Attachment to Things with Dukkha Lakkhana Leads to Dukkha

August 23, 2021; revised December 13, 2022

Dukkha usually means suffering. That is dukkha vedanā. But things that appear to bring happiness have the “dukkha lakkhana.” The Buddha explained that in the First Noble Truth, Dukkha Sacca (the Truth about suffering.)

Dukkha Sacca (Truth About Suffering)

1. We encounter the word “dukkha” in different contexts:

(i) Dukkha vedanā (is a feeling that can range from unpleasantness to painful feelings such as being burned or cut by a knife.
(ii) Dukkha lakkhana is a characteristic of suffering) in Tilakkhana and NOT dukkha vedanā.
(iii) Dukkha Sacca (First Noble Truth), which is again not dukkha vedanā but to point out that dukkha lakkhana is inherent in this world, i.e., suffering CANNOT be avoided (in the long run) if one attaches to things in this world. Since we tend to attach to “mind-pleasing things,” Dukkha Sacca says that “suffering is hidden in those “mind-pleasing things.” This is not easy to understand unless one spends time understanding it (by reading, contemplating, etc.).
(iv) Dukkhakkhandha (which includes all types of suffering that can result from acting with avijjā due to the ignorance of Dukkha Sacca.  Paṭicca Samuppāda. describes how that happens. The Paṭicca Samuppāda sequence ends with the statement, “Evametassa kevalassa dukkhakkhandhassa samudayō hōti” or “that is how the whole mass of suffering arises.” As we know, “khandha” means “aggregate.”

Different Types of Dukkha vedanā

2. Vedana is what one feels: happy/pleasant, sad/unpleasant, or neutral feelings (sukha, dukkha, or adukkhamasukha vedanā).

  • Dukkha vedanā can be of several different types. Some are felt by the physical body (like injuries or sicknesses.) Some others are mind-made (like depression), and these are “samphassa jā vēdanā“ (“vēdanā generated by “saṅ“). As we know, “saṅ” means “greed, anger, ignorance.” An Arahant feels the first kind but not the second. See, “What is “San”? Meaning of Sansāra (or Saṃsāra).”
  • That second category can arise due to our personal biases. For example, unpleasant feelings may arise when we see someone we dislike (say, person X.) But X could be a friend of a third person (Y), and pleasant feelings may arise in Y upon seeing X. Therefore, such “mind-made feelings” depend on the situation. If we ever become friendly with X, then when we see X, pleasant feelings may arise in us too.
Dukkha lakkhana (characteristic of suffering) in Tilakkhana

3. Dukkha lakkhana is not a feeling. It is an intrinsic characteristic or quality “hidden” in worldly things. It is a bit difficult to understand at first.

  • Let us look at a couple of simple examples to get an idea.
    – Glass has the “characteristic of breaking,” i.e., it can break if dropped on a hard surface. But until it breaks, a glass only has the “characteristic of breaking.”
    – A drink with a bit of poison has the “characteristic of inducing sickness or even death.” But one will only be subjected to sickness/death if one drinks it.
  • In the same way, worldly things (especially those mind-pleasing things”) have the “characteristic of suffering.” But one will be subjected to such suffering only if one attaches to them. Let us take a simple example. Suppose we hear that person X has died. We will become sad and suffer only if X is someone close to us, say a parent. If we don’t even know who X is, we will not suffer hearing that X has died. The stronger the attachment to X, the stronger the distress/sadness (domanassa vedanā) we feel.
  • Everything in this world has dukkha lakkhana, as we have discussed. There are two aspects to this:
    (i) We are born with a body that has dukkha lakkhana. We have to live with whatever dukkha that comes with it, for example, getting injured or sick),
    (ii) people (friends, relatives, etc.) and things (houses, cars, etc.) have dukkha lakkhana too. We can limit that suffering by having attachments to fewer people and things. However, losing attachment comes naturally with understanding and should not be forced. One MUST pay attention to one’s responsibilities too. We will discuss this later.
  • We discussed the Dukkha lakkhana in the previous post, “Dukkha in Tilakkhana Is a Characteristic – Not Dukkha Vedanā.” We will go into details in upcoming posts.
Dukkha Sacca (First Noble Truth)

4. Dukkha Sacca (First Noble Truth) points out unimaginable suffering in the rebirth process. Rebirth can happen among 31 realms (including the human and animal realms.) We can see the suffering of animals and also humans. But the suffering is much harsher in the other three lower realms.

  • Dukkha Sacca also explains that the root cause of suffering is greed for (or attachment to) worldly pleasures. There is suffering hidden in sensory pleasures. Only a Buddha can discover that hidden suffering and can explain how such suffering takes place via Paṭicca Samuppāda.  In simple terms, that can be stated as follows:
    We tend to do immoral deeds to acquire such pleasures, and their consequences will bear fruit mostly at later times, in many cases, in future lives.
  • Only a Buddha with a highly cleansed mind can figure out hidden dangers (suffering) in sensory pleasures. Like a fish can not see the hidden suffering in a bait, we cannot see the suffering hidden in sensory pleasures unless explained by a Buddha.
Physical Suffering and Death – Hard to Understand?

5. Some people seem to pretend they don’t understand suffering. Others seem to think they are not going to die. To quote from a discussion forum: ” Birth and death are only a view of self.” Are these people hallucinating? This kind of thing happens when people “bury their heads in the sand,” i.e., trying to avoid a particular situation by pretending it does not exist.

  • Suffering is real. Try pinching yourself. Does not that hurt? Imagine the suffering when someone dies of a bullet wound or a knife attack.
  • Even though animal videos like the following are viral and are made for entertainment, they provide vivid examples of unimaginable suffering experienced by animals in the wild. They are not killed and eaten; they are eaten while still alive. Imagine being subjected to that kind of suffering!


  • All those animals had been humans in the past. Furthermore, most people living today will be born in the animal realm in the future.
  • Even though we cannot see the unimaginable suffering in the other three lower realms, we can at least see the harsh suffering in the animal realm. Of course, there is suffering in the human realm, but animals in the wild undergo much more suffering.
  • There are no “old animals” in the wild; as soon as they start slowing down, they are eaten by bigger animals.
Discovery of Paṭicca Samuppāda Sequence

6. The above video explains what dukkha vedanā (specifically, bodily suffering) is.

  • But such dukkha vedanā do not arise without causes. If the past lives of such an animal are traced back, it would be possible to see a corresponding “bad kamma” committed, which resulted in such a bad outcome.
  • That is how the Buddha figured out the steps in Paṭicca Samuppāda. Immoral actions (based on abhisaṅkhāra) are done with avijjā and lead to future existence (bhava) and births (jāti). He figured that out by tracing back previous lives. That discovery happened during the night of his Enlightenment. Let us briefly discuss that.
  •  He first attained the “pubbe nivāsānussati ñāna” to look back at previous human births. Here, “pubbe” means “previous,” “nivasa” means “house,” and “anussati” means “recall,” i.e., the knowledge to recall successive residences of a given gandhabba. In a given human bhava, a gandhabba could have many different “houses,” i.e., physical bodies. Thus with this ñāna, one could look at human births in the past, in multiple human bhava going back to very long times.

7. The second ñāna, cutupapāda ñāna, extended Buddha’s capability to see all previous rebirths in any realm for any living being. Here cutupapāda (cuti means the end of a bhava, and upapāda means birth) refers to all types of rebirths in various realms (niraya, animal, deva, etc.) in the past.

  • That allowed him to see how different types of kamma lead to corresponding existences (bhava) and births (jāti) within them, i.e., how “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” lead to “bhava” and “jāti” ending with “jāti paccayā jarā, marana, soka-paridēva-dukkha-dōmanassupāyasā sambhavan’ti”
  • With that knowledge, he attained the third and final “āsavakkhaya ñāna.” That clarifies how cravings (“āsava,” another word for attachment) lead to future rebirths. We generate saṅkhāra with avijjā because of taṇhā/āsava. 
  • It is the āsavakkhaya ñāna that led to the Buddhahood; see “The Way to Nibbāna – Removal of Āsavā” and “Antarābhava and Gandhabba” for further details.
  • The Buddha described that process in various suttas; for example, AN 8.11, MN 4, MN 85, and MN36. The “Verañja Sutta (AN 8.11)” is a short one. The English translation at Sutta Central is in that link. 
The essence of Buddha Dhamma – Suffering Is Hidden in Sensory Pleasures

8. Average humans are astonished to hear that the root cause of suffering is attachment to all those mind-pleasing things they value so much.

  • It is hard to “see” this because there is a time lag between causes and their results (effects). While some kamma bring their vipāka during the same life, most kamma vipāka materialize later in life or even in future births.
  • However, suppose one spends time and carefully examines the teachings of the Buddha. Then one can “see” the truth of that statement: ‘there is unimaginable suffering hidden in sensory pleasures.” That is a bit easier to see for immoral actions based on such attachments (e.g., killing, stealing, taking bribes, etc.)
  • It is much harder to grasp this profound Dhamma for those engaging in such immoral deeds (and those who do not believe in the rebirth process). Furthermore, if one has done such “bad kamma” in the past, one can overcome their vipāka. We know that Angulimala killed almost 1000 people and still was able to attain Arahanthood within weeks of meeting the Buddha. See “Account of Angulimāla – Many Insights to Buddha Dhamma.”
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