Deep Dukkha: Part 1 – The Truth About Suffering

In his Second Noble Truth, the Buddha said that the origin of dukkha – the dissatisfaction with the circumstances of our lives – is tanha, or thirst. I like to translate tanhha as craving or longing, as this refers to a self-focused desire to get something for ourselves, whether it be a material thing (an iPad), a sensory experience (the taste of ice cream, the feel of ocean waves on the body) or an identity (law professor, award-winning author).

I think of tanha as the constantly recurring experience of “want” and “don’t want” in my life. I want (crave) pleasant experiences (mental and physical); I don’t want (am averse to) unpleasant ones. The Buddha wasn’t mincing words when he said: Dukkha is (1) not getting what you want and (2) getting what you don’t want.” And so, dissatisfaction and craving go hand in hand. No dukkha, no tanha. No tanha, no dukkha.

Sometimes commentators claim that the Buddha was saying that life itself is dukkha because having been born, we are subject to sickness, injury, and loss. But the bare fact of these three phenomena cannot be dukkha because that wouldn’t be in accord with the Second Noble Truth which ties dukkha to tanha. It’s the aversion to sickness, injury, and loss (that is, the craving for them not to be a part of our life) that gives rise to dukkha.

Toni Bernhard


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