Three types of Suffering

Regarding the 3 types of suffering as above, usually the way I explain this to beginners are as follows. Do comment on your understanding and if my understanding is in accordance to the Dhamma.

  1. Suffering suffering: the normal unpleasant mental feelings, and all forms of physical sufferings. Including depression, mental illness, death etc. Arahants have no more mental sufferings, but they can have physical sufferings in this category. (I am still unsure if arahants can have unpleasant feelings of the mind.)

  2. Suffering due to change/ perishing. In the sense that even pleasant feelings are suffering purely because it’s impermanent. Playing video games, being a billionaire, financial freedom, life in heaven is also can be classified as under this. Any attachments to anything impermanent is under this suffering. Arahants do not have this suffering.

  3. Suffering due to conditioning. This is the deeper sense of suffering. Say as a lay person, one is forced to work. If don’t work, no money, hunger is the suffering suffering experienced. If work, then even when it’s going good, can have time to play video games, there’s also suffering due to change. If one is tired of all these and wishes to immediately get out of this conditioned existence, one cannot immediately do so, but has to develop the full noble 8fold path, including the tired of all samsara factor. So the conditionings of the world is such that we have to play by the law of cause and effect, kamma, etc, not by our own wishes. This is the inherent suffering of conditioning. Even Arahants have to eat, go to toilet etc, so they too have to experience this kind of suffering as long as they had not pass their final death. They have an advantage of being able to go deep into absorptions to suspend their existence here for a while before having to get out of there and eat again.

Am I accurate? Especially with regards to arahants.


“Monks, there are these three kinds of suffering.[1] What three? Suffering caused by pain,[2] suffering caused by the formations (or conditioned existence),[3] suffering due to change.[4] It is for the full comprehension, clear understanding, ending and abandonment of these three forms of suffering that the Noble Eightfold Path is to be cultivated…”—SN 45.165



Dukkhataa, an abstract noun denoting “suffering” in the most general sense.


Dukkha-dukkhataa, the actual feeling of physical or mental pain or anguish.


Sankhaara-dukkhataa, the suffering produced by all “conditioned phenomena” (i.e., sankhaaras, in the most general sense: see BD [Buddhist Dictionary (2nd ed.), by Ven. Nyaa.natiloka, Ven. Nyaa.naponika (ed.), Colombo 1972] s.v. sankhaara I, 4). This includes also experiences associated with hedonically neutral feeling. The suffering inherent in the formations has its roots in the imperfectability of all conditioned existence, and in the fact that there cannot be any final satisfaction within the incessant turning of the Wheel of Life. The neutral feeling associated with this type of suffering is especially the indifference of those who do not understand the fact of suffering and are not moved by it."


Viparinaama-dukkhataa, the suffering associated with pleasant bodily and mental feelings: “because they are the cause for the arising of pain when they change” (VM XIV, 35).

See also: SN 38.14.


Based on the different rendering made to SN 45.165 (presented by paul1 above), apparently dukkha can be understood as:

  1. As per Ven. Sujato’s translation, a quality inherent to objects and processes.
  2. As per Ven. Bodhi’s translation, an internal consequence of the conjoined presence of two necessary conditions, namely:
    a) painful feelings, conditioned phenomena or change.
    b) a mind that has not yet eradicated the asavas

I think that it’s important to notice the difference in the two renderings, and the implications in each one.

With definition 2, it’s easier for me to understand that Nibbana is the end of dukkha, because the end of the asavas ceases condition b of definition 2. This would explain the message of SN 45.165:

The Noble Eightfold Path is to be developed for… their utter destruction [of the three kinds of dukkha]

However, it’s hard for me to understand how the N8P could destroy a quality inherent to objects out there, namely, the condition-ness of conditioned objects. Whether someone is an arahant or not, this quality would keep being present, because it is not related nor causally dependent on the presence or absence of asavas in the mind of the Arahant, nor is dependent on the Arahant living or having passed away.

Am I understanding the texts correctly?

I’d appreciate any observation that you could make.

Kind regards!

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For me, listing down that arahants, while still alive can have certain sufferings above indicates that nibbana without remainder is the one which has all sufferings ceases. As nibbana without remainder (which is after the final passing away of arahant), is not at all conditioned, not related to samsara, it’s freed from the inherent sufferings in samsara, thus is free from all sufferings.


Some food for thought :slightly_smiling_face:
I understand that what changes is the ‘relationship’ to all the conditioned. Everything remains exactly the same, yet one is freed by no longer having a personal relationship, or any vested interest in, these things… one just observes conditional arising and ceasing. One sees the processes and mechanisms in action as they are occuring.

Because of this, one can move towards pure sila and universal compassion. There is no more blame or shoulds, could haves… no more judgements of satisfactory or unsatisfactory…

Ultimately, the only thing that makes sense is to be harmless (not to contribute to suffering), live lightly, and be kind in every interaction with everything.

Knowing that ones conduct is blameless is a source of happiness and non-regret, which allows peaceful abiding in the here and now.

Just another perspective :pray:t2::slightly_smiling_face::sunflower:


Thanks Viveka!
That’s how I understand the relation between the N8P and dukkha.

What I was trying to point out was the consequences of one rendering over the other, specifically, between:
a) Dukkha inherent in objects
b) Dukkha due to ignorant relation to objects

As I’m understanding it, Ven Sujato’s translation makes Nibbana less effective than Ven. Bodhi’s “Nibbana”, as it is discussed in the specific sutta I quoted. This, because you cannot change the inherent qualities of objects “out there”, but I agree that we can effectively change the relation between subject and mental phenomena/objects in relation with the mind of the subject.

Kind regards!


As @NgXinZhao pointed out, there are two kinds of nibbana. The partial nibbana in this life and the complete nibbana after dying and not being reborn again. Buddhists didn’t believe you could completely escape suffering as long as you were in the world because at a minimum you’ll have to face down the pains of old age, illness, and death. I believe there’s a sutta or two that make the distinction between the baseline suffering being alive involves and the added, unnecessary suffering that ignorance and attachment cause.



I’m aware of this distinction. However, I’m trying to say that if dukkha is inherent to the objects, and not a mode of relation between the subject and the objects as they “appear” in his/her experience, then I don’t see how Nibbana and the ceasing of the cycle of rebirth could put an end to what is a feature of objects.

Here are the mentioned translations, about what are the three kinds of suffering:

Ven. Bodhi’s:

Suffering due to pain, suffering due to formations, suffering due to change.

Ven. Sujato’s:

The suffering inherent in painful feeling; the suffering inherent in conditions; and the suffering inherent in perishing.

How do you understand and interpret ‘inherent in’?

I suspect this is not merely an innocuous linguistic curiosity, but I think it can produce different interpretations of the Buddha’s teachings.

For instance, Ven Bodhi’s translation could allow a ceasing of all forms of suffering in this very life, because there could be an established difference between painful feeling and suffering (i.e. painful feelings and the dukkha that is finished after attaining Nibbana would be two different things, and the painful feeling would not be considered dukkha in itself, even when the phrase “painful feelings” has the word dukkha in it in pali):

Suffering could be understood as one possible way of subjects being in relation with the contents of experience; and what would allow for this mode to occur would be the presence of the asavas.

And so, if there were to be no asavas in one’s mind, then it could be possible to exist in this very life without any form of suffering, even though there’s still the presence of painful feeling, conditioned phemomena and changing phemomena. Suffering would not be inherent in such things.

What would happen at the end of the Arahant’s life is the end of rebirth, and therefore, the end of the conditions for the arising of painful feelings (or any kind of subjective experience).

I’m not sure if I’m misunderstanding the suttas or if I’m getting to conclusions too overreaching based on only one sutta.

Kind regards!


I think you’re too focused on suffering as in mental sufferings only. I would zoom out to see that even physical sufferings are not worth it.

So for example, via some science plus supernormal power plus magic means, the arahant could be made practically immortal, the arahant might not mind if there’s a lot of compassion to want to teach the dhamma, just like Bodhisattvas, but the arahant may also want to consider the buddha’s words that he recommends not even a finger snap’s length to existence.

Nibbana without remainder being utterly without the 3 sufferings are indeed freed from them and there’s no issue with seeing suffering as inherent in samsara. We do have to see it as such to be able to arise dispassion for samsara and turn away from samsara. Or else, it’s still playing the game of be clever enough to shoot down suffering, be happy. No. The aim is to truly understand suffering, and part of it is that suffering is inherent in samsara. Normally, we cannot say this to beginners, as it seems to them to encourage suicide, if the view of rebirth has not been established in them, or that they don’t really know the path to end suffering is available. Part of that part is to completely turn away from samsara, by seeing that suffering is inherent in samsara.

The Mahayana ideal of Bodhisatta or Buddhas who never enter into full cessation of nibbana, those beings still suffer the ones above which I analysed that arahants still suffer. Thus, their ideal of eternal Bodhisattvas is contradictory to total freedom from all sufferings.


SN 45.165 does not have the corresponding SA text. Are the three kinds of dukkha in SN only the Theravada teachings, not shared with the SA tradition?


I think the difference between Sujato and Bodhi’s translations isn’t that significant. It’s basically a word choice issue rather than the meaning in the Pali. I know that as a reader these differences can seem to have major implications, but often it’s the vagaries of what sounds good to a given translator when the original language is awkward or unclear. When you boil it down, the three sufferings are:

  1. the pain of feeling pain,
  2. the pain of being subject to conditions (beyond our control)
  3. the pain of things (we want to continue) perishing (ourselves in particular).

The first one doesn’t go away with the destruction of the asavas.

I’d suggest reading the Skandha Samyutta carefully from beginning to end. Take some notes and notice the overall themes that are developed and connected together. For example, the way the skandhas are described as impermanent, painful, and not self. The skandhas are inherently painful because they are impermanent. That is, the body falls apart and dies, which is really unpleasant to experience even with equanimity. It’s painful. Personally, I can relate to this because I’m suffering from an auto-immune disorder that causes low level joint pain and stiffness every day. Some days are worse than others, and I accept it as a fact of my life, but it makes life less pleasant. That happens to everyone as they get older; it’s just happening to me a bit sooner.


So very true!! Just as in…

Suppose a man is in love with a woman, full of intense desire and lust. Then he sees her standing together with another man, chatting, giggling, and laughing.

What do you think, mendicants? Would that give rise to sorrow, lamentation, pain, sadness, and distress for him?”

“Yes, sir. Why is that? Because that man is in love with that woman, full of intense desire and lust.”

“Then that man might think: ‘I’m in love with that woman, full of intense desire and lust. When I saw her standing together with another man, chatting, giggling, and laughing, it gave rise to sorrow, lamentation, pain, sadness, and distress for me. Why don’t I give up that desire and lust for that woman?’ So that’s what he did. Some time later he sees her again standing together with another man, chatting, giggling, and laughing.

What do you think, mendicants? Would that give rise to sorrow, lamentation, pain, sadness, and distress for him?”

“No, sir. Why is that? Because he no longer desires that woman.



Does this apply, in your opinion, to physical painful feelings as well?

In other words:
Does Nibbana eliminate the suffering that tends to come with painful feelings?

Of course. There’s no mental suffering of arahant.

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Now I can narrow the context of my question:

Is pain identical to suffering?
Is pain a kind of suffering?
Is pain something different to suffering?
Is pain followed by suffering only in non-arahant?

As I’ve understood some posts here, some say that there’s still some suffering left after attaining Nibbana and before the death of the arahant.

But I used to think that Nibbana ended, in the very same life of the Arahant, all forms of suffering. And that was left as a “residue” was physical pain (which is different from suffering), which ultimately ended after the passing away of the Arahant.

Is the view I present equivalent in practice to the one you present?
Is this just a matter of words and definitions?

Short answer Yes.
Long answer. No.
Nibbana does not eliminate the physical experience of pain that is the consequence of having a human body. It does however change the way one’s mind relates to pain. The ability to be dispassionate towards the sensation of pain can enable one to overcome it. However, even the Buddha needed prompting when experiencing intense suffering. See SN 46.14, 46.15, 46.16

At one time the Buddha was staying near Rājagaha, in the Bamboo Grove, the squirrels’ feeding ground. Now at that time he was sick, suffering, gravely ill. Then Venerable Mahācunda went up to the Buddha, bowed, and sat down to one side. The Buddha said to him:

“Cunda, express your understanding of the > awakening factors…
…And that’s how the Buddha recovered from that illness.


Thanks for your reply!

After reading the sutta you shared, now I’m wondering if there’s more than one possible translation for dukkha, depending on the context.

It seems that some translators (I can’t remember who and where) would agree, as in the same sentence they would render dukkha as unsatisfactoriness and suffering.

For instance, Ven. Thanissaro translated it as ‘stress’, which might have some practical consequences for the understanding of the Buddha’s teachings.

Being specific in my doubts:
Was the Buddha suffering in the event described in that sutta, or was he just in pain, or it is the same thing?

Kind regards!


I posted an answer to Ven. Sunyo thinking that I was writing in this thread. I’ll paste the answer here because it is related to this topic:

I’ve heard a lot (I keep saying “a lot”, but I can’t remember any precise example, sorry about that) of buddhist divulgers saying that it is a common misconception to think that the Buddha tells that “life is suffering”. However, by reading this sutta and translating dukkha as suffering, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to reach that conclusion.

And, at the same time, I now see clearly why lots if people say that buddhism without rebirth is not buddhism anymore: if “life is suffering”, only the end of rebirth can fully stop suffering. But I’m now seeing that the relation between the effectiveness of the Dhamma, rebirth and dukkha depends in how does one decide to translate dukkha on each instance.

Well, the Pali is

Tena kho pana samayena bhagavā ābādhiko hoti dukkhito bāḷhagilāno.

But this word “dukkha” is an extremely wide ranging word. It covers everything from pain to suffering to existential angst.


mfn. & neuter

  1. (mfn.)
  2. painful; unpleasant; bringing pain or distress; uneasy, uncomfortable; not what one wants; wrong.
  3. (used to characterize all experience) unsatisfactory; bringing distress or trouble.
  4. (n.)
  5. pain, distress, trouble.
  6. (as a term characterizing all experience; its ending is nibbāna), distress, trouble

What then becomes evident in the suttas in question is that the Buddha was indeed experiencing pain (a physical sensation rooted in contact). Was he Suffering (a mental response of negative emotional state to contact experienced in any of the six senses)? This is ambiguous with respect to the Buddha as Ven Cunda didn’t ask him the million dollar question… I tend to think, yes…there might have been a teensy bit of Suffering there? Otherwise why ask Cunda to recite the awakening factors? The commentaries AFAIK, hold that the Buddha was not suffering, he was only setting an example for us to learn from.

As far as Ven Kassapa and Ven Moggallana go, there is no doubt…they were experiencing suffering, and admitted as much.

Bāḷhā me dukkhā vedanā abhikkamanti

But were they fully awakened at that time or merely once returners?

Hmmm… Looks like one needs to be fully awakened to find out.


I thought I should also say a bit more about Dukkha. This word is still in use in my mother tongue, so I have an instinctive understanding which might not be the case with you. In Hindi commercials for pain relievers, the tearful child with the scraped knee goes ‘Ma, it is dukkh -oing’. In Hindi soaps, the lovelorn sing songs about how their hearts are filled with dukkh. The upset father throws out his recalcitrant antisocial son saying, ‘You have given me nothing but dukh all your miserable life!’ And government officials sign tons of letters daily saying ‘It is with sincere dukkh that I inform you that your request cannot be granted.’