I know this question maybe sounds odd and like a tautology, but in Buddhism the word dukkha seems to mean both the objective 'property' of being not satisfying and the subjective suffering. So is the goal to experience dukkha objectively, but not subjectively?


5 Answers 5


The nature of Dukkha will become very clear when practicing insight meditation. One will come to see that conditioned phenomena are unsatisfying due to them being impermanent.

It is likened to a glass cup with a little, almost invisible crack in it. That glass is in a process of breaking up already when it has come into existence. Or a bridge where the pillars have tiny cracks in them. From far away the bridge look solid but when taking a closer look, the pillars are breaking up, soon to fall apart.

Mahasi Sayadaw likened the break up of conditioned phenomena, here the physical body, to a dilapidated house that can come down at any time.

All conditioned phenomena are dukkha because they do not last and they are uncontrollable, since one cannot make them stay any longer just because one wants them to. Likewise painful phenomena will not go away just because one wants them to.

If you want to understand this in the deepest way, you have to practice insight meditation and see this with your own eyes.


Dukkha arises from any feeling which you would perceive:

  • pain - this on itself is painful
  • pleasure - this is painful when you part with it
  • neither pleasure nor painful - this will also change into pure pain or pleasure followed by the pain of parting with it as you still creating conditions for future existance

There are multiple shades of Dukkha as in the above description where the most gross is pain as when you are picked with a pin. Any sane being may it be human or animal will not enjoy being picked with a pin. Since there is no satisfaction in such experiences or being do not perceive it the be desirable Dukkha is undesirable.

These sensations or feelings arise from the perception that an experience is:

  • favorable -> pleasure
  • unfavorable -> pain
  • neutral -> neither pain nor pleasure

All these experiences are conditioned. When the conditioning factor disappears so does the sensation associated with. The conditioning factors are not permanent nor in your control to keep experiencing pleasure. Also you might get bored with an experience and then you perceiving this as favorable experience will change where by changing the sensation or feeling experience.

There are few things happen when you experience a sensation of feeling:

  • pleasure - develop greed to experience more
  • pain - you develop aversion towards it and want to get rid of it or experience less of it
  • neutral - you are ignorant of the fact that you are still in the process of creating future experiences whereby you will experience pain

With the above reaction your mind start creating thoughts on:

  • in the future I should be like this or do as such
  • in the past I should have done as such

Also in striving to realise the sensation you crave for, you would take action which in some cases might not be wholesome.

All the above creates conditioning (Sankhara) for future experiences which again will be unsatisfactory. The conditioning are from 3 sources which are discussed above:

  • mental conditioning arising from perception and sensation
  • verbal conditioning arising from thinking and pondering, this is called verbal as you need to think and form the speech before you talk
  • bodily conditioning tied with the breath, when you are to do something unwholesome you would be agitated hence when you plan and execute your breath will be hard

So the objective of Buddhist meditation is to examine this perceiving (favorable, unfavorable, neutral) and sensation or feelings (pleasure, pain, neutral) or unsatisfactoriness (due to painful experiance, change of a pleasant experience, being in conditioned existance) objectively and equanimously knowing the to arise and pass away so you do not lose the balance of your mind due to craving and clinging whereby you create further conditioning (Sankhara) which keep you rolling in misery or unsatisfactoriness (Dukkha).

Based on: Sal-āyatana Vibhanga Sutta, Pañcak’aṇga Sutta, Bahu,vedaniya Sutta, Titth’ayatana Sutta, Dhātu Vibhaṅga Sutta, Indriya Bhāvanā Sutta, Pahāna Sutta, Avijja Pahana Sutta 2, Samma,ditthi Sutta


So is the goal to experience dukkha objectively, but not subjectively?

The goal is not to experience Dukkha, but to cease it. In other words, to attain Nibbana.

in Buddhism the word dukkha seems to mean both the objective 'property' of being not satisfying and the subjective suffering

Under the first noble truth, it says Pancaupadanaskanda is Dukka. Which means the five aggregates of clinging are suffering. It doesn't say five aggregates are suffering. Otherwise Arahanths will also be suffering.

When we discuss Dukkha conceptually, we talk about it subjectively. But Dukkha is always objective. There's experiencing. But there's no experiencer.

Why is Dukka bad?

It depends on the definition of 'bad'. It's like asking why is 'oak' a tree? Or why is 'rice' a food?

According to the dictionary, 'bad' is explained as "not good", 'evil', "inferior in quality", "below standard", "not satisfactory". All those terms can be associated with 'suffering'.

  • it's interesting that your statement about dukkha is opposite to mine - while you state it's always OBjective, i say it's always SUBjective... also i wonder how arahants can experience brahmaviharas if they don't experience suffering, because i think to be able to sympathize with others one must be able to feel at least a modicum of their suffering Feb 19, 2016 at 20:24
  • Not necessarily! One need not touch fire to know that it burns. Arahants have no view of self. So it cannot be subjective. Even if you are not enlightened, to practice compassion, you need not feel sad. Sadness is the near enemy of compassion. Feb 20, 2016 at 4:48

one cannot experience dukkha objectively other than by way of indifferent perception of suffering of other beings

experience is always personal and intimate, even when one perceives suffering of others one cannot appreciate it unless one identifies with them through empathy by mentally putting oneself in their shoes and finding out how YOU would feel

so once one knows something as suffering it's invariably through the lense of one's own experience

the goal to the best of my knowledge is cessation of suffering

why is suffering bad? sounds like a profound question, answering offhand i'd say it's bad because in attempts to escape from it people act stupidly, hastily, irresponsibly, imprudently, making a mess out of this world


Why is dukkha bad?

  • Dukkha as "pain" is considered bad because it is intrinsic to the nature of beings to want to be away from pain (even those who put themselves in danger or chose to subject themselves to pain do so either in order to avoid another, usually more threatening pain, or to create a pleasure feeling that subsumes it).

  • Dukkha as "unsatisfiability" is considered bad because of our (perpetually nurtured) inner thirst and fundamental anxiety; because of our inclination for craving and clinging to things that expire. We find ourselves in a state of continuously "lusting for". We expect pleasuring things to be everlasting, we hold to them (similarly, we often delude ourselves into thinking some pains are never ending), yet, we find ourselves in a realm where no phenomena is permanent. And then, we become surprised when they are transformed into something else; then, pain arises because what was once pleasuring is no more.

The goal encompasses seeing this fundamental characteristic unfolding in every bit of our experience.

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