Dukkha (Pāli; Sanskrit: duḥkha; Tibetan: སྡུག་བསྔལ་ sdug bsngal, pr. "duk-ngel") is an important Buddhist concept, commonly translated as "suffering", "pain" or "unsatisfactoriness". It refers to the fundamental unsatisfactoriness and painfulness of mundane life. It is the first of the Four Noble Truths. The term is also found in scriptures of Hinduism, such as the Upanishads, in discussions of moksha (spiritual liberation).
|English||suffering, pain, unsatisfactoriness, etc.|
(Wylie: sdug bsngal;
|Vietnamese||khổ / Bất toại|
|Glossary of Buddhism|
Etymology and meaningEdit
Dukkha (Pali; Sanskrit duḥkha) is a term found in ancient Indian literature, wherein states Monier-Williams, it means anything that is "uneasy, uncomfortable, unpleasant, difficult, causing pain or sadness". It is also a concept in Indian religions about the nature of life that innately includes the "unpleasant", "suffering," "pain," "sorrow", "distress", "grief" or "misery." The term Dukkha does not have a one word English translation, and embodies diverse aspects of unpleasant human experiences. It is opposed to the word sukha, meaning "happiness," "comfort" or "ease."
The word is commonly explained as a derivation from Aryan terminology for an axle hole, referring to an axle hole which is not in the center and leads to a bumpy, uncomfortable ride. According to Winthrop Sargeant,
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.
The word dukkha is made up of the prefix du and the root kha. Du means “bad” or “difficult.” Kha means “empty.” “Empty,” here, refers to several things—some specific, others more general. One of the specific meanings refers to the empty axle hole of a wheel. If the axle fits badly into the center hole, we get a very bumpy ride. This is a good analogy for our ride through saṃsāra.
However, according to Monier Monier-Williams, the actual roots of the Pali term dukkha appear to be Sanskrit दुस्- (dus-, "bad") + स्था (stha, "to stand"). Regular phonological changes in the development of Sanskrit into the various Prakrits led to a shift from dus-sthā to duḥkha to dukkha.
Contemporary translators of Buddhist texts use a variety of English words to convey the aspects of dukkha. Early Western translators of Buddhist texts (before the 1970s) typically translated the Pali term dukkha as "suffering." Later translators have emphasized that "suffering" is too limited a translation for the term dukkha, and have preferred to either leave the term untranslated or to clarify that translation with terms such as anxiety, distress, frustration, unease, unsatisfactoriness, etc. Many contemporary teachers, scholars, and translators have used the term "unsatisfactoriness" to emphasize the subtlest aspects of dukkha. Many translators prefer to leave the term untranslated.[note 1]
Within the Buddhist sutras, dukkha is divided in three categories:
- Dukkha-dukkha, the dukkha of painful experiences. This includes the physical and mental sufferings of birth, aging, illness, dying; distress from what is not desirable.
- Viparinama-dukkha, the dukkha of the changing nature of all things. This includes the frustration of not getting what you want.
- Sankhara-dukkha, the dukkha of conditioned experience. This includes "a basic unsatisfactoriness pervading all existence, all forms of life, because all forms of life are changing, impermanent and without any inner core or substance."[web 1] On this level, the term indicates a lack of satisfaction, a sense that things never measure up to our expectations or standards.
- Birth is dukkha, aging is dukkha, illness is dukkha, death is dukkha;
- Sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair are dukkha;
- Association with the unbeloved is dukkha; separation from the loved is dukkha;
- Not getting what is wanted is dukkha.
- In conclusion, the five clinging-aggregates are dukkha.
The Buddhist tradition emphasizes the importance of developing insight into the nature of dukkha, the conditions that cause it, and how it can be overcome. This process is formulated in the teachings on the Four Noble Truths.
In Hindu literature, the earliest Upaniṣads — the Bṛhadāraṇyaka and the Chāndogya — in all likelihood predate the advent of Buddhism.[note 3] In these scriptures of Hinduism, the Sanskrit word duḥkha (दुःख) appears in the sense of "suffering, sorrow, distress", and in the context of a spiritual pursuit and liberation through the knowledge of Atman (soul, self).
The verse 4.4.14 of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad states:
|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[web 2]
The verse 7.26.2 of the Chāndogya Upaniṣad states:
na paśyo mṛtyuṃ paśyati na rogaṃ nota duḥkhatām
The concept of sorrow and suffering, and self-knowledge as a means to overcome it, appears extensively with other terms in the pre-Buddhist Upanishads. The term Duhkha also appears in many other middle and later post-Buddhist Upanishads such as the verse 6.20 of Shvetashvatara Upanishad, as well as in the Bhagavada Gita, all in the context of moksha.[note 6] The term also appears in the foundational Sutras of the six schools of Hindu philosophy, such as the opening lines of Samkhya karika of the Samkhya school.
Comparison of Buddhism and HinduismEdit
Both Hinduism and Buddhism emphasize that one overcomes duḥkha through the development of understanding.[note 7] However, the two religions widely differ in the nature of that understanding. Hinduism emphasizes the understanding and acceptance of Atman (self, soul) and Brahman, while Buddhism emphasizes the understanding and acceptance of Anatta (Anatman, non-self, non-soul) as each discusses the means to liberation from Dukkha.
- Contemporary translators have used a variety of English words to translate the term dukkha; translators commonly use different words to translate aspects of the term. For example, dukkha has been translated as follows in many contexts:
- Suffering (Harvey, Williams, Keown, Anderson, Gombrich, Thich Nhat Hanh, Ajahn Succito, Chogyam Trungpa, Rupert Gethin, Dalai Lama, et al.)
- Pain (Harvey, Williams, Keown, Anderson, Huxter, Gombrich, et al)
- Unsatisfactoriness (Dalai Lama, Bhikkhu Bodhi, Rupert Gethin, et al.)
- Affliction (Brazier)
- Dissatisfaction (Pema Chodron, Chogyam Trunpa)
- Distress (Walpola Rahula)
- Frustration (Dalai Lama, Four Noble Truths, p. 38)
- Anxiety (Chogyam Trungpa, The Truth of Suffering, pp. 8–10)
- Uneasiness (Chogyam Trungpa)
- Unease (Rupert Gethin)
- Paul Williams: "All rebirth is due to karma and is impermanent. Short of attaining enlightenment, in each rebirth one is born and dies, to be reborn elsewhere in accordance with the completely impersonal causal nature of one's own karma. The endless cycle of birth, rebirth, and redeath, is samsara."
- See, e.g., Patrick Olivelle (1996), Upaniṣads (Oxford: Oxford University Press), ISBN 978-0-19-283576-5, p. xxxvi: "The scholarly consensus, well-founded I think, is that the Bṛhadāraṇyaka and the Chāndogya are the two earliest Upaniṣads.... The two texts as we have them are, in all likelihood, pre-Buddhist; placing them in the seventh to sixth centuries BCE may be reasonable, give or take a century or so."
- Max Muller translates Duḥkhatām in this verse as "pain".
- This statement is comparable to the Pali Canon's Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (SN 56.11) where sickness and death are identified as examples of dukkha.
- See Bhagavad Gita verses 2.56, 5.6, 6.22-32, 10.4, 13.6-8, 14.16, 17.9, 18.8, etc; 
- For a general discussion of the core Indian spiritual goal of developing transcendent "seeing," see, e.g., Hamilton, Sue (2000/2001), Indian Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction, (Oxford: Oxford U. Press), pp. 9-10, ISBN 978-0-19-285374-5.
- Malcolm Huxter (2016). Healing the Heart and Mind with Mindfulness: Ancient Path, Present Moment. Routledge. p. 10. ISBN 978-1-317-50540-2., Quote: " dukkha (unsatisfactoriness or suffering) (....) In the Introduction I wrote that dukkha is probably best understood as unsatisfactoriness."
- Peter Harvey (2015). Steven M. Emmanuel, ed. A Companion to Buddhist Philosophy. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 26–31. ISBN 978-1-119-14466-3.
- Carol Anderson (2013). Pain and Its Ending: The Four Noble Truths in the Theravada Buddhist Canon. Routledge. pp. 1, 22 with note 4. ISBN 978-1-136-81332-0., Quote: "(...) the three characteristics of samsara/sankhara (the realm of rebirth): anicca (impermance), dukkha (pain) and anatta (no-self)."
- Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4 April 2014, trans. Patrick Olivelle (1996), p. 66.
- Paul Deussen (1980). Sixty Upaniṣads of the Veda, Vol. 1. Motilal Banarsidass (Reprinted). pp. 482–485, 497. ISBN 978-81-208-1468-4.
- Monier-Williams 1899, p. 483.
- Thomas William Rhys Davids; William Stede (1921). Pali-English Dictionary. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 324–325. ISBN 978-81-208-1144-7.
- Walpola Rahula 2007, Kindle Locations 542-550.
- Sargeant 2009, p. 303.
- Goldstein 2013, p. 289.
- Monier-Williams 1899, p. 483, entry note: "according to grammarians properly written dush-kha and said to be from dus and kha [cf. su-khá]; but more probably a Prākritized form for duḥ-stha, q.v."
- Walpola Rahula 2007, Kindle locations 524-528.
- Prebish 1993.
- Keown 2003.
- Dalai Lama 1998, p. 38.
- Gethin 1998, p. 61.
- Smith & Novak 2009, Kindle location 2769.
- Keown 2000, Kindle Locations 932-934.
- Bhikkhu Bodhi 2011, p. 6.
- Williams 2002, p. 74-75.
- Robert Hume, Chandogya Upanishad, The Thirteen Principal Upanishads, Oxford University Press, pages 261-262
- Paul Deussen (1980). Sixty Upaniṣads of the Veda. Motilal Banarsidass (Reprinted). pp. 188–189. ISBN 978-81-208-1468-4.
- Chandogya Upanishad 7.26.2, Max Muller (Translator), Oxford University Press, page 124
- Chandogya Upanishad 7.26.2, trans. Patrick Olivelle (1996), p. 166.
- Paul Deussen (1980). Sixty Upaniṣads of the Veda, Vol. 1. Motilal Banarsidass (Reprinted). pp. 112, 161, 176, 198, 202–203, 235, 455, etc. ISBN 978-81-208-1468-4.
- Paul Deussen (1980). Sixty Upaniṣads of the Veda, Vol. 1. Motilal Banarsidass (Reprinted). p. 326. ISBN 978-81-208-1468-4.
- Paul Deussen (1980). Sixty Upaniṣads of the Veda, Vol. 1. Motilal Banarsidass (Reprinted). p. 305. ISBN 978-81-208-1468-4.
- Sargeant 2009.
- Original Sanskrit: Samkhya karika Compiled and indexed by Ferenc Ruzsa (2015), Sanskrit Documents Archives;
Second Translation (Verse 1): Ferenc Ruzsa (1997), The triple suffering - A note on the Samkhya karika, Xth World Sanskrit Conference: Bangalore, University of Hungary, Budapest;
Third Translation (all Verses): Samkhyakarika of Iswara Krishna John Davis (Translator), Trubner, London, University of Toronto Archives
- Samkhya karika by Iswara Krishna, Henry Colebrooke (Translator), Oxford University Press
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- Goldstein, Joseph (2013), Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening, Sounds True, Kindle Edition
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- Nanamoli, Bhikkhu (1995). The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya. Boston: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-072-X.
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- Williams, Paul (2002), Buddhist Thought, Routledge, ISBN 0-415207010
- The Four Noble Truths - By Bhikkhu Bodhi
- Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Retrieved 16 May 2016 from "SanskritDocuments.Org" at Brihadaranyaka IV.iv.14, Original: इहैव सन्तोऽथ विद्मस्तद्वयं विद्मस् तद् वयम्न चेदवेदिर्महती विनष्टिः । ये तद्विदुरमृतास्ते भवन्त्य् अथेतरे दुःखमेवापियन्ति ॥ १४ ॥
- Chandogya Upanishad 7,26.2. Retrieved 16 May 2016 from Wikisource छान्दोग्योपनिषद् ४ ॥ षड्विंशः खण्डः ॥, Quote: तदेष श्लोको न पश्यो मृत्युं पश्यति न रोगं नोत दुःखताँ सर्वँ ह पश्यः पश्यति सर्वमाप्नोति सर्वश इति ।
- How does mindfulness transform suffering? I: the nature and origins of dukkha, JD Teasdale, M Chaskalson (2011)
- Explanations of dukkha, Tilmann Vetter (1998), Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies
- What Buddha Taught, Walpola Rahula
- Dukkha, edited by John T. Bullitt - Access to Insight
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