Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Put up your Dukkha's

The first noble truth of the Buddha Dharma isn't so, well, shall we say set in stone in the Western world. Usually, the first truth is stated as 'life is suffering', and much of the time this is the first teaching many in the West are exposed to when asking about Buddhism. It rings a cord for sure, especially those that aren't in a great and wonderful place in their lives. In fact, I'd go as far as saying that many Westerns are drawn to Buddhism for the first time because it offers a grain of truth and a chance of hope in lives that are on a rather painful cycle. This is how I came to study Buddhism myself. I can't say I see many Westerns, happy and cheerful, to so eagerly identify with this first truth when put in this way.

However, once we begin to look closer we can see that 'suffering' does not encompass all in what the Buddha was pointing too. We soon see many variations of the first truth, just some of which are:

Life is unsatisfactory.
Life is turmoil.
Life is despair.
Life can suck.
Life is death and loss.
Life is confusing.
Life is ....

To the teachings about the first noble truth Buddha Gautama said this:

"Now this, monks, is the Noble Truth of 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."

I think it is important in Progressive or Western Buddhism that we do keep some of these Sanskrit words, because at first, to many new to Buddhism, they truly have little to no meaning. Dukkha is so much more (and less) than suffering, and new practitioners can begin to fill the empty meaning of this word with what they struggle with in there everyday lives. When we discuss the teachings we begin to talk about labeling and naming the objects in the world and how these labels ultimately can cause some pain because all things change. Our minds attach to these labels, then repel in horror once this thing is now that thing. Our minds continually work in adjusting and remaking the world we live in.

How would you talk about or explain what Dukkha is?

So, those new to Buddhism, yes, life is suffering....but "come and see for yourself."


  1. I recently heard the Bad Buddhist say to leave the Sanskrit words to those who know the language, because some people use them to sound more intelligent. If they use them to confuse and not clarify, then ditch them. However, I agree with your assessment here. Dukkha, and what the Buddha meant, is much more than just suffering. And by using this word I can accept the 1st Noble Truth. I don't agree that life is necessarily just suffering. I can agree more with life being struggle, which is covered by Dukkha. In fact, when I made my "cheat sheet" to carry around to help me remember the Buddhist Basics, I wrote out the noble truths using dukkha, and I think you are right on why using the original word is more productive.

  2. I always get a kick out of repeating the three marks of existence to my students in the voice of S.N. Goenka (deep and slowly with a Burmese accent):


    They have a nice ring. And yes, translating dukkha adequately is a trick that I'm sure we'll struggle with for some time. I too like the idea of keeping the Sanskrit or Pali in place for many of these key terms.

    Great posts, by the way, keep it up!

  3. Like a lot of Westerners I saw the premise 'life as suffering' as rather pessimistic. It was an obstacle to starting to practice rather than something that drew me to it. The best translation I think is that 'Life is unsatisfactory' or 'phenomena are not ultimately satisfying'.

  4. Justin, I defintly agree that the life is unsatisfactory is as good a definition as we can get. I could see how it could be an obsticle for sure. For me, I saw that and said, wow, finally something I can relate too.

    Buddhist_philosopher Thats very cool you teach. How long have you been teaching?

    Cpd LOL Yea I used to have a cheat sheet as well. I have still yet to pronounce Anicca correctly.

  5. I found that a lot of these Sanskrit Terms can be made in to clever acronyms. My favorite is Samsara,
    Same Attitude Means Same Action Repeated Again. Perhaps this is nothing new but I have never had any personal contact with another Buddhist before other than a short reply from a site that once answered a question that i posed to it which I can not even remember any more.

  6. Wow I saw some phrases below the boxer image and that's rare for me because I think we should be positive and thinking on overcome all the situations it doesn't matter it being bad or good.