Is Pain Dukkha?

i don’t know why don’t you ask him.

I think the Datuvibhanga Sutta MN.140 would be a very good place for you to start. I quote below the section which I think is relevant to your situation. But I encourage you to read the entire discourse.

“If he feels a pleasant feeling, he feels it detached; if he feels a painful feeling, he feels it detached; if he feels a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling, he feels it detached. When he feels a feeling terminating with the body, he understands: ‘I feel a feeling terminating with the body.’ When he feels a feeling terminating with life, he understands: ‘I feel a feeling terminating with life.’ He understands: ‘On the dissolution of the body, with the ending of life, all that is felt, not being delighted in, will become cool right here.’ Bhikkhu, just as an oil-lamp burns in dependence on oil and a wick, and when the oil and wick are used up, if it does not get any more fuel, it is extinguished from lack of fuel; so too when he feels a feeling terminating with the body…a feeling terminating with life, he understands: ‘I feel a feeling terminating with life.’ He understands: ‘On the dissolution of the body, with the ending of life, all that is felt, not being delighted in, will become cool right here."

With Metta


This is a really informative discussion. I suppose I have always used the idea that pain is inevitable but suffering is optional. Beneath that, pain is a construct generated by nature, and is impersonal, inconstant, etc. Suffering on the other hand is extra layers added on. Pain is just the bare experience, which my be unpleasant, but what is far worse and causes more unpleasant experiences is our suffering added onto it. I am considering while reading this thread that there may be better ways of looking at it or my approach isn’t necessarily the best. And I deal with chronic pain, so, it is worth investigating. Thanks all!


Pain and it’s psychological component are well recognised in health care:

With metta


Of course it’s possible, but for my part I don’t believe it is a simple case of my getting caught up in the language. Obviously in this format we must use the words to point to our insights, and on that score I’m quite capable of looking toward the moon, rather than becoming fixated on the finger, and missing all the heavenly glory.

It appears you’re using “tatha” in the sense of “thusness” or “suchness”, and if so, I do understand, and can relate to what you say.

The impression I’m getting from the general consensus of answers here now, is that it might be said that, whilst pain is dukkha, pain itself to even be understood to be as such, is already somewhat accretive in nature. And I suppose it’s that last part that I’m particularly interesting in getting to the bottom of, ideally as succinctly as possible.

I don’t believe the emotional dimension to be the overriding factor for me in this issue. However it is the case that I find myself in a form of Dhamma combat elsewhere with those who in my opinion falsely professes to be liberated, and as a result unconsciously subvert, and no doubt there is a modicum of frustration. Time and again the issue comes down the very one that I have previously described as paradoxical, and to that end I’m moved to seek guidance, and consensus from the community in order to better come to understand the issue, (at least as best I can under the circumstances). And to develop my own insight of course.

Thank you kindly for your contribution.

It is interesting to consider nirodha-samapatti, and (what I’m guessing you are referring to), the formless jhanas, in relation to the topic. My understanding of Nirodha-samapatti specifically, is it’s all but equivalent to paranibbana, albeit temporary in nature, as subtle anusaya prevail. I’ve no doubt the arhat has the ability to become so present as to at least temporarily transcend the experience.

If I’m not mistaken, this sounds quite similar to what I was saying in the last paragraph here;


Thank you kindly for your input, although I am familiar with the sutta.

Referring to the first line, my question is basically, is “feeling a painful feeling” classed as dukkha, if detachment is the case, i.e. in the absence of attachment. I’m not sure the sutta offers any insight into that particular question.

Okay, but where dukkha is usually translated (albeit imperfectly) as suffering, does that mean pain is not dukkha, where the “extra layers” you refer to aren’t added on. Or is it even really pain without some basic form of those layers, I’m beginning to wonder.

It’s great to hear you can take something from the discussion too btw.

I apprecite the link, which I will return to later when I have some more free time, and have a good read through.

Thank you again to all.

Well, IMO this is still Dukka. If my guess is correct, you are interpreting this situation as outside of “In brief, the five aggregates subject to grasping is Dukkha”. Just because there is no attachment, the feeling of pain does not disappear. Detachment in the ultimate sense is seeing the dependent originated nature of pain and not own it. But a bearing it up still has to be endured.
With Metta


An interesting quote, for further reference on this subject to all participants and readers of this topic:

When even this external earth element, great as it is, is seen to be impermanent, subject to destruction, disappearance, and change, what of this body, which is clung to by craving and lasts but a while? There can be no considering that as ‘me’ or ‘mine’ or ‘I am.’.

So then, if others abuse, revile, scold, and harass a bhikkhu [who has seen element as they actually are], he understands thus: “This painful feeling born of [sense]-contact has arisen in me. That is dependent, not independent. Dependent on what? Dependent on contact.” Then he sees that contact is impermanent, that feeling is impermanent, that perception is impermanent, that formations are impermanent, and that consciousness is impermanent. And his mind, having made an element its objective support, enters into [that new objective support] and acquires confidence, steadiness, and decision.

Now, if others attack that bhikkhu in ways that are unwished for, undesired, and disagreeable, by contact with fists, clods, sticks, or knives, he understands thus: “This body is of such a nature that contact with fists, clods, sticks, and knives assail it. But this has been said by the Blessed One in his ‘advice on the simile of the saw’: ‘Bhikkhus, even if bandits were to sever you savagely limb by limb with a two-handled saw, he who gave rise to a mind of hate towards them would not be carrying out my teaching.’ So tireless energy shall be aroused in me and unremitting mindfulness established, my body shall be tranquil and untroubled, my mind concentrated and unified. And now let contact with fists, clods, sticks, and knives assail this body; for this is just how the Buddha’s teaching is practised.” _(MN 28). Tr. Ven. Bodhi

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This reminded me of the Arrow ( Dart ) Sutta, which draws a distinction between bodily pain ( first arrow ) and the mental anguish which normally accompanies it ( second arrow ).
My assumption is that the cessation of dukkha equates to the cessation of the second arrow, mental anguish, ie for an Arahant bodily pain is no longer dukkha.

"Bhikkhus, when the instructed noble disciple is contacted by a painful feeling, he does not sorrow, grieve, or lament; he does not weep beating his breast and become distraught. He feels one feeling—a bodily one, not a mental one. Suppose they were to strike a man with a dart, but they would not strike him immediately afterwards with a second dart, so that the man would feel a feeling caused by one dart only. So too, when the instructed noble disciple is contacted by a painful feeling … he feels one feeling—a bodily one, not a mental one."


Actually, you’ve honed in on an interesting part of the sutta there, which has given me pause for consideration.

Now, if pain is dukkha, and “In brief, the five aggregates subject to grasping is Dukkha”, then by extension, is it not the case that pain must incorporate an overlay of attachment in order to even be classed pain, as such. Which is sort of in line with some of the points @anon61506839 has made, here, and here.

Thank you for your contribution, you have introduced another interesting aspect into the equation.

Considering what you say about the darts, now, is it not the case that by extension we would have to concede that animals, and babies can’t suffer?

The way I understand the Dart Sutta, the worldling feels the pain twice ie; first physical and then mental. That is because he still has the self view therefore, as soon as the first arrow hits him, he takes it as Oh “I am hit”. Then he allows that thought to proliferate causing mental agony.
The Arahant, on the other hand, does not think “I am hit” because he does not have a self view. So he simply bears it up with equanimity without allowing the second arrow of mental proliferation to occur.
Attachment I think is the determining factor here. Worldling reacts with a self view due to attachment and the Arahant reacts differently due to his being completely free of attachment.
But to imply that Arahant does not feel physical pain due to lack of attachment, I think is not quite correct. There is still a bearing up to do with equanimity even for the Arahant.
With Metta


Thank you for elaborating, that all sounds reasonable, and in-line with my own understanding of the darts.

But at the risk of going in circles, my question is really, are we classing the first arrow, (i.e. unproliferated pain), as dukkha, …. and if so how do we square that with liberation [from dukkha]. Or does only ‘when proliferated’ qualify as dukkha.

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I think it is dukkha for both the worldling and the Arahant. The distinction here is that the worldling takes it personally due to attachment (hatred in this case) which is inherent in self view.
Whereas, the Arahant simply bears up the pain which is dukkha.
With Metta

Very interesting question. What evidence do we have of dukkha describing purely physical pain? I ask this because the Buddha did not overcome physical pain, right? So if dukkha can include physical pain, then the Buddha did not overcome dukkha.

There in SN 38.14, the 3 types are:

Thanissaro translates them as:
the stressfulness of pain,
the stressfulness of fabrication,
the stressfulness of change

I’m not sure about the word ‘stress’. Nor translating dukkha as both ‘stress’ and ‘pain’ - it that really valid for the first one?

How about leaving ‘dukkha’ untranslated for the moment. So

vipari­ṇāma­duk­khatā be more accurately classed as ‘the dukkha of changes for the worst’, or ‘the dukkha of disappointment’?. Because vipariṇāma doesn’t seem to be just the neutral term for ‘change’.

Then saṅ­khā­ra­duk­khatā… I find ‘the stressfulness of fabrication’ to be a rather meaningless term if I look with ordinary English eyes. It leaves me confused and with no idea what is being meant.
How about:
'the dukkha of mental imprints?'
‘the dukkha of complexity’? (referring to the compounded nature, but ‘compounded’ doesn’t do it for smooth English).
‘the dukkha of volitional mental activity’?
‘the dukkha of mental tendencies/inclinations’?

Or if we take it to refer to ‘mental fabrications’, to use Thanissaro’s term:

mental fabrication: feeling (feeling tones of pleasure, pain, or neither
pleasure nor pain) and perception (the mental labels applied to the
objects of the senses for the purpose of memory and recognition).

then how about:
‘the dukkha of feeling and of the mental process of perception’?

But that still leaves the mystery of dukkhadukkhatā.

But my point here really is, could perhaps all dukkha be emotional? Negative emotional experience resultant from 3) things changing for the worse/disappointment; 2) mental tendencies of mental processing, maybe also of feeling. And 1)… I’m not sure, maybe the negative emotional experience of negative emotions themselves? Or maybe this is really two meanings of dukkha, the second being physical pain, such that it means: ‘negative emotional experience resultant from physical pain’?

Also, sukha is qualitative emotionally positive experience, is it not? And since dukkha is the opposite of sukha, would we not expect dukkha also to be emotional - positive emotional state?

I just can’t see how dukkha can include physical pain, since the Buddha had a chronic painful back, and died in pain also. But if anyone has any evidence of dukkha meaning physical pain (and no merely emotional pain in response to physical pain), then please share about it here!

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Okay, I greatly appreciate you stating your position so succinctly, which fwiw, I am inclined to agree with.

However it occurs to me that, to say,

“I think it [pain] is dukkha for both the worldling and the Arahant”

, as you have, is to effectively say the arhat remains subject to dukkha (at least prior to paranibbana), and this seems both to go against the general consensus, and be less than ideal.

Yet, the only other real option is to effectively take the opposite stance, as @Martin has;

“My assumption is that the cessation of dukkha equates to the cessation of the second arrow, mental anguish, ie for an Arahant bodily pain is no longer dukkha.”

, which then opens up to the question I have posed in reply, i.e.

“Considering what you say [about the darts, now], is it not the case that by extension we would have to concede that animals, and babies can’t suffer?”

, which again must be viewed as being less than ideal.

It’s quite the conundrum.

(btw, apologies to all - I can’t seem to link to specific text in post, I’m not sure either of my browsers are compatible with the task for some reason)

Happiness seeing explicit examples of good speech. Plus benefitting from discussion.

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