Duḥkha (//; Sanskrit: दुःख; Pāli: dukkha), literally "suffering", "pain," or "unhappiness," is an important concept in Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism. Its meaning depends on the context, and may refer more specifically to the "unsatisfactoriness" or "unease" of mundane life when driven by craving and ignorance.[note 1]
|English||suffering, unhappiness, pain, unsatisfactoriness, unease, stress|
(UNGEGN: tŭkkh; ALA-LC: dukkh)
|Sinhala||දුක්ඛ සත්යය [si] |
(Wylie: sdug bsngal;
|Thai||ทุกข์ [th] |
|Glossary of Buddhism|
While the term dukkha has often been derived from the prefix du ("bad" or "difficult") and the root kha, "empty," "hole," a badly fitting axle-hole of a cart or chariot giving "a very bumpy ride," it may actually be derived from duḥ-stha, a "dis-/ bad- + stand-," that is, "standing badly , unsteady," "unstable."
It is the first of the Four Noble Truths and it is one of the three marks of existence. The term also appears in scriptures of Hinduism, such as the Upanishads, in discussions of moksha (spiritual liberation).
Etymology and meaningEdit
Duḥkha (Sanskrit: दुःख; Pali: dukkha) is a term found in the Upanishads and Buddhist texts, meaning 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 duḥkha does not have a one-word English translation, and embodies diverse aspects of unpleasant human experiences. It is often understood as the opposite of sukha, meaning "happiness," "comfort" or "ease."
The word has been explained in recent times 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").[note 2] Regular phonological changes in the development of Sanskrit into the various Prakrits led to a shift from dus-sthā to duḥkha to dukkha.
Analayo concurs, stating that dukkha as derived from duh-stha, "standing badly," "conveys nuances of "uneasiness" or of being "uncomfortable."
...although the sense of duḥkha in Normative Buddhism is traditionally given as 'suffering', that and similar interpretations are highly unlikely for Early Buddhism. Significantly, Monier-Williams himself doubts the usual explanation of duḥkha and presents an alternative one immediately after it, namely: duḥ-stha "'standing badly,' unsteady, disquieted (lit. and fig.); uneasy", and so on. This form is also attested, and makes much better sense as the opposite of the Rig Veda sense of sukha, which Monier-Williams gives in full.
The literal meaning of duhkha, as used in a general sense is "suffering" or "painful."[note 4] It's exact translation depends on the context.[note 5] Contemporary translators of Buddhist texts use a variety of English words to convey the aspects of dukh. Early Western translators of Buddhist texts (before the 1970s) typically translated the Pali term dukkha as "suffering." Later translators have emphasized that "suffering" is a too limited translation for the term duḥkha, and have preferred to either leave the term untranslated, or to clarify that translation with terms such as anxiety, distress, frustration, unease, unsatisfactoriness, etc.[note 6] In the sequence "birth is painfull," dukhka may be translated as "painfull." When related to vedana, "feeling," dukkha ("unpleasant," "painfull") is the opposite of sukkha ("pleasure," "pleasant"), yet all feelings are dukkha in that they are impermanent, conditioned phenomena, which are unsatisfactory, incapable of providing lasting satisfaction. The term "unsatisfactoriness" then is often used to emphasize the unsatisfactoriness of "life under the influence of afflictions and polluted karma."[note 7]
Within the Buddhist sutras, duḥkha has a broad meaning, and is divided in three categories:
- Dukkha-dukkha, aversion to physical suffering - this includes the physical and mental sufferings of birth, aging, illness, dying; distress from what is not desirable.
- Viparinama-dukkha, the frustration of disappearing happiness - this is the duḥkha of pleasant or happy experiences changing to unpleasant when the causes and conditions that produced the pleasant experiences cease.
- Sankhara-dukkha, the unsatisfactoriness of changing and impermant "things" - the incapability of conditioned things to give us lasting happiness. 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." On this level, the term indicates a lack of satisfaction, a sense that things never measure up to our expectations or standards.
- Birth is duḥkha, aging is duḥkha, illness is duḥkha, death is duḥkha;
- Sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair are duḥkha;
- Association with the unbeloved is duḥkha; separation from the loved is duḥkha;
- Not getting what is wanted is duḥkha.
- In conclusion, the five clinging-aggregates are duḥkha.
The Buddhist tradition emphasizes the importance of developing insight into the nature of duḥkha, 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 10] 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
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 13] 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 14] However, the two religions widely differ in the nature of that understanding. Hinduism emphasizes the understanding and acceptance of Atman (self, soul). The connection is the distress and suffering caused by an individual situation that can counter a person's wish and perception. Duhkha, in particular, specifies the sense of disappointing feelings that come from the gulf between a person's perception and desires and real facts of their experience. The Hindi Language, duhkha generally means "difficult to do" or "to have hardship in doing" as it is inflexible. Brahman, while Buddhism emphasizes the understanding and acceptance of Anatta (Anatman, non-self, non-soul) as each discusses the means to liberation from Duḥkha. The rooting meaning of duhkha is used in various ways in different schools of Indian thought; this includes Buddhism.
- Translations of duhkha:
* Nyanatiloka Thera 2004, p. 61: dukkha (1) 'pain', painful feeling, which may be bodily and mental [...] 2. 'Suffering', 'ill'.
* Huxter 2016, p. 10: "dukkha (unsatisfactoriness or suffering) (....) In the Introduction I wrote that dukkha is probably best understood as unsatisfactoriness."
: "(...) the three characteristics of samsara/sankhara (the realm of rebirth): anicca (impermance), dukkha (pain) and anatta (no-self)."
See also the Anuradha Sutta: To Anuradha
- 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."
- Beckwith notes similarities between Pyrrhonism and Buddhism, and arguis that the Greek philosopher Pyrrho (c. 360 – c. 270 BC) translated dukkha into Greek as astathmēta. According to Beckwith, Pyrrho based his new philosophy, Pyrrhonism, on elements of Early Buddhism, most particularly the Buddhist three marks of existence. Pyrrho accompanied Alexander the Great on his Indian campaign, spending about 18 months in Taxila studying Indian philosophy. Diogenes Laërtius' biography of Pyrrho reports that Pyrrho based his philosophy on what he learned there:
A summary of Pyrrho's philosophy was preserved by Eusebius, quoting Aristocles, quoting Pyrrho's student Timon, in what is known as the "Aristocles passage.":
...he even went as far as the Gymnosophists, in India, and the Magi. Owing to which circumstance, he seems to have taken a noble line in philosophy, introducing the doctrine of acatalepsy (incomprehensibility), and of the necessity of epoche (suspending one's judgment)....[web 1]
According to Beckwith's analysis of the Aristocles Passage, Pyrrho translated dukkha into Greek as astathmēta.
"Whoever wants to live well (eudaimonia) must consider these three questions: First, how are pragmata (ethical matters, affairs, topics) by nature? Secondly, what attitude should we adopt towards them? Thirdly, what will be the outcome for those who have this attitude?" Pyrrho's answer is that "As for pragmata they are all adiaphora (undifferentiated by a logical differentia), astathmēta (unstable, unbalanced, not measurable), and anepikrita (unjudged, unfixed, undecidable). Therefore, neither our sense-perceptions nor our doxai (views, theories, beliefs) tell us the truth or lie; so we certainly should not rely on them. Rather, we should be adoxastoi (without views), aklineis (uninclined toward this side or that), and akradantoi (unwavering in our refusal to choose), saying about every single one that it no more is than it is not or it both is and is not or it neither is nor is not.
- & Harvey, p. 30) harvtxt error: no target: CITEREFHarvey (help): ""suffering" is an appropriate translation only in a general, inexact sense [...] In the passage on the first True Reality, dukkha in "birth is dukkha" is an adjective [...] The best translation here is by the English adjective "painful," which can apply to a range of things."
- Gombrich, What the Buddha Thought, p.10: "there has been a lot of argument over how to translate the word dukkha; and again, the choice of translation must depend heavily on the context.
- Contemporary translators have used a variety of English words to translate the term duḥkha; translators commonly use different words to translate aspects of the term. For example, duḥkha 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.)
- Stress (Thanissaro Bhikkhu: Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, Anuradha Sutta bottom)
- 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)
- Analayo (2013), Satipaṭṭhāna: The Direct Path to Realization: "Dukkha is often translated as “suffering”. Suffering, however, represents only one aspect of dukkha, a term whose range of implications is difficult to capture with a single English word [...] In order to catch the various nuances of “dukkha”, the most convenient translation is “unsatisfactoriness”, though it might be best to leave the term untranslated."
- Gombrich, How Buddhism Began: "The first Noble Truth is the single word dukkha, and it is explicated to mean that everything in our experience of life is ultimately unsatisfactory";
- Dalai Lama, Thubten Chodron, Approaching the Buddhist Path, p.279 note 2: "Duhkha (P. dukkha) is often translated as "suffering," but this translation is misleading. Its meaning is more nuanced and refers to all unsatisfactory states and experiences, many of which are not explicitly painfull. While the Buddha says that life under the influence of afflictions and polluted karma is unsatisfactory, he does not say that life is suffering."
- Roderick Bucknell, Martin Stuart-Fox, The Twilight Language, p.161: "Thus dukkha at the most subtle level appears to refer to a normally unperceived unsatisfactory quality";
- Gombrich, What the Buddha Thought, p.10: "there has been a lot of argument over how to translate the word dukkha; and again, the choice of translation must depend heavily on the context. But what is being expressed is that life as we normally experience it is unsatisfactory."
- Beckwith: "The Buddha says All dharmas [= pragmata] are
dukkha "unsatisfactory, imperfect, unstable"
anatman "without an innate self-identity"
- 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.
- Huxter (2016), p. 10.
- Harvey (2015), p. 26–31.
- Anderson (2013), p. 1, 22 with note 4.
- Nyanatiloka Thera (2004), p. 61.
- Sargeant 2009, p. 303.
- Goldstein 2013, p. 289.
- Monier-Williams 1899, p. 483, entry note: .
- Analayo (2013).
- Beckwith (2015), p. 30.
- Alexander (2019), p. 36.
- 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.
- Rhys Davids & Stede (1921), p. 324–325.
- Walpola Rahula 2007, Kindle Locations 542-550.
- Beckwith (2015), p. 28.
- Beckwith (2015), p. 22-23.
- Walpola Rahula 2007, Kindle locations 524-528.
- Prebish 1993.
- Keown 2003.
- Harvey (2013), p. 30.
- Analoya (2013b), p. 3-31. sfnp error: no target: CITEREFAnaloya2013b (help)
- 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.
- "What Are the Three Kinds of Suffering?"https://www.lionsroar.com/buddhism-by-the-numbers-the-three-kinds-of-suffering/
- Williams 2002, p. 74-75.
- Robert Hume, Chandogya Upanishad, The Thirteen Principal Upanishads, Oxford University Press, pages 261-262
- 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 ॥
- 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.
- 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 ।
- 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
- Takeda, Ryūsei (1985). "Pure Land Buddhist View of "Duḥkha"". Buddhist-Christian Studies. 5: 7–24. doi:10.2307/1390296. JSTOR 1390296. Retrieved 21 November 2020.
- Johannes Bronkhorst (2009). Buddhist Teaching in India. Wisdom Publications. pp. 23–25. ISBN 978-0-86171-811-5.
- Harvey (2013), p. 34, 38.
- Printed sources
- Alexander, James (2019), "The State Is the Attempt to Strip Metaphor Out of Politics", in Kos, Eric S. (ed.), Michael Oakeshott on Authority, Governance, and the State, Springer
- Analayo (2013), Satipatthana. The Direct Path to Realization, Windhorse Publications
- Anderson, Carol (2013). Pain and Its Ending: The Four Noble Truths in the Theravada Buddhist Canon. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-136-81332-0.
- Beckwith, Christopher I. (2015). Greek Buddha: Pyrrho's Encounter with Early Buddhism in Central Asia (PDF). Princeton University Press. ISBN 9781400866328.
- Bhikkhu Bodhi (2011), The Noble Eightfold Path: Way to the End of Suffering, Independent Publishers Group, Kindle Edition
- Dalai Lama (1998), The Four Noble Truths, Thorsons
- Gethin, Rupert (1998), Foundations of Buddhism, Oxford University Press
- Goldstein, Joseph (2013), Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening, Sounds True, Kindle Edition
- Harvey, Peter (1990). Introduction to Buddhism. Cambridge University Press.
- Harvey, Peter (2013). The Selfless Mind: Personality, Consciousness and Nirvana in Early Buddhism. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-136-78336-4.
- Harvey, Peter (2015). "Dukkha, Non-Self, and the Teaching on the Four Noble Truths". In Emmanuel, Steven M. (ed.). A Companion to Buddhist Philosophy. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-1-119-14466-3.
- Huxter, Malcolm (2016). Healing the Heart and Mind with Mindfulness: Ancient Path, Present Moment. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-317-50540-2.
- Kalupahana, David J. (1992). A history of Buddhist philosophy. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited.
- Keown, Damien (2000), Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition
- Keown, Damien (2003), Dictionary of Buddhism, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-860560-9
- Lopez, Donald S. (2001). The Story of Buddhism. HarperCollins.
- Monier-Williams, Monier (1899), A Sanskrit-English Dictionary (PDF), London: Oxford University Press
- 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.
- Nyanatiloka Thera (2004). "dukkha". Buddhist Dictionary: Manual of Buddhist Terms and Doctrines (5 ed.). Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society. ISBN 9789552400193.
- Prebish, Charles (1993), Historical Dictionary of Buddhism, The Scarecrow Press, ISBN 0-8108-2698-4
- Potter, Karl (2004). The Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies, Vol. IX: Buddhist philosophy from 350 to 600 AD.
- Rhys Davids, Thomas William; Stede, William (1921). Pali-English Dictionary. Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 978-81-208-1144-7.
- Ronkin, Noa (2005). Early Buddhist Metaphysics: the Making of a Philosophical Tradition. Routledge.
- Sargeant, Winthrop (2009), The Bhagavad Gita, SUNY Press
- Smith, Huston; Novak, Philip (2009), Buddhism: A Concise Introduction, HarperOne, Kindle Edition
- Walpola Rahula (2007), What the Buddha Taught, Grove Press, Kindle Edition
- Williams, Paul (2002), Buddhist Thought, Routledge, ISBN 0-415207010
- 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
- The Buddha's Concept of Dukkha, Kingsley Heendeniya
- Ku 苦 entry (use "guest" with no password for one-time login), Digital Dictionary of Buddhism