What Is Suffering (Dukkha)?
Many scholars prefer to keep the
original Sanskrit word, dukkha, because they often feel the English does not really carry the whole
meaning of the Sanskrit. Some translators try to use 'unsatisfactoriness' or 'dissatisfaction' instead because
it has a wider and deeper meaning than suffering.
In Buddhism, when we talk about
suffering or dukkha as in the Noble Truth of Suffering, it has
a deep meaning. This is not really everyday suffering. Of course, everyday suffering is there –
pain, difficulties, illness, discomfort, all those sufferings – but here the deeper meaning is more to do with
psychological suffering, that sense of dissatisfaction which is very deep-rooted in our psyche. Because
that kind of suffering is at the core of the first Noble Truth, I think these scholars feel the English word
'suffering' is not really exact enough.
Walpola Rahula in his book, What the Buddha Taught, writes: "It is true that the Pali word dukka
(or Sanskrit dukkha) in ordinary usage means 'suffering', 'pain',
'sorrow', or 'misery', as opposed to
the word sukka meaning
'happiness', 'comfort', or 'ease'.
But the term dukkha as the first Noble Truth, which represents the Buddha’s view of life
and the world, has a deeper philosophical meaning and connotes enormously wider senses. It is admitted that the
term dukkha in the first Noble Truth contains, quite obviously, the
ordinary meaning of 'suffering', but in addition it also includes deeper ideas such as 'imperfection',
'impermanence', 'emptiness', 'insubstantiality'."
Source: Adapted from Geshe Tashi Tsering, The Four Noble Truths: The Foundation of Buddhist
Thought, Vol. 1, with a foreword by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, ed. Gordon McDougall (Somerville, MA: Wisdom
Publications, 2005), 29-38.
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