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Dukkha
Dukkha (Pāli; Sanskrit: duḥkha;
Translations of
Tibetan: ག་བ ལ་ sdug  bsngal, pr.
dukkha
"duk-ngel") is an important
Buddhist concept, commonly English suffering, pain,
translated as "suffering", "pain" or unsatisfactoriness,
"unsatisfactoriness".[1][2][3] It refers etc.
to the fundamental Pali dukkha
unsatisfactoriness and painfulness (Dev: ु )
of mundane life. It is the first of the Sanskrit duḥkha
Four Noble Truths. The term is also (Dev: ुःख)
found in scriptures of Hinduism,
Bengali দুঃখ dukkhô
such as the Upanishads, in
discussions of moksha (spiritual
Burmese ဒက
liberation).[4][5]
(IPA: [doʊʔkʰa]̰ )
Chinese 苦
(Pinyin: kǔ)
Japanese 苦
Contents (rōmaji: ku)

Etymology and meaning Khmer ទក


Buddhism (Tuk)
Hinduism Korean 苦 
Comparison of Buddhism (ko)
and Hinduism
Sinhalese ඛස යය
See also
Tibetan ག་བ ལ།
Notes
(Wylie: sdug bsngal;
References THL: dukngal)
Sources
Thai ก
Printed sources
Web-sources
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External links Vietnamese khổ / Bất toại


Glossary of Buddhism

Etymology and meaning
Dukkha (Pali; Sanskrit duḥkha) is a term found in ancient Indian literature,
wherein states Monier-Williams, it means anything that is "uneasy,
uncomfortable, unpleasant, difficult, causing pain or sadness".[6][7] It is also a
concept in Indian religions about the nature of life that innately includes the
"unpleasant", "suffering," "pain," "sorrow", "distress", "grief" or "misery."[6][7]
The term Dukkha does not have a one word English translation, and embodies
diverse aspects of unpleasant human experiences.[2][7] It is opposed to the
word sukha, meaning "happiness," "comfort" or "ease."[8]

The word is commonly explained as a derivation from Aryan terminology for


an axle hole, referring to an axle hole which is not in the center and leads to a
bumpy, uncomfortable ride. According to Winthrop Sargeant,

The ancient Aryans who brought the Sanskrit language to India


were a nomadic, horse- and cattle-breeding people who travelled
in horse- or ox-drawn vehicles. Su and dus are prefixes
indicating good or bad. The word kha, in later Sanskrit meaning
"sky," "ether," or "space," was originally the word for "hole,"
particularly an axle hole of one of the Aryan's vehicles. Thus
sukha … meant, originally, "having a good axle hole," while
duhkha meant "having a poor axle hole," leading to discomfort.[9]

Joseph Goldstein, American vipassana teacher and writer, explains the


etymology as follows:

The word dukkha is made up of the prefix du and the root kha.
Du means “bad” or “difficult.” Kha means “empty.” “Empty,”
here, refers to several things—some specific, others more
general. One of the specific meanings refers to the empty axle
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hole of a wheel. If the axle fits badly into the center hole, we get a
very bumpy ride. This is a good analogy for our ride through
saṃsāra.[10]

However, according to Monier Monier-Williams, the actual roots of the Pali


term dukkha appear to be Sanskrit दुस्- (dus­, "bad") + ा (stha, "to stand").[11]
Regular phonological changes in the development of Sanskrit into the various
Prakrits led to a shift from dus­sthā to duḥkha to dukkha.

Buddhism
Contemporary translators of Buddhist texts use a variety of English words to
convey the aspects of dukkha. Early Western translators of Buddhist texts
(before the 1970s) typically translated the Pali term dukkha as "suffering."
Later translators have emphasized that "suffering" is too limited a translation
for the term dukkha, and have preferred to either leave the term untranslated
or to clarify that translation with terms such as anxiety, distress, frustration,
unease, unsatisfactoriness, etc.[12][13][14] Many contemporary teachers,
scholars, and translators have used the term "unsatisfactoriness" to emphasize
the subtlest aspects of dukkha.[15][16][17][18][19] Many translators prefer to leave
the term untranslated.[8][note 1]

Within the Buddhist sutras, dukkha is divided in three categories:

Dukkha-dukkha, the dukkha of painful experiences. This includes the


physical and mental sufferings of birth, aging, illness, dying; distress from
what is not desirable.
Viparinama-dukkha, the dukkha of the changing nature of all things. This
includes the frustration of not getting what you want.
Sankhara-dukkha, the dukkha of conditioned experience. This includes "a
basic unsatisfactoriness pervading all existence, all forms of life, because
all forms of life are changing, impermanent and without any inner core or
substance."[web 1] On this level, the term indicates a lack of satisfaction, a
sense that things never measure up to our expectations or standards.

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Various sutras sum up how life in this "mundane world" is regarded to be


dukkha, starting with samsara, the ongoing process of death and rebirth
itself:[note 2]

1. Birth is dukkha, aging is dukkha, illness is dukkha, death is dukkha;


2. Sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair are dukkha;
3. Association with the unbeloved is dukkha; separation from the loved is
dukkha;
4. Not getting what is wanted is dukkha.
5. In conclusion, the five clinging-aggregates are dukkha.
Dukkha is one of the three marks of existence, namely dukkha ("suffering"),
anatta (not-self), anicca ("impermanence").

The Buddhist tradition emphasizes the importance of developing insight into


the nature of dukkha, the conditions that cause it, and how it can be overcome.
This process is formulated in the teachings on the Four Noble Truths.

Hinduism
In Hindu literature, the earliest Upaniṣads — the Bṛhadāraṇyaka and the
Chāndogya — in all likelihood predate the advent of Buddhism.[note 3] In these
scriptures of Hinduism, the Sanskrit word duḥkha (दुःख) appears in the sense
of "suffering, sorrow, distress", and in the context of a spiritual pursuit and
liberation through the knowledge of Atman (soul, self).[4][5][21]

The verse 4.4.14 of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad states:

English Sanskrit
While we are still here, we have
come to know it [ātman].
If you've not known it, great is ihaiva santo 'tha vidmas tad vayaṃ na
your destruction. ced avedir mahatī vinaṣṭiḥ
Those who have known it — ye tad vidur amṛtās te bhavanty
they become immortal. athetare duḥkham evāpiyanti[web 2]
As for the rest — only suffering
awaits them.[4]

The verse 7.26.2 of the Chāndogya Upaniṣad states:


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English Sanskrit

When a man rightly sees [his


soul],[22]
na paśyo mṛtyuṃ paśyati na rogaṃ
he sees no death, no sickness or
nota duḥkhatām
distress.[note 4]
sarvaṃ ha paśyaḥ paśyati sarvam
When a man rightly sees,
āpnoti sarvaśaḥ[web 3]
he sees all, he wins all,
completely.[24][note 5]

The concept of sorrow and suffering, and self-knowledge as a means to


overcome it, appears extensively with other terms in the pre-Buddhist
Upanishads.[25] The term Duhkha also appears in many other middle and later
post-Buddhist Upanishads such as the verse 6.20 of Shvetashvatara
Upanishad,[26] as well as in the Bhagavada Gita, all in the context of
moksha.[27][note 6] The term also appears in the foundational Sutras of the six
schools of Hindu philosophy, such as the opening lines of Samkhya karika of
the Samkhya school.[29][30]

Comparison of Buddhism and
Hinduism
Both Hinduism and Buddhism emphasize that one overcomes duḥkha through
the development of understanding.[note 7] However, the two religions widely
differ in the nature of that understanding. Hinduism emphasizes the
understanding and acceptance of Atman (self, soul) and Brahman, while
Buddhism emphasizes the understanding and acceptance of Anatta (Anatman,
non-self, non-soul) as each discusses the means to liberation from
Dukkha.[31][32]

See also
Existential despair

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Four Noble Truths


Nirodha
Noble Eightfold Path
Samudaya
The Sickness Unto Death
Suffering
Sukha
Taṇhā

Notes
1. Contemporary translators have used a variety of English words to
translate the term dukkha; translators commonly use different words to
translate aspects of the term. For example, dukkha has been translated as
follows in many contexts:
Suffering (Harvey, Williams, Keown, Anderson, Gombrich, Thich Nhat
Hanh, Ajahn Succito, Chogyam Trungpa, Rupert Gethin, Dalai Lama,
et al.)
Pain (Harvey, Williams, Keown, Anderson, Huxter, Gombrich, et al)
Unsatisfactoriness (Dalai Lama, Bhikkhu Bodhi, Rupert Gethin, et al.)
Sorrow
Anguish
Affliction (Brazier)
Dissatisfaction (Pema Chodron, Chogyam Trunpa)
Distress (Walpola Rahula)
Frustration (Dalai Lama, Four Noble Truths, p. 38)
Misery
Anxiety (Chogyam Trungpa, The Truth of Suffering, pp. 8–10)
Uneasiness (Chogyam Trungpa)
Unease (Rupert Gethin)
Unhappiness

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2. Paul Williams: "All rebirth is due to karma and is impermanent. Short of


attaining enlightenment, in each rebirth one is born and dies, to be reborn
elsewhere in accordance with the completely impersonal causal nature of
one's own karma. The endless cycle of birth, rebirth, and redeath, is
samsara."[20]
3. See, e.g., Patrick Olivelle (1996), Upaniṣads (Oxford: Oxford University
Press), ISBN 978-0-19-283576-5, p. xxxvi: "The scholarly consensus,
well-founded I think, is that the Bṛhadāraṇyaka and the Chāndogya are
the two earliest Upaniṣads.... The two texts as we have them are, in all
likelihood, pre-Buddhist; placing them in the seventh to sixth centuries
BCE may be reasonable, give or take a century or so."
4. Max Muller translates Duḥkhatām in this verse as "pain".[23]
5. This statement is comparable to the Pali Canon's
Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (SN 56.11) where sickness and death are
identified as examples of dukkha.
6. See Bhagavad Gita verses 2.56, 5.6, 6.22-32, 10.4, 13.6-8, 14.16, 17.9,
18.8, etc; [28]
7. For a general discussion of the core Indian spiritual goal of developing
transcendent "seeing," see, e.g., Hamilton, Sue (2000/2001), Indian
Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction, (Oxford: Oxford U. Press), pp. 9-10,
ISBN 978-0-19-285374-5.

References
1. Malcolm Huxter (2016). Healing the Heart and Mind with Mindfulness:
Ancient Path, Present Moment (https://books.google.com/books?id=n2qF
CwAAQBAJ). Routledge. p. 10. ISBN 978-1-317-50540-2., Quote: "
dukkha (unsatisfactoriness or suffering) (....) In the Introduction I wrote
that dukkha is probably best understood as unsatisfactoriness."
2. Peter Harvey (2015). Steven M. Emmanuel, ed. A Companion to Buddhist
Philosophy (https://books.google.com/books?id=P_lmCgAAQBAJ). John
Wiley & Sons. pp. 26–31. ISBN 978-1-119-14466-3.
3. Carol Anderson (2013). Pain and Its Ending: The Four Noble Truths in the
Theravada Buddhist Canon (https://books.google.com/books?id=ASlTAQ
AAQBAJ). Routledge. pp. 1, 22 with note 4. ISBN 978-1-136-81332-0.,
Quote: "(...) the three characteristics of samsara/sankhara (the realm of
rebirth): anicca (impermance), dukkha (pain) and anatta (no-self)."

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4. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4 April 2014, trans. Patrick Olivelle (1996), p.


66.
5. Paul Deussen (1980). Sixty Upaniṣads of the Veda, Vol. 1 (https://books.g
oogle.com/books?id=8mSpQo9q-tIC&pg=PR497). Motilal Banarsidass
(Reprinted). pp. 482–485, 497. ISBN 978-81-208-1468-4.
6. Monier-Williams 1899, p. 483.
7. Thomas William Rhys Davids; William Stede (1921). Pali-English
Dictionary (https://books.google.com/books?id=0Guw2CnxiucC&pg=PA32
4). Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 324–325. ISBN 978-81-208-1144-7.
8. Walpola Rahula 2007, Kindle Locations 542-550.
9. Sargeant 2009, p. 303.
10. Goldstein 2013, p. 289.
11. Monier-Williams 1899, p. 483, entry note: "according to grammarians
properly written dush-kha and said to be from dus and kha [cf. su-khá]; but
more probably a Prākritized form for duḥ-stha, q.v."
12. Walpola Rahula 2007, Kindle locations 524-528.
13. Prebish 1993.
14. Keown 2003.
15. Dalai Lama 1998, p. 38.
16. Gethin 1998, p. 61.
17. Smith & Novak 2009, Kindle location 2769.
18. Keown 2000, Kindle Locations 932-934.
19. Bhikkhu Bodhi 2011, p. 6.
20. Williams 2002, p. 74-75.
21. Robert Hume, Chandogya Upanishad (https://archive.org/stream/thirteenp
rincipa028442mbp#page/n281/mode/2up), The Thirteen Principal
Upanishads, Oxford University Press, pages 261-262
22. Paul Deussen (1980). Sixty Upaniṣads of the Veda (https://books.google.c
om/books?id=8mSpQo9q-tIC). Motilal Banarsidass (Reprinted). pp. 188–
189. ISBN 978-81-208-1468-4.
23. Chandogya Upanishad 7.26.2 (https://archive.org/stream/upanishads01ml
#page/124/mode/2up), Max Muller (Translator), Oxford University Press,
page 124
24. Chandogya Upanishad 7.26.2, trans. Patrick Olivelle (1996), p. 166.

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25. Paul Deussen (1980). Sixty Upaniṣads of the Veda, Vol. 1 (https://books.g
oogle.com/books?id=8mSpQo9q-tIC). Motilal Banarsidass (Reprinted).
pp. 112, 161, 176, 198, 202–203, 235, 455, etc. ISBN 978-81-208-1468-4.
26. Paul Deussen (1980). Sixty Upaniṣads of the Veda, Vol. 1 (https://books.g
oogle.com/books?id=8mSpQo9q-tIC&pg=PR326). Motilal Banarsidass
(Reprinted). p. 326. ISBN 978-81-208-1468-4.
27. Paul Deussen (1980). Sixty Upaniṣads of the Veda, Vol. 1 (https://books.g
oogle.com/books?id=8mSpQo9q-tIC&pg=PR305). Motilal Banarsidass
(Reprinted). p. 305. ISBN 978-81-208-1468-4.
28. Sargeant 2009.
29. Original Sanskrit: Samkhya karika (http://sanskritdocuments.org/doc_z_mi
sc_major_works/IshvarakRiShNasAnkyakArikA.pdf) Compiled and
indexed by Ferenc Ruzsa (2015), Sanskrit Documents Archives;
Second Translation (Verse 1): Ferenc Ruzsa (1997), The triple suffering -
A note on the Samkhya karika, Xth World Sanskrit Conference:
Bangalore, University of Hungary, Budapest;
Third Translation (all Verses): Samkhyakarika of Iswara Krishna (https://ar
chive.org/stream/hinduphilosophys00davi#page/12/mode/2up) John Davis
(Translator), Trubner, London, University of Toronto Archives
30. Samkhya karika (http://www.kouroo.info/kouroo/transclusions/18/37/1837_
SankhyaKarikaHTColebrook.pdf) by Iswara Krishna, Henry Colebrooke
(Translator), Oxford University Press
31. Johannes Bronkhorst (2009). Buddhist Teaching in India (https://books.go
ogle.com/books?id=fjU6AwAAQBAJ). Wisdom Publications. pp. 23–25.
ISBN 978-0-86171-811-5.
32. Peter Harvey (2013). The Selfless Mind: Personality, Consciousness and
Nirvana in Early Buddhism (https://books.google.com/books?id=SfPcAAA
AQBAJ). Routledge. pp. 34, 38. ISBN 978-1-136-78336-4.

Sources

Printed sources
Bhikkhu Bodhi (2011), The Noble Eightfold Path: Way to the End of
Suffering, Independent Publishers Group, Kindle Edition
Dalai Lama (1998), The Four Noble Truths, Thorsons

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Gethin, Rupert (1998), Foundations of Buddhism, Oxford University Press


Goldstein, Joseph (2013), Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening,
Sounds True, Kindle Edition
Harvey, Peter (1990). Introduction to Buddhism. Cambridge University
Press.
Kalupahana, David J. (1992). A history of Buddhist philosophy. Delhi:
Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited.
Keown, Damien (2000), Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford
University Press, Kindle Edition
Keown, Damien (2003), Dictionary of Buddhism, Oxford University Press,
ISBN 0-19-860560-9
Lopez, Donald S. (2001). The Story of Buddhism. HarperCollins.
Monier-Williams, Monier (1899), A Sanskrit-English Dictionary (http://www.
sanskrit-lexicon.uni-koeln.de/scans/MWScan/MWScanpdf/mw0483-dut.pd
f) (PDF), London (Reprinted 1964): Oxford University Press
Nanamoli, Bhikkhu (1995). The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha:
A New Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya. Boston: Wisdom Publications.
ISBN 0-86171-072-X.
Prebish, Charles (1993), Historical Dictionary of Buddhism, The
Scarecrow Press, ISBN 0-8108-2698-4
Potter, Karl (2004). The Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies, Vol. IX:
Buddhist philosophy from 350 to 600 AD.
Ronkin, Noa (2005). Early Buddhist Metaphysics: the Making of a
Philosophical Tradition. Routledge.
Sargeant, Winthrop (2009), The Bhagavad Gita, SUNY Press
Smith, Huston; Novak, Philip (2009), Buddhism: A Concise Introduction,
HarperOne, Kindle Edition
Walpola Rahula (2007), What the Buddha Taught, Grove Press, Kindle
Edition
Williams, Paul (2002), Buddhist Thought, Routledge, ISBN 0-415207010

Web-sources
1. The Four Noble Truths - By Bhikkhu Bodhi (http://www.beyondthenet.net/d
hamma/fourNoble.htm)

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2. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Retrieved 16 May 2016 from


"SanskritDocuments.Org" at Brihadaranyaka IV.iv.14 (http://sanskritdocum
ents.org/doc_upanishhat/brinew-proofed.html?lang=sa), Original: इहव
स ोऽथ व यं व स् तद् वय चेदवे दमहती वन ः । ये त ुरमृता े भव ् अथेतर
ुःखमेवा पय ॥ १४ ॥
3. Chandogya Upanishad 7,26.2. Retrieved 16 May 2016 from Wikisource
छा ो ोप नषद् ४ ॥ ष शः ख ः ॥ (https://sa.wikisource.org/wiki/छा ो ोप नष
द्_४), Quote: तदष ोको न प ो मृ ुं प त न रोगं नोत ुःखताँ सव ह प ः प त
सवमा ो त सवश इ त ।

External links
How does mindfulness transform suffering? I: the nature and origins of
dukkha (http://www.ahandfulofleaves.org/documents/Articles/How%20doe
s%20mindfulness%20transform%20suffering_the%20nature%20and%20o
rigins%20of%20dukkha_I_CB_Teasdale_2011.pdf), JD Teasdale, M
Chaskalson (2011)
Explanations of dukkha (https://journals.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/index.php/jia
bs/article/download/8880/2787), Tilmann Vetter (1998), Journal of the
International Association of Buddhist Studies
What Buddha Taught (https://web.archive.org/web/20121030125519/htt
p://buddhasociety.com/online-books/what-buddha-taught-walpola-rahula-9
-1), Walpola Rahula
Dukkha (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dukkha.html), edited by John T.
Bullitt - Access to Insight
The Buddha's Concept of Dukkha (http://centrebouddhique.fr/the-buddhas
-concept-of-dukkha/), Kingsley Heendeniya
Ku 苦 entry (http://buddhism-dict.net/cgi-bin/xpr-ddb.pl?82.xml+id('b82e
6')) (use "guest" with no password for one-time login), Digital Dictionary of
Buddhism

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