Dukka, the Buddha’s point of view on human suffering.

This shall be my first article on the platform. In this article, I would like to present an essay which I wrote while I did the course of ‘Buddhism and Modern Psychology’, offered by Prof. Robert Wright from Princeton University. The goal of my midterm assessment was to answer two questions.


Question 1: The Buddha offers a specific diagnosis of the suffering that is part of human existence. Explain the Buddha’s diagnosis.

Under Buddha’s diagnosis of suffering, as explained by Prof. Wright that both the First and Second Nobel Truth in the Buddhist doctrine indicates about the human suffering which is an unavoidable part of human life. The diagnosis that Buddha provides on Dukka (Pali) or suffering sticks to the fact that life is all about suffering and we all struggle to find the nibbana (nirvana in pali) i.e. the sole truth. Now one might argue, I live a happy life and I’m not constantly suffering then does that mean Buddha’s diagnosis was wrong? The answer will be a simple No, because of the reason that word suffering doesn’t fully encapsulates the idea of dukka. To understand dukka we need to dive deeper into Buddhist psychology. Dukka encircles around the idea of an underlying urge of un-satisfactoriness of the human being. This idea was also captured by famous author Paulo Coelho in his work “Zahir”. Dukka comprises of a constant yet impermanent yearning/ wanting something or someone. Now to find the cause of this suffering or dukka, the Second Nobel Truth comes into the picture. The main cause of human suffering is yearning formore. Human beings tend to cling to and thirst for gratifying things that will not last forever. For example, one can argue Bill Gates is the richest man in the world must be the happiest man. But shall the money and richness be the source of his constant happiness? Not necessary, because even the richest person in the world yearns to something, it can be the wellbeing of his family, his company or something else. And that wanting or yearning is the source of his dukka. Everything in life fades away or constantly changing. No person can hold onto something for eternity.


On the contrary, quite opposite to the idea of clinging is the idea of aversion causing suffering. Now, this might sound contradictory, and I’d say yes it is at first but then a no. Let me explain with an example, my best friend, she’s good at writing but she is afraid of speaking in public. Being anxious about being able to speak in front of an audience can stir up from the fear of the opinion of people, or attachment to the image the audience has on her. Not wanting to experience or avoid a bad experience is also a source of dukka.


Question 2: Does this diagnosis ring true to you, or has the Buddha ignored some aspect of human life, or made some other mistake? Offer two specific reasons or experiences that support your answer, and explain how they support it. Well, Buddha’s diagnosis on the aspect of suffering ring true to me. The reason being, “Life is a race, if you don’t run fast someone will go ahead of you”. The human being is in a constant race to fulfil needs and chase pleasure. This is a genetically unavoidable trait that is programmed into our DNA for the survival of the fittest. Once someone obtains his objective, at the same time he starts looking for the next objection. And what I believe is this lack of satisfaction and craving is the reason for dukka. Being a human we keep falling this endless charade of fulfilling our deepest desires or running away from our deepest fears, thus filling our lives with an endless circle of dukka. Craving for pleasant and satisfactory experience and avoiding painful experiences is within us throughout life. We are on a constant search for something or someone to alleviate our pains and sorrow.


In his teachings, Buddha says we must let go of the craving and yearning to achieve the Nibbana. But one could argue that to achieve nirvana one must have a healthy body. To achieve a healthy body one must eat food, and this craving for food will lead to dukka and end our journey to Nibbana. Well yes, it sounds paradoxical and I’d say it is. But as Bhikku Bodhi said, even an ailing man with all his physical suffering can attain nirvana. His path to nirvana shall not be affected by his physical or mental suffering, as they are not permanent. Thus an ideal state or true state doesn’t necessarily mean good body and good mind, but it is the immunity towards worry and suffering. In Buddhism, there is no classification based on birth, demography or wealth. As Buddha said, “Man becomes high or low according to his deed”. Thus, the decision to not to divulge into impermanent specifics is justified. To conclude, if you are in a bad situation, just remember, “This too shall pass”. #philosophy #psychology #buddha #buddhism