Jay Forrest

Suttavadin Buddhist Blog

Jay Forrest Suttavadin Buddhist Blog

Word Study: Dukkha (Part 3)

The Buddha said

Bhikkhus, there are these three kinds of suffering. What three? Suffering (dukkha) due to pain (dukkha) , suffering (dukkha) due to formations, suffering (dukkha) due to change. These are the three kinds of suffering (dukkha). The Noble Eightfold Path is to be developed for direct knowledge of these three kinds of suffering (dukkha), for the full understanding of them, for their utter destruction, for their abandoning (SN 45.165 Bodhi [Pali added]).

Bhikkhu Bodhi has repeatedly lamented the fact that “suffering” is not a good translation of dukkha. It is just that there is no better translation. The best solution is to simply not translate it. But I don’t believe dukkha is going to become a well know English word anytime soon.

The Trouble with Translating

To show that there really isn’t a good English equivalent word for dukkha, I quote the Pali Text Society’s Pali-English Dictionary, which states:

There is no word in English covering the same ground as Dukkha does in Pali. Our modern words are too specialised, too limited, and usually too strong. Sukha & dukkha are ease and dis-ease (but we use disease in another sense); or wealth and ilth from well & ill (but we have now lost ilth); or wellbeing and ill-ness (but illness means something else in English). We are forced, therefore, in translation to use half synonyms, no one of which is exact. Dukkha is equally mental & physical. Pain is too predominantly physical, sorrow too exclusively mental, but in some connections they have to be used in default of any more exact rendering. Discomfort, suffering, ill, and trouble can occasionally be used in certain connections Misery, distress, agony, affliction and woe are never right. They are all much too strong & are only mental (see Mrs. Rh. D.; Bud. Psy. 83–⁠86, quoting Ledi Sadaw).

I have been experimenting with several alternatives. Leigh Brasington suggested translating dukkha as “bummer.” This kind of works, but it is too Informal. Another word that does the same is “sucks.” There can be no doubt that rebirth, aging, sickness, and death suck. But again, it is too Informal.

If we go back to the etymology we might get a hint. Andrew Olendzki explains, “The prefix su- generally means “good, easy, and conducive to well-being,” and the prefix du- correspondingly means “bad, difficult, and inclining toward illness or harm.” Leigh Brasington, also traces the prefix du- back to “bad.” The PTS Pali-English Dictionary confirms this. In fact, the literal entomological translation would be something like “bad space.” It’s not that far to suggest that dukkha means that samsara is a “bad place.”

Since the prefix, du- in dukkha means “bad.” My suggestion, then, is to translate dukkha as a “badness” and “bad.” It refers to a bad circumstance or situation. A “bad” body would be one causing “suffering” or “pain.” So the context would decide the -kha part of dukkha. The problem is that the context is sometimes implicit, as in the first noble truth. It doesn’t say “life is dukkha.” For the Buddha was alive and free from dukkha. It must mean that “conditioned existence” is dukkha. And the Budhha has attained the unconditioned.

The Translations

Let’s look at three passages and see how this translation sounds.

First, what is the main message of the buddha?

Practitioners, both in the past and now what I teach is the badness [of conditioned existence] and the ending of this badness (MN 22 Forrest).

Second, what are the three kinds of dukkha?

Practitioners, there are three kinds of badness. What three? The badness due to suffering, the badness due to conditioned existence, and the badness due to change. These are the three kinds of badness. The Noble Eightfold Path is to be developed for the spiritual insight into these three kinds of bad circumstances, for the full understanding of them, for their utter destruction, and for leaving behind these three kinds of badness” (SN 45.165 Forrest).

Third, what is the first noble truth?

Now, this is the noble truth of the badness [of conditioned existence]. Rebirth is bad; aging is bad; sickness is bad; death is bad; association with the disliked is bad; separation from the liked is bad; not getting what you want is bad. In brief, the five (mind-body) processes subject to attachment are bad (SN 56.11 Forrest).

Honestly, I am still not satisfied. It is close but far from perfect. Maybe “bad circumstance” would be better.

Now, this is the noble truth of this bad circumstance [of being in samsara]. [This circumstance is bad because] rebirth is bad; aging is bad; sickness is bad; death is bad; association with the disliked is bad; separation from the liked is bad; not getting what you want is bad. In brief, the five (mind-body) processes subject to attachment are bad (SN 56.11 Forrest).

Maybe this is a little closer. You have the bad circumstance, the cause of the bad circumstance, the ending of the bad circumstance, and the path that leads to the ending of this bad circumstance. The bad circumstance is being in samsara, conditioned existence.

And maybe you are beginning to see why “suffering” is way off. It completely distorts the meaning and message of the Buddha. And you have to remember that samsara was common knowledge. His audience knew he was offering a way of escape from samsara. The Buddha was not offering merely peace of mind or a way to get to heaven.

Practitioners, both in the past and now what I teach is the bad circumstance [of being in samsara]. and the ending of this bad circumstance [through nirvana] (MN 22 Forrest).

The Buddha was offering more than a psychological pain killer. We are trapped in a prison for the mind. There is no way out except through the Noble Eightfold Path. What the Buddha taught us was the need to recognize how bad our circumstance is, and then he told us how to escape it.

However, with all that said, I still think the best translation for dukkha is “misfortune” and “unfortunate.” It contrasts nicely with the Buddha being the Fortunate One. It also evades the moral connotation of the word “bad.”

References

  • Brasington, Leigh. “Dukkha is A Bummer.” Leigh Brasington’s Web Site. http://www.leighb.com/bummer.htm
  • Olendzki, Andrew. “What’s in a Word? Dukkha.” Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Winter 2020. https://tricycle.org/magazine/dukkha-meaning/

Vesak Day

Vesak is from the Sinhalese language for the Pali word, Vesākha. Vesākha is the name of the sixth month in the old Buddhist lunar calendar.  Although in the Indian national calendar, Vaisakha is the second month of the year. It corresponds to April/May in our Gregorian Calendar.

Vesak Day refers to a particular day in the month of Vesākha, the day of the full moon (Sanskrit, Purnima). The holiday has been officially celebrated since 1950, being formalized by the World Fellowship of Buddhists.

Phra Brahmagunabhorn explains its many names:

Vesak is also known, as: Buddha Pūrnima or Buddha Jayanti in India, Bangladesh and Nepal, Hanamatsuri in Japan, Seokka Tanshin-il in Korean, Fódàn (Mandarin), Fātdàahn (Cantonese) in Chinese-speaking communities, Phật Đản in Vietnamese, Saga Dawa in Tibetan, Visaka Bochea in Khmer, Visākha Puja in Thai, Waisak in Indonesia,Vesak (Wesak) in Sri Lanka and Malaysia, Vixakha Bouxa in Laos, and Ka-sone-la-pyae Myanmar.

So what is so special about Vesak Day? It commemorates three of the great events in the life of the historical Buddha. It celebrates Siddhattha Gotama’s (Sanskrit, Siddhārtha Gautama) birthday, full awakening into Buddhahood, and his passing away into final nirvana (Pali, parinibbāna). Some Mahayana sects celebrate the awakening and passing away on separate days.

As in the case of other religious teachers of antiquity, the Buddha’s birth is enshrouded in myth and legend, You can find these even in the Pali Canon. “As Buddhists,” writes K. N. Jayatilleke, “who have to believe only in things as they are, and therefore in verifiable historical truths, we are not obliged to believe in all these myths and legends.”

In 1999, the United Nations General Assembly recognized the Day of Vesak internationally. The UN did this to acknowledge the contribution that Buddhism has made to the spirituality of humanity. This day is commemorated annually at the UN Headquarters and other UN offices.

A Message from the former Secretary-General, Javier Perez de Cuellar, to Buddhists on the Day of Vesak in May 1986 reads:

For Buddhists everywhere it is indeed a felicitous opportunity, while commemorating the birth, enlightenment and passing away of Guatama Buddha, to celebrate his message of compassion and devotion to the service of humanity. This message is today perhaps more relevant than ever before. Peace, understanding and a vision of humanity that supersedes national and other international differences are essential if we are to cope with the complexities of the nuclear age. This philosophy lies at the heart of the Charter of the United Nations and should be prominent in all our thinking, especially during this International Year of Peace.

The May 2022 full Moon will occur today, Monday, May 16th.

According to Bhikkhu Bodhi, the Buddha’s birth and Awakening could have happened near May, but the passing away was more like February.

How to Celebrate

You may celebrate however you see fit. This is just how I celebrate Vesak.

First, clean the altar and the Buddha statue. Afterward, take a moment to quiet the mind. And then begin your private celebration.

Light a candle.🕯️

Giving Homage, 👄 say:

Homage to the Fortunate One, the Worthy One, the Fully Awakened Buddha.

Light incense.  🔥

Going for refuge, 👄 say:

I go to the Buddha for refuge.
I go to the Dharma for refuge.
I go to the Sangha for refuge.

A second time I go to the Buddha for refuge.
A second time I go to the Dharma for refuge.
A second time I go to the Sangha for refuge.

A third time I go to the Buddha for refuge.
A third time I go to the Dharma for refuge.
A third time I go to the Sangha for refuge.

Taking the five precepts, 👄 say:

I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking life.
I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking what is not given.
I undertake the training rule to abstain from sexual misconduct.
I undertake the training rule to abstain from false speech.
I undertake the training rule to abstain from intoxicating drinks and drugs causing heedlessness.

Do seated meditation for 20 minutes. 🧘

Put the palms of the hands together and bow. 🙏

Send metta to all living beings, 👄 say:

May all beings be safe.
May all beings be healthy.
May all beings be happy.
May all beings be free.

Read the Buddha’s first sermon. ☸️

Blow out the candle. 🕯️

The celebration has ended, now live the Dharma in mindfulness. 🚶

References

  • Dharmakosajarn, Phra. The Vesak Day: History, Significance and Celebrations. Ayutthaya, Thailand: Ahachulalongkorn Rajavidyalaya University, 2010.
  • Jayatilleke, K. N. Significance of Vesak: The Wheel Publication No. 178. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society, 1972.
  • The Pali-English Dictionary. T.W. Rhys Davids and William Stede, eds. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharial Publishers Pvt Ltd, , 2008.
  • United Nations. “Vesak Day 16 May 2022.” United Nations. https://www.un.org/en/observances/vesak-day
  • Wikipedia contributors, “Vesak,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.  https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Vesak&oldid=1087839867 (accessed May 15, 2022).

Mindfulness of Breathing (MN 118)

So I have heard. At one time the Fortunate One was staying near Sāvatthī in the Eastern Monastery, the stilt longhouse of Migāra’s mother, together with several well-known senior disciples, such as the venerables Sāriputta, Mahāmoggallāna, Mahākassapa, Mahākaccāna, Mahākoṭṭhita, Mahākappina, Mahācunda, Anuruddha, Revata, Ānanda, and others.

Now at that time the senior practitioners were advising and instructing the junior practitioners. Some senior practitioners instructed ten practitioners, while some instructed twenty, thirty, or forty. Being instructed by the senior practitioners, the junior practitioners realized a higher distinction than they had before.

Now, at that time it was the sabbath—the full moon on the fifteenth day—and the Fortunate One was sitting surrounded by the Saṅgha of practitioners for the invitation to admonish. Then the Fortunate One looked around the Saṅgha of practitioners, who were so very silent. He addressed them:

“I am satisfied, practitioners, with this practice. My heart is satisfied with this practice. So you should rouse up even more energy for attaining the unattained, achieving the unachieved, and realizing the unrealized. I will wait here in Sāvatthī for the Komudi full moon of the fourth month.”

Practitioners from around the country heard about this, and came down to Sāvatthī to see the Fortunate One.

And those senior practitioners instructed the junior practitioners even more. Some senior practitioners instructed ten practitioners, while some instructed twenty, thirty, or forty. Being instructed by the senior practitioners, the junior practitioners realized a higher distinction than they had before.

Now, at that time it was the sabbath—the Komudi full moon on the fifteenth day of the fourth month—and the Fortunate One was sitting in the open surrounded by the Saṅgha of practitioners. Then the Fortunate One looked around the Saṅgha of practitioners, who were so very silent. He addressed them:

“This assembly has no nonsense, practitioners, it’s free of nonsense. It consists purely of the essential core. Such is this Saṅgha of practitioners, such is this assembly! An assembly such as this is worthy of offerings dedicated to the gods, worthy of hospitality, worthy of a religious donation, worthy of greeting with joined palms, and is the supreme field of merit for the world. Such is this Saṅgha of practitioners, such is this assembly! Even a small gift to an assembly such as this is fruitful, while giving more is even more fruitful. Such is this Saṅgha of practitioners, such is this assembly! An assembly such as this is rarely seen in the world. Such is this Saṅgha of practitioners, such is this assembly! An assembly such as this is worth traveling many leagues to see, even if you have to carry your own provisions in a shoulder bag.

For in this Saṅgha there are perfected practitioners, who have ended the distortions, completed the spiritual journey, done what had to be done, laid down the burden, achieved their own goal, utterly ended the fetters of rebirth, and are rightly freed through enlightenment. There are such practitioners in this Saṅgha.

In this Saṅgha there are practitioners who, with the ending of the five lower fetters are reborn spontaneously. They attain nirvana there, and are not liable to return from that world. There are such practitioners in this Saṅgha.

In this Saṅgha there are practitioners who, with the ending of three fetters, and the weakening of greed, hate, and delusion, are once-returners. They come back to this world once only, then make an end of [selfish] desire. There are such practitioners in this Saṅgha.

In this Saṅgha there are practitioners who, with the ending of three fetters are stream-enterers, not liable to be reborn in the underworld, bound for awakening. There are such practitioners in this Saṅgha.

In this Saṅgha there are practitioners who are committed to developing the four establishments of mindfulness … the four right efforts … the four bases of psychic power … the five faculties … the five powers … the seven awakening factors … the noble eightfold path. There are such practitioners in this Saṅgha. In this Saṅgha there are practitioners who are committed to developing the establishment on love … compassion … rejoicing … equanimity … ugliness … impermanence. There are such practitioners in this Saṅgha. In this Saṅgha there are practitioners who are committed to developing the establishment of mindfulness of breathing.

Practitioners, when mindfulness of breathing is developed and cultivated it is very fruitful and beneficial. Mindfulness of breathing, when developed and cultivated, fulfills the four establishments of mindfulness. The four establishments of mindfulness, when developed and cultivated, fulfill the seven awakening factors. And the seven awakening factors, when developed and cultivated, fulfill knowledge and freedom.

And how is mindfulness of breathing developed and cultivated to be very fruitful and beneficial?

It’s when a practitioner has gone to a wilderness, or to the root of a tree, or to an empty hut. They sit down cross-legged, with their body straight, and establish mindfulness right there. Just mindful, they breathe in. Mindful, they breathe out.

When breathing in heavily they know: ‘I’m breathing in heavily.’ When breathing out heavily they know: ‘I’m breathing out heavily.’ When breathing in lightly they know: ‘I’m breathing in lightly.’ When breathing out lightly they know: ‘I’m breathing out lightly.’ They practice breathing in experiencing the whole body. They practice breathing out experiencing the whole body. They practice breathing in stilling the body’s motion. They practice breathing out stilling the body’s motion.

They practice breathing in experiencing rapture. They practice breathing out experiencing rapture. They practice breathing in experiencing bliss. They practice breathing out experiencing bliss. They practice breathing in experiencing these emotions. They practice breathing out experiencing these emotions. They practice breathing in stilling these emotions. They practice breathing out stilling these emotions.

They practice breathing in experiencing the mind. They practice breathing out experiencing the mind. They practice breathing in gladdening the mind. They practice breathing out gladdening the mind. They practice breathing in immersing the mind in samadhi. They practice breathing out immersing the mind in samadhi. They practice breathing in freeing the mind. They practice breathing out freeing the mind.

They practice breathing in observing impermanence. They practice breathing out observing impermanence. They practice breathing in observing fading away. They practice breathing out observing fading away. They practice breathing in observing cessation. They practice breathing out observing cessation. They practice breathing in observing letting go. They practice breathing out observing letting go.

Mindfulness of breathing, when developed and cultivated in this way, is very fruitful and beneficial.

And how is mindfulness of breathing developed and cultivated so as to fulfill the four establishments of mindfulness?

Whenever a practitioner knows that they breathe heavily, or lightly, or experiencing the whole body, or stilling the body’s motion—at that time they’re abiding by observing an aspect of the body—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of desire and aversion for the world. For I say that the in-breaths and out-breaths are an aspect of the body. That’s why at that time a practitioner is abiding by observing an aspect of the body—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of desire and aversion for the world.

Whenever a practitioner practices breathing while experiencing rapture, or experiencing bliss, or experiencing these emotions, or stilling these emotions—at that time they abide observing an aspect of feelings—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of desire and aversion for the world. For I say that close attention to the in-breaths and out-breaths is an aspect of feelings. That’s why at that time a practitioners is abiding by observing an aspect of feelings—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of desire and aversion for the world.

Whenever a practitioner practices breathing while experiencing the mind, or gladdening the mind, or immersing the mind in samadhi, or freeing the mind—at that time they abide observing an aspect of the mind—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of desire and aversion for the world. There is no development of mindfulness of breathing for someone who is unmindful and lacks awareness, I say. That’s why at that time a practitioner is abiding by observing an aspect of the mind—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of desire and aversion for the world.

Whenever a practitioner practices breathing while observing impermanence, or observing fading away, or observing cessation, or observing letting go—at that time they abide observing an aspect of experience—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of desire and aversion for the world. Having seen with wisdom the giving up of desire and aversion, they watch over closely with equanimity. That’s why at that time a practitioner is abiding by observing an aspect of experience—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of desire and aversion for the world.

That’s how mindfulness of breathing, when developed and cultivated, fulfills the four establishments of mindfulness.

And how are the four establishments of mindfulness developed and cultivated so as to fulfill the seven awakening factors?

Whenever a practitioner abides by observing an aspect of the body, at that time their mindfulness is established and lucid. At such a time, a practitioner has activated the awakening factor of mindfulness; they develop it and perfect it.

As they live mindfully in this way they investigate, explore, and inquire into that principle with wisdom. At such a time, a practitioner has activated the awakening factor of investigation of experience; they develop it and perfect it.

As they investigate experience with wisdom in this way their energy is roused up and unflagging. At such a time, a practitioner has activated the awakening factor of energy; they develop it and perfect it.

When they’re energetic, spiritual rapture arises. At such a time, a practitioner has activated the awakening factor of rapture; they develop it and perfect it.

When the mind is full of rapture, the body and mind become tranquil. At such a time, a practitioner has activated the awakening factor of tranquility; they develop it and perfect it.

When the body is tranquil and they feel bliss, the mind becomes immersed in samadhi. At such a time, a practitioner has activated the awakening factor of samadhi; they develop it and perfect it.

They closely watch over that mind immersed in samadhi. At such a time, a practitioner has activated the awakening factor of equanimity; they develop it and perfect it.

Whenever a practitioner abides by observing an aspect of feelings … mind … experience, at that time their mindfulness is established and lucid. At such a time, a practitioner has activated the awakening factor of mindfulness … investigation of experience … energy … rapture … tranquility … samadhi … equanimity.

That’s how the four establishments of mindfulness, when developed and cultivated, fulfill the seven awakening factors.

And how are the seven awakening factors developed and cultivated so as to fulfill knowledge and freedom?

It’s when a practitioner develops the awakening factors of mindfulness, investigation of experience, energy, rapture, tranquility, samadhi, and equanimity, which rely on seclusion, fading away, and cessation, and ripen as letting go.

That’s how the seven awakening factors, when developed and cultivated, fulfill knowledge and freedom.”

That is what the Fortunate One said. Satisfied, the practitioners were happy with what the Fortunate One said.


Creative Commons License
This work by Bhikkhu Sujato, revised by Jay Forrest is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Based on a public domain work at https://suttacentral.net/. Please reference it as: R-Sujato.

For more information: https://jayforrest.org/r-sujato-translation-explained/

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