"Life is Suffering"


Maybe this then. Or this one.


Yes AN8.54 was indeed very helpful. In particular this line:

These are the four things that lead to the welfare and happiness of a respectable person in future lives.

What is significant about this line is that, for one wishing non-return, the considerations laid out in the sutta are not enough.

Thank you.


Maybe this 2 then. Or this 1 one.

It is interesting to read AN 8.54 you cited, because the Buddha recommends to lay people the development of insight and wisdom but he doesn’t mention the cultivation of jhanas.

Inside some recopilations of Laymen ariyas (like one made by Piya Tan “Laymen Saints”) the lay people attains the 3 ariya states by developing insight instead jhanas.

And it is also interesting when one can read in those lay disciples, some of the strongest defences about the understading of the first noble truth, the life characterized by dukkha:

"8.1 ANATHA PINDIKA. In the Dasaka Nipata (“the book of tens”) of the Anguttara Nikaya, a chapter called Upasaka Vagga (“the chapter on lay followers”) contains two interesting suttas—the first being Anatha,pindika and the second, Vajjiya,mahita, where a lay follower refutes the wrong views of a group of wanderers.

In the first text, the (Anatha,pindika) Ditthi Sutta (A 10.93/5:185-189), whose locale is Savatthi, the wanderers accuse Anatha pindika of “holding on to suffering, making suffering your refuge”

but he replies:

“Bhante, whatever has come into being, whatever is put together, willed, dependently arisen, is impermanent. Whatever is impermanent is suffering. Whatever is suffering is not mine, I am not it, it is not my self. Having seen this rightly with proper wisdom as it really is, I also know the higher escape from it as it really is. (A 10.93.6/5:188)”

At the end of the discourse, the Buddha praises Anatha pindika for his defending the teaching against being misrepresented by other religions:

“Even a monk who has reached a hundred years in this Dharma and Vinaya should well censure wanderers of other religions, who should be censured, with the Dharma [justly], just as the houselord Anatha pindika has censured them. (A 10.93.8/5:189)”

those lay people were taught to develop insight and wisdom in the worldly life, and it can force to a sharper understanding of what Dukkha means, due to conditions of life environment. So the praise of Buddha is logical.

Unfortunately, the Pali Canon has not preserved an enough amount of teachings on developing insight by wisdom, and still less addressed to lay people. Then a quick progression until anagamin stage as those first lay people did, for sure today it can be harder to discern.

Btw: when somebody says first noble truth is depressing it should be remembered also include that remedy : “Whatever is suffering is not mine, I am not it, it is not my self.”
It sounds inversely optimistic. Although issue is not optimistic or pessimistic, just realistic.


Hello everyone,

I’m going back to some ealier part of the conversation here because I think they have not been fully addressed:

Going by the 3 cardinal sutta ( Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta SN 56.11 / Anattalakkhaṇa Sutta SN 22.59 / Adittapariyaya Sutta SN 35.28) we would say (excuse the shortcuts…):

The first noble truth teaches us that there is suffering - not exactly that life is suffering.

Then we get to understand what suffering is (craving - 2NT), that this craving can be ended (3NT), and how to do this is (4NT).

In addition to this we get to understand that we live with the illusion of a self (anattalakkhana sutta), and that this illusion creates the suffering in us per the Adittapariyaya sutta:

So, get rid of the self once and for all, and you will no longer burn with greed, hatered and delusion :smiley: .

The end (of suffering).

Of course, talking this talk is easy - doing the walk is another story!!!


Life is suffering

I think the above is confusing. Suffering here, also, doesn’t only mean the actual emotion of sadness or unpleasant sensations. It also means the futility of renewed becoming, of birth, old age and death, an endless cycle of being born only to decay and dissolve. So this is the unsatisfactoriness of creation! Pleasant sensation are great. But it’s like watching a great film while the plane is crashing!


Thanks for picking up on that. The notion that ‘life is suffering’ is a depressing Buddhism that is wrong because of its over-simplicity. If you want to promote a simple message about Buddhism, create one that is not so misleading. For example ‘Life is complicated, but there is a solution’ - everyone would agree on the first part.

But I personally know people who are turned off by the ‘Buddhist’ tenet that life is suffering. This is not a truth at all, obviously! How do you want to start a conversation with people by slapping them with a message they cannot agree with? So, again, the first truth is more accurately ‘There is suffering’. No problem to accept this obvious truth.


Why now do you assume ‘a being’?
Mara, have you grasped a view?
This is a heap of sheer constructions:
Here no being is found.
Just as, with an assemblage of parts,
The word ‘chariot’ is used,
So, when the aggregates are present,
There’s the convention ‘a being.’
It’s only suffering that comes to be,
Suffering that stands and falls away.
Nothing but suffering comes to be,
Nothing but suffering ceases.
Vajira Sutta: Vajira

I believe the Buddha also mentioned that when arising, only suffering arises… This is not immediately apparent but it’s an insight to be gained through insight practices. It allows to let go of everything at deep levels of attachment.


Yes, in SN 12.15 (and SN 22.90 which quotes SN 12.15). The above SN 5.10 is by bhikkhuni Vajirā obviously. So, are only one sutta by the Buddha and one by a bhikkhuni enough to pass a blanket judgment on the life of mankind that everything is suffering? I’d say anyone who thinks that existence is only suffering based on two suttas is a fool (in the sense of identifying with a misleading oversimple view).

To spell it out, and since it’s supposedly a ‘truth’ it’s applicable to everything arising and passing… : your post is suffering, your intention to write it is suffering, the purpose of it is suffering, suttacentral is suffering, the intentions of the people involved are suffering… … my parents raising me were suffering, their intentions of taking care of me were suffering, my deep friendships were suffering, my encounter with the dhamma was suffering… … suffering suffering suffering suffering suffering suffering suffering suffering suffering suffering suffering suffering suffering suffering suffering.

I don’t know, are you getting in the mood for jhana now? Try it out on your neighbors and see if it makes them want to meditate and be kind. If not, on what grounds do you qualify it as a ‘truth’?

What I would accept is: When you’re liberated, this is how you look back on mundane existence. But then, I don’t really need to bother because it’s the same as speculating what nibbana is like, which is futile.

What I would somehow accept is that in the context of anicca-sanna one practices not to hold on to anything. But that is also a very specific context.

Words matter. And apart from a very precise context the words ‘Life is suffering’ are the words of a clinically depressed person. This is not the short formula Buddhism should be associated with. Unfortunately, for some people it is, and they have every right to think that the philosophy which stands behind such a slogan, is perverse.

Then rather this :slight_smile:


Is the Vajira Sutta saying that everything arising is dukkha while self-view is present? While one assumes “a being”?
The implication being that dukkha ceases when self-view ceases?


“Life is suffering” sounds depressing by itself, you need to add the important caveat “But suffering can be transcended”.
So First Truth + Third Truth, not just First Truth.

Alternatively you could say “Life is unsatsfactory”, which I think more people could relate to.

One of the difficulties here is that “dukkha” has a wide range of meaning, so single-word translations are bound to be problematic.


Considering the statistics, I would rather say “Life is suffering, and it’s almost impossible to transcend it” - or how many arahants do we know?

I see no way around it: If there was no joy on the way, Buddhism would be worthless. Basically it would be Jain in saying that any karma is bad karma. But why stay in the conditional? Why pretend there is no joy in the suttas? Clearly it would be a fatal mistake to ignore pamujja, piti, and sukha.

Or is sukha also dukkha??


I suppose sukha is dukkha in the sense that it is transient and conditional. Here dukkha has the meaning of “unsatisfactory”.
Though again we are still just considering the First Truth here. We need to add the Third Truth, which represents liberation from this unsatisfactoriness.


Firstly, I think the Buddha is not here to please delicate ears. He’s not into marketing and isn’t going to change the message to fit the bill. A handful of people are going to know what he is on about -why religion was created by man- to counteract their pathetic lives to reach that imaginary carrot, at least after death. ‘Opium for the masses’ and the Buddha was all for everyone understanding why they needed that in the first place- to counteract suffering.

You can change the wording but the Dhamma cannot be denied, by simple denial! It’s even more simplistic to think that by reaching a simple agreement on a forum it changes the dhamma!


It’s not about “changing the words”, what we’re doing here is exploring what the First Truth really means, and what dukkha really means (I don’t think “suffering” adequately conveys the meaning).

The First Truth in isolation is depressing and nihilistic, hence the need to consider it in conjunction with the Third Truth.

I’d be interested in your reaction to my earlier question about the Vajira Sutta passage, which suggests that dukkha ceases when self-view ceases.


Self view ceases at stream entry. Sensual craving at anagamin stage. The sense of self, probably at arahanth stage. So IMHO it becomes possible to intellectually distance oneself at sotapanna stage but, existing cravings still cause suffering. The arahanths would have completed the process.


In line with my view of ‘existential angst’, I propose the meanings of these words as reflecting on what dukkha is:

So ‘unsatisfactoriness’ suits… but is a bit dated.

More emotional and depressive words, which I wouldn’t use are:

And to contrast with that, some antonyms, common to positive psychology, materialism and some spiritual paths:

Also used in the Dhamma:


Looking at the suttas there appear to be different levels of dukkha, which is why a single-word translation is unlikely to be adequate. This also means that simple descriptions of the First Truth are likely to be misleading, particularly when it is taken out of context, and not considered along with the Third Truth.

For example we have the 3-fold description of dukkha in SN44.165:


Not according to ten fetters model , the last one to abandon is ignorance .

  1. Desire for rebirth in the realm of luminous form,
  2. desire for rebirth in the formless realm,
  3. conceit, (sense of self)
  4. restlessness, and
  5. ignorance.


What happened to ‘skill of means’?


A sign of commentarial moral degradation, perhaps? :grin: