Dukkha… Suffering. Life’s bane. So what does Dukkha actually mean, because it is vital to the meaning of the Four Noble Truths. I will use the definition provided by Sutta Central from the New Concise Pali English Dictionary.

mfn. & neuter

painful; unpleasant; bringing pain or distress; uneasy, uncomfortable; not what one wants; wrong.
(used to characterize all experience) unsatisfactory; bringing distress or trouble.
pain, distress, trouble.
(as a term characterizing all experience; its ending is nibbāna), distress, trouble.

Dukkha is the term usually translated as stress or suffering in the Four Noble Truths and from the definition above it can be seen why. Dukkha is not pleasant. Dukkha is not something someone would wish in their lives. Yet it’s dictionary definition shows it has manifold meanings and these really do need to be taken into consideration when reading the Truths. Exactly what did the Buddha imply by the use of the word Dukkha?

Well I am no Pali expert; I am not even a beginner in Pali so it is not for me to suggest what the Buddha meant in his discourse. I leave it up to the discerning reader to make of the Four Truths what he will. The least that should come from any investigation is that Dukkha is something that the human race could do without. Suffering, pain, misery, unsatisfactoriness; even agony! All these are symptoms of living in this four dimensional world of sense and feeling. Nothing more readily results from sense pleasure that Dukkha, where it may be many years later, or immediately after the pleasant experience.

Also Dukkha arises from what are termed ‘unskillful’ actions. Such emotions as anger, jealousy, envy, rage, hatred and the like. Dukkha arises in the mind whilst these emotions have control over us, and Dukkha arises from the actions that are taken whilst those emotions are in control. Reduction of and pacification of those emotions result in a direct reduction in Dukkha. It cannot be stressed too much how important this concept is. All the above emotional responses can lead to senses of guilt, shame, sorrow and regret. Those emotional reactions are also Dukkha.

To get really technical for a moment, even trying to avoid Dukkha can lead to Dukkha. Too much attachment to the reduction of suffering and unsatisfactoriness can lead to stress, anxiety and other such emotions. The Buddha has laid out the path that we should take towards liberation and Nibbana but it is not an easy path. He spent many years in the forest before he had his enlightenment, and to expect instant transformation of our lives would be naïve. But the goal is there, all we need to do is keep it in sight and keep practicing.

May all being be blessed with peace and a swift journey to Nibbana.