Is Pain Dukkha?


I’m currently trying to understand how one can be truly liberated with life force remaining, if pain is dukkha.

Firstly, it would be useful if anyone could tell me if pain is specifically classed as dukkha. Up until now I had assumed it was, and that it was explicitly stated to be so in the suttas. I’d been working with this particular definition (Dukkha) from accesstoinsight, where it is explicitly stated that pain is dukkha in the definition, and as far as I can tell, that definition appears to be drawn from the fourth paragraph of (SN 56.11) Setting in Motion the Wheel of the Dhamma.

However when I cross referenced with sutta centrals version of the same sutta, pain appears to be omitted. But the same question could be posed about ageing etc, in relation to Saupadisesa-nibbana-dhatu. If these things are dukkha, how can one be how can one be truly liberated. I am wondering if the answer is perhaps that true liberation only really comes about upon paranibbana, or if perhaps these things are only really dukkha where clinging and craving is present.

Apologies in advance if I’m deemed to be asking silly questions, or if this topic has already been covered - I’d be grateful if anyone could point my to any threads which may give me some insight into the matter.



Yes, though one classification that occurs in the canon is the three kinds of dukkha. The first of which is dukkha-dukkha which means pain. The other two are related to impermanence and sankharas, I’ll leave it to others to explain those.


Okay, that’s a good start, so I can say confidently that pain is dukkha.

Thank you for your reply, and the helpful link to the resource, which I very much appreciate.

Now I just have to try and get to the bottom of how a state of Saupadisesa-nibbana-dhatu can be subject to both liberation and pain.

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Is the question; how can one experience pain and be liberated?

The pain isn’t me, mine or myself. For someone who truly understands this then the pain is painful but it’s not them, it’s the results of nature (having a body, illness/injury and aging)


Could you elaborate a little more please.

Does this in effect mean that, while alive in this body, one continues to experience all the types of pain, but it is just viewed as experience /phenomena. ie that experiential pain continues while there is life in our bodies, no matter the stage of liberation? The ‘psychological’ pain is gone, but physical discomfort remains?


Thank you kindly for your reply.

Yes, I think that’s pretty much the question in a nutshell.

I was working on the basis nibbana is liberation from dukkha, and if pain is dukkha, which prevails even in nibbana, then the situation is seemingly paradoxical.

It sounds like you are effectively saying that dukkha is actually present in nibbana.

Is that right?

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Yes I think that’s what I 'm trying to get to the bottom of too.

It sounds like Pasanna is saying nibbana is subject to dukkha, although minus misidentification with the aggregates (with such misidentification presumably arising through aviija).

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We know from the suttas that the Buddha had back pain. Also when Devadatta dropped a boulder on his foot he said ‘there is a painful feeling I should sit down.’.
Physical pain is a cause of having a body but you can be very happy and peaceful even when it’s severe. I sat a retreat where I had pulled all the muscles in my neck and shoulder and couldn’t turn my head. Yet I had a wonderful time. The pain allowed me to see how much my mind was moving around and then I could easily see what calmed it. With a calm and peaceful mind the pain was just a sensation as I’d removed the disliking from it.


Firstly, thank you @Pasanna for elaborating, and sharing, and I can relate to all you say there.

Although I have to say, up until now I’d been working with the assumption that nibbana and dukkha were somehow mutually exclusive, and so it’s s a bit of a revelation to find out that is not strictly the case.

Indeed, if we consider the three categories of dukkha which @SCMatt helpfully brought in to the discussion, namely, the stressfulness of pain, the stressfulness of fabrication, and the stressfulness of change, it now appears that, nibbana as a state of being, effectively could not entirely be said to free of any one, or all three.

However, perhaps it can be said we may consider nibbana as a state where the cessation of the production of new kamma has been attained, and which is equivalent to saupadisesa-nibbana-dhatu (nibbana with life remaining), i.e. merely the running of the course of residual kamma effect. And that upon subsequent death - the final dissolution of the aggregates (and that very kamma effect), ensues paranibbana, which is true liberation from dukkha, and presumably synonymous with anupadisesa-nibbana-dhatu: (nibbana without life remaining), and the end of both cause and effect.

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Yes absolutely they are, and in ways that are even unimaginable to one who is not himself arahat! The physical pain experienced by an arahat is lacking any reactionary emotional stress or the slightest sense of regret or grief, or wish or desire that the painful event, however much great, did not occur. And it is also said that the intensity of the painful sensation is itself qualitatively reduced for an arahat (more like discomfort), because of the absence of emotional attachment and spontaneity in the mind, the very thing which magnifies painful sensations for the unenlightened in the first place, and the evidence of which is found in how, in certain exceptional situations, even normal people, such as a soldier or a sportsperson for example, are able to miraculously transcend their extreme physical injury and pursue with battle or game with perfect attention and self-application. This is the very normal and continual state of an arahat. Immeasurable bliss! Freedom Incomparable! Adoration!


When you manage to find the way to the end of that end of distress, please let me know, because dealing with the various bodily tortures I experience in my neck, head, shoulders, jaw and face are my chief meditation hindrance, and has been for years.

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I asked Venerable Dhammajiva about meditating with a chronic condition and he said I could take it as an advantage or disadvantage. I could either see it as a hinderance or as a teacher. So I have been paying much more attention to my mind states around the condition and I learned so much. It has been such a great tool for sharpening mindfulness as well as looking at and letting go of unwholesome mind states. For me there was a lot of fear attached to the physical condition in my body. I didn’t even see that before. Since receiving this advice and practicing in this way I have seen many positive physical and mental changes.


:anjal: I have found my health challenges incredibly instructive.


You have opened with a line that pretty much sums up my dilemma, because to begin by unequivocally stating that nibbana, and dukkha are absolutely mutually exclusive, and then in the same breath effectively juxtapose them as you have at the end there, seems as I have previously said, quite paradoxical to me. Although you have balanced the situation with the phrase unimaginable, and perhaps all said and done, that will prove to be the crux of the matter.

I do very much appreciate your subsequent elaboration, and examples, and to put it in my lay terms, it sounds like you’re saying something along the lines that pain isn’t necessarily suffering, and only really tends to become so, in the event that the raw sensation itself is overlaid with some form of attachment, (presumably such an escalation being founded upon a base of prevailing aviija). That the experience of the arhat is a state of such presence, that even the sensation itself could be envisaged as somehow being mitigated. Again, all of which again I can relate to.

Yet still that first seeming contradiction confuses me greatly. At this stage perhaps I need to consider the possibility that ultimately that particular situation is irreconcilable to mind, and the truth of the matter can only be directly realised, under the right conditions. I think maybe you have said as much.

For what it’s worth, I do have a reason for trying to understand this as best I can, over and above idle curiosity.


I think you may have gotten caught in language! What I here call “pain” an arahat does not experience as pain, but only as “tatha”! Just “this”, an experience with no experiencer! I’m afraid I can’t explain it any further! :slight_smile:

Satto saņsāramāpādi
dukkhamassa mahabbhayan.

One should check the emotional dimension of his experience and concern over this matter! This is how we make use of such dukkha that we can neither control nor avoid! :pray:

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By understanding that the sensations you experience is not you, not yours and not who you are. “Pain” is just a word. Dukkha for me, is the stirring up of a still mind, never mind if the following mood or experience is judged good or bad, it’s all Dukkha.

As long as the body and the sense bases persist the arahanth experiences pain, but in a very ‘modulated’ manner- apart from what was said above, some arahanths can even play with the pleasantness-unpleasantness and switch from one to the others. Others can enter nirodha-samapatti, just like the Buddha, where no experiences are present at all or immaterial attainments where the body is not felt.

Nibbana with residue remaining is where the causes for rebirth have been completely removed. Yet they still have the body which arose from the causes, including karma, from the past life (the body is called ‘old kamma’ in EBTs). The body dies at death and then there is full release, or parinibbana. The gap between nibbana with and without residue is only some years and compared to the enternity of dukkha being have undergone, it is hardly anything.

I believe this just shows that the path has practical elements in it, and is not magical- thinking.

with metta


The 4 Noble Truths tell you all you need to know about Dukkha. :smile_cat::smile_cat:

-the best

Have you tried Ayurvedic Massage ? :smiley_cat:

Do you think the OP author doesn’t know what the Four Noble Truths consist of? :persevere:

With metta