Introduction – What is Suffering?

Revised June 6, 2021; re-written June 14, 2021

Dukkha Sacca” Means “The Truth About Suffering”

1. “Dukkha sacca” (the latter pronounced “sachcha”) refers not only to suffering hidden in the rebirth process but also to the elimination of it.

  • Buddha never denied that there are “pleasures to be had” in this world. In fact, he pointed out that there are Deva and Brahma realms where there are enhanced sensual (kāma) and jhānic pleasures compared to the “pleasures” available in the human world.
  • But the problem is that ANY given sentient living being spends much more time in the four lowest realms (apāyās) than the time spent in the human, Deva, and Brahma realms (in the rebirth process.) See, “Rebirth – Connection to Suffering in the First Noble Truth.”
  • Therefore, there is NET suffering in the rebirth process by a HUGE margin.
Misconceptions About Dukkha Sacca (First Noble Truth)

2. Many people are addicted to the temporary “peace of mind” achieved by breath meditation or similar “meditation techniques.” But that deals with only “superficial suffering.” The Buddha pointed out that there is much harsher suffering in the rebirth process.

  • Buddha Dhamma is all about ending that harsher and longer-term suffering AND getting to a state with ABSOLUTELY NO suffering. Nibbānic bliss” or “happiness in Nibbāna” refers to the bliss of not having to experience even a trace of suffering.
  • A crude analogy is someone who has had a migraine headache all his life and finally getting rid of it. However, it is only an analogy, because rupa, vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, viññāna are all ABSENT in Nibbāna (after the death of an Arahant.)
  • That is the implication of not having the 3 ultimate realities of citta, cetasika, rupa in Nibbāna. So while Nibbāna exists, we cannot describe it in terms of our terminology.
  • See #4 of the post, “Six Root Causes – Loka Samudaya (Arising of Suffering) and Loka Nirodhaya (Nibbāna).”
Nibbānic Bliss Is About Total Absence of Suffering

3. This is also explained, for example, in the “Nibbānasukha Sutta (AN 9.34).” The verse “Nibbānaṁ paramaṁ sukhaṁ” DOES NOT refer to a sukha vedanā” in the sense of a feeling because there are no vedanā in Nibbāna. See, “Nibbāna “Exists,” but Not in This World.”

  • Many people equate “jhānic experiences” with Nibbāna. Jhāna are the mental states of Brahma worlds, and thus,  jhānic experiences belong to “this world of 31 realms.” Any sentient being, including any animal, had attained jhāna and had been born in Brahma worlds many times in their deep past!
  • Nibbāna is simply the total absence of ANY suffering. That is the “Nibbānic bliss.” We cannot compare that to any “sukha vedanā” experienced by any person, Deva or Brahma. That is why Prince Siddhattha and many kings and wealthy people gave up those “princely lives” to seek Nibbāna.
  • So, how bad is this suffering in the rebirth process?
Understanding “True Suffering” – It Is in the Rebirth Process

4. in the post “Rebirth – Connection to Suffering in the First Noble Truth,” we discussed references in the Tipiṭaka that MOST rebirths are in the four lowest realms (apāyās.) We can only see the suffering in one of them, the animal realm.

  • The Buddha has discussed, in detail, the types of suffering in the other three apāyās. For example, in the “Bālapaṇḍita Sutta (MN 129)” and “Devadūta Sutta (MN 130)” the Buddha explains, in detail, the kind of suffering encountered in various lower realms.
  • English translation of the first one: “The Foolish and the Astute (MN 129.).” That sutta explains that a person who engages in immoral activities (“bālo” or a “fool”) can expect the consequences (kamma vipāka) both in this life and in future existences in the apāyāsThe account of the experiences in the niraya (lowest realm) is terrifying. 
  • A related sutta is the “Pāyāsi Sutta (DN 23).” It is about the wrong views that there is no rebirth process, etc. See the English translation there: “With Pāyāsi (DN 23).” For those who have doubts about the validity of the rebirth process or the existence of apāyās, it is a good idea to read the above suttās.
Luckily We Don’t Remember Our Previous “Bhava

5. As we discussed in the post “Rebirth – Connection to Suffering in the First Noble Truth,” we are reborn with human bodies many times during a “human bhava” that can last many thousands of years is why some children can recall their past HUMAN lives. Those rebirths took place during the SAME human bhava.

  • Some yogis with abhiññā powers can see their RECENT bhava just before the current bhava. Almost all of them are likely to have had Brahma bhava just before the current human bhava. As we have discussed, it is unimaginably hard to get a human bhava FROM a human or lower bhava (ie.., from the apāyās.)  Furthermore, those who can easily cultivate jhāna are VERY likely to have had a Brahma bhava just before this human bhava. Therefore, such yogis may be able to see their previous Brahma bhava. But there are no accounts of anyone recalling an animal or other existences in the apāyās.
  • Thus, different bhava are isolated, and it is difficult to “look back,” especially past existences in the lower realms.
  • That is fortunate because it would give nightmares to recall such levels of suffering in the apāyās described in #4 above. However, we can get an idea about the level of suffering in the apāyās also from the following sutta.
Sattisata Sutta (SN 56.35) – Take That Deal!

6. In the “Sattisata Sutta (SN 56.35),” the Buddha advised bhikkhus to commit all their waking time to strive for Nibbāna. To drive the point home, the Buddha gave an analogy. It is a short sutta, and I will translate it below. Good English translation at Sutta Central: “A Hundred Spears (SN 56.35).”

Bhikkhus, suppose there was a man with a remaining life span of a hundred years. Someone would say to him: ‘Come, good man, in the morning they will strike you with a hundred spears; at noon they will strike you with a hundred spears; in the evening they will strike you with a hundred spears. And you, good man, being struck day after day by three hundred spears will live a hundred years. Then, after a hundred years have passed, you will make the breakthrough to the Four Noble Truths and Nibbāna. That is guaranteed if you agree to bear that suffering.”

It is a wise decision, bhikkhus, for that man to accept the offer. For what reason? Because this saṁsāra is without a discoverable beginning. You have suffered mightily by uncountable blows by spears, blows by swords, blows by axes, etc.  (and will do so in the future too unless you attain Nibbāna.)

However, bhikkhus, I do not say that the path to Nibbāna is accompanied by suffering or displeasure. Rather, the path to Nibbāna is accompanied only by happiness and joy.

“Therefore, bhikkhus, you should strive to understand: ‘This is suffering. These are causes for that suffering. The removal of those causes will lead to the cessation of suffering. This is the way to the cessation of suffering.’”

Mistranslations of Some Suttās and Suppression of Selected Suttās

7. As you all would have seen, many people ignore those suttās. They say those suttās are “later additions” or “have been distorted after the Buddha.” Then they pick and choose a few suttās and mistranslate them to prove their point! For example, in his first discourse, Buddha stated,”.ayamantimā jāti, natthi dāni punabbhavo’ti.” OR “..this is the last birth. There is no more gasping of a repeated bhava.” Is “Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (SN 56.11)” a later addition?

  • I am willing to discuss ANY sutta in Tipiṭaka. But please refrain from just expressing OPINIONS or quote other mistranslations. We are discussing Buddha’s teachings. You may disagree, and that is fine, but don’t distort his teachings. Buddha’s teachings ARE contrary to the “accepted norms” and that is exactly why we all have been trapped in this suffering-filled rebirth process for SO LONG! The verse, pubbe ananussutesu dhammesu cakkhuṁ udapādi, ñāṇaṁ udapādi, paññā udapādi, vijjā udapādi, āloko udapādi...” (“such was the vision, knowledge, wisdom, penetrating vision, and the way to separate from the world, that arose in me regarding these teachings not heard before..” ) appears 8 times in that first discourse of the Buddha for this reason.
  • The Buddha explained what kind of suffering to be expected and explained HOW such horrible suffering arises (dukkha samudaya) and HOW we can stop it from arising (dukkha nirodhaya.) Of course, the way to achieve that is the Noble Eightfold Path. To follow that Path, one MUST first understand the first 3 Noble truths.
  • By the way, Buddha also explained that suffering is not caused by one’s soul (or ātman in Hinduism.) There is no such thing, to begin with. Paṭicca Samuppāda starts with “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra.” That process will proceed irrespective of a specific “soul.” There is only a “satta (satva)” engaged in generating saṅkhāra due to avijjā. See #3 of “Five Aggregates and Tilakkhaṇa – Introduction.” This is a deeper point that I will discuss in detail in upcoming posts.
Dukkha Samudaya – Explained by Akusala-Mula Paṭicca Samuppāda

8. The two main akusala-mula Paṭicca Samuppāda schemes describe the mechanisms whereby suffering in this world arises (dukkha samudaya.)

  • The “Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda” describes how we accumulate kammic energies during our lives. Such kammic energies “pile-up” and lead to future existences, mostly in the apāyās, and that is described in “Akusala-Mūla Uppatti Paṭicca Samuppāda.”
  • As we have seen, any birth “in this world” WILL lead to suffering: Starting with “avijjā paccaya saṅkhāra” those cycles ALWAYS end up with “jāti paccayā jarā, maranasoka-paridēva-dukkha-dōmanassupāyasā sambhavan’ti and the “whole mass of suffering.”
Dukkha Nirodhaya – Explained by Kusala-Mula Paṭicca Samuppāda

9. The Kusala-Mula Paṭicca Samuppādadescribes the process of eliminating suffering.

  • Kusalamūla paccayā saṅkhāra” WILL lead to births of Ariyās (Sotapanna through Anāgāmi.) But, since they are also reborn into this world, the cycle still ends with old age and death: “jāti paccayā jarā maraṇaṃ. Evametesaṃ dhammānaṃ samudayo hoti.”
  • But upon the death of an Arahant, there is the total absence of suffering. Thus, it will lead to the end of suffering.
Two Types of Saṅkhāra in Dukkha Samudaya and Dukkha Nirodhaya

10. Those saṅkhāra generated with avijjā (we can call them akusala saṅkhāra) will perpetuate the rebirth process and will lead to more suffering.

  • On the other hand, kusala saṅkhāra generated with paññā (comprehension of the Noble Truths) will lead to the Arahanthood and the stopping of the rebirth process. That is Nibbāna, the total absence of suffering!
Connection to the Root Causes

11. As we saw in the previous post, “Six Root Causes – Loka Samudaya (Arising of Suffering) and Loka Nirodhaya (Nibbāna)akusala saṅkhāra” arise due to lobha, dosa, moha, and the mundane versions of alobha, adosa, amoha.

  • To generate kusala saṅkhāra” one must cultivate the lokottara (deeper) versions of alobha, adosa, amoha with comprehension of the Noble truths/Paṭicca Samuppāda/Tilakkhana. Note that those three (Noble truths/Paṭicca Samuppāda/Tilakkhana) are equivalent, and I may just refer to just any one of them in most cases.
  • To complete the discussion on suffering, we need to discuss the three categories of suffering.
Three Categories of Suffering

12. The three categories of suffering are stated in the Dukkhatā Sutta (SN 45.165): “…Dukkha dukkhatā, saṅkhāra dukkhatā, vipariṇāma dukkhatāimā kho, bhikkhave, tisso dukkhatā.”

  • It does not make sense to try to translate the names of the 3 categories: Dukkha dukkhatā, saṅkhāra dukkhatā, vipariṇāma dukkhatā. Instead, it is better to understand the meanings of those 3 types of suffering. Here, dukkhatā means “type of dukkha.”
  • Thus, we can say that the 3 categories of suffering are dukkha-dukkha, saṅkhāra-dukkha, and vipariṇāma-dukkha.
Worst Is the Dukkha-Dukkha

13. As the name implies, the strongest suffering is the dukkha-dukkha that arises DIRECTLY due to kamma vipāka. That category is associated with major types of suffering (serious injuries, diseases like cancer, etc.) that we face DURING  a lifetime. Of course, when born in an apāya, most of that existence is filled with dukkha-dukkha.

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