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The Connection Between Atta and Dukkha
Buddhist Analysis of Human Experience and the Ways to Transcend Unsatisfactoriness

Bhikkhuni Dhammanandā
(Ven. Pham. T. Minh Hoa)

Colombo, Sri Lanka 2007

Please note: VU-Times font (Pali Unicode) is used in this document.

Chapter III. On Dukkha

Plato honors beauty as the only value we can see; but in being beautiful, in being valuable as objects, this reminds us of our status as objects in the world, vulnerable and subject to all the random, or not so random, humiliations of objects. With beauty goes the blush of self-consciousness. We want to be valued as more than objects, even as we don't mind being valued as objects as well, if someone recognizes some beauty in us. We are unhappy if we are valued merely as objects, as though we had no self or interior existence; and we are unhappy if we are valued merely as subjects, as though our bodies were worthless and ugly. We cannot escape the ambivalence that this duality creates.

[Copyright (c) 1996, 1997, 1999 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D.]

I. The Journey of Atta in Samsāra and Suffering Evolved Therein

“In brief, the five aggregates of clinging is suffering”- The Buddha.

Thus far we have not shown a close connection between dukkha and atta. As we have qualified the word dukkha as a sense of unsatisfactoriness, insufficiency, insecurity, humiliation and distress in the introductory chapter, here the word atta should be understood as the ego-consciousness (Freudians) and self-centered attitude or self-identification. When the Buddha said “the five aggregates of clinging is suffering” he must have indicated a kind of subjective feeling in self-conscious beings, like us humans. As Kelley has phrased it, our sense experiences and self-consciousness with its ambiguous search for an identity gives us an ever-disappointed feeling. An identity or a personality is what we are searching for, but we poor human beings, we do not know that an illusion it is! Why should we need an identity?

During the course of existence, man builds up his identity, beginning with the idea “I” when he is conscious of an “I” existing separately from others and things. This is the self-consciousness which needs to be supported by an identity; without it, the subject feels empty and humiliated. The identity might be a personality (consisting of body or rūpa, and all concepts, ideas, or nāma attached to it) which is often distorted by one’s imagination, that is, one’s unchanging self, a distinguished and unique one; if a person does not feel in this way, he must be suffering from an inferior complex. This attitude of regarding personality components (khandhas) as self is described in many suttas as “Etaṃ mama, esohamasmi, eso me attā”. Then whatever one has seen, heard, sensed, cognized, obtained, longed for, and pondered over is regarded as “mine”, “I”, “my-self”. This unrealistic attitude is vividly described in Alagaddūpamasuta as follows:

There are six kinds of views, monk. What are the six? Here, monks, an instructed common folk who has no interest in noble persons and their teaching, who is ignorant of the noble teaching, untrained, unskilled in the true teaching, regards the body as “This is mine, this I am, this is my-self”, regard the feeling...perception... mental formation... consciousness as “This is mine, this I am, this is my-self”. And also he regard whatever is seen, heard, sensed, cognized, reached, searched for, has in mind as “This is mine, this I am, this is my-self”. And come to view that “This is the world, this is the self; after dying I shall be permanent, lasting, eternal, not subject to disintegration, I will stand fast like unto eternality; he regards that as “This is mine, this I am, this is my-self"[1].

Thus the identification ranges from past to future, projecting on material shapes as well as the psyche, on experiences through senses to personal interpretations, expectations and wishful images...It not only holds on to personal factors and personal experiences as ‘I’, ’mine’, and ‘my-self’ (attā), but man extends his possessive nature to external things as well. By identifying with one’s clothes, ornaments, certificates, position, house, money, properties, etc, one becomes proud of them and anxious over these possessions (attaniya).

Since the time one becomes conscious of an ego as one’s identity, one first tries to shape it in some way, to build it up and struggles to protect that image. In psychological terms, ego is the real force behind one’s actions. It is the ego that makes itself known by getting others’ attentions; it fights for recognition. It would not be happy until it is ‘someone’ in another’s eyes; but the satisfaction achieved by recognition is a short-lived feeling; one is pushed further in an endless search with the ups and downs of flattery and depression which all lead to irritation and disappointment. “Who am I? From where have I come? Who was I in the past? And who will I be in future? Where am I going? (to in my next life), etc.” Perhaps the most cherished thoughts of man is the thought of “I” and “me”. Most of our thoughts rotate around an “I” and a “me” and even when it gives painful feelings, still man cannot forsake it! There was a beggar roaming miserably on the street. A landowner saw him and thought to give him a job to help him to earn a living. The latter asked: “Hey, there, can you clear this garden? I will pay you for that.” Answered the beggar: “No. I cannot. I am a beggar!” Like this beggar, everybody has his own identity and in some way or another, feels obligated to be faithful to it.

The identity might extend to family, race, class, nation, ideology or religion. Even in animals there is a vague sense of identity that causes identity with the group, place, or master. One desperately fights for that identity as if it was one’s only purpose or meaning to life. Otherwise man would feel his existence to be meaningless, life is empty; devastated, he reaches out to some object to attach himself to. Krisnamurti had deeply penetrated this psychological anguish in the following lines:

Being nothing, being a desert in oneself, one hopes through another to find water. Being empty, poor, wretched, insufficient, devoid of importance, one hopes through another to be enriched. Through the love of another, one hopes to forget oneself. Through the beauty of another, one hopes to acquire beauty. Through the family, through the nation, through the lover, through some fantastic belief, one hopes to cover this desert with flowers. And God is the ultimate cover. So one puts hooks into all there things. In this there is pain and uncertainty, and the desert seems more arid then ever before.[2]

Why should we be content with being nothing? Any reasonable person would accept that personality is but a process, an ever becoming, changing, and to be other. If a person ignorantly grasps at something in the process and claims it is his or hers, that would incur immeasurable suffering and distress. Pointing out the disadvantageous consequences of grasping, whether it is to hold on to a view or to an emotional inclination, the Buddha asked: “Could you...grasp that grasping of the theory of self, so that by that grasping would not cause grief, anxiety, anguish, lamentation, and despair arise?”[3] I will return to this topic in the next chapter.

Samsāra is described as a predicament in which we experience both happiness and suffering as two sides of a page. Being trapped in this condition, we are blindly roaming here and there, entertaining ourselves with fantasies, finding escape from pain through sense pleasures; ever searching for something to be attached to (satva- being is born of taṇhā-craving)[4]. This is called fundamental ignorance (avijjā), the condition of saṅkhārā, genetic activities which are the cause of birth and rebirth (samsāra). Avijjā and taṇhā are always paired to renew a being. A being ultimately consists of name and form (nāma-rūpa). It connects with the world or consciousness of the world through the six sense bases (salāyatana). The thought of ‘being someone’ is jāti or birth, the beginning of a process that inevitably incurs humiliation and distress. Why is that? We are conscious of our existences via sense-experiences. We identify ourselves with what we are experiencing, and a sense of insatiateness pushes us further and further. This is our journey in samsāra which the Buddha said begins from ignorance (avijjā means lack of penetrating knowledge into the reality of existence), perpetuates and nourishes by craving, and ends up in “a mass of suffering” (dukkhakkhandhassa samudayo hoti).

II. Dukkha

Dukkha (Sanskrit duḥkha) is a fact of life.This fact is the fist thing one must comprehend (pariññeyya) and the following three truths are corollary to this one. Any thoughtful person can see that life, in general, is unsatisfactory; if it is not so, people would not yearn for God/gods and a heaven somewhere not on earth. When studying world religions, we can see that different people describe God(s) and their heaven(s) differently, which are generally reflected images of what they need and wish for. Atheists either plunge themselves in sensual pleasures as a way of escape, or they try to improve the quality of life on earth by different ideologies and technologies or sciences. Why do we need to involve ourselves in many activities and training in order to get on with our lives on earth? To Buddhists, these are caused by the very fact of dukkha. We must confront it and reflect upon it to see its cause, and thereby strive to overcome our weaknesses. Thereafter we can live happily without the burning flames of desire, hatred, and ignorance.

Dukkha is often rendered into English as ‘suffering’ or ‘pain’. The word ‘suffering’ is not a satisfactory rendering for what is meant by dukkha is the first noble truth. For the word ‘dukkha’ covers even pleasant experiences which are transient (anicca) and beyond the wish to control (anatta). It is sometimes translated as illness, pain, unpleasantness, woefulness, instability, insecurity, liable to give trouble, anguish, unsatisfactory-ness, etc. In the following discussion I will examine the more accurate meaning of the word dukkha according to texts and contexts, especially in its three main usages: (1) dukkha in the first Noble Truth, (2) dukkha as a mark of all existence, and (3) dukkha as viewed from the perspective of Dependent Origination (paṭiccasamuppāda).

Dukkha is one of the three marks of existence (ti-lakkhaṇa), to wit: anicca, dukkha and anatta in Buddhist philosophy:

All compounded things are impermanent
Sabbe saṅkhārā aniccā.

All compounded things are unsatisfactory
Sabbe saṅkhārā dukkhā.

All states are non-self
Sabbe dhammā anatta.

The dynamic (anicca), self-conflict (dukkha) and non-substantial (anatta) nature of all phenomena are three interconnected concepts in Buddhist philosophy [yaṃ aniccaṃ taṃ dukkhaṃ; yaṃ dukkhaṃ tadanatta][6]. Everything is changing; nothing retains a permanent quality or value: this is anicca. Encountering change, one is either excited or frustrated, but one has to adapt to the changing nature of things within as well as without: this is dukkha. Hence things exist by being dependent on impermanent factors. Their nature is that of adaptability which we call evolution that is anatta. Thus it is evident that the word dukkha in this context is not merely suffering or pain. In the following pages we will discuss the different usages of this technical term in Buddhist philosophy.

II.1 Etymology of the Term Dukkha

The derivation of the term dukkha (noun or adj.) is not very clear. The Pāḷi-English Dictionary (PTS) has it that the word comes from the prefix duḥ plus “ka” in contrast to ‘sukha’- pleasantness.[7] We know that as a feeling, dukkha is in contrast with sukha; and the two words may come from the same root with different prefixes of opposite meaning. The Sanskrit-English Dictionaries offer another analysis of the word. Accordingly, duḥkhā (mfn) comes from dush-kha or dus-kha (opp. of su-kha), but more probably a Prākrit form for duḥ-stha, meaning uneasy, uncomfortable, unpleasant, difficult, painful (personified as the son of Naraka and Vedanā, VP.).[8] However, there is another explanation. The word dukkha comes from prefix duḥ meaning bad, difficult, not functioning well, plus the root-/kham[9] (of the verb khamati) meaning to bear, to endure, to be able. The compound dukkhaṃ literally means difficult to bear or to endure (pain, affliction), ill-fitted, disharmonious; the noun form of dukkha is best translated as unsatisfactiriness, affliction, suffering, instability, etc. In the Visuddhi magga, the great commentator Buddhaghosa explained the term dukkha by way of derivation as follows: (1) as a compound of du, bad, vile, difficult (as opposite to su, good, desirable); and kham means empty, vain (state of); thus dukkha means badness, the state of undesirability, or something liable to give trouble, intrinsic conflict, “void of lasting beauty and pleasantness. Therefore it is called emptiness, badness”[10]; (2) as a feeling denoted by the verb ‘dukkhāyati’- causing one to suffer, or pain; thus dukkha is ‘pain’ or ‘suffering’; or it consumes in two ways (dvedha khaṇati) by means of arising and enduring.

Meaning of Suffering is of oppressing, of being formed, of burning, of changing, these are four meaning of suffering which are real, not unreal, not otherwise. (Vism XVI, 15).[11]

Or “the truth of suffering has the characteristic of afflicting (496). Its function is to burn. It is manifested as occurrence (as the cause of an existence). (Vism XVI, 23)[12]

In Sanskrit, the word duḥkham is derived from a prefix duḥ plus ka meaning wheel with an ill-sorted hub and spokes[13], thus duḥkha (adj) means unharmonious or conflicting, ill-functioning or distressful.

II.2 Dukkha in the First Noble Truth

In the very first sermon, Dhammacakkappavaṭṭana sutta[14], the Buddha revealed all the basic central doctrines of his philosophy known as the Four Noble Truths (cattari ariya saccāni) and the Noble Eightfold Path (ariyo atthaṅgiko maggo). Herein the truth of unsatisfactoryness is stated:

This, O monks, is the noble truth of unsatisfactoriness (dukkhaṃ ariya saccaṃ). Birth is unsatisfactory (jāti’pi dukkhā), old-aged is unsatisfactory (jarāpi dukkhā), disease is unsatisfactory (vyādhi’pi dukkho), death is unsatisfactory (maraṇaṃ’pi dukkhaṃ), grieving, lamenting, pain, distress, and unrest (sokaparidevadukkha-domanassūpāyāsā) are unsatisfactory. Associated with unpleasant objects (appiyehi sampayogo dukkho) is unsatisfactory, separated from beloved objects (piyehi vippayogo dukkho) is unsatisfactory. Being unable to get what one’s desires is unsatisfactory (yaṃ picchaṃ na labhati’pi dukkhaṃ), and in brief the five aggregates of clinging is unsatisfactoriness (saṅkhittena pañcupādānakkhandhā'pi dukkhaṃ)[15].

However, in some Suttas, they omit some of the items of dukkho. I will elaborate them in the following pages. In Mahāhatthipādopama sutta (M 28), the greatness of the Four Noble Truths in comparison with other dhammas is compared to the footprint of elephants and to the footprints of other animals: “ye keci kusalā dhammā, sabbe te catūsu ariyasaccesu sangahaṃ gacchanti”. Here some aspects of dukkha are not referred to e.g., vyādhi, appiyehi sampayogo, piyehi vippayogo dukkho. In Sammādiṭṭhi sutta (M 9), only ‘vyādhi dukkho is omitted; the same omission is found in the Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna sutta (M 10, D 9). In Saccavibhanga sutta (MN), the list has omitted two items (appiyehi... and piyehi...). The Samyutta version has thirteen items as mentioned above. Abhidhammaṭṭhasangaha also lists the number of dukkhā as twelve aspects only (omitted vyādhi, sickness). Usually the list of dukkha is eight in number.

As we see above, the aspects of dukkha are various in different texts. Though we know that dukkha is countless in our life and in the world, Buddhist texts often mention about thirteen principal kinds as we see above. Most of the dukkhas listed above are evident to any thoughtful person. To some persons and in certain circumstances, the Buddha pointed out a real cause of the prevailing manifestations of dukkha as particular to a certain person at a certain time. For example, to a grief-stricken person who lost his/her reasoning over the death of a beloved one, the Buddha said that the fact that his/her tears were shed for the departed one in samsāra is comparable to water in the four oceans. The cause of suffering here is due to clinging to the beloved object and the inability to let go of memories, even the painful ones. In other circumstances, when the suffering is disappointment or disillusion due to the person’s expectations not coming true, the Buddha said “craving begets sorrow, craving begets fear...”(Dhp 214, 216). When people are afflicted by disputes, conflicts, fighting, etc, the Buddha said the root of conflict springs from envy (issā) and selfishness (maccariya) generated by likes (piya) and dislikes (appiya). This in turn has its root in desire (chanda) which is built on thought (vitakka); furthermore, vitakka has its root in proliferation (papañcasaññāsankhā) (D21, Mahāvagga-pāli). This description of dukkha and its causes is sometimes confused by using a scholastic approach[16], but from a practical point of view, it is quite obvious: The Buddha did not make a theory of suffering and its causes as being of a fixed nature, but he only pointed out the empirical fact that everybody would encounter it in his/her own life. All the above-mentioned kinds of dukkha are rooted in defilements (kilesa) which are mind-made and self-generated or, in psychological terms, they are psychopathic, beginning with ignorance[17]. In this section we will discuss different aspects of suffering ranging within the three worlds[18]. In the following pages, some descriptions of dukkha in different suttas will be presented.

In Saccavibhanga Sutta as well as Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Suttas where each item of dukkha is explained, strangely, they are only elaborated in different terms, but do not mention that the causes of birth, aging, sickness, etc. are rooted in defilements. Visuddhimagga expounds them in different ways. Why is birth and so on considered as dukkha, as being unsatisfactory in Buddhism? The Vibhanga defines birth as yā tesaṃ tesaṃ sattānaṃ tamhi tamhi sattanikāye jāti sañjāti okkanti abhinibbanti khandhānaṃ bātubhāvo āyatanaṃ paṭilābho. Ayaṃ vuccati jāti.[19] Birth here refers to the birth of beings on various planes of existence, their being born, springing into life, with the appearance of aggregates, the manifestation of the sense bases; and it is dukkha because it is conditioned, the first cause of old-age, sickness and death. Elsewhere the Buddha said: “The repetition of birth is suffering, dukkhā jāti punappunaṃ” (Dhp 153). Obviously, this refers to birth and rebirth according to the Indian philosophy of life and death, the bondage of being conditioned in a certain circumstance (samsāra). This point is sometimes ridiculed by Westerners who study Buddhism with an overly critical view.

II. 3 Birth and Life

Birth is reckoned from the time of conception; it is the meeting of three individuals, not two. The (rebirth) consciousness of one who is destined to be born, the arousing of lust (and its actualization) between parents. [gandhabbo ca paccuppaṭṭhito hoti, M. II, 157; and viññāṇañca hi... mātu kucchim na okkamissatha, api na kho nāmarūpaṃ mātukucchismiṃ samuccissatha? D. II, 63]. Whether one is to be reborn in the human world (manussā loka), animal kingdom (Tiracchāṇa), ghost sphere (petā), as hellish beings (niraya), or heavenly states (devaloka), all are transient states and therefore inevitable resulted in unsatisfactoriness. The state of most suffering is being in hell where beings are constantly tortured by burning, afflictions, etc. The cause to be born there is often due to hatred, enmity, envy and misdeeds done under the influence of detrimental factors termed defilements (klesas). The next unbearable suffering is in the peta world where beings always feel lonely, roaming and haunting, and burning with many different desires that have never been satisfied, especially thirst and hunger, but they can not eat or drink. To be born in the peta world is caused by strong craving that has no opportunity to be realized. The animal state is relatively better than hellish and ghost states, but they are unable to reason and only follow their instinctive natures. Animal life is considered as suffering by human beings, but whether animals feel and know that they are suffering or not is open to question. The fact that they seem to be enjoying their lives very much could be due to their ignorance, a dominant factor which caused rebirth in the animal world. It is said that the same thing happens when the celestial beings look at the human world. They feel its grossness, its misery, its disgusting nature, but we human beings do not feel the same way. Thus we can see that in the human world there is a mixture of happiness and suffering though happiness and suffering are subjective feelings, and above all, they are transient states.

It is noteworthy that all states of existence in the three worlds (ti loka) are considered as temporary in Buddhist philosophy, though lives spent are various on different planes. Celestial beings variously range from sensual heavens belonging to kāmaloka to fine material heavens (rūpaloka) and non-material heavens (arūpaloka). Heavenly beings have desirable states wherein afflictions and suffering are temporarily suspended due to their good kamma. When their merit is used up, celestial beings are liable to fall into a lower state and some of them can even fall from a very high state to a very low state entailing immense suffering. Some Buddhist texts[20] elaborate on the manifold suffering in different worlds. Here we will focus on human experiences only. The fact of unsatisfactoriness as elaborated in the First Noble Truth is very likely to describe human experiences only, though birth and death are common to all states of existence, but old-aged, sickness, etc, are not experienced in heavenly states.

All babies cry with pain, fear and distress at the moment of birth. There are countless even more unhappy things waiting him in the course of his life. Having a body exposed to heat and cold, hunger and thirst, the first touch with the world is as painful as the last one that is death when all breathing stops. Birth starts a journey that incurs sickness and old age, expectations and disappointment, hopes and fears, loves and hates, separation from the loved object(s) and joining with unwanted things and persons. Disillusioned and frustrated, he is irritated and dismayed finding himself ever insatiate, ever running after the temptations of the world. Describing the inevitable unsatisfactoriness that life generally creates, besides the predicament of samsāra, the Buddha said:

Bhikkhus, just as a stick thrown up into the air falls now on its bottom, now by its middle, now on its top, so too as beings roam and wander on hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving, now they go from this world to the other world, now they come from the other world to this world. For what reason? Because they have not seen the Four Noble Truths.[21]

II.4 Life in Different Planes of Existence as Experienced by Humans

We have briefly seen that the causes to be born in different planes of existence (sattaloka) are implanted in the psyche. Here and now, in this very human birth, we are liable to experience all of this suffering and pleasures by being psychologically involved. Though it is true that we cannot reduce Buddhist doctrine to mere psychology and psychotherapy as recently some Western Buddhist scholars and practitioners have done, but the fact that we can experience all kinds of suffering and pleasures in our human body can not be denied. Thirty one planes of existence[22] are in our mind. When one is boiling with anger, hatred, animosity, revenge, fear, remorse, etc, one experiences hellish states because they burn us from within. When one is frustrated, stressful, feeling rejected or locked into himself/herself in an unapproachable despair, one is experiencing a ghostly state. Being furious and revengeful, aggressive, etc, is the demonic state. An asura is a class of beings who are demigods and demi-ghostly whose appearance is very unpleasant. Being driven by instincts (sexually) without shame and reason, ever running after one’s gross and low desire, insatiate wanting, deluded, etc, are in an animal state. Sublime and refined in enjoyment, benevolent and pleasant, light-hearted, etc., are the godly states. Pure, radiant, noble, serene, tranquil, etc, are the state of brahmas. Even in one day, a human being can experience all those states. That is why Buddhists believe that being born in the human world is a great opportunity; Buddhas appear only in the human world where happiness and suffering are mixed up. Being a human, one has a greater chance of realization of the sublime dhamma; to see the fact of unsatisfactoriness and aim for higher states, and to make an end of samsāra.

That life is unsatisfactoriness is illustrated in the Mahādukkhakkhandha sutta (M.13). Herein the term dukkha is applied to the afflictions that one would experience during the course of one’s existence. There are many hardships, pains, unsatisfactoriness and disappointments involved in the course of man’s existence. This is a very down-to-earth description of life showing its real face. Herein the concept of dukkha is identified with the danger of sense pleasures and suffering or conflicts involved in seeking them. Similar to these traits are the kinds of suffering described in A IV, 45, starting with ‘poverty is suffering in the world for one who enjoys sense pleasures.’ These plain and obvious aspects of unpleasant experiences in life are easy to understand by ordinary people, but they do not convey the profound aspect of Buddhist philosophy contained in the term dukkha [23].

III. Categories of Dukkha

As a wide spread phenomenon (sabbe saṅkhārā dukkhā), dukkhas can be classified as (1) natural disasters such as earthquakes, storms, droughts, floods, tsunamis, massive diseases, etc; (2) social injustices and conflicts; (3) self-conflict or psychological suffering. Of these, the Buddhist approaches are most concerned with the third category, though in some way Buddhist ethics help to prevent the second category, too; and Buddhist psychology and practice also prepare one to face the first category in a sober way.

According to the first Sermon of the Buddha, the Dhammacakkapavattana sutta, we can categorize suffering as the inevitable experiences of birth, old-age, sickness, and death; the bio-psychological aspect of suffering: sokaparideva dukkhadomanassa upāyāsā; the non-fulfillment of wishes is suffering: Yaṃ p'icchaṃ na labhati taṃ'pi dukkhaṃ; the social aspect of suffering: appiyehi sampayogo dukkho, piyehi vippayogo dukkho; and in brief: the five aggregates of clinging is suffering: this is the most striking statement which needs to be explained in detail forming the core of this thesis.

Samyutta Nikāya records of three types of dukkhas:

There are these three forms of stressfulness (dukkha), monks, the stressfulness due to pain (dukkha-dukkhātā), the stressfulness due to formation (saṅkhāra- dukkhātā), and the stressfulness due to change (vipariṇāma-dukkhātā). These are the three forms of stressfulness. [24]

Strangely, commentaries do not explain anything further as concerns the three types of dukkha. It seems the listeners of that time were so learned that these terms needed not to be exaggerated! Scholars often translate dukkha-dukkhātā as intrinsic suffering, saṅkhārā-dukkhātā as suffering of rising and falling, vipariṇāma –dukkhātā as changing suffering. Venerable Nyanatiloka defined the first kind of dukkha as “bodily or mental feeling of pain as it is actually felt.”[25] This refers to dukkha vedanā, a painful or unpleasant feeling. There may be an alternative explanation of the term as denoting the tendency to react to pain which causes another unpleasantness, mental suffering. Thus Dukkha-dukkha denotes general suffering such as a painful feeling (dukkha vedanā) which is physical discomfort, but due to unskillful or emotional reactions of the subject, it would give rise to mental suffering, too. Therefore a painful feeling (dukkha) leads to mental aversion (domanassa) or mental anguish (soka) which is the multiplication of dukkha in an ordinary man. Referring to this kind of unskillful reaction to pain is described in the text thus: “that fellow would be pierced by two arrows-taṃ enaṃ dutiyena sallena anuvedhaṃ vijjeyyuṃ[26]. We will discuss this theme in more detail in chapter three, under the heading vedanākkhandha.

Saṅkhāra dukkhātā usually refers to the oppressive nature of all formations (saṅkhārā). This is a shortcut of “sabbe saṅkhārā dukkhā”, i.e., that all compounded things are unsatisfactory. Why are compounded things unsatisfactory? Things that rise due to conditions will fall when conditions are altered. The rise and fall of saṅkhāra is saṅkhāra itself, thus saṅkhāra is suffering. In other words, the process of formation and transformation is a stressful state, especially when the change is in rapid succession. Buddhist practitioners when contemplating their own body and mind, seeing the rapid rising and falling of phenomena, often get frightened; this is real knowledge of saṅkhāra dukkhā. In modern society, people in big cities are liable to experience stresses caused by rapid changing lifestyles; this is also included in saṅkhāra dukkhā which is experienced by ordinary people. There are many kinds of struggling to become something else, either willingly or forced to change, it is all the same, leading one to a state of ever dissatisfactoriness. The commentaries match it with a neutral feeling (upekkha vedanā) and the tendency of searching for something more exciting and more interesting. When one’s wants are fulfilled, it gives a short term of satisfaction; but wanting what one is unable to have is distressful (yaṃ picchaṃ na labhitaṃ’pi dukkhaṃ). All of us have experienced these kinds of longing and disappointments in our lives. This wanting and becoming, to be otherwise are all termed saṅkhāra dukkhātā, stressfulness of formation and transformation.

Vipariṇāma dukkhātā is disappointment due to change. No pleasant feeling (sukha vedanā) lasts forever, therefore, when the pleasant feeling or favorable situation changes adversely, one gets disappointed; but the nature of things is ever changing, we can not stop it. This is a kind of dissatisfaction due to the changing nature of things. Parting with beloved objects or persons (piyehi vippayogo dukkho) is a kind of suffering included in this term. Old age, sickness and death are also categorized under vipariṇāma dukkhātā. We all want to be ever young, beautiful, healthy, attractive, etc., but we are all getting old just the same; old age still comes in a natural way; nobody can avoid getting old! Nobody is forever attractive and never getting sick; nobody lives forever, nor can death be avoided. One is changing though one does not want to change: all of this is suffering.

All these three kinds of dukkhas are the different psychological aspects of suffering generated by the emotional reactions to experiences. In summary, our reactions to stimulations are often found in either of these three patterns: resistance (dukkha-dukkhātā), indulgence (vipariṇāmadukkhātā), or indifference (saṅkhārādukkhātā). If the stimulation is not agreeable (either physically, mentally or morally), we tend to resist or avoid it (defense mechanism in a Freudian sense); if the stimulation is agreeable and pleasant, we tend to indulgent in it (self-interest principle); if the stimulation is not distinct or insignificant, we are likely to ignore it. This is due to the latent tendencies (anusaya kilesa, which is similar to the concept of the unconscious in Freudian psychology) as stated in the sutta:

When one experiences pleasure,
If one does not understand feeling
The tendency to lust is present
For one not seeing the escape from it.
When one experiences pain,
If one does not understand feeling
The tendency to aversion is present...

As has been mentioned above, experiences (vedayitaṃ) are of three kinds: pleasant feeling (sukha vedanā), unpleasant feeling (dukkha vedanā), and neutral feeling (upekkha vedanā). Feelings, as all phenomena, are impermanent. Good feeling gives rise to craving and clinging in an ordinary person. The person wants it to be longer, lasting forever, but is there any feeling that lasts forever? That very wanting which is contradictory to the natural course of feeling brings forth disappointment. Bad feeling gives rise to aversion, contempt and repulse toward the object; and the subject of such a feeling wants to push it away, annihilate and destroys it as soon as possible. This repulsive attitude increases the actual pain, producing psychological suffering. The neutral feeling is neither pleasant nor unpleasant, that would be considered boring, and the pleasure-seeker’s mind would try to look for something which is more exciting and more interesting than what is being experienced at present. This discontented state of mind leads to mental action (vitakka or mano saṅkhāra) and bodily action (kāya saṅkhāra) which is searching, creating and moving on.

Three kinds of stressfulness connected with three kinds of feeling are stated in Vedanāsamyutta thus: “Whatever is felt is included in suffering”[28]. The sutta continues to explain the maxim by stating that it is said with reference to the impermanent nature of all formations (sabbe saṅkhārā aniccā), i.e., that feelings are of the same nature. They can not provide lasting happiness and security. Dukkha vedanā as painful feeling is apparent to everybody, but sukha vedanā, and upekkhā vedanā are not easily seen as suffering if we do not see their impermanence (anicca), instability (khayadhamma) and fleeing nature (vayadhamma). Only by contemplating these aspects of feelings in particular and all saṅkhārā in general, can we stop arousing passion for them.

There is, monks, three kinds of feelings. What three? Pleasant feeling, painful feeling, neither painful nor pleasant feeling; But whether it is pleasant, painful, or neither-painful nor-pleasant feeling, internal or external, whatever feeling there is, “having known this is suffering, evanescent, disintegrated, moment by moment seeing their fleeting away, thus one disinterests in them.[29]

Five Khandhas

In Saccasamyutta (S.V) there are some deviations in the definition of the truth of unstisfactoriness. In S.V, 56: 13, the first truth is taught in summary as follows:

Monks, what is the truth of unsatisfactoriness? The five aggregate of clinging should be said; that is the form aggregate of clinging, the feeling aggregate of clinging, the perception aggregate of clinging, the will aggregate of clinging, the consciousness aggregate of clinging. This is called the noble truth of unsatisfactoriness.[30]

As stated earlier, of the eight items presented in the first truth starting from “birth is suffering...”, the last account of suffering concerns the aggregates. This is the most important idea that conveys the Buddhist perspective on experiences of existence. What is covered by Pañcupādānakkhandha (pañca-upādāna-khandha) are very significant points to be correctly understood, for they are the philosophical and psychological aspects of Buddha's teaching. The word khandha is often translated as aggregate, mass, heap, etc. Pañcupādānakkhandha are the five aggregates of clinging (upādāna) consisting of materiality (rūpakkhandha), feeling (vedanākkhandha), perception (saññākkhandha), volition (saṅkhārakkhandha) and consciousness (viññāṇakkhandha). According to Professor Asanga Tilakaratne[31], the Buddhist teaching of the five aggregates is unique; this idea is shared by another scholar, Sue Hamilton who wrote in her exhaustive work on the khandha doctrine that “A large part of the third volume of the Samyutta Nikāya, itself entitled the Khandha Vagga, consists of Khandha Samyutta, which exhaustively discusses the five khandhas. Used in this way, the term khandha is distinctively Buddhist, not being found in the earlier Vedic literature...”[32]. However, this opinion should be examined further as some Suttas reveal that the theme of khandhas as comprised of five categories as mentioned above was a popular subject at the Buddha’s time. For example, Cūḷasaccaka Sutta (M 35) mentions the fact that the Buddha and Saccaka argued about this topic and it seems that Saccaka was quite familiar with the doctrine of personality consisting of five aggregates or sheaths. Whether the assumption of five aggregates as constitutions of personality is unique in Buddhism or not is not within the scope of this study. Buddhism, from the beginning up to date, whether the Northern or Southern tradition, always denied the existence of an unchanging, permanent substance that called ‘atta’ or ‘sakkāya’ within or outside these aggregates[33].

The five khandhas can be divided further into two categories: body (rūpa) and mind (nāma consists of feeling, perception, volition and consciousness). These apparent separate entities are often mistaken as self (atta) or ego (attakāra) or something belonging to self or ego (attaniya). There are some variations in the definition of nāmarūpa. In S ii, P 3,4, and Mi, P. 53, the Buddha said: “O monks, what is nāmarūpaṃ? Feeling, perception, volition, contact and intention are nāma. The four great elements and their dependent materiality are rūpa”. The complex psycho-physical entity called nāmarūpa is not an independent entity, and can not be taken as a permanent dwelling agent comparable to the concept of soul or self. The Buddha said:

Better it would be to consider the body as the 'self' rather than the mind. And why? Because this body may last for ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, even for hundred years and more. But that which is called mind, consciousness, thinking (citta, viññāṇa, mano) arise continuously during day and night as one thing and then as something else it vanishes. (S. XII, 61).

Thus the fact of impermanence and evanescence of body and mind gives rise to ambiguity and disappointment in one who tries to grasp it. In Anatta lakkhaṇa sutta, the Buddha draws his listeners to the fact of impermanence in the compounded things and how what is ever changing gives rise to dukkha, the fact of unsatisfactoriness; and what is ever flowing and unsatisfactory is not fit to take hold of as 'self' or ‘I', 'mine', for it is this very grasping that produces suffering[34]. In the same vein, it is said in Nakulapitu Sutta, ‘the uninstructed common worldling clings to the five aggregates through craving and conceit, and holds the wrong view that each of the aggregates (rūpa, vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa) is self- atta. But inspired of his clinging to them, the five aggregates prove their own nature of changing and oppressing which inflict pain of old age, pain of diseases, pain of defilements (kilesa)’[35]. That wrong perception about the nature of khandhas and emotional attachment to them bring sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair upon the unskillful mind.

IV. Dukkha as viewed from the Paṭiccasamuppanna Perspective

Avijjā paccayā saṅkhārā. Saṅkhāra paccayā viññānaṃ. Viññāna paccayā nāma-rūpa. Nāma ṛūpa paccayā salāyātanaṃ. Salāyātana paccayā phasso. phassa paccayā vedanā. Vedanā paccayā taṇhā. Taṇhā paccayā upādānaṃ. upādāna paccayā bhavo. Bhava paccayājāti. Jāti paccaya jarāmaraṇaṃ soka parideva dukkha domanassa upāyāsā sambhavanti. Evametassa kevalassa dukkhakkhandhassa samudayo hoti.

Conditioned by ignorance (are) activities. Conditioned by activities (is) consciousness. Conditioned by onsciousness, name and form; conditioned by name and form, six sense bases. Conditioned by six sense bases, contact; conditioned by contact, feeling. Conditioned by feeling, craving; conditioned by craving, clinging; conditioned by clinging, becoming; conditioned by becoming, birth. Conditioned by birth, old age, sickness, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, mental torment coming into existence. Such is the generating of this whole mass of suffering.[36]

The law of dependent origination is presented in formulated form sometimes shorter than only eight or ten links, but its implication is always the same: paṭiccasamuppāda in anuloma order is the first and second noble truth that must be realized and unfolded. Those same links when they have unfolded [avijjāyatveva asesavirāganirodhā... dukkhakkhandhassa nirodho hoti] lead to liberation (third and fourth noble truth).

It is noteworthy that if suffering as described in the Four Noble Truths is a kind of subjective evaluation, in the doctrine of Dependent Origination, suffering is viewed in an objective perspective. Putting it another way, dukkha in the first place is ‘a perception of suffering’ [dukkhasaññā], i.e., reflective knowledge based on concepts and ideas. It is verifiable via personal experience, though they are universal facts; however, these facts would not affect anybody unless one identifies with them. In the law of dependent origination, dukkha is a sequel of a psychological process observed by the knowledge of causal relations [idappaccayāñāṇa][37]. Herein, the fact of life is observed as a natural process that is independent of any subjective evaluation. Suffering is a reality inseparable from existence that has started from ignorance. It is created, but not by anyone; this is a paradox and we will see how the Buddha solves this problem later. On more than one occasion, the Buddha said: “Whether, monks, there is an appearance of Tathāgata or not, this natural law exists just the same...Conditioned by this that comes to be.”[38]

Causality is a universal law: whether we perceive it or not, it is always there. The Buddha has realized this law of cause and effect, but he did not invent it. In M.I. 190, 191, the Buddha said: “One who sees dependent origination sees the Dhamma (i.e. the Buddha’s teaching), and one who sees the Dhamma sees dependent origination.” This statement stresses the importance of the comprehension of the law of causality. Without seeing this causal operation in this microcosmic world, i.e., in this mind and body, or in the objective world (loka), beings get caught in the endless cycle of samsāra:

This dependent origination is deep and profound in implications. It is because of not understanding and not penetrating this Law, Ānanda, that this generation has become like a tangled skein, like a knotted ball of thread, like matted reds and rushes, and do not pass beyond the plane of misery, the bad destinations, the nether world, saṃsāra.[39]

Sometimes, it was fashionable to talk among the ascetics and Brahmins contemporary with the Buddha about whether or not suffering is caused by oneself or by other(s) thus:

“How is it, Master Gotama, is suffering created by oneself?

-Not so, Kassapa, the Blessed One said.

-Then, Master Gotama, is suffering created by another?

-Not so, Kassapa.

-How it would be, Master Gotama, is suffering created both by oneself and by another?

-Not so..

-Then, Master..., has suffering arisen fortuitously, being created neither by oneself, nor by another?

-Not so, Kassapa.”

-Is it, Master Gotama, there are no suffering?

-There is, Kassapa.”[40]

Why it is that all the answers of the Buddha are negative? This passage is another document confirms the consistency of the Buddha in the anatta doctrine. If one holds that suffering is created by oneself, then he falls into eternalism (sassatavāda), the doctrine of an unchanging self or identity which created (bad) kamma. Now that same person experiences the (evil) consequence(s) of his action. If one holds that suffering is caused by others that means someone performed bad actions, and another (unrelated) person reaps the bad result. This way of interpretation paves the way for annihilism (ucchedavāda) which denies the moral efficiency of one’s actions in the long term. The third question is still a proposal for a nuance self or an identity between the two (oneself and other); thus the notion of ‘the self’ and ‘other’ is still there. Hence the Buddha says ‘not so..’ The fourth question proposes that suffering is an ultimate reality which exists independent of any agent. This, again, was negated. Suffering is not something which exists objectively (adhiccasamuppannaṃ, arisen without a cause, unconditioned), it is caused, being conditioned, dependently arising; but this is not to say suffering is not there, rather it is dependent on conditions. This is the message the Buddha would like to convey to all of us. A related topic will further be discussed in chapter five under the headline ‘is suffering a subjective experience?’

The law of Dependent Arising was taught by the Buddha as the Middle Way. Accordingly, suffering is said to be dependent on contact (phassa paccayā vedanā), and the disciple should see all kinds of feelings, whether pleasant or unpleasant or even neutral, all constitute suffering. This is certified as a right view in Nidāna Samyutta as follows:

He has no perplexity or doubt that what arises is only suffering arising, what ceases is only suffering ceasing. His knowledge about this is independent of others. It is in this way, Kaccāna, that there is right view.[41]

The law of dependent origination is often presented as twelve links in the above text. Though it is elaborated in twelve links, the two most crucial factors are avijjā and taṇhā as singled out in the previous text: “Hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving”. Beginning with ignorance and ending in ‘a mass of suffering’, this is a very significant description of the course of worldly experience. This course of samsāric experience (lokadhammā)[42] is causally operated, and it is universal and impersonal, but beings (satta) mistakenly grasp at it, identify with them giving birth to a personality (attabhāva). Until the bhava, they are just a psychological process, however, they are actualized through birth, and after that unsatisfactoriness such as old age, sickness, sorrow, lamentation, frustration, etc., follows.

According to this causal connection, all evils of the world are traced back to ignorance (avijjā). There are many degrees of ignorance ranging from muddle-headed and even to scientific or philosophical achievements. It is interesting to note that the gross and obvious forms of ignorance cause suffering in the short term often affecting the agent and only his limited surroundings. However, subtle and sophisticated ignorance can cause harm in the long term and its effects are immensurable. For instance, a drunkard may harm himself and someone near him the most, but Pol Pot with his crazy ideology harmed the whole Cambodian nation and Hitler caused harm for the whole of Europe. Another example is the E-bomb representing the misuse of scientific achievements in our age.

If ignorance (avijjā) is the first link as far as human knowledge can discern, of the cause of existence ultimately leading to ‘a mass of suffering’ (dukkhakkhandhassa samudayo hoti.), then avijjā is defined as not understanding the Four Noble Truths. Hence one is pushed voluntarily or involuntarily into activities (saṅkhārā) as illustrated thus:

Those recluses and priests who do not understand suffering and so on as it is...They take delight in creations that rolling on to birth. Having enrolled in the activities that lead to birth... they reach/ obtain birth. But those who understand will not delight in saṅkhārā- creations and not enrolling in activities; they are released from birth.[43]

Here the psychological significance is that ignorance and uncertainty (avijjā) serve as a background for saṅkhāra, the creative force or activity that involves further activities. According to the Sammādiṭṭhisutta (M.18), the progressive degree of sammādiṭṭhi, which in this context means right knowledge (thus its opposite is ignorance, avijjā), starts from discriminate knowledge of good (kusala) and bad (akusala), their roots (kusalamūla and akusalamūla), knowledge of the Four Noble Truths, and the knowledge to see things as they are (yathābhūtaṃñāṇadassanaṃ). By inference, we can go backwards to the different levels of ignorance here regressively. Thus, the first degree of ignorance is the uncertainty about moral law, or in other words, one does not know what is good and what is bad. This kind of ignorance certainly causes one to behave in an unacceptable way, or to commit immoral actions (apuññābhisaṅkhārā). The second degree of ignorance is that one does not know the cause of good or bad. This means that consciously, someone knows what is good and what is bad in some contexts, but unconsciously, they are governed by latent tendencies (anusayakilesa), and thus might behave disgracefully or unskillfully and inevitably acquire demerits (apuññābhisaṅkhāra). The third degree of ignorance is blind to the four noble truths: he does not know that life is basically unsatisfactory; and that unsatisfactoriness has its cause that is his craving; the extinction of his craving is the end of unsatisfactoriness; and there is a way that leads to supreme happiness. The last but not least degree of ignorance is not seeing the way things are and thus one views thing(s) in an opposite way: one sees happiness in misery, beauty in disgrace, permanence in impermanence, and self in non-self. The third and fourth degree of ignorance can motivate one to acquire merits (puññābhisaṅkhārā) for a better life in samsāra, or to achieve a state of imperturbability (āneñj’ābhisaṅkhāra).

All of the above mentioned saṅkhārā, the creative force (saṅkhāra), enrolls (sankhāreti) one in activities and accumulations (upādāna and kammabhava) that lead to further manifestations (vipāka-bhava). The Abhidhammikas classified avijjā and saṅkhāra as past causes, but some modern scholars[44] observed that this way of classification is artificially articulated. Perhaps the intention of the Abhidhammattha sangaha’s compiler (Ācariya Anuruddha) when he put the twelve links of Paṭiccasamuppāda into the past, present and future is to emphasize the endless perpetuation of existence in the chain of birth, death and rebirth. In the past there were avijjā and saṅkhāra, but there are avijjā and saṅkhārā in the present, too, and there will be avijjā and saṅkhāra in future. However, according to Buddhism, time is a concept (paññatti) and not a reality (paramattha), but rather a notion perceived via events. Here the relativity of our notion of the object makes it unreal in the ultimate sense. The saṅkhārā at present is our reaction towards sensory stimulations. They are taṇhā, upādāna, and kammabhava, which we will discuss later. The Maddhyamikans (the Middle Way philosophy advocated by Nāgārjuna) even went so far as to say that events are all illusory and there is nothing to come, nothing which has gone, no origination, no cessation.[45] Therefore, birth and death is merely an illusion of ignorance. As pertains to the future, i.e., jāti, birth, jarā, old age, etc., there is avijjā and saṅkhārā embedded deeply in the notion of events/ phenomena. Therefore the cycle is endless (for the ignorant).

To explain Dependent Origination it would be easier to start in the present phase. This is also a practical approach for we can not undo the past. To understand what is in the present is crucial which all Buddhist texts emphasize. Because there were avijjā and saṅkhārā (in the past), there is viññāṇa, rebirth consciousness or conception. This is called samvattanikaṃ viññānaṃ in M. 106 (M.III, 262)[46], the continuing consciousness which joins life to life. The Abhidhamikas call it paṭisandhi citta, rebirth consciousness. Viññāna, nāma-rūpa (psycho-physical complex), salāyatana (six sense bases) are the results of past kamma. The vipassanā approach starts from phassa or contact between the senses and their respective objects to unravel the mystique of becoming. I will return to this in a section called Dhammānupassanā in Chapter seventh.

Contact (phassa) is defined as the meeting of the three: sense base (āyatana), its relative object (ārammana), and the present consciousness (viññāṇasota in its active mode). As a resulting event, this contact is not recommended to be undone; and since the function of sense-bases or doors are to perceive their respective objects, they just perform their function. Lacking one or more sense-base is considered a defective existence, but shutting down some sense-bases for the sake of concentration or unified mind is an art called meditation.

Contact gives rise to feeling (phassa paccaya vedanā). This feeling is said to be of three kinds, i.e., pleasant feeling (sukha vedanā), unpleasant feeling (dukkha vedanā) and neutral feeling (asukhamadukkha vedanā); or of five kinds, i.e., pleasant feeling with regard to bodily sensation, pleasant feeling with regard to mental pleasantness (somanassa), unpleasant feeling as pertains to bodily sensation (dukkha vedanā), distress (domanassa, a kind of mental suffering), and neutral feeling.

It seems the most natural thing on earth is to avoid/ escape/wish to destroy the unpleasant feelings/things/events/persons, and crave the pleasant feelings/things. These two contradictory reactions to different feelings is called taṇhā or craving which originated in feeling (vedanā paccaya tanhā). The word taṇhā is often translated as thirst or craving, but this is not rendered very well in English to convey the psychological meaning of the word tanhā. Taṇhā apparently denotes two aspects of a psychological reaction as seen in the above analysis, not merely a physical instinctive survival factor. Taṇhā is called ‘house builder’ as it alone makes up the second noble truth, the cause of suffering, and this taṇhā is to be eliminated (pahātabbaṃ). However, taṇhā can not arise by itself as it arises dependent on feeling and perception that was misguided by ignorance as we have mentioned in previous pages. Taṇhā as a kind of subjective evaluation based on a (wrong) perception and emotional reaction to feelings will be discussed in chapter three under vedanākkhandha and saññākkandha. Taṇhā, craving, as a processor of becoming (bhava) will be treated in more detail in chapter sixth, on motivation.

Craving leads to clinging (upādāna) as when one likes something, one wants to get hold of it and possesses it. Hence, it is of one mind (bhava- existence). When one gets the object that one desires, there are two possibilities: (1) one becomes fed up with it and the result is boredom and irritation leading to the search for something else, termed saṅkhāradukkha; (2) the desirable object changes so there is fear and resentment of the possibility of losing it (viparināmadukkha). Insatiate, boredom, fear and resentment are apparently those uneasy states caused by craving and clinging. Thus in the light of Dependent Origination, suffering is caused, conditioned, but, it too, is anatta or non-substantiality. Hence, the sage advice is to view it objectively but not to identify with it:

“It is mere suffering rises.
It is mere suffering appears and remains.
It is mere suffering disappears and departs.|
No thing rises else than suffering;
And nothing ceases else then suffering.”

This is a succinct summary on Dukkha by Professor De Silva:

In general, these are three facets of human suffering: the directly experienced physical pain and distress; the mental painful ranging from sadness, grieve, depression to despair, finally a more basic condition like disharmony, dissonance, emptiness etc, which the Buddha renders by the term “Unsatisfactoriness”. Most of these facets of suffering discussed in the Buddhist texts have clear empirical content and relevant contexts and terminology to describe them. In fact, the impact of the existential phenomenological traditions of philosophy in clinical psychology during recent times, takes us to the deeper existential levels of dissonance and ambiguity. The fragmentation, as well as the vacuity and aridity emerging out of the routine life styles of people [...]

Thus human suffering ranges from feeling depressed because he has lost his job and unable to feed his family to the man who has plenty but is feeling joyless. This is depression which can be easily tracked down, as well as the kind of depression which is puzzling to fathom. The Buddhist concept of dukkha can absorb these different manifestations of human sufferings”. [48]

In conclusion, dukkha is a common characteristic of all creations or compounded things. It is not “I” or “mine” and it should be viewed as a fact inherent in all conditioned existence. On realizing the fact of dukkha, one shall no longer blindly delight in activities that lead one to perpetuate the predicament of samsāra, however, this does not necessary result in a pessimistic view of life and world. In fact, it does help one to live a more meaningful life, a life that is ennobled with compassion and wisdom to understand oneself, people and things as what they have come to be (yathābhūtaṃ-ñāṇa-dassanaṃ).


[1] M.22, Chayimāni bhikkhave diṭṭhiṭṭhānāni. Katamāni cha? Idha bhikkhave assutavā puthujjano ariyānaṃ adassāvī ariyadhammassa akovido ariyadhamme avinīto, sappurisānaṃ adassāvī sappurisadhammassa akovido sappurisadhamme avinīto - Rūpaṃ 'etaṃ mama, esohamasmi, eso me attā'ti samanupassati. Vedanaṃ.. Saññaṃ ... Saṅkhāre ...viññānaṃ ‘etaṃ mama, esohamasmi, eso me attā'ti samanupassati. Yampi taṃ diṭṭhaṃ sutaṃ mutaṃ viññātaṃ pattaṃ pariyesitaṃ anuvicaritaṃ manasā, tampi 'etaṃ mama, esohamasmi, eso me attā'ti samanupassati. Yampi taṃ diṭṭhiṭṭhānaṃ 'so loko so attā, so pecca bhavissāmi: nicco dhuvo sassato avipariṇāmadhammo, sassatisamaṃ tatheva ṭhassāmī'ti tampi 'etaṃ mama, esohamasmi, eso me attā'ti samanupassati. [Burmese 6th Buddhist Coucil Edition, Sitagu Academic 2000].

[2] The second Penguin Krishnamurti Reader, P.260.

[3] M 22: Taṃ bhikkhave attavādūpādānaṃ upādiyetha, tassa attavādūpādānaṃ upādiyato na uppajjeyyuṃ sokaparidevadukkhadomanassupāyāsā.

[4] S III, 23: 3 sattva sutta.

[5] I prefer dhammā as ‘states’ to emphasis on its psychological sense in this context.

[6] S.I. 188; II. 53; III. 112.

[7] See Encyclopaedia of Buddhism. Vol. IV. P.696; Edited by Dr. Jotiya Dhirasekera. Sri Lanka 1989.

[8] M. Monier – Williams, Sanskrit- English Dictionaries. P. 483

[9] Kham in Vedic has the meaning of ‘space- ākāsa’, playfully; a similar spelling ‘kam’ bears a quite different meaning, ānanda- bliss, happiness.

[10] PTS Vism, p.494: Idha du-iti ayaṃ saddo kucchite dissati...khaṃ- saddo pana tucche...idaṃ pathamasaccaṃ kucchitaṃ aneka upaddavādiṭṭhānato. ṭucchaṃ bālajanaparikappitadhuvasubhasukhattā tucchattā ca dukkhaṇti vauccati. Trans. The Path of Purification (BPS 1999), p. 500

[11] Vism. XVI: dukkhassa pīḷanaṭṭho saṅkhataṭṭho vipariṇāmaṭṭho. Ime cattāro dukkhassa dukkhaṭṭhā tathā avitathā anaññathā [Vis 419- HOS].

[12] Ibid: Ettha hi bādhanalakkhaṇaṃ dukkhasaccaṃ santāpanarasaṃ, pavattipaccupaṭṭhānaṃ.

[13] Prof. Kalupahana: “A History of Buddhist Philosophy”, University of Hawaii Press 1992; Delhi 1994. P. 95

[14] SN. V. Saccasamyutta.

[15] S. V, P 412; M I, 9,p 59- Sammādiṭṭhi sutta and M I,28 p 242 the list of dukkha omit ‘vyādhi’; the same omission is found in DN, Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna sutta; Saccavibhaṅga sutta (M. III,p.292) three items are omitted: vyādhi, appiyehi sampayogo, piyehi vippayogo; Vin. Version omits sokaparideva, dukkha (physical pain), domanassa (mental pain), upāyāsā-tribulation or unrest

[16] See the article on ‘dukkha’ in The Encyclopedia of Buddhism, Vol. IV, p 700

[17] AN, Mahāvagga mentions twelve categories of suffering, omitted sickness. Herein the cause of suffering is elaborated in twelve links of Dependent Origination.

[18] Three loka are kāmaloka- the world of sense-pleasures, rūpaloka- the world of fine materials, and arūpaloka- the world of non-materiality. Human world, animals, ghosts, hellish beings, and certain kind of devas belong to kāmaloka. Beings in rūpaloka and arūpaloka are called Brahmas; they are temporary purity due to practicing meditation.

[19] M 141, p292, Chaṭṭha sanghayatana edition, 2000, Sitagu academy.

[20] Asanga, Abhidharmasamuccaya, the only existing text of Mahāyana Buddhism deals with ‘higher doctrine’, in which the truth of suffering is presented in a different way, mostly as a description of suffering in different planes of existence according to Buddhist cosmology.

Recently, a book entitled “Four Noble Truths” written by Ven. Chandawimala Thera (Sri Lanka 1947) also treat the first truth in the same way, i.e. describing suffering in different planes of sattaloka.

[21] SN, V. 56:33 [PTS 439]-Seyyathāpi bhikkhave, daṇdo upari vehesaṃ khitto sakimpi mulena nipatati, sakimpi majjhena nipatati, sakimpi aggena nipatati. Evameva kho bhikkhave, avijjānīvaraṇā sattā taṇhāsaṃyojanā sandhāvannā sakimpi asmā lokā paraṃ lokaṃ gacchanti, sakimpi parasmā lokā imaṃ lokaṃ āgacchanti. Taṃ kissa hetu? Adiṭṭhattā bhikkhave, catunnaṃ ariyasaccānaṃ.

[22] 31 planes of existence consist of 11states in kāmaloka (hell, peta-ghosts, asura- demons, animals, human beings, and 6 categories of sensuous deities); 16 stages of Rūpaloka corresponding to four jhāna attainments; and 4 arūpaloka corresponding to 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th jhāna (sampatti). Dhammacakkapavattanasutta, Vin. Version mentions that these devas & brahmas beings echoing each other from lower sphere to higher spheres in praising “the Act of Turning the Wheel of Dhamma.”

[23] Bhikkhu Bodhi, (BPS. 1994): “The suffering with which the Buddha’s teaching is concerned has a far deeper meaning than personal unhappiness, discontent, or psychological stress. It included these, but it goes beyond. The problem in its fullest measure is existential suffering, the suffering of bondage to the round of repeated birth and death.” P.3, Introduction to The Great Discourse on Causation.

[24] Tisso imā bhikkhave dukkhātā. Katama tisso? Dukkha-dukkhātā, saṅkhāra-dukkhātā, viparināma-dukkhātā. Imā kho...SN, Mahāvagga Pāli, 156.

[25] See Visuddhi Magga XIV, 34 f; Nyanatiloka: Buddhist Dictionary. P.55

[26] SN. IV, Vedanasamyutta 36:6

[27] SN. IV, Vedanasamyutta 36; Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi’s trans. P.1261 [Wisdom Pub. 2000].

[28] SN IV, 36: 11: yaṃ kiñci vedayitaṃ taṃ dukkhasminti. Taṃ kho panetaṃ bhikkhu mayā saṅkhārānañceva aniccataṃ sandhāya bhāsitaṃ. Taṃ kho panetaṃ bhikkhu mayā saṅkhārānañceva- Khayadhammataṃ sandhāya bhāsitaṃ: yaṃ kiñci vedayitaṃ taṃ dukkhasminti. Taṃ kho panetaṃ bhikkhu mayā saṅkhārānañceva- Vayadhammata sandhāya bhāsitaṃ...

[29] S iv, 36:2. Tisso imā, bhikkhave, vedanā. Katamā tisso? Sukhā vedanā, dukkhā vedanā, adukkhamasukhā vedanā- imā kho bhikkhave tisso vedanāti.

Sukhaṃ vā yadi vā dukkhaṃ adukkhamasukhaṃ saha; ajjhattañca bahiddhā ca, yaṃ kiñci atthi veditaṃ, “etaṃ dukkhanti ñatvāna, mosadhammaṃ palokinaṃ; phussa phussa vayaṃ passaṃ, evaṃ tattha virajjati’ti.

[30] S.V, 56: 13, Katamañca bhikkhave, dukkhaṃ ariyasaccaṃ: pañcupādānakkhandhātissa vacanīyaṃ. Katame pañca: seyyathidaṃ: rūpūpādānakkhandho vedanūpādānakkhandhā saññūpādānakkhandho saṅkhārūpādānakkhandho viññāṇūpādānakkhandho, idaṃ vuccati bhikkhave, dukkhaṃ ariyasaccaṃ.

[31] Asanga Tilakaratne: Nirvana and ineffability, P.45.

[32] Sue Hamilton: Identity and experience. P. XXIX.

[33] Cūḷa Vedalla Sutta: Sakkāyo sakkāya ti eye vuccati. Katamo nu kho eyye sakkāya vutto Bhagavatā’ti. Pañca kho ime āvuso Visakha upādānakkhandhā sakkāyo vutto Bhagavatā.

[34] S. II, 15: Rūpaṃ bhikkhave aniccaṃ. Yadaniccaṃ taṃ dukkhaṃ, yaṃ dukkhaṃ tadanattā

[35] S. IV, khandha samyutta pāḷi

[36] S.II. 12: 1

[37] PTS, D. 185

[38] S.II.12: 20; 25:6: dhamma-niyāmatā: tathāgatānaṃ anuppādā vā tathāgatānaṃ ṭhitāva sā dhātu dhammaṭṭhitatā dhammaniyāmatā idapaccayatā; A.I. 286: dhātu-dhammaṭṭhitatā= svabhāvaṭṭhitā (comy)

[39] S.II.12:60: gambhīro cāyaṃ ānanda, paṭiccasamuppādo gambhirāvabhāso ca etassa ānanda, dhammassa aññāṇā ananubodhā appaṭivedhā evamayaṃ pajā tantākulakajātā gunāguṇṭhika jātā muñjababbajabhūtā apāyaṃ duggatiṃ vinipātaṃ saṃsāraṃ nātivattati.

[40] S.II:17: Kinnu kho bho gotama, sayaṃ kataṃ dukkhanti'? Mā hevaṃ kassapā'ti bhagavā avoca.Kimpana bho gotama, paraṃkataṃ dukkhanti? Mā hevaṃ kassapā'ti bhagavā avoca. Kinnu kho bho gotama, sayaṃ katañca paraṃkatañca dukkhanti? Mā hevaṃ kassapā'ti bhagavā avoca. [PTS P. 020] kimpana bho gotama, asayaṃkāraṃ aparakāraṃ adhiccasamuppannaṃ dukkhanti? Mā hevaṃ kassapā'ti bhagavā avoca. Kinnu kho bho gotama, natthi dukkhanti. Na kho kassapa, natthi dukkhaṃ. Atthi kho kassapa, dukkhanti

[41] S.II. 12: 15 : Dukkhameva uppajjamānaṃ uppajjati, dukkhaṃ nirujjhamānaṃ nirujjhatī'ti na kaṅkhati. Na vicikicchati. Aparappaccayā ñāṇamevassa ettha hoti. Ettāvatā kho kaccāna, sammādiṭṭhi hoti.

[42] Lokadhammā – worldly experiences are often talked in eight forms: gain and loss, honour and dishonour, happiness and misery, praise and blame. See Vism. XXII, or A. VIII. 5.

[43] S.V, 449: Ye hi...keci samana vā brahmana vā idaṃ dukkhaṃ’ti yathābhūtaṃ nappajānanti... te jātisamvattanikesu sankhāresu abhiramanti... te jātisamvattanīke pi sankhare abhisankhāritvā... jātipapātaṃ pi papatanti”.

[44] Etienne Lamotte, Histoire du Buddhisme 1967. P.43.

[45] Nāgārjuna’s Philosophy of non-identity (Madhyamaka sātra I. 1.2). Trans. And ed by Ramchandra Pandeya and Manju. Delhi 1991

[46] M.III, 262: kayassa bhedā paraṃ maraṇā thānaṃ etaṃ vijjati yaṃ taṃ samvattanikaṃ viññāṇaṃ assa āṇañjpagaṃ.

[47] S.I, 135; Vism. XVIII, 27

[48] De Silva. Padmarisi: Emotion & the “Self” in Buddhist & Western Thought P.143


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Sincere thanks to Venerable Nguyen Huong Dhammananda for giving the digital files (Binh Anson, 01-2009).

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