Remember that we’ve said the Buddha uses dukkha
to refer to ordinary suffering and in deeper way to suggest
a basic unsatisfactoriness pervading all existence. Let’s
look at both of these.
The Buddha explains this truth by listing various types
Birth, old age, sickness and death can be thought of as
occasional dukkha, since they only come at certain times.
Birth Birth here refers to the entire period of gestation
from the time of conception to exit from the womb. Birth
itself is a traumatic and dramatic experience, being
thrust out from the womb, being thrown out into the world.
And birth is the starting point for all other forms of
Dukkha that will follow during the course of life.
When ageing sets in, the skin wrinkles, the teeth begin
to fall out, sense faculties loose their sharpness, hair
turns gray, memory fades and vitality declines.
Disease Sickness whether physical or mental is suffering.
Death At the end comes death. The break up of
the body, the extinguishing of the life force is suffering.
The Buddha sites five terms which give a kind of overview
of the vocabulary of suffering;
Sorrow is intense woe because of some
Lamentation is crying and weeping.
Pain is bodily pain.
Grief is any kind of mental unhappiness.
Despair is the lowest point of mental
anguish, when all hope is given up.
The following are referred to as frequent dukkha because
we meet them quite often in life:
Union with the unpleasant
Facing, against our will, the various unpleasant situations
and disagreeable people we don't want to face is suffering.
Separation from the pleasant We want to cling or hold to pleasant and agreeable
situations or relationships we hope will last. But events
follow their own law, they don’t conform to our
will, and eventually these do not endure. Facing separation
from these pleasant situations or people is suffering.
Not getting what we desire Primarily we desire pleasure, wealth, fame and
praise, but instead we often meet with pain, poverty,
dishonor and blame. When we want to remain young, we
grow old. When we want to remain healthy we fall sick.
We would like to live forever but we must die. All this
The five aggregates
All our experience, the Buddha concludes, is included
in dukkha. Our psychophysical organism can be broken down
into five types of factors, the basic components of our
experience: material form, feeling, perception, mental
formations and consciousness.
Material form covers the physical body with its sense
faculties, while the other four encompass the mental side.
They are all included in Dukkha because they are all impermanent,
changing from moment to moment. In fact they are only momentary
events without any inner core.
What we call "my self" is just a combination
of these five insubstantial aggregates changing from moment
It is the aggregates that are born, that grow old,
fall sick and finally die.
Levels of Dukkha
To make it clear that Dukkha goes beyond ordinary suffering,
the Buddha orders Dukkha into three levels:
Dukkha as ordinary suffering
Dukkha due to change
At a level removed from felt suffering we see that all
pleasant experiences are dukkha because they are
subject to change.
the gap between the ideal state of permanent happiness
we so much desire, and the stumps and thorns living
experience invariably throws beneath our feet.
The objects that give us pleasure are impermanent, they
don’t last. And therefore the pleasure we get from
them are also impermanent — it has to pass
away. When the objects of attachment pass away, because
we cling to them and become attached to them the result
for ourselves is pain and suffering.
Beyond this, the pleasant experiences themselves
and the things that give pleasure are already Dukkha,
even while we are enjoying them. Because they
are bound to and will pass away, even in the immediacy
of enjoyment they are dukkha. Health can be
undermined by disease and therefore even when we are healthy,
the state of health is dukkha. Youth has to give way to
old age. Therefore our youthfulness is still Dukkha,
unsatisfactory. And life has to end in death and therefore
life itself becomes dukkha.
The Dukkha of Conditioned Formations
The five aggregates (conditioned formations) of clinging
are dukkha. Our individuality is simply a combination of
conditioned phenomena and all conditioned phenomena
are impermanent and undergo constant transformation. As
a result we have no mastery over them, we have no control
over them, they go their way. Because they’re in
this constant process of rising and falling, for one with
wisdom they are experienced as dukkha.
Is Buddha a pessimist?
aim of the first noble truth
is seeing clearly our situation, the first step on
the path to liberation.
The teaching of the First Noble Truth often arouses a
certain degree of emotional resistance. This has given
rise to misunderstanding that Buddha was a pessimist, a
negativist. We have to understand the intention of the
Buddha in teaching the First Noble Truth, his aim being
to lead us to liberation out of an unsatisfactory situation
In coming to the Dharma we have to come with an open mind,
ready to see things objectively, to see know them as they
are. This calls for effort and causes some amount of internal
friction. We set up emotional screens around us so that
we can see and understand things in ways that are
dictated by our desires, in ways that confirm our preconceptions.
But the approach required in understanding the Dhamma
is quite different. The Dhamma goes against our ordinary
Since the Dhamma
is truth we have to be prepared to look at existence
as it is. For it is only by seeing and seeing rightly,
that we can win freedom. For this we have to stop
seeing what we want to see and look at things objectively.
Seeing our existence from three views
To gain a complete view of our existence we have to look
at life from three angles.
Enjoyment or satisfaction
Life, the Buddha teaches, involves a saga pleasure and
enjoyment. Without pleasures or enjoyments in
our world — belongings, relationships etc.— people
wouldn't become attached to the world. It is precisely
because there is enjoyment that we become attached
to this world. And not all of these enjoyments are
unwholesome. For example, happiness of a good family,
true love, aesthetic pleasures, and the religious life
can be truly gratifying.
Danger or unsatisfactoriness
However, when you look at life from angle of inadequacy you
will see that since everything — including our pleasures
and joys — is impermanent, hence unsatisfactory.
Everything is subject to change and so at a deep level
is connected with pain and dissatisfaction
Release or escape To be free from suffering we have to examine
whether the objects of enjoyment can give us complete
satisfaction, recognize that it is our attachment that
leads us into the suffering, and put away attachment
and desire for the objects of enjoyment.
Four Noble Truths The
First Noble Truth — Dukkha