"Great Suffering" - A modern western creation?

… when great suffering is at stake, Buddhists must take a stand against it, with loving-kindness, wisdom, calm minds, and courage.

(This phrase stands out for me in https://www.lionsroar.com/stand-against-suffering/ - a statement with over 150 signatories (most western Buddhist teachers or monastics) )

I wish to focus on the idea of “great suffering” as distinct from “suffering” – that is suffering without qualification or quantification.

1) Do the EBT’s distinquish or qualify types or degrees of suffering?
2) Are there any passages in Pali or other EBT languages that suggest “great suffering”?
3) Do you know of later commentaries or traditions that suggest such a distinction?

My thinking is the phrase “great suffering” especially in the context above is likely a modern, western interpretation.

The query https://suttacentral.net/search?query="great+suffering"
results in two passages for the English phrase “great suffering”

SA 2.4
Therefore, one should cut off /
​the great suffering of greed, hatred, and ignorance.”

ja 533
Sumukha, the captain of the geese, thought, “Can it be that this means something terrible has happened to the Great King? I will find out what it is,” and flying at full speed, and not seeing the Great Being amongst those in the van of the retreating army of geese, he sought him in the main body of the birds and there too failing to find him he said, “Without all doubt something terrible has occurred,” and he turned back and found the Great Being caught in a snare, stained with blood and suffering great pain, lying on the muddy ground …
When the Bodhisatta had ended his words of friendly greeting, the king again conversing with him said:

When some mischance delivered thee to thy most deadly foe,
Didst thou then at his hands, O bird, great suffering undergo?

Maha-dukkhankkhandha Sutta


Buddha said that the woeful state is so much suffering that he can’t find a simile for that.

I believe this article from Lions roar has already been discussed at great length here.

Yes, the article was discussed in various and general terms. To prevent misunderstanding please note that the specific question in this OP was not discussed in that thread.

The specific question about the word pairing you create/ recognize? “great suffering”?

I think the authors used “great” “suffering”, due to a stylistic choice hoping to avoid quibbling, suggest urgency, and offer modern readers something to pierce the apathy and numbness many feel about any activism.

But also, the suffering will be great in terms of affecting many life forms, everywhere human life is known to be possible.

@Erose, thanks.
Your surmises about why the authors might have written the sentence that way approximate some of mine and others. But please observe to the spirit of the Q&A section – specific answers to questions about the EBTs. or in this case latter sutta’s or commentaries that you might know of.

Thank you, I neglected to notice the section. As I am not a scholar atm, I will just observe thread. :slight_smile:

I’m not sure what to make from the silence from the community.
One thought is that in concert with the context of how the great suffering argument was used answer to the question seems so obvious.

I wonder what EBT students would say to the idea of “minor suffering”.
Or perhaps in the form I’ve heard it suggested – that indulging in some greed, fear or illusion or some other taint is no minor that it “doesn’t count”.

The question does seem sophomoric (immature) but it still seem reasonable to wonder if there is any passage that addressed the question.

I’ve seen mahādukkha used in several gathas. But the context of its occurrence points to the hedonic tone of painful feelings, not Suffering.

Perhaps the same sort of category mistake as was made in MN 136 is being made by thinking of Great Suffering?


It might be because you made clear you don’t want to discuss anything related to a previous post which discussed this issue at great length.

It seems to me that is a very strange response.

The “previous post” I assume is the same one you cited in the 3rd post in this thread. Stand Against Suffering: An Unprecedented Call to Action by Buddhist Teachers

I searched the entire text of the previous post (the entire thread actually) for the phrase “great suffering” and the words “great”, and “suffering”. The specific question in this OP – concerning “great suffering” – was not addressed in that thread that I can find. It seems to me that your explanation bears little relationship to what has been written here.

As I replied before: