Dukkha (Suffering Or Dissatisfaction)
Written by Edna Lake
"All forms of existence whatsoever are unsatisfactory and subject to dukkha. All dukkha and all rebirth is produced by craving. The extinction of craving necessarily results in the extinction of rebirth and dukkha. The Noble Eightfold Path indicates the means by which this extinction is attained.’
These are the four Noble Truths which encapsulate the Buddha’s teaching. It is important to understand that the word dukkha refers not only to painful experiences but also to the unsatisfactory nature of all conditioned phenomena. Thus we may say that pleasurable experiences are also dukkha because they contain the seeds of dissatisfaction within them. The first Truth does not mean that there is no possibility of happiness in life, only that any given set of circumstances in the mundane sphere cannot be relied upon to supply it. A gardener can get great pleasure from his garden but only if he accepts the fact the seasonal conditions will vary.
It is important to note that the teaching on suffering would be incomplete without the Noble Eightfold Path which shows how we may eliminate suffering. This will be discussed later.
The word dukkha can mean either physical or mental suffering, or the suffering which is inherent in change and comparison, and also the suffering caused by our clinging to things which are impermanent.
Examples of the first kind would be the feeling of pain from a broken leg, or the sadness and anguish we feel when a loved one dies; such things are usually called “suffering” The second kind is the dukkha which is found in the change of bodily and mental feelings from pleasant. For example we may look back on the long sunny days of a holiday, thinking that we very happy then and wishing we could still have that pleasure but, by comparison, the hot days at work seem worse then before we went away, and winter may seem even colder and darker than before. The third kind of dukkha is the most important; it is to the fact that all things are conditioned and therefore cannot remain the same for ever. Everything which comes into existence remains so long as there are conditions for it to do so and then ceases. Birth, decay and death cause a great deal of dukkha when we cling to things or people, and the concept of a permanent self is the prime source of mental pain.
The dukkha we experience in life is not a punishment for wrong-doing, there is no one sitting in judgement on us, rather is it the result of our search for happiness or pleasure in what is not capable of reliably providing it. The Dhamma guides us to an understanding of the causes of dukkha and the Noble Eightfold Path offers practical advice on how to eliminate mental suffering.
Ignorance and craving are the two causes of volitional activities, and so of frustration and stress. By craving is meant one of three things: desire for sensual pleasures, desire for existence and desire for non-existence. Craving implies that there is the possibility of finding real satisfaction in some sphere, but this belief vanishes when ignorance or delusion is replaced by wisdom and the knowledge of the way things are.
Because craving is never completely satisfied, it causes frustration. A greedy person is always greedy. Having got what he wanted, he wants something else. It is not so much the object he desires, but the assuagement of his feeling of greed, which is actually a painful feeling. For a moment he is free from the distress of wanting, but that soon returns. Satisfaction cannot be obtained so long as there is ignorance in the mind, since this is a condition for greed to arise. What is needed for peace of mind is the elimination of desire. When that ceases, pain ceases.
Craving and ignorance are conditions for the arising of mental leading to actions designed not to satisfy craving for sensual pleasures, existence or non-existence. Ignorance means not knowing the truth that everything is impermanent, liable to suffering and void of any intrinsic self. It is the delusion which makes us believe that we can find happiness in sense gratification and ignore the fact that it may end or change at any time. Even the most delightful sensations will become painful or tedious if they continue for very long. It is impossible to visualise any pleasure which would be bearable for ever.
People do not always realise that it is attachment itself which makes then unhappy. They often think that if they can get what they want now they will be happy afterwards, but once they have got that thing conditions have changed and they nay be afraid of losing it, or it may bring other problems. The story of King Midas reminds us to be careful what we wish for. Loving good so much he wished for everything he touched to be turned into gold, and, when his wish was granted, found he had a severe problem in eating and drinking. A person who loves money or beautiful things, or family or friends can never feel absolutely sure that he has enough, or that he will be able to keep what he has, or that he will not encounter problems like King Minds. Greed will always require more. The only way to be free of the pain of attachment, with its potential to cause disappointment, frustration and anxiety, is to become disenchanted with sense pleasures, or the desire for continued existence or non-existence.
The Buddha did not offer a magical cure for dukkha, but he did point out that everything arises because of causes. When the cause is eliminated so is the effect. The Noble Eightfold Path is the practical way for a person to develop the wisdom which will enable him gradually to get free of craving and so of dukkha.