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What is 'dukkham' as the 2nd characteristic?

Dear forum

I started this for discussion, reflection & contemplation.

Some translators translate the 2nd characteristic as ‘unsatisfactoriness’ (e.g. Buddharakkhita’s Dhp 278, linked here) even though a direct Pali equivalent of the English term ‘unsatisfactoriness’ appears to not exist in the Pali.

“Sabbe saṅkhārā dukkhā”ti, yadā paññāya passati; atha nibbindati dukkhe, esa maggo visuddhiyā.

"All conditioned things are unsatisfactory”—when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering. This is the path to purification. Dhp 278

unsatisfactory
not satisfactory; not satisfying or meeting one’s demands; inadequate.

dictionary.com

For many, it is difficult to accept, for example, that ‘rupa’ (the physical body) is ‘suffering’ or ‘stress’ because, for many, suffering is an emotional mental phenomena rather than a characteristic of all compounded things, including material things.

In addition, if ‘dukkham’ (‘suffering’) was already summarised in the 1st sermon (SN 56.11) as the ‘upandhakhandha’ (‘aggregates with attachment’), why would the Buddha give a 2nd sermon about how ‘impermanent things’ are ‘dukkham’?

I think MN 115 could be relevant to this discussion about the three characteristics, which states:

Here, Ānanda, a bhikkhu understands: ‘It is impossible, it cannot happen that a person possessing right view could treat any formation as permanent ― there is no such possibility.’ And he understands: ‘It is possible that an ordinary person might treat some formation as permanent ― there is such a possibility.’ He understands: ‘It is impossible, it cannot happen that a person possessing right view could treat any formation as pleasurable ― there is no such possibility.’ And he understands: ‘It is possible that an ordinary person might treat some formation as pleasurable (saṅkhāraṃ sukhato) ― there is such a possibility.’ He understands: ‘It is impossible, it cannot happen that a person possessing right view could treat anything as self ― there is no such possibility.’ And he understands: ‘It is possible that an ordinary person might treat something as self ― there is such a possibility.’ MN 115

Here, as quoted, MN 115 emphasises how a conditioned impermanent thing cannot be pleasurable.

This seems similar to say MN 140, which states only Nibbana can provide non-deceptive & permanent happiness or “calm”, as follows:

His release, being founded on truth, does not fluctuate, for whatever is deceptive is false; Nibbana — the undeceptive — is true. Thus a monk so endowed is endowed with the highest determination for truth, for this — Nibbana, the undeceptive — is the highest noble truth… the calming of passions, aversions & delusions — is the highest noble calm. MN 140

Therefore, I have an impression, even though I am unable to translate it from Pali literally, that in the 2nd sermon about the three characteristics, ‘dukkham’, as a characteristic, could be a ‘default’ position or description that arises from the right view that a conditioned thing cannot bring or have the quality of true ‘happiness’ (‘sukha’).

Thus, in the 2nd sermon (SN 22.59), it may possibly be asked:

  1. Is an aggregate permanent or impermanent (niccaṃ vā aniccaṃ vā)?

  2. In specific order, reading the Pali from the end of the sentence, noting that ‘dukkham’ appears to be an adjective: “Yaṃ panāniccaṃ dukkhaṃ vā taṃ sukhaṃ vā: Is what is impermanent capable of bringing happiness or will it bring suffering [if relied on for happiness]?”

Therefore, instead of directly saying a conditioned impermanent thing is inherently ‘dukkham’, this teaching may have originally been saying a conditioned thing inherently cannot be ‘happiness’ (‘sukham’) thus is deemed to be ‘dukkham’ or ‘asukham’, i.e., ‘not happiness’ or the opposite of happiness.

Regards :seedling:

This may not be correct since it seems to conflict with ‘niccaṃ vā aniccaṃ vā’. However, I think my reflections remain valid. :seedling: