"Life is Suffering"

Some Buddhists summarize the First Noble Truth by saying that “life is suffering”. What is your reaction to this idea? How do you practice the 1NT?


The truth of suffering can be understood by investigating the second and third noble truths. That is observation of the mental stress that follows sensual indulgence, and observation of the mental seclusion or detachment that follows acts of renunciation. These two opposite effects are caused by either stronger attachment to the cycle of samsara, or release from it.

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SN 56.11 “old age is suffering; illness is suffering; death is suffering; association with the disliked is suffering; separation from the liked is suffering; not getting what you wish for is suffering”. This is the first noble truth.

I have intentionally omitted rebirth and grasping the aggregates from the above list. Because even without them the list is exhaustive enough to understand that life is suffering. If I may add, what underlies this reality is impermanence of all formations which includes life or existence.

With Metta


I have also been told that dukkha can be translated as unsatisfactoriness. I have no idea how accurate that is, but possibly dukkha has a fairly wide semantic spread.


The Buddha already summarized that anything “impermanent is suffering”. Life is impermanent; so it’s suffering.

"Mendicants, I will teach you suffering, the origin of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the practice that leads to the cessation of suffering. Listen … And what is suffering? It should be said: the five grasping aggregates. What five? That is, the grasping aggregates of form, feeling, perception, choices, and consciousness. This is called suffering. And what is the origin of suffering? It’s the craving that leads to future lives, mixed up with relishing and greed, looking for enjoyment anywhere it can. That is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving to continue existence, and craving to end existence. This is called the origin of suffering. And what is the cessation of suffering? It’s the fading away and cessation of that very same craving with nothing left over; giving it away, letting it go, releasing it, and not adhering to it. This is called the cessation of suffering. And what is the practice that leads to the cessation of suffering? It is simply this noble eightfold path, that is: right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right immersion. This is called the practice that leads to the cessation of suffering.” SN22.104

Mendicants, form is impermanent. What’s impermanent is suffering. What’s suffering is not-self. And what’s not-self should be truly seen with right understanding like this: ‘This is not mine, I am not this, this is not my self.’ Feeling is impermanent … Perception is impermanent … Choices are impermanent … Consciousness is impermanent. What’s impermanent is suffering. What’s suffering is not-self. And what’s not-self should be truly seen with right understanding like this: ‘This is not mine, I am not this, this is not my self." SN22.46


And what about the good moments - are they also ‘suffering’? Or would you say ‘they don’t count’?
What about association with the liked, seperation from the disliked, and getting what I wish for? Why should ‘suffering’ represent the whole of life?


Sensual pleasure is also regarded as steeped in suffering. In MN 22

The Buddha says that sensual pleasures give little gratification and much suffering and distress, and they are all the more full of drawbacks. With the similes of a skeleton … a lump of meat … a grass torch … a pit of glowing coals … a dream … borrowed goods … fruit on a tree … a butcher’s knife and chopping block … a staking sword … a snake’s head, the Buddha says that sensual pleasures give little gratification and much suffering and distress, and they are all the more full of drawbacks.

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the worldly happpiness (sukha) is not permanent. Life is like a ping-pong: sukha-dukkha-sukha-dukkha. And nobody can be free of dukkha. When we enjoy sukkha, we can be sure it will be followed by dukkha.

The only real happiness free of dukkha is nibbana. Sometimes one read buddhists are more happy people. That’s not real. Or better to say, that’s a truth in a negative way: when getting more understanding about how life works, there is more detachment and less dukkha.

Without Dhamma one is like a children who cry disconsolate when his toys are broken. Dhamma make the human being adult in that sense.

Understanding and accepting the first noble truth maybe is the more important teaching in Dhamma, the breaking point.

“Dukkha should be known. The cause by which dukkha comes into play should be known. The diversity in dukkha should be known. The result of dukkha should be known. The cessation of dukkha should be known. The path of practice for the cessation of dukkha should be known.”

  • AN 6.63*

the arguments are not consistent…

the unhappiness is also impermanent.

so you’re saying detachment improves the quality of life. How is that possible if life without nibbana is just suffering. Or are you saying that life without detachment is suffering?
So detachment is happiness? But if so, is it real or fake (until nibbana is realized)?


yes, both comes and go. That’s the experience of everybody.
However, the Buddha taught the Path for the true happiness, which include the complete eradication of dukkha. Then this is higher and better.

because with Dhamma you can get dettachment in situations in where you would suffer. However, while there is no a complete cease (nibbana), nobody can be free of dukkha. Dukkha includes a lot of aspects.

yes, of course. In fact you are born with levels of dettachment in order your can survive. Our body works quite well to do that. Although our mind is very ignorant to know and avoid dukkha.

detachmment of what cause dukkha is real. This is not fake. Anyone can check it. Take your hand out of a fire. Don’t put your hand in a fire. So we can learn to do the same with the mind.

While ignorance exist, dukkha exists. While ignorance exist we keep the hand on fire, and we don’t take the hand out of fire. With Dhamma one learn how reality works and one is burn less often. No magics.

If you are recent on Buddhism you can search in this forum, there are monastics and ex-monastics than can help you better than me to learn basics of Dhamma :slightly_smiling_face:


Allow me to pursue the point of consistency :slight_smile:

If everything in life is suffering (because only nibbana is non-suffering), then per definition my casual pleasures, but also detachment and jhana are suffering, aren’t they?

How do you conceptualize that any detachment before nibbana is ‘real’ and non-suffering? This would mean that nibbana is not the only release from suffering.

You could say that ‘real’ detachment has already the characteristic of nibbana (even before liberation), but that mundane detachment is unsustainable and therefore ‘falls back’ into the mundane normalcy of suffering, but that would stretch the reach of nibbana far into daily life.

In fact, this understanding is not as far-fetched as it seems. Some Advaita teachers (like Atmananda Menon for example) state that each joy is a short dip of Jiva into Atman, a teaser and taste of the real nature of atman, which is sat-cit-ananda (truth - pure consciousness - bliss). Similarly, one could argue that some experiences already share the characteristics of nibbana. Maybe the idea of ‘buddha-nature’ is constructed similarly.

Anyhow, I don’t think that if staying within traditional waters of the suttas we can avoid the concept of more-or-less-dukkha, meaning that even though dukkha somehow permeates all pre-nibbanic experiences there are still moments when it’s basically absent. After all, this is somehow the logic of the Buddha’s Jhana discovery.

Also see suttas like SN 14.34, SN 22.28, SN 35.17-18, AN 3.105

if there were no gratification in the world, beings would not become enamored of it; but because there is gratification in the world, beings become enamored of it. AN 3.105 (and accordingly with Dhatus, Khandhas, and Salayatanas in the SN suttas)


According to the teaching of anicca, dukkha, anatta, one may see dukkha is not mine, I am not this, this is not my self.

‘Life is suffering’ is an idiomatic way of saying it is ultimately unsatisfactory. We are all born to die, and all our endeavour will have to deserted, and loved ones left behind - ‘life is next to nothing, it’s swept away’ [paraphrasing] and it’s existential suffering.

You cannot practice the 2nd and 3rd truths, without understanding the 1st Noble truth, as they are intimately linked.


If these moments are sensual pleasures, I consider these as dukkha right away, because they are disturbing mindfulness, one is far from wisdom and nibbāna. And if one is considering these pleasures often, dwells there often, one’s mind becomes inclined to that (see MN19).


I am confused by the replies I’m getting here. So the only pleasure you guys have in life is jhana? You don’t enjoy good conversations, a nice walk through the forest, a good film, a good book, healthy food, an interesting day at work - really, this is all suffering/ dukkha for you?

You do know that in Buddhism manas/mind is one of the senses, right? I don’t know, but it seems to me that part of the replies is due to people putting on their buddhist philosopher’s hat, but don’t actually live it.

So what is the ‘good Buddhist’ process then. I’m having a good conversation, enjoying myself, and then in correct ‘mindfulness’ fashion I catch myself enjoying, immediately stopping it, reminding myself that life sucks and everyone will die.



No, its possible to create suffering where there was none before. Materialism is a source of suffering, and destruction of the planet in way’s Buddhist outlook would not do, and the its ignorance that makes one think that sensual pleasures are a long term solution. Ignorance is bliss too.


This is where the western outlook or theistic outlooks devoid of letting go has left the planet, and it’s effects on the wage slavery.


I did not say, that I do not enjoy different things. In fact, I do - but I also try to practice mindfulness (or more broadly “dhamma”) not only in sitting but in all the postures and in my daily activities. And on the other hand: Even during retreats, I’m able to laugh.

But it’s not part of the five cords of sensual pleasures, right?

I’m not much interested in philosophizing or discussions for the discussion’s sake. What I have written above is actually backed up by my practice and experience (and it may change, as many experiences did I had before) - and please don’t get me wrong, I never experienced jhana nor have I reached some “special stage”.



The suffering of impermanence. I think life is suffering because nothing lasts.Even when one experiences pleasant experiences,pleasant life,happy moments it’s still suffering because it will change and give way to something else.I suppose the real culprit is "attachment ".If we have no attachments then what does it matter if things change and we never get to step in the same stream twice.


of course, although also you can understand there is dukkha. No contradiction.

I wonder it can depend if when hear the word “dukkha” one become automatically depressed. Like a switch. However, by getting more understanding it doesn’t mean the vanishing of joy. It can happen if one keep a previous wrong belief about the existence is characterized by happpiness.

On the contrary, by understanding the existence is characterized by dukkha, then one can appreciate better the good the live can offer.

I believe what you says can depend of interiorization. If one realize the importance and depth of this issue, then only by knowing this live is linked with Dhamma it can be a source of inner joy which will be unknown for an outsider to that. Although when Dhamma still was more in the surface or like a philosophy, then it can be feel like an impediment, because one believes in pursuing volatile satisfactions to relieve the existence until the death arrives. Of course, that pursuing can remain in different degrees while ignorance remains but I mean the sources for joy changes.
I don’t think this is an issue directly related with concrete practices but about an interiorization. An inner process. Well, I understand in this way.


I don’t quite agree. This position is the ‘let’s get rid of suffering and everything will be okay’ position.