Du?kha (Suffering)

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Suffering is a basic characteristic of all life in this world, and is the first of the four noble truths taught by the Buddha and recorded in the various Buddhist canons. Along with anitya (impermanence) and anātman (no-self), suffering is one of three fundamental characteristics of life in this world.

Duḥkha (Pāli: dukkha) is most often translated as "suffering," although the word encompasses a wide range of things that cause pain. It is commonly defined in Buddhist texts as birth, old age, disease, and death; as sorrow and grief, mental and physical distress, and unrest; as association with things not liked and separation from desired things; and as not getting what one wants (as in, for example, the Saṃyutta-nikāya [Book of Kindred Sayings], volume 5, verse 410 ff.). Buddhist texts summarize what suffering is by referring to a group called the "five aggregates of grasping." The five aggregates of grasping refer to the five things that people cling to in order to think of themselves as independent and enduring beings: the physical body, feelings, perceptions, impulses, and consciousness. Holding on to each of these five things produces suffering because there is no permanent existence in the world. If a person clings to things whose nature is impermanence, with the hope that those things will remain stable and unchanging, then that person will continually suffer when faced with the inevitability of change. According to Buddhist teachings, suffering is an inescapable characteristic of all life and cannot be alleviated except through enlightenment.

See also:Anātman/Ātman (No-Self/Self); Path; Pratītyasamutpāda (Dependent Origination); Psychology; Skandha (Aggregate)


Anderson, Carol S. Pain and Its Ending: The Four Noble Truths in the Theravada Buddhist Canon. Richmond, UK: Curzon, 1999.

Strong, John. The Experience of Buddhism: Sources and Interpretations, 2nd edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Press, 2002.

Carol S. Anderson