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Dukkha (Pāli दुक्ख ; according to grammatical tradition from Sanskrit dus-kha "uneasy", but according to Monier-Williams more likely a Prakritized form of dus-stha "unsteady, disquieted") is a central concept in Buddhism, the word roughly corresponding to a number of terms in English including sorrow, suffering, affliction, pain, anxiety, dissatisfaction, discomfort, anguish, stress, misery, and aversion. The word frustration is probably a better synonym than suffering. The term is probably derived from duḥstha, "standing badly," "unsteady," "uneasy."

In classic Sanskrit, the term dukkha was often compared to a large potter's wheel that would screech as it was spun around, and did not turn smoothly. The opposite of dukkha was the term sukkha which brought to mind a potter's wheel that turned smoothly and noiselessly. In other Buddhist-influenced cultures, similar imagery was used to describe dukkha. An example from China is the cart with one wheel that is slightly broken, so that the rider is jolted now and again as the wheel rolls over the broken spot.

Dukkha is the focus of the Four Noble Truths, including the first:

There is suffering.

Although dukkha is often translated as "suffering", it has a deeper philosophical meaning. It also contains in addition deeper ideas such as "imperfection", "impermanence", "emptiness" and "insubstantiality". "Suffering" is too narrow a translation and it is best to leave dukkha untranslated [1] [2] [3] [4].

The translation into "suffering" gives the impression that the buddhist view is a pessimistic view. Buddhism is neither pessimistic nor optimistic. In the same manner Buddhists believe that life isn't constant suffering, but rather that suffering is unavoidable. A person could have a good life when some unexpected tragedy could occur to jar that person, or dukkha could arise simply because one isn't satisfied with one's life.

The other three Noble Truths explain the source of dukkha, the means of transforming it, and the method of executing its cessation. This method is known as the Noble Eightfold Path. Siddartha Gautama, the Buddha repeatedly stated that the only purpose of Buddhism is to seek the cessation of dukkha, by understanding the Four Noble Truths and acting accordingly.

The Buddha discussed three kinds of dukkha.

  • Dukkha-dukkha (pain of pain) is the obvious sufferings of :
  1. physical pain
  2. illness
  3. old age
  4. death
  5. the loss of a loved one.
  • Viparinama-dukkha (pain of alteration) is suffering caused by change:
  1. violated expectations
  2. the failure of happy moments to last
  • Sankhara-dukkha (pain of formation) is a subtle form of suffering inherent in the nature of conditioned things, including the
  1. skandhas
  2. the factors constituting the human mind

It denotes the experience that all formations (sankhara) are impermanent (anicca) - thus it explains the qualities which make the mind as fluctuating and impermanent entities. It is therefore also a gateway to anatta, selflessness (no-self).

Dukkha is also listed among the three marks of existence.


  1. Rahula, Walpola (1959). "Chapter 2" What the Buddha Taught, Grove Press. ISBN 0-8021-3031-3.
  2. Watts, Alan (1959). "Chapter 2" The Way of Zen, Vintage (publisher). ISBN 0-8021-3031-3.
  3. Prebish, Charles (1993). Historical Dictionary of Buddhism, The Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-2698-4.
  4. Keown, Damien (2003). Dictionary of Buddhism, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-860560-9.

External links

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