As the second installment in our series on what the Buddha called the “three characteristics” of existence—anicca, dukkha, anatta—this issue of Inquiring Mind will investigate dukkha, or suﬀering. All of the Buddha’s teaching revolves around suﬀering and how to understand and free ourselves from it. We hope that the articles we present here will oﬀer a challenging variety of perspectives as well as provide skillful means to help bring an end to dukkha, both within our individual lives and in the world around us. We begin with passages about dukkha from the Pali Canon, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, abbot of Metta Forest Monastery near San Diego, California.
What do you think, monks: Which is greater, the tears you have shed while transmigrating and wandering this long, long time—crying and weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing—or the water in the four great oceans? This is the greater: the tears you have shed. . . .
Long have you [repeatedly] experienced the death of a mother . . . the death of a father . . . the death of a brother . . . the death of a sister . . . the death of a son . . . the death of a daughter . . . loss with regard to relatives . . . loss with regard to wealth . . . loss with regard to disease. The tears you have shed over loss with regard to disease while transmigrating and wandering this long, long time—crying and weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing—are greater than the water in the four great oceans.
Why is that? From an inconceivable beginning comes transmigration. A beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating and wandering on. Long have you thus experienced stress, experienced pain, experienced loss, swelling the cemeteries—enough to become disenchanted with all fabricated things, enough to become dispassionate, enough to be released.
—Samyutta Nikaya 15:3
Grief, lamentation and selﬁshness
are not let go
by those greedy for mine,
letting go of possessions,
seeing the Secure,
go wandering forth.
—Sutta Nipata IV.6
The whole world is burning.
The whole world is aﬂame.
The whole world is blazing.
The whole world is agitated.
The Unagitated, Unblazing—
that’s where my heart
—Samyutta Nikaya 5:7
Not even if it rained gold coins
would we have our ﬁll
of sensual pleasures.
they give little enjoyment”—
knowing this, the wise one
ﬁnds no delight
even in heavenly sensual pleasures.
This swarthy woman
[preparing a corpse for cremation]
breaking a thigh and then the other
breaking an arm and then the other
cracking open the head,
like a pot of curds,
she sits with them heaped up beside her.
returns over and over
to suﬀering and stress.
don’t make acquisitions.
May I never lie
with my head cracked open
It’s with sensual desire for the reason . . . that kings quarrel with kings, nobles with nobles, priests with priests, householders with householders, mother with child, child with mother, father with child, child with father, brother with brother, sister with sister, brother with sister, sister with brother, friend with friend. And then in their quarrels, brawls and disputes, they attack one another with ﬁsts or with clods or with sticks or with knives, so that they incur death or deadly pain. Now, this mass of stress and suﬀering visible here and now has sensual desire for its reason, the reason is simply sensual desire.
—Majjhima Nikaya 13
It isn’t possible by traveling to know or see or reach a far end of the cosmos where one doesn’t take birth, age, die, pass away or reappear. But at the same time, I tell you that there is no making an end of suﬀering and stress without reaching the end of the cosmos. Yet it is just within this fathom-long body, with its perception and intellect, that I declare that there is the cosmos, the origination of the cosmos, the cessation of the cosmos, and the path of practice leading to the cessation of the cosmos.
—Anguttara Nikaya 4:45
When touched with a feeling of pain, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person sorrows, grieves and laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught. So he feels two pains, physical and mental. Just as if they were to shoot a man with an arrow and, right afterward, were to shoot him with another one so that he would feel the pains of two arrows. In the same way, when touched with a feeling of pain, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person sorrows, grieves and laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught. So he feels two pains, physical and mental.
Now, the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones, when touched with a feeling of pain, doesn’t sorrow, grieve or lament, doesn’t beat his breast or become distraught. So he feels one pain: physical, but not mental. Just as if they were to shoot a man with an arrow and, right afterward, did not shoot him with another one so that he would feel the pain of only one arrow. In the same way, when touched with a feeling of pain, the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones doesn’t sorrow, grieve or lament, doesn’t beat his breast or become distraught. He feels one pain: physical, but not mental.
This is the diﬀerence, this the distinction, this the distinguishing factor between the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones and the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person.
—Samyutta Nikaya 36:6