Dukkha – Previously Unknown Truth About Suffering

Dukkha in Buddhism is not only about the dukha vedanā or the feeling of pain/depression felt at any given moment. It is about the root causes of future suffering. Even the pleasurable experiences of an average person perpetuate future suffering. That is the “previously unheard” teachings of a Buddha.

September 30, 2023

Dukha and Dukkha – Buddha Dhamma Is About Dukkha

1. In a previous post, “Anicca Nature- Chasing Worldly Pleasures Is Pointless,” we discussed the fact that average humans (puthujjana) who have not understood Buddha’s teachings have only one option to overcome disliked sensory experiences or depressing situations: They seek more sensory pleasures.

  • However, as pointed out there, the Buddha has explained a previously unknown option. A “suffering-free pure mind” (pabhassara citta) is hidden underneath our defiled minds. When we seek worldly/sensory pleasures, our actions tend to conceal the “pure mind” further.
  • If one attaches with rāga (liking the sense input based on “sukha vedanā“), one may engage in immoral deeds to get “more of it,” leading to future “bad outcomes” or “future suffering.” Even without immoral deeds, just the attachment itself keeps one bound to “kāma loka.”
  • Attachment due to dosa (dislike for the sense input “dukha vedanā“) definitely leads to immoral deeds.
  • Even in the absence of rāga and dosa, one’s mind is ALWAYS contaminated with moha (ignorance of the “real nature of the world.”) Thus, even in the vast majority of cases where “neutral” or “adukkhamasukhavedanā arises, there is a subtle attachment based on one’s distorted views/perceptions (diṭṭhi and saññā vipallāsa) about the world. This is harder to see at first.

2. Therefore, each sensory event leads one away from the “hidden pure mind” or the pabhassara citta. Please read the above-mentioned post to ensure you understand that critical point.

  • Another way to say the above is as follows: An average person (puthujjana) who has not comprehended Buddha’s teachings is ALWAYS on a downward path, away from Nibbāna (suffering-free pure mind.) In Pāli, this is called “ācayagāmi” (pronounced “aachayagaami”) or “moving away from Nibbāna.” That is the tendency to go in the direction of the “saṁsāric flood” (“ogha” in Pāli.) 
  • When one starts understanding the world’s anicca, dukkha, and anatta nature, one will start losing attachment to sensory inputs. That cannot happen with only willpower. One’s wrong views and perceptions (diṭṭhi and saññā vipallāsa) about the world start to wear away AUTOMATICALLY when one starts comprehending the anicca, dukkha, and anatta nature with wisdom (paññā.) When that happens, one starts going “against the flood.” See #4 of “Aniccaṁ Vipariṇāmi Aññathābhāvi – A Critical Verse.”
  • Here, it is critical to note that Buddha’s teachings are not about getting rid of painful feelings felt in the present life (dukha) but about ending unimaginable suffering in the rebirth process (Dukkha Sacca); see “Does the First Noble Truth Describe only Suffering?” 
Origin of Suffering – Dukkha Sutta 

3. The Dukkha Sutta (SN 12.43) states (Ref. 1 gives the Pāli verse), “Bhikkhus, what is the origin of suffering? Dependending on cakkhu and rupa, eye-consciousness arises. That rupa may trigger “defiled gati” (saṅgati or saṅ gati) in mind. That generates “mind-made vedanā.” Based on that “mind-made vedanā” the mind attaches (taṇhā) to that sensory input. Bhikkhus, that is the origin of suffering.

  • That verse is repeated for the other five senses. Thus, the Buddha says that the origin of suffering is attachment (taṇhā) to sensory inputs.
  • Here is to state that in another way: Causes for future suffering start with a sensory input coming through one of the six senses: eyes, ears, tongue, nose, body, and mind!  
  •  It will become clear why I have translated the verse differently than conventional translations. See the two translations at Sutta Central in the above link. As I have explained, some suttās need detailed explanations, not word-for-word translations done without understanding the context.
Ending of Suffering – Dukkha Sutta 

4. Then, in the second part of the sutta (Ref. 2 gives the Pāli verse): “Bhikkhus, how can this suffering be ended? With the contact between cakkhu and rupa, eye-consciousness arises. That sensory experience may trigger “defiled gati” (saṅgati or saṅ gati) in mind, i.e., it can generate “mind-made vedanā.” Based on that “mind-made vedanā” the mind may attach (taṇhā) to that sensory input.  But with the remainderless fading away and cessation of that craving (taṇhā) comes the cessation of upādāna (pursuing such experiences); with the cessation of upādāna, cessation of bhava; with the cessation of bhava, cessation of rebirth (jāti); with the cessation of jāti, aging-and-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair cease. That is the cessation of the whole mass of suffering.

  • That craving (taṇhā) is the ORIGIN of suffering in #3 above. The CESSATION of craving (taṇhā) leads to the cessation of suffering.
  • Does that mean only the three steps of upādāna, bhava, and jāti play crucial roles out of the 11 steps (avijjā, saṅkhāra, viññāṇa, nāmarupa, salāyatana, phassa, vedanā, taṇhā, upādāna, bhava, and jāti) in Paṭicca Samuppāda?
  • Discussion of that will provide us with valuable insight that most people are unaware of. The answer lies in understanding the meaning of upādāna.
  • The involvement of those other terms in Paṭicca Samuppāda based on taṇhā and upādāna is explained in “Taṇhā Paccayā Upādāna – Critical Step in Paṭicca Samuppāda.”
The Difference Between Conventional Worldview and Buddha Dhamma

5. As discussed in #1 above, any human not exposed to Buddha Dhamma can think of only one way to overcome the loss of a mind-pleasing thing or a distressful situation. That is to seek more sensory pleasures. One may be able to get temporary satisfaction that way, but it never leads to the end of suffering! 

  • The above description is one aspect of the anicca nature: “Anicca – The Incessant Distress (“Pīḷana”).” No matter how hard we try, it is impossible to maintain a “fully satisfactory mindset” regardless of how much wealth one has. 
  • Even if we engage in the most satisfying activity, after a while, it becomes unsatisfactory. Even the most delicious meal, we can eat so much. If we eat that same meal day after day, we get fed up and would like to eat something else. There is a sense of “unfulfillment” or “unsatisfactoriness” (“pīḷana” in Pāli) in our minds. 
  • The Buddha understood that the root of that issue is raga, dosa, and moha, which have been with us for a time that cannot be traced back. They have remained with us as anusaya or ‘hidden defilements.” The permanent solution to overcome that is to get rid of our cravings for sensory pleasures.
  • That is precisely the opposite approach to that of an average human (puthujjana) who has the mindset that sensory pleasures are of the “nicca nature.” (The “anicca nature” has other meanings than this “pīḷana nature;see “Anicca – True Meaning.” They all emphasize the futility of seeking sensory pleasures to overcome inevitable suffering inherent in this world. 
  • That wrong view/perception of a nicca nature manifests as taṇhā (craving/attachment) for the sensory inputs coming through the six senses.
Six Types of Taṇhā

6.  The “Vibhaṅga Sutta (SN 12.2)” defines tanha as follows. “Katamā ca, bhikkhave, taṇhā? Chayime, bhikkhave, taṇhākāyā—rūpataṇhā, saddataṇhā, gandhataṇhā, rasataṇhā, phoṭṭhabbataṇhā, dhammataṇhā.”

Translated: “Bhikkhus, what is taṇhā? There are these six classes of taṇhārūpa taṇhā, sadda taṇhā, gandha taṇhā, rasa taṇhā, phoṭṭhabba taṇhā, dhamma taṇhā.”

  • Note that the translation in the above translates “taṇhā” as “craving.” However, “taṇhā” CANNOT be translated to English as one word. “Taṇhā” means “to get attached to an ārammaṇa.” 
  • An ārammaṇa is a “rupa” that comes through one of the six senses. There are six types of rupa: “rupa rupa” (visuals), sadda rupa (sounds), gandha rupa (smell), rasa rupa (taste), phoṭṭhabba rupa (touch), and dhamma (memories) rupa. 
  • If it comes through the eyes, it is a sight (“rupa rupa.”) Each person attaches to the visuals they crave. That “attachment” can arise because of liking or craving, but one can also via “anger/hate.” Therefore, “rūpa taṇhā” can arise when one sees an attractive person/thing or a disliked person/thing. The key point is that sight will trap one’s mind, and one will start thinking about it. Then we say “rūpa taṇhā” has arisen due to that rupa ārammaṇa (i.e., rupārammaṇa.) Same for saddārammaṇa, gandhārammaṇa, etc.
Kammic Energy Created in Javana Citta

7. Kammic energy is created in a particular type of citta called “javana citta.” Note that “citta” is pronounced as “chiththa.” See Ref. 3 on the writing/pronunciation of Pāli words.

  • It is easy to see that not all cittās (loosely translated as ‘thoughts”) are the same. If we are not interested in something, our cittās on it are weak. On the other hand, if we are passionate about something, we have “strong feelings” that show up even in our tone of voice. That indicates an increase in javana power in cittās.
  • For example, a child being awakened in the morning to go to school on a rainy day may not be enthusiastic about getting up and going to school. Thus, his cittās at that time were weak.
  • The same child getting ready to play with his friends will be enthusiastic about it. His cittās at that time will have strong “javana power.”
  • However, in Buddha Dhamma, we focus only on javana cittās generated with rāga, dosa, and moha.

8. The idea of “thoughts generating energy” is a novel concept, especially for those in Western countries.

  • However, it is the basis of Buddha Dhamma. Mind is the precursor to everything in this world: “Manōpubbangamā Dhammā..
  • That is also why the Buddha said, “My teachings have never been known to this world.” As emphasized in #1 above, humans who have not understood Buddha’s teachings have only one option to overcome disliked sensory experiences or depressing situations: They seek more sensory pleasures.
  • The critical point to understand is that the tendency to attach to worldly things cannot be blamed on worldly things. In the absence of a Buddha, people can figure out that avoiding such “mind-pleasing things” can lead to a peaceful mind and even anariya jhāna. Ancient yogis went deep into jungles, away from sensory pleasures, and cultivated jhāna. However, avoiding attractive external rupa is only a temporary solution. Just the sight of an attractive woman can make them lose the ability to get into jhāna
  • The permanent way to lose the tendency to attach to worldly things is to cleanse one’s mind of such gati or tendencies with rāga, dosa, and moha. That can happen only after hearing (jānato) about the true fundamental nature of this world from a Noble Person and comprehending it with wisdom (passato). 
Critical Implications of Dukkha Sutta (SN 12.43)

9. As you can see, in #3 above (the first part of the Dukkha Sutta), the Buddha says that all future suffering can be stopped by stopping attachment to the sensory inputs that come through the six senses. Those six senses are the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. I alluded to this point in the post, “Paṭicca Samuppāda – Introduction.”

  • Then, in the second part, there is more information on that point. With the verse in #4 above, the Buddha briefly explains how future suffering ceases by the cessation of taṇhā, craving for sensory pleasures. He says that cessation of taṇhā leads to the cessation of upādāna, bhava, and jāti, and thus, to the cessation of all future suffering.
  • As we can also see, the verse is referring to the Paṭicca Samuppāda sequence starting with “salāyatana paccayā phassō” and proceeding via “phassa paccayā vēdanā, vēdanā paccayā taṇhā, taṇhā paccayā upādāna, upādāna paccayā bhavō, bhava paccayā jāti, jāti paccayā jarā, marana, soka-paridēva-dukkha-dōmanassupāyasā sambhavan’ti.”  Sensory inputs come through the six sense faculties or salāyatana.
  • In the next post, We will continue this discussion by focusing on anatta — the logical next step in how the anicca and dukkha nature leads to the anatta nature.” Thus, anatta is not about a “self.”

1. “Katamo ca, bhikkhave, dukkhassa samudayo? Cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjati cakkhuviññāṇaṁ. Tiṇṇaṁ saṅgati phasso. Phassapaccayā vedanā; vedanāpaccayā taṇhā. Ayaṁ kho, bhikkhave, dukkhassa samudayo.”

2. “Katamo ca, bhikkhave, dukkhassa atthaṅgamo? Cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjati cakkhuviññāṇaṁ. Tiṇṇaṁ saṅgati phasso. Phassapaccayā vedanā; vedanāpaccayā taṇhā. Tassāyeva taṇhāya asesavirāganirodhā upādānanirodhoupādānanirodhā bhavanirodho; bhavanirodhā jātinirodho; jātinirodhā jarāmaraṇaṁ sokaparidevadukkhadomanassupāyāsā nirujjhanti. Evametassa kevalassa dukkhakkhandhassa nirodho hotiAyaṁ kho, bhikkhave, dukkhassa atthaṅgamo.

3. Those who are unaware of the unique “Tipiṭaka English” writing format adopted many years ago, see “Tipiṭaka English” Convention Adopted by Early European Scholars – Part 1.” The English version of the Tipiṭaka was written in this format in the early 1900s, and that is the version used today in most English websites, including Sutta Central. It is essential to understand how to pronounce Pāli words correctly. Also see “Pāli Glossary – (A-K).”

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