Three types of Suffering

This seems suspicious, I think this sutta is possibly a late text which contains early Abhidhammic material because the three types of dukkha is elaborated in Abhidhamma.


I’m a dunce; do you mean the entire Samyutta Nikaya?

Nope, he’s referring to a part of the Skhandha vagga, which is like a section of chapters in the big book.


To me, the Three types of Dukkha kind of boils down to “the pain of pain” or something like that. There has to be a delineation between the first arrow and the second arrow.

The physical pain of a toothache, a sprained ankle or an old worn out body with infirmities, is felt by everyone, including arahants. That’s the first arrow. But Nibbana is the end of the mental pain, the hating of the physical pain, the aversion to it, the second arrow. There is no second arrow in Nibbana.

Likewise, in Nibbana, dukkha does not arise with the arising of the “imperfectability of all conditioned experience” nor with impermanence and inevitable change of everything. All mental dukkha is fully understood and abandoned. That pretty much defines Nibbana.

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It was getting late and I go back and forth between Pali and Sanskrit too much. I meant the Khandha Samyutta. A bit less reading than the whole vagga.


IMO, perhaps another way to think about the 3 types of dukkha is in terms of trying to understand the way in which they arise and are let go of.

Viparinamma Dukkha is created by grasping to the things of the world which unfortunately turn out to be impermanent. Being able to see this in real time and letting go of this kind of gross grasping is what makes one a stream winner.

Sankhara dukkha is created by conceiving a personalized reality on the basis of sensory input. Though one knows enough not to grasp at what arises and passes away, one is still unaware of the underlying subtle grasping to concepts of what things are and what they mean. Successively letting go of this type of fine grasping makes one a once returner.

Dukkha dukkha is created by the bare experience of the aggregates themselves. The grasping at this stage is super fine, akin to the way a flame grasps the fuel it depends upon. Letting go of this too, one experiences Nibbana as an Arahant.

Just my thoughts, feel free to chip in!


The basic idea/teaching of the three kinds of dukkha (i.e. suffering due to pain, suffering due to formations, suffering due to change) is certainly found in both SA and SN. E.g. the danger (aadiinava) of the five aggregates (SN 22.82 = SA 58); all feelings are suffering due to anicca, the impermanent nature of compounded things (SN36.11= SA 474); and the two kinds of feelings, bodily feeling and mental feeling (SN 36.6 = SA 470). (Choong MK’s Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism, pp. 49-50, 109-111)

But the expression of the three kinds of dukkha seems not found in SA.

I think it’s as the commentary says, I believe the Buddha, Kassapa and Mongallana are just experiencing the first dukkha of suffering suffering.

They have no corresponding mental suffering due to impermanence (of health), but nonetheless, it’s not convenient to be in sickness still even without mental suffering. Thus they needed someone to recite the 7 factors of awakening for them to rejoice and body heals. This indicates conditionality, so in that sense, they are subject to suffering inherent in conditionality for needing to go through that process to heal instead of immediately heal.

This reading makes it consistent with the rendering above in my initial posting.

I stick to my original post too, on your notion that the 3 dukkhas are eliminated by some level of sainthood, I don’t think so.

Stream winners still have roots of greed and hatred, thus they are subject to mental suffering of heartbreak due to divorce etc. That’s clearly under suffering due to impermanence and suffering suffering.


I agree that life is suffering, but we cannot tell that to total beginners. They may commit suicide, go into depression. So to properly understand life is suffering, the concept of the 3 kinds of suffering has to be introduced, the concept of rebirth has to be believed, and that there’s a way to end rebirth has to be believed. Then it’s suitable to tell them life is suffering.

The weakness of not telling people that life is suffering is that they are contented with not striving for enlightenment despite having encountered the dhamma as a human, both extremely rare events. They think that if they practice skillfully enough, suffering wouldn’t bother them that much. Don’t need to go all the way to renounce like monks. Whereas this is akin to wasting the rare opportunity to practice.


It seems I’m wrong to say the three kinds is not found in the Agamas. When I search keyword “三苦” (three dukkha) in CBETA, it turns out there are several passages in Chinese Agamas contained the reference to three kinds of dukkha. I can’t read Chinese, but some are:

  1. DA 9, which is a parallel of DN 33 Sangiti Sutta, which mentions three kinds of dukkha as 行苦、苦苦、變易苦 (sankhara-dukkha, dukkha-dukkha, and viparinama-dukkha), same as the Pali DN 33.

  2. SA 147, translated by Analayo here, mentions three kinds of suffering without specification what are the three.

So my previous post which comments this as a late doctrinal element is not justified :grin:


Thanks for the findings, DA 9 = DN 33, and SA 147.

SA 147, no corresponding text, belongs to Vyakarana portion, and just mentions the three kinds of suffering without giving any contents. It seems correct to say ‘a set of the three kinds of suffering’ is a late doctrinal expression in EBTs.


I think that in regards to #3 It’s noteworthy that it’s said; ‘sabbe sankhara dukkha’ [all formations are dukkha] in the texts. So i think the translator made a slip there writing ‘suffering produced by sankhara’ and that it should be suffering associated with or suffering denoting all formations [sankhara-dukkha], point being that it is not so that sankhara is one thing and the suffering it produces is another thing but that what is called sankhara is also called suffering.

All of creations/formations are classed categorically as dukkha.

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which is analogous to

No joke, I read this yesterday somewhere in SN22 and had a “whaaaat?” moment; if I read it as written then we’re all basically doomed. It’s even more grim than initially believed - it’s not that sankhara cause suffering, they are suffering. My sankharas feel glued on, I can’t just walk away from my body for example :thinking: Within 5 seconds of waking I can’t deny that “I” have feeling. Noble Truth 1/4, 100% on board.

All existence is basically dukkha when compared to the nibbananirodha principle.

The conditioned principally changes as it persists and only the principle of it’s cessation is unconditioned and is thought & spoken of as pleasant and opposed to the conditioned element being dukkha.


I think one of the problems is a matter of translation. Suffering is a really harsh word in English, whereas dukkha covers little unpleasantnesses, too. It’s very general. So, some sankharas are initially pleasant or even ecstatic, but they don’t last forever, and then attachment causes it’s absence to be unpleasant. That’s the underlying logic that isn’t always explained.


Actually sankhara can only be spoken of as pleasant relative to other sankhara. Sankhara is altogether dukkha relative to what isn’t sankhara.

From wikipedia

According to Monier-Williams (1964), the etymology of sukha is “said to be su [‘good’] + kha [‘aperture’] and to mean originally ‘having a good axle-hole’…” Thus, for instance, in the Rig Veda sukha denotes “running swiftly or easily” (applied, e.g., to chariots). Sukha is juxtaposed with duḥkha (Sanskrit; Pali: dukkha; often translated as “suffering”), which was established as the major motivating life principles in early Vedic religion.

As i understand it, if you were given a wheel to try for a fit and having tried putting it on your chariot axle you would see that the wheel’s ‘kha’ is a bad fit. Someone would then ask you if the wheel is sukha and you would reply; no it’s dukkha. So here it’s close to unfitting, bad, wrong, incompatible, unsuitable, disagreeable and ill-fitting or of the wrong kind.

Sukha would be the opppsite kind of fit. Well-fitting.

Dukkha is basically not good.

Dhammapada states very clearly: aggregates are the foremost dukkha and Nibbana is the foremost sukha.

Any feeling which is experienced by ordinary people is dukkha, even Jhana, and only the nibbananirodha dhatu in dependence on which people can enter meditative absorbtion on the treshold of cessation of perception & feeling is sukha.

Therefore it is said

First, take a mendicant who, quite secluded from sensual pleasures … enters and remains in the first absorption. To this extent the Buddha said that extinguishment is visible in this very life in a qualified sense. …

Furthermore, take a mendicant who, going totally beyond the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception, enters and remains in the cessation of perception and feeling. And, having seen with wisdom, their defilements come to an end. To this extent the Buddha said that extinguishment is visible in this very life in a definitive sense.” SuttaCentral


he [Sariputta] said to the monks, “This Nibbana is pleasant, friends. This Nibbana is pleasant.”

When this was said, Ven. Udayin said to Ven. Sariputta, “But what is the pleasure here, my friend, where there is nothing felt?”

"Just that is the pleasure here, my friend: where there is nothing felt. Nibbana Sutta: Unbinding

Also here:

Now it’s possible, Ananda, that some wanderers of other persuasions might say, ‘Gotama the contemplative speaks of the cessation of perception & feeling and yet describes it as pleasure. What is this? How can this be?’ When they say that, they are to be told, ‘It’s not the case, friends, that the Blessed One describes only pleasant feeling as included under pleasure. Wherever pleasure is found, in whatever terms, the Blessed One describes it as pleasure.’" Bahuvedaniya Sutta: Many Things to be Experienced

Therefore when one says that a feeling is pleasant, that one says on account of that feeling being better than another feeling which is worse, it qualifies as better and to that extent good but it isn’t good in a definitive sense.

Only nibbananirodhadhatu is asoka [sorrowless].

These three feelings have been spoken of by me: a feeling of pleasure, a feeling of pain, & a feeling of neither pleasure nor pain. These are the three feelings spoken of by me. But I have also said: ‘Whatever is felt comes under dukkha.’ That I have stated simply in connection with the inconstancy of fabrications. That I have stated simply in connection with the nature of fabrications to end… in connection with the nature of fabrications to fall away… to fade away… to cease… in connection with the nature of fabrications to change. Rahogata Sutta: Alone

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Well, I suppose this is true on a philosophical level, but the actual experiences people have are both pleasant and unpleasant. It’s true, though, feelings are relative to past feelings. A pleasant experience becomes a neutral one after a while because it’s being compared to itself. Which, I guess, is why addictive behavior involves clambering for greater and greater pleasant experiences in order to avoid that reset to a bland, neutral feeling. So, a person has to use impermanence to continue to feel good, but of course there’s a practical limit to feeling good, and the effort becomes frustrating. At the end of the day, though, the problem of sankhara is that it’s impermanent and not entirely in a person’s control whether it arises or not. This is explained in many suttas, especially the ones that discuss the khandhas.

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They are only dukkha if clung to.

“Monk, whatever one stays obsessed with,[1] that’s what one is measured by. Whatever one is measured by, that’s how one is classified. Whatever one doesn’t stay obsessed with, that’s not what one is measured by. Whatever one isn’t measured by, that’s not how one is classified.”—SN 22.36


Only way to uncling is to see that they are inherently dukkha. For no sane person would want to cling to what is dukkha.

That’s why understanding suffering, abandoning the causes of suffering, attaining the cessation of suffering all happens at attainment.

For many people who say only clinging causes suffering, there maybe a subtle hope left for thinking that as long as I let go, I can enjoy life, samsara. Whereas seeing all sankhara as dukkha, one sees that there’s no hope for (true) happiness in the world, turns away from samsara to nibbana. It’s deep. Not always good to say these things to beginners.


Each of the four noble truths has a duty appropriate to it (SN 56.11). The suffering resultant from attachment to conventional reality is to be comprehended, but equally the cessation of stress is to be directly experienced.