Only suffering that comes to be…

But it’s only suffering that comes to be,
lasts a while, then disappears.
Naught but suffering comes to be,
naught but suffering ceases.

SN 5.10

I have always understood this to be an inspired poetic utterance by the nun Vajirā. Perhaps based on a quote of a similar immaculately poetic utterance of the Teacher. As a poetic utterance I’ve always believed it should be understood metaphorically. That it is inappropriate or mistaken to understand it literally.

Do others understand this verse as something to be taken literally? Is this figurative language that should not be understood literally?


The sentiment is stated in prose by the Buddha himself in the Kaccana Gotta Sutta:

He has no perplexity or doubt that what arises is only suffering arising, what ceases is only suffering ceasing. His knowledge about this is independent of others. It is in this way, Kaccana, that there is right view.
~ SN 12.15

But this is Right View for the Noble Ones… Not the mundane level! Within saṃsāra there is better and worse. But after tasting nibbāna, you’ll see that all the rising and falling of saṃsāra is just dukkha. (At least this is how I understand this…)


On a mundane level, could we not say that better = suffering ceasing, and worse = suffering arising?

A particular suffering, sure! Like rebirth in the heavenly realms would be the cessation of human kinds of suffering. And rebirth in hell is the arising of that particular form of suffering.

But even deva experiences are aniccā (anattādukkha) from the perspective of complete cessation (nibbāna)

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Venerable Yeshe. I personally view it literally. I remember reading somewhere in a sutta the phrase: “conceiving self is a disease, a tumor and a dart”. In SN 5.10, i read Mara is conceiving wrong view of “a being”. This reads the same as conceiving self. This reads like it is the literal arising of suffering because conceiving “self” or “a being” is fraught with suffering because this conceiving is propelled by lust, hatred or delusion. Even when people are morally righteous, pointing out transgressions, sins & crimes of others; from the perspective of a peaceful mind of a Buddha, all of this conceiving self & beings is disturbing & not peaceful. The Dhammapada famously says: “He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me.” Those who harbor such thoughts do not still their hatred. “He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me.” Those who do not harbor such thoughts still their hatred. Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal. It is a flurry of mental conditioning and not the stilling of mental conditioning, which is peaceful. I cannot remember the sutta but i remember reading a sutta where some monks returned from alms in a town and spent their time discussing the sins of the common people in that town. I recall the Buddha rebuked those monks.

Namo Buddhaya!

This is basically a summary of the teachings akin to this line from mn22

In the past, as today, what I describe is suffering and the cessation of suffering

Here another way of summarizing by a two-fold method

There are these two elements: the conditioned element and the unconditioned element. -mn115

Of course.

This two-fold summary is a way of saying ‘All of the constructed is suffering and it’cessation is the unconstructed’.

If you examine the Four Noble Truths you will also see the two elements being described therein

  1. The truth of dukkha
  2. The cause of dukkha
  3. The truth of cessation
  4. The path leading to cessation

Hmm, well that is surprising to me, but thank you for letting me know.


There is another way to think about it. One can say that Buddha explained what is suffering and what is happiness in a definitive & extraordinary sense.

The suffering can be summed in the fivefold way as the five aggregates or in a single-fold way as the constructed.

And the escape from suffering, as the extinguishment of suffering, discerned because there is an unmade, is happiness in a definitive sense.

So there are in this sense only two elements being taught suffering & happiness.

There is a related dhp verse


Hunger: the foremost illness.
Fabrications: the foremost pain.
saṅkhāraparamā dukhā
For one knowing this truth
as it actually is,
is the foremost ease.
nibbāṇaparamaṃ sukhaṃ.

So you also believe that persons or the aggregates that the convention “person” is based on is literal suffering, but only at the supramundane level?


Well, the aggregates also provide plenty of suffering at the mundane level too, don’t get me wrong! :laughing:

Thank you Venerable and all for your kind answers, but this has brought several more questions: Is the Tathagata literal suffering?