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Lions Roar : May 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2008 48 disassemble. And in that gap is felt the trace, however subtle, of underlying dukkha. Since, furthermore, our lives are succes- sions of such moments, dukkha is said to be “pervasive.” But Buddhists would go even further, to the point of what appears to be paradoxical, even contradictory: it is not only in the gap (due to impermanence and insubstantiality) that dukkha is present but even in the very experience of happiness. Given this view, what should we call dukkha in our lan- guage? Our English term would have to have the following colorings (on an increasing scale of intensity): faint unsettledness, irritation, impatience, annoyance, frus- tration, disappointment, dissatisfaction, aggravation, ten- sion, stress, anxiety, vexation, pain, desperation, sorrow, sadness, suffering, misery, agony, anguish Of course, you may add to this list; there is virtually no end to it. And that is precisely the Buddha’s point! It flows through life like water—each instant of life is colored to some degree by these qualities. It is obvious that each of these qualities involves some degree of unease, so “unease” is how I translate the term for general usage. The lexical “opposite” of dukkha is sukha, and sukha straightfor- wardly means “ease, pleasure, happiness.” Perhaps, then, dukkha can straightforwardly mean “unease, displeasure, unhappiness.” We all know about dukkha, then, as it is glossed by the Buddha. ♦ GLENN WALLIS is associate professor of religion at the University of Georgia. He teaches applied meditation at the Won Insti- tute of Graduate Studies and is the translator and editor of the Modern Library edition of the Dhammapada. This essay is adapted from his book Basic Teachings of the Buddha: A New Translation and Compilation with a Guide to Reading the Texts. © 2007 by Glenn Wallis. Published by The Modern Library. THE BUDDHA’S TEACHING of the four noble truths be- gins with the injunction that if you are to attain liberation, you must understand and fully experience how your life is entwined and defined by dukkha, meaning your mental experiences of discomfort, pain, stress, instability, inadequacy, failure, and dis- appointment, each of which is felt as suffering in your mind. This teaching is often referred to as the “Truth of Suffering.” The Buddha identified three kinds of suffering: the dukkha of physical and emotional pain; the dukkha of constant change; and the dukkha of life’s compositional nature, which creates a kind of pressure and unease that is constantly present, even in the best of times. The first kind of dukkha is the obvious suffering caused by physical discomfort, from the minor pain of stubbing a toe, hunger, and lack of sleep, to the agony of chronic disease. It is also the emotional suffering that arises when you become frustrated that things don’t go your way, or upset about life’s injustices, or worried about money or meeting others’ expec- tations. Each day you have many experiences that cause you to be disappointed, anxious, and tense, from getting stuck in traffic to forgetting to complete an important task to snapping at a loved one during an argument. Isn’t this true? In matters of love, family, work, and self-acceptance, do you not experi- ence these sorts of negative emotions over and over again? In addition to the dukkha you experience as a result of pain- ful, traumatic, and uncomfortable events that happen to you, there is a second type of dukkha that you confront on a regular basis. That is the suffering caused by the fact that life is con- stantly changing. Doesn’t it often seem as though the moment you have found happiness in life, it disappears almost at once? Something really good happens at work, or you and your part- ner spend an intimate morning in bed, or you share a precious laugh with your child, and then bang! It’s over. Now you’re wor- ried about a deadline, or fighting with your significant other, or coping with your child’s needs, and all those pleasant feelings are replaced by worry, fatigue, and the weight of responsibility. In truth, no moment is reliable because the next moment is always coming along fast on its heels. It is like a constant bom- bardment of change undermining every state of happiness. The mind never finds a place to sit back and enjoy life without fear. Isn’t it paradoxical that the one constant in your life is change? Like everyone else, you do what you can to try to prolong, enhance, and increase the number of pleasurable moments in your life, but nothing consistently works. There is always the next moment of the dance. No matter how much you attempt to distract yourself (and you may be one of those people who are great at creating distractions), your nervous system still perceives the changing dance, even when you are not aware of it, and it suffers, oftentimes even more so because you are trying to ignore it. The Mind that Suffers BY PHILLIP MOFFITT MAY 42-49.indd 48 MAY 42-49.indd 48 3/6/08 11:29:30 AM 3/6/08 11:29:30 AM