DEVELOPMENT OF DUKKHA'S MEANING TO SUFFERING
The development of the meaning of the word "Dukkha" – from "not running smoothly" to "Suffering", and how this development reached its conclusion in the present day First Noble Truth, – is a long story.
And so consequently, this essay is long and complex – sorry – but trying to clear up misunderstandings is always much harder than starting with nothing ...
I believe the main reason for this was that many people converting to religions do so when they actually feel suffering ... they seek some hope, understanding, or at least a sense of identity with their own suffering – rather than seeking for truth.
'Not running smoothly' or 'not working well' wasn't dramatic enough to catch the popular imagination. Suffering, and all the other exaggerated terms used in Buddhism like 'clinging' and 'craving'; made the message more concrete and striking.
My general idea is that suffering is only the extreme form of things not running smoothly, it is not the universal truth.
We shouldn't be concentrating so much on suffering. I believe Buddha was talking about something far bigger than just the answer to suffering – he was talking about the answer to fulfilment in life and the truth and how to find it.
A good wheelwright would not only be able to cure Dukkha, he would know how to make a wheel Sukkha. How could Buddha know how to stop suffering, without knowing how to be fulfilled and happy?
2. If you FEEL your life IS suffering then i would suggest that Christianity is far more appropriate and has far more real help for people who feel suffering. Either that or use Buddhism as a devotional religion, as in Tibetan Buddhism.
Buddha was a Prince, had everything, all desires satisfied, he suffered no hardship. He was free to choose and then chose poverty and asceticism. If you think he suffered in the way we do, tell me anywhere – in all the scriptures – that this is recorded. (The metaphysical sense of suffering is discussed in the next section.)
Jesus suffered, not especially on the cross, (millions have been tortured, crucified, buried alive, raped and mutilated etc.); but the lies, the betrayals (not only Judas, but Peter's denial). Jesus was totally alone and everyone was against him for his beliefs and his attempts to love others – the irrational prejudice, the misunderstandings, the false witnesses – this is the sort of suffering you and i find so hard to let go of ... it haunts us our whole lives, gnaws away at our soul – makes us feel resentment even hate – and we close our hearts. The other thing we suffer from all our lives, is the guilt for the times we ourselves have lied to or betrayed someone else. And Jesus forgives all of these.
There is certainly more to say about Jesus's suffering, but I think that is enough to put in perspective the following rather bland even simplistic ideas on suffering recorded in Buddha's First Noble Truth.
3. If you are UNSURE and think maybe suffering is what Buddha meant – then i think this is because you have already read the texts and been influenced by their present interpretations. The following is only really relevant for people who already know the texts.
I used to think this Buddhist word: 'suffering', meant that life was suffering because in some metaphysical sense we are separated from the eternal oneness ... and in a metaphysical sense this is suffering, ... but in the text to the First Truth "What is Dukkha?" – "What is Suffering?", there is absolutely no evidence of any metaphysical idea.
In the First Truth, Dukkha is defined as birth, death and a detailed list of examples of suffering such as "sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and distress are suffering," ... and then it is summarised psychologically, incongruously – with the Five Aggregates.
The First Truth
The Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna is the most detailed version of the Four Truths in the Pali literature.
Please read the original text – all the translations in the references are similar. I use the translation from the Pali Tipitaka www.tipitaka.org/stp-pali-eng-series#41 – Please realise: it is not this translation which is causing the confusion!
It seems to me there are a number of different styles and levels of thinking. I believe two or three different early teachers and scribes gave interpretations, commentaries and explanations to try and make things understandable to their students.
"And what, monks, is the Noble Truth of Suffering?" (remember suffering is the translation for Dukkha).
"Birth is suffering, old age is suffering, (sickness is suffering), death is suffering, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and distress are suffering, the association with something that one does not like is suffering, the disassociation with something that one does like is suffering, not to get what one desires is suffering; in short, the clinging to the five aggregates is suffering."
This is a very impressive collection of uncomfortable worldly things which can happen – (with one short mention of the aggregates, which is mentioned only once again at the end of the first truth – all the other manifest examples of suffering are developed in great detail).
O.K. I'd agree that illness is suffering, (though usually only temporarily), but I find it questionable if birth, death and old age are always and inevitably suffering, but i will make no big point about it. On the other hand I must agree: sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and distress are suffering, ... suffering is suffering ... not very bright – but reassuring if you are suffering ...
The list completely lacks the usual logical Buddhist objective view : – is fun suffering? – is love suffering? (i.e. why isn't there any discussion of the association with what one likes and getting what one desires) ... maybe ultimately fun and love are temporary and thus suffering – but the level of argument in the first truth doesn't even consider this.
Then note the incongruity of the Five Aggregates in this context "... in short, the clinging to the five aggregates is suffering.". All the other examples are so blatant and in the manifest world ... and then comes: in short, (the summary), something with real psychological depth, the Aggregates.
After the first introductory paragraph, the First Truth continues with a detailed description all of the examples. Was Buddha such a slow and laborious thinker that he sounded like a dictionary?
"And what, monks, is lamentation? Whenever one, monks, is affected by various kinds of loss and misfortune, that are followed by this or that kind of painful state of mind, by wailing and crying, by lamentation, by deep wailing, by deep lamentation, by the state of deep wailing and deep lamentation – this, monks, is called lamentation."
These long-winded, laborious, dictionary definitions then describe birth, old age, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and distress.
The full text is indeed an excellent collection of misery ... then follows the definitions of "being associated with what one does not like" and "being disassociated with what one does like". On the first look, this may appear to be an attempt at a general theory – but actually all it is, is the ever continuing dictionary definitions.
"And what, monks, is the suffering of being disassociated with what one does like? Wherever and whenever one finds pleasant, agreeable or liked objects of sight, sound, smell, taste, touch or of the mind, or, whenever and wherever one finds that there are wishers of one’s own fortune, prosperity, comfort or of one’s own security, like mother and father, like brother and sister, like friends and colleagues or relatives; if one gets disassociated, one does not meet, one does not come into contact or does not get combined with them – this, monks, is called the suffering of being disassociated with what one does like."
I cannot believe Buddha was so boring, one-sided, and basically of little intelligence! I repeat, there is absolutely no mention of "being associated with what one does like" and perhaps because this is temporary it is also 'suffering' – Why not? Who on earth wrote this?
And, it hasn't finished yet! Following the albeit logical dictionary definitions, there is a section which seems to attempt to give personal examples:
"And what, monks, is not getting what one desires? In beings, monks, who are subject to birth the desire arises: "Oh, truly, that we were not subject to birth! Oh, truly, may there be no new birth for us!" But this cannot be obtained by mere desire; and not to get what one wants is suffering."
"In beings, monks, who are subject to old age the desire arises: "Oh, truly, that we were not subject to old age! Oh, truly, may we not be subject to old age!" But this cannot be obtained by mere desire; and not to get what one wants is suffering."
And then so on, through all the instances of sickness, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and distress ... it is suffering merely to read it !! ... until we get to THIS ONE BIT OF LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS:
"And how, monks, in short, is clinging to the five aggregates suffering? It is as follows – clinging to the aggregate of matter is suffering, clinging to the aggregate of sensation is suffering, clinging to the aggregate of perception is suffering, clinging to the aggregate of reaction is suffering, clinging to the aggregate of consciousness is suffering. This, monks, in short, is called suffering because of clinging to these five aggregates."
We would be lost without the aggregates ... and even this section is COMPLETELY CONFUSING because the aggregates are presented only in the context of "the aggregates of clinging" and so the text is inextricably dominated by this idea of clinging.
AND THE PURITY OF THE ESSENTIAL PART "manifest form, sensation, perception, concepts ('reaction' in the above translation) and consciousness" IS LOST
As i discuss in Buddhism and Wheels
The Five Aggregates are defined only in terms of "the Five Aggregates of Clinging". 'Clinging' severely limits their interpretation and their potential as a universal theory. Their primary attribute is once set in motion, once the wheels start turning, they keep repeating. Attachments, especially extreme attachments like clinging, are just one of the possible consequences of the repetitions.
The Second and Third Truths
For me, the proof and confirmation of my interpretation is in the Second and Third Truths.
Though they are incredibly long winded, the subject matter in the full text, is exclusively a discussion of the Five Aggregates, expanded to a list of Ten Aggregates, and related to each of the six sense bases. It is pure psychology and philosophy, and there is absolutely no further mention of any worldly examples of suffering like birth, lamentation, wailing, misfortune, grief etc. etc.
The Story Line
Let's now consider the story line. The story is that Buddha was a prince who, after a sheltered life, one day (aged around 30 years old) went outside his palace walls and saw old-age, sickness and death, and so he left his home to seek the answer to suffering (other people's suffering) ... so a good simple end for the story would be for him to find the answer to suffering.
Even if it's true that Buddha left his home to find the answer to other people's suffering with illness, old age and death; the answer he found was so much more. This suffering story line is so limiting ... what Buddha found was the truth. The truth about life – not just the truth about suffering.
And how likely is it, that an intelligent, rich and powerful person who was so compassionate for other's illness, old age and death, just wandered off without first establishing hospitals, hospices and care homes? – It's far more likely that he wanted to find the truth from the beginning, and even if his teachers weren't Hindu priests who personally practised some form of asceticism, any rudimentary education would have taught him about this.
Method of Transmitting the Teaching
The Hindu tradition had perfected the memorising of texts – by repeatedly repeating the same wordings.
Maybe some monks had an almost photographic memory for some phrases ... but it seems highly doubtful that any single genius could spontaneously remember for example, one entire Sutra. I believe the texts took a period of time till they found a form – maybe only a matter of weeks – But in the time it took to remember, texts were developed and arranged, labelled and sometimes numbered, so they could be easily remembered. We have almost certainly some phrases which are Buddhas words – and then a mix from peoples memories of what they had understood. Once one person could remember a form with the same wordings every time – he could teach this to others.
And then came all the translations, which in an oral tradition were undoubtably more flexible than when written. For a clear example of this sort of 'flexibility' in a written text, see above, where in this very good translation, "sickness is suffering" has been interpolated in brackets, because it only exists in some texts.
And, from Wikipedia :
30 years after Buddhas death Ananda and Upali recited the texts to a group of Arhats (monks). ... The texts were then subject to several oral translations before they were committed to writing during the Fourth Buddhist Council in 29 B.C. – (in which language?)
Paper became easier to make starting around 100 B.C. in China (They didn't have papyrus as in Egypt). Following this everything started getting written down. Early paper was fragile would deteriorate and texts needed rewriting. There were further translations ... so that the earliest fragments of the Pali Cannon are in Chinese from 400 A.D. The Sri Lankan version is most complete from the 5th and 6th century B.C.
Please continue with Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna references