Friday, January 11, 2008

The Truth of Suffering

Buddhists talk a lot about suffering and dissatisfaction. These are the most common translations for the Sanskrit term duhkha, and the Pali dukkha. When the Buddha taught the first noble truth, he wasn’t saying that life is one uninterrupted agony. Clearly, that is not what most of us experience.

One of the possible etymologies for these terms provides a helpful insight into the Buddha’s intention. Duhkha means a bad fit and was used to describe a wheel that doesn’t properly fit on its axle. Sometimes the image is a potters wheel that doesn’t turn smoothly and screeches as it spins. Sometimes it is a cart with a slightly broken wheel that jolts the rider again and again as it turns. Does this sound a little more familiar?

Why is there duhkha? Because we don’t see things just as they are. We see our conceptual fabrications, our projections. This is the bad fit: the way things appear to us and the way they actually are don’t agree. We mistake our confusion for what actually is, and so we are constantly out of sync with our own experience. That is delusion.

The opposite of duhkha is suhkha, which is like a wheel that turns smoothly and noiselessly. We experience duhkha. Buddhas experience suhkha. In fact, it is said that they experience mahasuhkha—a great fit.

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