On the question of the characteristics of dukkha

Are phenomena to which there is no clinging suffering? And if so - why and how?

What is suffering in this context and how does it differ from ordinary mental torment?

SN22.15: " What’s impermanent is suffering." All phenomena are impermanent and hence dukkha – although dukkha does not always point to intense suffering. It also points to the instability and unreliability of all conditional phenomena, hence their inability to offer lasting freedom from dukkha.
Sabbe sankhāra dukkha.

SN12.125: Whatever arises and ceases is only dukkha arising and ceasing.

See SN56.11 for descriptions of dukkha. The word cannot be precisely defined. In this sutta, the Buddha gives direct examples of it, including birth, illness, old age, death, and rebirth.

Having to endlessly experience these aspects of existence is not necessarily mental torment in the strongest sense of these words. I mean: sunsets, playing children, acts of kindness…
But, fundamentally, see the first two sutta quotes above. Due to the inherent instability of all dependent conditions, some of which are indeed horrific, there is: dukkha.

That’s why nibbāna is often"defined" as the ending of greed, anger, and ignorance. But while an arahant is still alive, the kahndhas/senses are still present and operating. So while there’s no clinging or identification with them, their mere presence is a form of dukkha – until they cease in final nibbāna.


To this quote they answer me that the impermanent is indeed suffering, but only under the condition of clinging. It is not entirely clear how the impermanent is passive when there is no clinging.

And yet, what is the suffering of such presence if there is no self-perception, clinging and sadness in relation to the variability of these aggregates?

1 Like



"The suffering inherent in painful feeling; the suffering inherent in conditions; and the suffering inherent in perishing.
Dukkhadukkhatā, saṅkhāradukkhatā, vipariṇāmadukkhatā—
These are the three forms of suffering.
imā kho, bhikkhave, tisso dukkhatā.

In this citation, vipariṇāma means change.

Just being impermanent means unreliability in terms of the final ceasing of any form of dukkha.

So while there is peace and much freedom from dukkha for an arahant given the complete absence of any defilements – the mere presence of the ever-changing khandhas points to the continued presence of some dukkha, even as an arahant does not identify with it or mentally suffer from it, so to speak.
For example, toward the end of his life the Buddha spoke of entering into deep states of samādhi for temporary relief from pains in the body.

In Iti44 nibbāna without residue, the final ceasing of all khandhas without rebirth is taught. Nothing conditional is left at all.

Hope this is helpful.


The arahant continues to engage in appropriate attention:

“An arahant should attend in an appropriate way to these five clinging-aggregates as inconstant, stressful, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a dissolution, an emptiness, not-self. Although, for an arahant, there is nothing further to do, and nothing to add to what has been done, still these things — when developed & pursued — lead both to a pleasant abiding in the here-&-now and to mindfulness & alertness.”

—Samyutta Nikaya 22.122

“This simile, sisters, I have given to convey a message. The message is this: The substance of the inner flesh stands for the six internal media; the substance of the outer hide, for the six external media. The skin muscles, connective tissues, & attachments in between stand for passion & delight. And the sharp knife stands for noble discernment — the noble discernment that cuts, severs, & detaches the defilements, fetters, & bonds in between.”

—Majjhima Nikaya 146

First noble truth: There is suffering.
Second noble truth: Cause of suffering is craving(/ignorance)
Third noble truth: Cessation of craving(ignorance) is cessation of dukkha

Do you feel suffering if a friend is dead? What about someone in your city? country? or world? in another world? universe? samsara?
At some point our concern for the dead person fades away and we are just left with a fact. I am not suffering due to the fact that a person died just this moment.

Maybe the Arahant sees their suffering in some other way? Not through impermanence? My question arose from a dialogue with followers of another tradition, they insist that impermanence brings suffering only if there is clinging. Therefore, the impermanent should not seem to bring trouble to the one who is deprived of clinging, that is, the arahant. Perhaps he looks at aggregates as a source of pain and karmic results from a past life? But why does he see pain as suffering if he is also not mentally hooked on it and feels the feeling being disconnected from him?

Dukkha is of two kinds.

  1. Dukkha
  2. Dukkha sacca

Dukkha is physical and mental suffering. This is subjective.

Dukkha sacca is the attitude of arya persons. In that case what ever is capable of causing Dukkha is considered suffering.

Atthasalini says
The word dukkha signifies painful feeling (dukkha-vedanā-), basis of dukkha (dukkha-vatthu-), dukkha object (dukkhāramaṇa-), condition of dukkha (dukkha-paccaya-), place (-ṭṭhānā) (ofdukkha) etc. To illustrate: In such passages as ‘from the abandoning of dukkha’ [as in the formula for the fourth jhāna], dukkha means ‘painful feeling’. In such passages as, ‘birth is dukkha (jāti dukkhā)’ [as in the teaching on the first ariya-sacca] etc., dukkha means basis of dukkha. In such passages as, ‘Mahāli, inasmuch as material form is dukkha (rūpaṃ dukkhaṃ), falls and descends on dukkha’ (S.III.69) etc, dukkha means dukkha object. In such passages as, ‘dukkha is the accumulation of evil (dukkho pāpassa uccayo)’ (Dhp.117) etc, dukkha means condition of dukkha. In such passages as, ‘Not easy, bhikkhus, is it to succeed in describing how dukkha are the hells (dukkhā nirayyā)’ (M.III.169), etc., dukkha means place occasioning dukkha (dukkha-

Above was copied from a comment of Shaun.

1 Like

I tend to see it this way that anicca, dukkha and anatta are in the discipline of the Buddha used to remedy the usual way of seeing things we expercience as nicca, sukha and atta. Where those last are connected to tanha and avijja the first are connected with dispassion, letting go, relinquishment.

But i think there is also a bottleneck involved. The development of the perception of the body as repulsive, dirty, ugly can lead to so much disgust that one can even commit suicide. Likewise, if the remedy of anicca, dukkha and anatta only feeds the process of conceiving the khandha’s, makes this very strong, i do not believe this tends towards direct knowledge and Nibbana.

I also believe it does not make much sense to talk about dukkha in a context outside sentient life. A cloud is impermanent but why see this as dukkha?
It also makes not much sense, i feel, to see the impermanence of samsara, of suffering, of pain, sickness as dukkha.

But i feel, what is always true is that what is impermanent can in the end not function as a real refuge, cannot really protect, cannot really be the home one seeks for oneself, like Buddha did. In this sense it is very clear that what is impermanent is also unreliable in the end, unsatisfactory, not worth investing in a lot and not worth seeing as the goal of the holy life, not Truth, not Nibbana. Maybe this is why for the monks it was also self-evident that what is impermanent is suffering.

Clinging is taught as the condition for mental suffering. You know, the two arrows, and ofcourse as the cause for entering bhava, building a unsafe house for oneself in this life and after death.

What @paul1 refers to is, for me, is very strange. It seems to suggest that an arahant does not fully naturally see the khandha’s as they are. Strange.
Maybe this is the base for later buddhist to believe the arahant is not yet fully liberated?
Very strange fragment. Also exceptional, i think.

Because pain is painful. Whether one identifies with it or not, in a sheer physical sense, it is uncomfortable and can be severe. Dukkha.
Again, in SN45.165:

"The suffering inherent in painful feeling;…

Seems pretty clear. Even without attachment, clinging, or identification, the pain of a bee sting, a broken leg, arthritis, etc. remain as painful sensations in and of themselves. This is a form of dukkha and why the Buddha taught about the cessation of all that in final nbbāna.