Are material elements considered dukkha in Buddhism?

Do Buddhists categorically consider material elements such as atoms, molecules, etc. as dukkha?

I thoughts that phenomena are neutral because their nature empty, selfless. I was shocked to hear that some self-proclaimed Theravadins religiously believe that even material things like tree or stones are dukkha.

On the other hand if phenomena are anatta, not-self, not-you, not-me how can they be considered to be dukkha? Or I misunderstood something?

On the other hand if phenomena are anatta, not-self, not-you, not-me how can they be considered to be dukkha? Or I misunderstood something?

If phenomena being not-self entailed that they weren’t suffering, then this would entail that no phenomena are suffering, since all phenomena are not-self. However, it is clear that there are a lot of things which the Buddha says are both not-self and suffering, notably the five aggregates (SN 22) and the six sense fields (SN 35).

To me this is a problem in interpretation or explanation. If you see an event or phenomena as not-self, it cannot cause your suffering. That’s the point of the path - to see all dhammas as anatta to minimize dukkha. So dukkha is in person’s perception and reaction rather than in dhammas themselves.

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I don’t think stones are inherently dukkha. Craving for stones, or aversion to stones, would be dukkha.
If stones were inherently dukkha, then cessation of suffering would be impossible.

Hi. The word ‘dukkha’ does not have one meaning according to the translation below:

  1. “All conditioned things are unsatisfactory ( dukkhā)” — when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering (dukkhe). This is the path to purification.

SuttaCentral

Therefore, according to the above translation, material elements are “dukkha”, which seems to mean material elements are incapable of bringing true happiness. :slightly_smiling_face:

Ajahn Jayasaro recently wrote the word “dukkha” in the Four Noble Truths has a different meaning to the word “dukkha” used as one of the Three Characteristics.

I don’t think that trying to consider material elements separate from the sensing of the material elements is a particularly useful pursuit. We only get our idea of an out-there by using the in-here. So it’s much better to consider it in the round.

In SN 35.23 we get:

And what is the all? It’s just the eye and sights, the ear and sounds, the nose and smells, the tongue and tastes, the body and touches, and the mind and thoughts. This is called the all.

Mendicants, suppose someone was to say: ‘I’ll reject this all and describe another all.’ They’d have no grounds for that, they’d be stumped by questions, and, in addition, they’d get frustrated. Why is that? Because they’re out of their element.”

And a little further along we get SN 35.33-42

“Mendicants, all is liable to be reborn. And what is the all that is liable to be reborn? The eye, sights, eye consciousness, and eye contact are liable to be reborn. And the pleasant, painful, or neutral feeling that arises conditioned by eye contact is also liable to be reborn.

The ear … nose … tongue … body … The mind, thoughts, mind consciousness, and mind contact are liable to be reborn. And the pleasant, painful, or neutral feeling that arises conditioned by mind contact is also liable to be reborn.

Seeing this a learned noble disciple grows disillusioned … They understand: ‘… there is no return to any state of existence.’”

“Mendicants, all is liable to grow old. …”

“Mendicants, all is liable to fall sick. …”

“Mendicants, all is liable to die. …”

“Mendicants, all is liable to sorrow. …”

“Mendicants, all is liable to be corrupted. …”

“Mendicants, all is liable to end. …”

“Mendicants, all is liable to vanish. …”

“Mendicants, all is liable to originate. …”

“Mendicants, all is liable to cease. …”

An interesting distinction between 2 meanings of dukkha.

  1. Stones are conditional and transient, and cannot provide lasting satisfaction.
  2. When 1. is not understood, attachment to stones will lead to suffering.
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Sure, we’re talking about the sense-experience of stones, eg colour, texture, etc.

I don’t want to rehash our old fruitless discussions :rofl: so I’ll word it as carefully as I can …

So in this case that sense-experience is suffering

“Mendicants, all is liable to sorrow. …”

until

are no longer reborn. i.e. saṁsāra halts and

there is no return to any state of existence.

I’m not sure if this is what you intended to suggest, but the fact that dukkhā is used on one line and dukkhe is used in the other doesn’t necessarily suggest that a different sense of ‘dukkha’ is intended, it’s just a difference in grammatical case.

I think the suggested distinction between the two types of dukkha is a logical one.
According to the Second Noble Truth, it’s craving that causes suffering, and not impermanence. And according to DO, the root cause of craving and suffering is ignorance, not seeing things as they really are.
If you see things as they really are, you realise the first type of dukkha, that impermanent phenomena cannot provide lasting satisfaction - they are unsatisfactory. That realisation leads to the cessation of craving and clinging, and therefore to the cessation of suffering, the second type of dukkha.

It seems material elements are not considered dukkha in Buddhism (particularly according to Samyukta/Samyutta suttas).

Respectfully, I regard the above as not relevant.

In the 1st instance, dukkha is one of the Three Characteristics. In the 2nd instance, dukkha means mental suffering.

There seems to be two inverse experiences of dukkha, where the greater the 1st dukkha is experienced results in the lesser the 2nd dukkha is experienced.

Thus realising a material thing is dukkha (unsatisfactory) results in dispassion towards a material thing (such as not believing a Ferrari can bring happiness) and thus the abandoning of the craving that causes suffering. The suttas say:

“What do you think of this, O monks? Is form permanent or impermanent?”

“Impermanent, O Lord.”

Now, that which is impermanent, is it unsatisfactory (dukkham) or satisfactory?"

“Unsatisfactory (dukkham), O Lord.”

O monks, the well-instructed noble disciple, seeing thus, gets wearied of form… Being wearied he becomes passion-free. In his freedom from passion, he is emancipated. Being emancipated, there is the knowledge that he is emancipated. He knows: ‘birth is exhausted, lived is the holy life, what had to be done is done, there is nothing more of this becoming.’"

Anatta-lakkhana Sutta: The Discourse on the Not-self Characteristic

The above view is supported by MN 115, which says:

Ananda: “But, venerable sir, in what way can a bhikkhu be called skilled in what is possible and what is impossible?” Buddha: "Here, Ananda, a bhikkhu understands: ‘It is impossible, it cannot happen that a person possessing right view could treat any formation as permanent - there is no such possibility.’ And he understands: ‘It is possible that an ordinary person might treat some formation as permanent - there is such a possibility.’ He understands: ‘It is impossible, it cannot happen that a person possessing right view could treat any formation as pleasurable - there is no such possibility.’ And he understands: ‘It is possible that an ordinary person might treat some formation as pleasurable - there is such a possibility.’

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I agree, though I probably wouldn’t say that there are two ‘types’ of dukkha. I think it’s rather that the word is used to refer to actual mental suffering and to predicate things as being liable to give rise to mental suffering. The difference seems to be reflected in the Pali (though I’m not expert). When dukkha is used as a noun it seems to be being used in the former sense and when it’s used as an adjective it’s being used in the latter sense (though I think it might be hard to tell which is which in some contexts).

It seems to me somewhat misleading when the adjectival use of ‘dukkha’ is translated as ‘suffering’, since ‘suffering’ is a noun. Translating it in this way seems to obscure the distinction between the noun and adjective which seems to exist in the Pali. This actually seems to be what is liable to one to think that non-mental things are suffering, which does seems to be what is meant if one were to say that ‘rocks are suffering’ rather than ‘rocks are unsatisfactory’.

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Is not ‘dukkha’ in the 1st noble truth an adjective, following the case of the subject/noun?

Birth is suffering; old age is suffering; illness is suffering; death is suffering;

jātipi (feminine) dukkhā , jarāpi (feminine) dukkhā, byādhipi (masculine) dukkho , maraṇampi (neuter) dukkhaṁ

:dizzy:

I hypothesize/guess/speculate the most generic universal translation of ‘dukkha’ might be ‘unpleasurable’ or ‘unpleasant’. Such a translation might fit all three sutta contexts, namely, vedana (feelings), lakkhana (characteristic) and sankhara khandha mental state (suffering). :slightly_smiling_face:

interestingly, when I needed to break a part of old wall in my garden, I thought I had to work hard to make it fall. but it was so old, i pushed it and it fell. anicca of the wall was not dukkha for me at all at that moment.

what amazes me in suttas is that poetic declarations like anicca = 100% dukkha. it is not always so. can you imagine everything about you unchanging? hard to say what is worse suffering - permanence or impermanence.

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Yes, anicca is quite a useful thing at times. And of course dukkha is also anicca.