ”

— SN 56.11

Non-Buddhist literature

In Brahmanic sacred literature, the earliest Upaniṣads — the Bṛhadāraṇyaka and the Chāndogya — are believed to predate or coincide with the advent of Buddhism. In these texts' verses, the Sanskrit word duḥkha (translated below as "suffering" and "distress") occurs only twice. In the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad, it states (in English and Sanskrit):

While we are still here, we have come to know it [ātman].
If you've not known it, great is your destruction.
Those who have known it — they become immortal.
As for the rest — only suffering awaits them.

ihaiva santo 'tha vidmas tad vayaṃ na ced avedir mahatī vinaṣṭiḥ
ye tad vidur amṛtās te bhavanty athetare duḥkham evāpiyanti

In the Chāndogya Upaniṣad is written:

When a man rightly sees,
he sees no death, no sickness or distress.
When a man rightly sees,
he sees all, he wins all, completely.

na paśyo mṛtyuṃ paśyati na rogaṃ nota duḥkhatām
sarvaṃ ha paśyaḥ paśyati sarvam āpnoti sarvaśaḥ

Thus, as in Buddhism, in these sacred texts the eradication of duḥkha is a desired and promised outcome; here duḥkha serves as an antipode to the ultimate Brahmanic goal of immortality (amṛtās). In addition, as in Buddhism, one overcomes duḥkha through the development of a transcendent understanding. Nonetheless, in these Brahmanic sacred texts, duḥkha is either identified as a general condition or as simply one of many undesirable states, not embodying the conceptual centrality assigned to it in Buddhism's Pali Canon.

I am, yet I am not...

Asanga | Sat, 04/10/2010 - 05:43
joejo's picture

Suffering & Escape

Suffering has been defined very well by Asanga & I want to thank him for it. While the fact of suffering (pain, no matter what word we use for it) cannot be denied what is important is how we meet it.

Not resistance could be a subtle way of shielding one self because reactions happen far too fast for our conscious brain to do anything about it. Now if we could observe pain and our reactions to it , whatever they be without resistance then its wonderful. This by itself should bring about an insight or clarity which would reveal the structure of sorrow.

As regards what your friends say, well depends if they are interested in spirituality because to people not interested in these things the other look devoid of joy as if it could only be measured by the amount of noise that is made by loud music in parties or their larger histrionics.

joejo | Sun, 04/11/2010 - 01:24
Gilana's picture

You know what is really

You know what is really interesting in this is this fact:

It all depends on when you look at an event to see if it was really suffering or if it was a prerequisit...many times if you look at what came of it, you see that it was worth it.

There are events in my life that this is not true of, but I will add the pertinent word..."yet."

Would you say that the aspect that makes something "suffering" is stopping the storyline in time? Not watching the "show" all the way to the end? It's like the old saying, "you aren't a loser til the game is over."

Gilana | Sat, 04/17/2010 - 22:10