What is dukkha?

Thanks! I didn’t know about that publication, I’ll have to check it out.

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Hello @Vaddha,

I have not had time to read your recent posts as I have been busy with other obligations, but this thought occurred to me and I wanted to see what you think.

Dukkha and the aggregates are sometimes synonymous but not always so kind of like this sentence: The newly widowed are grieving people.

While it might be true that the vast majority of the newly widowed are grieving people it is neither necessarily or sufficiently so. Consider:

  • It is possible to be newly widowed and yet not a grieving person

  • It is possible to be grieving yet not newly widowed

Much more can be said but I don’t have time right now to say it :pray:

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I have never for one moment forget what you mentioned. And that is the Truth. I have said many times that the Buddha teaches that the complete knowledge of khandha’s is: seeing their arising, disappearance, danger, gratification, and escape.
But many have huge trouble with this. They insist that khandha’s must be known as merely suffering.
They have so much difficulty to admit there is pleasure in life, happiness, gratification, bliss, etc etc.

Buddha also says: If defiling states disappear. . ., nothing but happiness and delight develops, tranquillity, mindfulness and clear awareness - and that is a happy state. (DN9, Waslhe)

But the core of dukkha in Dhamma is just that any conditioned thing, state, formations, existence, is liable to arise and cease. And the message of the Buddha is: do not seek that, do not see this as refuge, do not delight in it, cherish it. It is not reliable, cannot protect. Dukkha. Seek the stable, the constant, the not-integrating.

No worries :slight_smile:

I agree that the word ‘dukkha’ does not always mean ‘the aggregates’ but that sometimes the word ‘dukkha’ is designating what ‘the aggregates’ designate and vice versa.

I’d say dukkha and the aggregates are synonymous in the same way that anattā or emptiness and the aggregates are synonymous. The aggregates are not made of emptiness or anattā. And anattā is not made of the aggregates. But the aggregates are anattā and anattā is not something other than the aggregates. They are not the same, different, both, or neither.

I think dukkha is the lack of true sukha in phenomena, meaning that beings who rely on, incline to, or grasp after those things (the aggregates, the sense domains, etc.) will encounter in them dukkha or non-sukha. They will not meet true happiness, and so they will be disappointed and confused. Beings who do not rely on, incline to, or grasp after those things (the aggregates, the sense domains, etc., i.e. dukkha) will not be met with disappointment, because they were not expecting any such sukha to be found there. So they just are what they are. But they still lack true sukha.

I think that dukkha exists in a plain, boring sense. But when looked for, ultimately it cannot be found. The aggregates entail the experience of pain and inconstancy and so on. But when ultimately looked for, they cannot be found, so how can their attributes or characteristics be found?

It’s difficult to organize my thoughts sometimes when things become very subtle :laughing:


As this thread approaches 200 posts, I think this is a good summary!


Define “true happiness” though and whether you think such a thing exists and if it does how so? Is it possible to attain it? Possess it? Experience it? :slight_smile: :pray:

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“Freedom from being hurt is the ultimate gratification of feelings, I say.”
MN 13

I suppose in this context, by ‘true happiness’ I mean inherent or permanent pleasurable feeling. Pleasure that can be relied on forever and ever. So if there is eternal pleasure and pain, it is not true happiness. Or if there is pure pleasure that is nevertheless inconstant, it is not true happiness.

I don’t think such a thing above exists. But I think the Buddha redefined the word, because he realized that what people really wanted by wanting eternal pleasure was freedom from suffering and pain, because that is what makes ‘pleasure’ valuable. They depend on one another. So I think that true happiness in the Dhamma sense means freedom from pain or suffering, or the duality of pleasure and pain. If there is nothing by which pain or suffering can arise, then there is true happiness in that sense.

I think this Dhamma sense of true happiness can be reached. I don’t think it is a thing that exists. But I think that it is possible to be free from pain and hurt. I think this is what the Teacher found and proclaimed. I don’t think this ‘freedom’ is an eternal thing, or an impermanent thing, or a mixture of both, or something else. I think it is merely the freedom from being caught between pleasure and pain. Other possible synonyms besides ‘freedom’ could be ‘safety’ or ‘refuge.’

I think it is possible for someone, such as the Teacher, to do as above. But I don’t think someone will ‘possess’ or ‘experience’ freedom in the same way that they would ‘possess’ or ‘experience’ an alleged eternal feeling of pleasure. I think they would step beyond the dependency on either. They cannot be defined, as there is nothing separate by which to define such freedom.

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Inadequate can also be defined without relying upon an opposite or by speaking of value. That which is inadequate is that which is not as we desire it or view it to be. I think you asserted that we couldn’t define inadequate without talking about values or a duality, but to my mind the above definition does not require us to define such a set of values, right? This is not to assert that the definition above is best or correct, but to point out that such a functional definition is possible. :pray:

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That “which is not as we desire it.” So the opposite of being in accord with desire. Being in accord with desire is adequate; not being in accord with desire is inadequate, right?

First: Why is this what makes something (in)adequate? Is it sheerly arbitrary? Or is there some other value X that determines the reason.

Assume something inadequate is the opposite of how we desire that thing to be. So suppose I desire to suffer; I want to suffer. It would follow that suffering is then adequate. Only if I want to not suffer is it inadequate; so long as I want suffering it is not inadequate. If I want to feel pain and I touch a painful, hot coal, then is that perfectly adequate and free of dukkha? Do you agree that conclusion seems to follow?

BTW @yeshe.tenley , there hasn’t been opportunity to respond to other points. But to my limited mind the weakest points in your arguments are that (1) the cessation of hatred is fundamentally different than the cessation of the khandhas, and (2) that the body of the Tathagata is preserved through real spacetime, and therefore the aggregates ought to follow this pattern. I don’t agree with either of these and I don’t think you would either, given for example the story of the God and ghost, but you seem to rely on them frequently in some way which I’m still unclear about.

Dukkha has the meaning of flaw , leak or defect . The aggregates can be regarded or liken to a broken or defected wheel .

Hi @Max :slight_smile:

So the aggregates are not capable of functioning on carts and carrying merchandise? Or do you mean that they are made of faulty wood or metal? Or that the aggregates are missing a certain number spokes?

I fail to see how the aggregates have much in common with a defective wheel. Maybe you specifically mean that in old age the body is less mobile. But that is only one of the aggregates in a particular mode. It isn’t true of all aggregates are of all possible form.

If you want a wheel simile, I would say that the aggregates are what forces us to keep driving.

Dukkha emerges if one tries to stop or go on the freeway.

The cart must be driven on a roller brake tester where the wheels can be kept moving at a slow pace without the cart moving.

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Would this not be craving? If the aggregates forced us to be in samsāra then there would be no escape. And if ‘we’ are in the car, this would imply we are the aggregates or are in the aggregates. But that is grasping to views.

If the driver of the car is craving, then the aggregates would be the vehicle craving uses to propel itself forward or continue resting in samsāra. The driver has to get out of the car; craving has to be removed from the aggregates. That seems like a nice analogy @Malunkyaputta :slight_smile:

Why add anything if @yeshe.tenley’s ardent sparring partner agrees with my simille? :wink:

But the way I see it is that the wish to stop or to go on the freeway is the craving.


Okay, some of the points you made which I never responded to.

I don’t understand how, or why, hatred must go poof in your view. Why is hatred inherently, universally bad? Why can hatred not arise in the mind of a Buddha without being a problem?

Do you think that hatred is universally, independently of the perceiver, perceived as bad and harmful and painful? If the Buddha is not equal to or the owner of hatred, why is the presence of hatred internally a problem?

I agree :slight_smile:
I also think the Teacher said he had made an end of the five aggregates internally. He made an end of rūpa and knew it would not continue once the conditions sustaining it passed. He did not make an end of matter in the universe.

Sādhu! Sādhu! :pray::blush: May we both be free of hatred!

I both agree and disagree. The form aggregate includes the physical body, but not a matter-substance.

A human walks through a park and sees a beautiful river. A nāga swims in a golden city. A hell being floats down a stream of fire.

I believe that when a sentient being dies and is reborn, rūpa continues, and not as a dead body. I don’t know of anyone who appears as their former corpse! The rūpa aggregate is not a substance; it has no core. So “it” can shift, evolve, change, arise, and cease according to conditions.

The body left behind is not the Teacher’s rūpa aggregate there. It is the perception of the perceiver, and is part of the perceivers own rūpa aggregate. If I were to see the Teacher’s relics, that doesn’t mean he didn’t end the rūpa aggregate 2500 years ago. Because he didn’t claim to end matter or to end the rūpa aggregate of all beings. His internal rūpa aggregate no longer arose.

And it seems that hatred does not wink out of existence with the enlightenment of beings either! The Sutta tells of people getting angry after the Buddha was enlightened!

Seeing a dead body doesn’t mean the Teacher had not put an end to the rūpa aggregate. Even if the Teacher were to continue in cyclic existence, the rūpa aggregate would presumably continue unless he were to reappear in an arūpa realm. And again, I presume it would not continue as a corpse nor as relics! But I do not know this to be the case. It’s possible that beings fare on as their corpses time and again, or reappear as their relics! All I perceive is the external form of my rūpa-aggregate. I do not perceive beings with the form of former corpses. It seems to me that form cannot be found as independent and existent beyond all perceivers.

But I believe that it did disappear, as the Teacher claimed it would. His internal aggregate of form was ended. That has nothing to do with the existence or non-existence of matter-substance persisting in external space-time, nor with the form aggregate of sentient beings who perceive internal and external forms.

For sake of argument, let’s set aside the issue of the Teacher. Let’s discuss a normal sentient being in and outside of a dream.

Suppose you see your friend Devin. Devin waves, speaks with you, etc. You see Devin with your vision and perceive them with your other senses. Eventually, Devin passes away. You go to Devin’s funeral and say goodbye to their body before it is buried.

Then you wake up. Dream’s over. In two hours, you have a meeting with your friend named Devin. You walk to Devin’s house, where you see them waiting. Devin waves, speaks with you, etc. You perceive Devin with your senses.

Why is it that in the latter scenario, there is an external independent space-time with a matter-substance cycling independent of perceivers, but in the former, there are merely conditions for the arising of form, and without those conditions form does not arise? Or would you argue that there is a real external dream-world with space-time where dream-Devin’s body is made of matter-substance and cycling independent of all perceivers?

Why do you take it that the appearance of the Teacher’s form is independent of the form aggregate of sentient beings? Do you see the issue here?

But wait. Before you said that the dream body example is different and inaccurate. But in the dream I presented above, dream-Devin’s body didn’t wink out of existence either!! How are you so sure that one form — namely, outside of dreams — is substantial and made of cycling matter-substance in spacetime? While the other form — namely, inside dreams — which had the same conditions for its appearance(!), is insubstantial? Dream bodies do not need to wink out of existence to be insubstantial.

Let’s imagine that at Devin’s funeral, you say goodbye to his corpse. And right at that moment, a deity with a form of light appears to you. They tell you that they are Devin, your friend from before, and that they are in a happy place now with divine food and music. It seems, @yeshe.tenley , that at this point you might silence the Divine Devin and tell them:
“No! You can’t have a light body or experience corporeal phenomena like food and music! Your body is right here, in this casket! It’s persisting in external spacetime independent of you!”

At which point Devin might feel very alienated and confused! Because maybe, from Devin’s perspective, the form aggregate never ceased! Maybe Devin tells you that they recall dying and seeing their former body with a more subtle body!

Do you think that in this case, Devin is actually two beings? Or that the form aggregate substance can multiply itself into more form-substance cycling in external space-time? And when you wake up, and this whole dream ends, where is all that form substance now, both Divine Devin and Dead Devin’s form-substance?

This is why I say you seem to be using an argument for a substantial external world.

Your argument seems to be:

  1. The body of the Teacher can be seen persisting independent of perceivers in external space-time.
  2. The form aggregate of the teacher is that matter-substance that persists independently of perceivers in external space-time.
  3. Therefore the Teacher cannot have truly ended the form aggregate.
  4. Therefore the other aggregates also must be persisting substantially in some way in external, independent spacetime.
  5. Therefore the Teacher did not end any of the aggregates.
  6. Therefore the aggregates did not and cannot truly cease, and the idea that they would need to is demonstrably false.

Would you mind correcting how you see the argument if you get the chance?

Why can hatred poof out of existence in his heart if the form aggregate cannot?
Do you think it is because the hatred-substance is annihilated, but the form-substance is eternal?
Do you think it is because hatred is immaterial, and that what is immaterial is a wholly separate thing from material things and material laws?
Do you think it is because hatred is insubstantial but form is substantial?
Do you think it is because hatred winks out of existence in this life, but form would need to do so with separate conditions at the end of life, and that there is a fundamental difference between time during this life and time at the end of life?
Or do you think that the Teacher did, in fact, end the form aggregate as he said, and that the appearance of his corpse to sentient beings is unrelated to his having ended it?

Apologies for the chaotic discussion! There are too many sub-threads now :joy: But I feel the conversation on defilement vs. khandhas has a lot to offer. May this be of some benefit for our and others learning :pray:

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Actually , it is quite a simple analogy . Well , it could be that the wheels missing a few spokes or that the wheels being dented or uneven . Thus while moving would be having bouncing and jolting movements and that causes unpleasantness which is insufferable . Similarly , our aggregates are “designed” as such that it already in a faulty condition . It doesnt last long , it’s deformed , being forced , pushed or compelled . Not to mention the maintenance of aggregates are very costly :moneybag: ! It is tailor-made with all kinds of shortcoming , imperfection or lacking :face_with_head_bandage: . It is "genetically defectives or with abnormalities " where we are programmes with the “asavas” (Avijjā , Taṇhā , Vyāpāda) ! :joy:

This is a very good question and one of very big importance to my intuition. I have a feeling that there is a fork in this road and the consequence of the answer is important.

I see two possibilities to answer:

  1. Yes, that which is in accord with desire is adequate
  2. No, I do not affirm this but rather deny that which is not in accord with desire is adequate

The first is an affirming negation. We say that adequate and inadequate are a duality and that for any thing it must either be adequate or inadequate as our facsimile of LEM for desire.

The second is a non-affirming negation and it does not assume that it is true that, “for any thing it must either be adequate or inadequate.”

I’m going to go with #2 as I think it the more conservative option and also in accord with my intuition.

The definition I put above about not being in accord with desire is a functional definition. Rather than ascribing to all things that they are either universally adequate or universally inadequate I’ve made it a relative definition that takes into account the proclivities of the desires of the perceiver.

In a hypothetical I might say:

The cup of liquid is adequate to the God because it is in accord with their desires. The cup of liquid is neither adequate nor inadequate to the human because they don’t particularly have any desire for it at the moment. The cup of liquid is inadequate to the hungry ghost as it is not in accord with their desires.

The cup of liquid is not fundamentally adequate or inadequate. It is labeled as such dependent upon the desires of the perceiver in the hypothetical above. The X in your question is the perceiver and their desires or lack thereof.

I agree that conclusion seems to follow given the operative definition I think you are employing? I will note that there is a self-referential contradiction if you use my operative definition that resembles this structure:

A cretan desires for what they do not desire. What does the cretan desire?


I don’t think that hatred goes poof. The consequences of the arising of hatred in the here and now is stress for the person doing the hating which is in accord with my experience as well as the accounts of others. I’ve also observed further consequences for the world at large and other sentient beings. Those consequences give birth to other consequences which give birth to other consequences and I cannot trace where the consequences end. I suspect they do not, but I cannot trace them.

No. I think some people (unfortunately) view hatred as good and welcome and as a form of powerful energy that one can use to smite ones enemies. They think hatred can be used as a tool to get what one desires. Or they think hatred is justified and righteous. Many different perceptions exist.

The presence of hatred internally is a problem because it isn’t good and welcome or a form of powerful energy; but rather it causes stress and uncountable harmful consequences for those that feel it / employ it / think it justified / and those that are the target of it.

To try and dispel confusion:

Is it inherently good, no?
Is it inherently “not good”, no?
Is it inherently welcome, no?
Is it inherently “not welcome”, no?
Is it inherently powerful, no?
Is it inherently “not powerful”, no?

It is precisely because the answer to the above questions are no that it can be perceived in so many ways.

The aggregates - like hatred and its consequences - can be seen as consisting of the external and the internal, right? That is to say we can try and divide the aggregates up into internal and external in some pragmatic way, right?

Hatred exists internally as the arising of hatred in the heart. It is felt by one who has generated hatred in their heart. Hatred exists externally as the hated and the outward consequences of actions due to hatred. We can divide things up like that, right? In a pragmatic way? If we so choose?

I think you’re saying he made an end of rupa internally? How would you define these aggregates internally? What is internal form? Internal consciousness? etc. What is external form for you? External consciousness?

And when did he make an end to rupa internally? Was it underneath the bodhi tree? Do you think he made an end to rupa externally? Has it even been accomplished now? How about the end to internal mind? How about the end to external mind? How would you define these?

Oh! This is interesting! You don’t consider the physical body to be made of matter??!! :joy:

Ah, so you mean the internal rupa is not matter then? But the physical body is matter to you? Is the physical body internal rupa or external rupa according to your definition? It would seem you consider the physical body to be external and made of matter?

When did the physical body become someone elses rupa aggregate and not the Teacher? When the life vitality left it? Under the Bodhi tree? When did it become someone else responsibility?

Yeah, I’m afraid I don’t understand. I think to understand I’ll need to know how do you divide up the aggregates internally/externally? Whether this division is a practical one or if it is a substantive one? Whether this division comes from sutta or if it comes from your own contemplation. And when the internal or external is given up or let go. And how you think it either goes poof or if it has consequences that give rise to other consequences that give rise to other… etc.

Indeed! Hatred does not wink out of existence unfortunately for all of us. Hatred has consequences that give birth to other consequences that give birth to other consequences that become untraceable to my limited mind.

Going to stop here at the moment as perhaps the above will clarify my own understanding for you somewhat and give you an opportunity to clarify how you divy up the aggregates with internal/external. :pray:

PS: I apologize for my ineloquence as I wanted to get back to you but have not had time to craft a more suitable response with more skill.

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From 1st person perspective. We need 6 sense bases to look at the world from internally. Externally is from 3rd person perspective, assuming the point of view of others.

At parinibbāna all 6 senses are not working anymore, ceased without anything leftover. So the 5 physical senses not working means the internal cessation of form. As well as mind sense also not there, so cannot even detect form with mind. But externally, other people can see the corpse.

Internal consciousness refers to one’s own consciousness, external refers to other people’s consciousness.

Internal mind is ended at parinibbāna, external minds has to be ended by each person for themselves.

This world is just a small fragment of the infinite, even in the Ocean of Cosmic Universes appearing and disappearing like bubbles in their waves and waters. Nibbana and Parinibbana bring us to the Highest Cessation, Transcendental to an infinite variety of Heavens, of which those denizens partake in It’s gifts.

Responding here @yeshe.tenley :slight_smile:

I don’t know what you mean by “characterizing” here. If you mean ‘sort into groups or classifications’ then I suppose I’d agree? But I just don’t think that’s how Buddhists tend to use these words. By ‘characteristic’ I hear it as designating an attribute. If you object to the word because you don’t think real, substantial things can be said to carry fundamental attributes or features, then I would agree. But I just mean the word in a common sense.

This use of the word matches with the above discussion.

That’s because presumably the compilers of the texts knew Pāli grammar. ‘Dukkhatā’ is an abstract noun, not an adjective. To say ‘sabbe saṅkhārā dukkhatā’ wouldn’t really make any sense. The translation would be analogous to “All conditions are impermanence.” Proper English, and the Pāli equivalent, would be “All conditions are impermanent.” There is an equivalent word in Pāli for “impermanence” rather than “impermanent” and it’s ‘aniccatā.’ Another example is the “characteristic of suññatā.” Suñña means ‘empty,’ suññatā means emptiness. In Pāli, things are said to be ‘suñña,’ which is the characteristic of emptiness.

Your response seems as though I myself have made this interpretation or it is revolutionary. But the four noble truths referring to conditional existence or conditioned phenomena is just standard across Buddhist traditions. I understand that in modern times, especially in the West which has influenced the East as well, the four noble truths are often reduced to psychological advice. But that’s not what I take the Teacher’s words to be saying. Just see the passage I cited where the first noble truth is defined as the six senses. Do you think that the Buddha’s six senses vanished under the Bodhi tree?

It is extremely common in the early discourses that words like ‘the All’ (sabba) or ‘the world’ (loka) are synonyms with dukkha and fill in the scheme of the four noble truths. These are defined as the six senses as well, or something akin to them. ‘Dukkha’ is functionally a synonym of ‘samsāra’ to my mind.

  1. Cyclic existence
  2. Its cause
  3. Its cessation
  4. The practice
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