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Why does the Buddha say everything is ‘Dukkha’ when people clearly experience pleasure?

Why does the Buddha say everything is ‘Dukkha’ when people clearly experience pleasure?


  1. 1. The Nature of Suffering (Dukkha):”Now this … is the noble truth of suffering: birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair are suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering.” [1]
    I disagree. Not a great start, huh! ~LoL~
    I agree wholeheartedly with the underlying sentiment, that our suffering prevents us from reaching our true potential and attaining enlightenment. I disagree, however, that things are inherently imbued with suffering as is implied in most translations and interpretations of the First Noble Truth. Things are what they are, suffering is a choice, whether we realize it or not, we can choose not to suffer.
    Birth; aging; illness; death; these things are not suffering; they are birth, aging, illness, and death. Any suffering involved comes from how we choose to interact with these things on intellectual, emotional, and spiritual levels, they are not in and of themselves suffering. If we choose to experience birth, aging, illness and death without any grasping and/or clinging then there is no suffering, there is only birth, aging illness and death.
    The same can be said for sorrow, pain, grief; none of these things are suffering in and of themselves. You can experience sorrow, pain or grief and not suffer. Sometimes sorrow, pain or grief can come as a result of suffering, and vice versa, but they are not suffering in and of themselves.
    Lamentation and despair are definitely symptoms of suffering, but again, I would argue that they are not suffering in and of themselves. Before lamentation and despair can come to fruition one has to have already made the choice (no matter how subconsciously) to suffer.
    Now, all of this having been said, the choice not to suffer is quite often an extremely difficult task and it is often much more easy just to allow suffering to rise. We are all, almost without fail, so incredibly conditioned that when things do not go as planned we begin to grasp, avert and allow, almost encourage, suffering to rise. It does seem to be the nature of human life to be very susceptible to suffering, but I strongly disagree that the nature of human life is suffering.
    Rather than to say “Life is suffering.” I think that, a better interpretation of the First Noble Truth, at least for the ways in which I currently perceive things, might be: “Life is prone to suffering.”
    [1] Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (SN 56.11), trans. Bodhi (2000), pp. 1843-47.

  2. Because people tend to attach to pleasurable experiences in such a way that even they ultimately create pain – even if only by ending. Or people become so fixated on their past experiences of pleasure that they do all sorts of harmful things to try to recreate them, such as falling into addictions.
    I agree with the above poster in as much as I also think of the first noble truth in a slightly different way that the literal translation might imply. I think of the 4 noble truths in this manner:
    1) Pain – physical, mental, and emotional – is a big part of life.
    2) Suffering is created by peoples’ wishes and attempts to avoid all pain and attain pleasure.
    3) When you stop fighting against the nature of reality and accept the inevitability of pain, suffering is transformed into peace and compassion.
    4) The best way to do this is through the practice of unconditional mindfulness and acceptance.
    These are quite different from the usual translations of the four noble truths, but the Buddha’s first commandment was to accept the dharma only as you find it true in your own experience.

  3. He does not say everything is dukkha. He says everyone experiences dukkha (suffering) and much of it is caused by our attachment to pleasure.

  4. We Westerners generally have difficulty when we hear Buddhists express the core teachings of the Buddha centers around the concept of “suffering.” But the term “dukkha” is frequently misinterpreted and incorrectly translated. “Dukkha is a multi-faceted word. Its literal meaning is ‘that which is difficult to bear’. It can mean suffering, stress, pain, anguish, affliction or unsatisfactoriness. Each of the English words is either too strong or too weak in their meaning to be a universally successful translation. Dukkha can be gross or very subtle. From extreme physical and mental pain and torment to subtle inner conflicts and existential malaise.” (from http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/8foldpath.htm )
    The core teaching of Buddhism is expressed in The Four Noble Truths:
    1. Life means “dukkha”
    2. The origin of “dukkha” is attachment.
    3. The cessation of “dukkha” is attainable.
    4. The path to the cessation of “dukkha” exists.
    As it was explained to me, dukkha really implies “out of balance”; like a bicycle wheel with the spokes not properly adjusted. When the spokes are not properly adjusted, some too tight or too loose, a bicycle wheel is said to be “out of true” (out of round) and it wobbles. The bicycle as a result does not work efficiently. This dukkha, this being “out of balance”, exists in life; that the cause of dukkha is attachment (sometimes referred to as “ignorance” or “desire”); that it is possible to end dukkha; that the end to dukkha is attained by self-improvement by following The Eightfold Path (Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration). If you follow my analogy of the spokes on a bicycle wheel, the Buddhist Dharmachakra is an eight-spoked wheel and is a recognized symbol of a Buddhist. Each of the Dharmachakra spokes represents one part of the Eightfold Path. If any of these “spokes” are not adjusted properly, the wheel is “out of true” and it (the mind) will wobble.
    “The first noble truth says simply that it’s part of being human to feel discomfort. We don’t even have to call it suffering anymore; we dont even have to call it discomfort. It’s simply coming to know the fireyness of fire, the wildness of wind, the turbulence of water, the upheaval of earth, as well as the warmth of fire, the coolness and smoothness of water, the gentleness of the breezes, and the goodness, solidness, and dependability of the earth. Nothing in its essence is one way or the other. The four elements take on different qualities; they’re like magicians. Sometimes they manifest in one form and sometimes in another…. The first noble truth recognizes that we also change like the weather, we ebb and flow like the tides, we wax and wane like the moon.” ~Pema Chodron; “Awakening Loving-Kindness”
    No, you don’t have to give up life’s pleasures to be a Buddhist. That is not what the Buddha taught. You have to give up attachment (clinging) to them. It is not enjoyment or pleasure that is dangerous but the desire–the want–of the continuous seeking of anything, be it nature or otherwise, that causes dukkha. If I see a beautiful sunset, I enjoy it but I realize I cannot keep it. It is transitory, impermanent, like an illusion that all too quickly passes. I also realize that tomorrow the sunset may be obscured by rain. If I really desire the sunset of yesterday but do not see it today, that causes dukkha (a lack of balance–not in nature but within). The same same holds true for any “thing” that one greatly desires. We can enjoy them and obtain pleasure from them but understand they are only there temporarily: flowers in bloom are beautiful but quickly wither; the moon waxes and wanes and will in time totally disappear (figuratively and ultimately literally according to science); mountains will eventually lose their majesty by weathering away, etc. The most beautiful woman or the most handsome man will eventually grow old. We see extreme dukkha in the man or woman who refuses to accept the fact of aging by spending thousands of dollars on cremes and hormone treatments, hair implants, undergoing liposuction, botox injections, saline implants, and sundry cosmetic surgeries in a vane attempt to forgo aging. They experience dukkha to the extreme and physically become a mockery of a human. It does not mean you should not enjoy life but don’t fixate on the enjoyment because when you experience a sorrow (as we all will and do) you will definitely experience dukkha.
    There’s an example that is used to explain what may appear to be a contradiction. Take a coin and clench it in your hand. With your palm up, open your fist–that’s clinging. Do the same thing with your palm facing the ground and open your fist. In one instance you see clinging in the other, letting go. In both cases, the coin is in your possession but how you hold it is up to you. If you want a happy life, a life of personal contentment then you have to leave behind the negative thinking of desire, the “poor me, why me” syndrome and look within where real contentment resides.
    May all be at peace.


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