I always thought that in order to be light, darkness must exist, in order for us to appreciate a beautiful sunshine, rainy days must exist, for a food to be good, bad food must exist and so on, if you have only good things you will not appreciate or feel happy about it. (this is the common mundane view)

This kind of thought clearly doesn't fit with the concept of Nibbana, where there is only Happiness and no suffering at all, so Happiness in Nibbana is not relative, it is something absolute.

Can someone explain what is wrong with the thought that sees happiness as something relative, that needs to be compared with other things? Is Happiness in Nibbana a different thing that has more to do with peace and stability?

10 Answers 10


Light vs darkness is a better analogy to wisdom vs ignorance than happiness vs suffering. What you describe as happiness and suffering are just experiences. They belong to the Sankhara group in the five aggregates of clinging. Nibbana exists independently of the five aggregates. All experiences, whether they are pleasurable, painful or neutral, fall under the first Noble truth. So they all have the inherent nature of Dukkha. Nibbana is non-experiential and devoid of Dukkha.

  • Great point, it seems to me that this ultimate happiness has more to do with no clinging, no desire, with the end of the 5 aggregates. There is one more thing, most people think that euphoria = happiness, while for Buddhists Happiness is the peace from the end of suffering and its causes, what do you think?
    – konrad01
    Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 11:27
  • 1
    It's better understood as end of suffering. Imagine a cancer patient experiencing constant pain. He knows nothing but pain in life. Experiential happiness is like happiness he might gain by eating a chocolate. Nibbana is like the relief he gets if his cancer is suddenly cured. Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 12:14
  • I agree with Sankha, and it's a distinction that's subtle until you've seen it (based on my own not seeing it). It's really easy to confuse happiness, pleasure, euphoria and so on as being the opposite of suffering. But all those things are just as much part of the whole samsaric existence as pain, misery, and so on. For example, happiness, as we normally mean it, is impermanent. A positive word I've heard used for the cessation of suffering is "eudaimonia", which is more like "flourishing" or "wellbeing". Even there, it doesn't capture the deeper non-ness of nibanna.
    – tkp
    Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 15:46

Good question. First, let's get our terms straight:

  • Dukkha is not "suffering", it is the painful feeling of wrongness, experienced at the time of trouble, but also when craving for unsatisfied expectations, as well as mulling over inevitable looming dangers.
  • Sukha is not "happiness" (as in a joyful rapturous feeling we experience having attained a difficult goal), rather it is a quiet feeling of ease and comfort we experience when our existence is not burdened by troubles and emergencies.

At first approximation, when Third Noble Truth promises cessation of dukkha, it hints at attainment of everlasting sukha. Indeed, once you drop your attachments (as per Second Noble Truth), including positive ones (desires, expectations) as well as negative ones (aversions, clinging to something inevitably transient etc.) then the feeling of wrongness is no longer generated. In effect, all experience becomes agreeable, resulting in a permanent experience of sukha.

If we look deeper though, we can notice Buddha's emphasis on Three Marks of Existence: Impermanence, Corelessness and Dukkha as universal unconditional characteristics of existence-at-large. Because things are transient and lack a stable absolute point of reference, Dukkha is inevitably generated as mind in its modeling activity always lags behind reality. So even someone who fully understood the mechanism of dukkha, is never 100% free from occasional experiences of "wrongness", as fluctuations of mind over long time invariably generate mismatches between "is" and "should". So in all truth Nibbana is not and can't be a sterile ease, but rather a philosophical appreciation of things as they are (tathata) in all their complexity. Instead of being everlasting sukha Nibbana goes beyond sukha/dukkha by transcending the dichotomy altogether.

This understanding is reflected in the succession of jhana stages in which the practitioner

  1. generates sukha tinted with rapture, born of withdrawal from attachments and therefore from dukkha, with help of discursive thinking.
  2. generates sukha tinted with rapture, born of unification of mind (lack of inner conflict), directly with no help of discursive thinking.
  3. establishes and maintains sukha not tinted with rapture, born of equanimity (seeing things as they are with no segregation into agreeable/disagreeable)
  4. goes beyond sukha and indeed beyond dichotomy of sukha and dukkha, resulting in pure nonjudgmental awareness.

To summarize, Buddhist practice initially focuses on reducing and ceasing dukkha, then on generating sukha, and finally on transcending dukkha-sukha altogether.

To answer your question directly, because experience of sukha relies on "what is" matching "what should be", (just like experience of dukkha relies on the two mismatching) it still belongs in the category of conditional experience. In this sense the experience of sukha always has a shadow of dukkha looming over it, like you correctly supposed. Like you said, right and wrong co-imply each other, and Impermanence connects the two, guaranteeing that any "right" condition will not last forever. It is that feeling of being unable to fully enjoy vacation because of the need to return to work eventually. So your original premise is correct, by its very nature sukha always has a seed of dukkha in it, due to it being conditional.

Thankfully, Buddha-Dharma does not leave us at that. To build on vacation metaphor, Buddhism solves the problem of having to return to work by dissolving the essential difference between vacation and work. Nibbana-as-permanent-vacation is just a provisional motivator (upaya) utilized on initial (Hinayana) stages, before the student progresses enough to appreciate the full-scale teaching. When our mind is fully integrated, and we always do our best, then our creative spirit is shining continuously wherever we are and whatever we do. This fully integrated (and therefore unconditional!) experience is known as tathata and the one who realized it is called tathagata.


In order for there to be light, darkness must exist is one way to look at the reality. But you can look at it another way for example there is only light and darkness is the absence of light. If you look at the reality this way the permenent absence of suffering is what Buddhists call Nirvana.


To say it very simply, I think that you don't eradicate suffering from your life but you just change your perception of it, as well as you change your perception of good feelings.

I love this metaphor : it's like if you live floating on the surface of the ocean during your entire life, putting up with waves, winds and rain that make you suffer, and then one day you just dive into the ocean. And the deeper you dive the less those things affect you, but you will always see them.


Buddhism always teaches us to take the middle way (not the happy end nor the sad end). So you are correct about "to end your suffering, you may need to lose your happiness too". But for the billions of years over which you have lived (reincarnation) you have felt both sad and happy from time to time.

You know you are on a non-ending journey of life with happy, neutral, and sad feelings. According to the overall picture you always tend to end with suffering. So if you can end (stop) this non-ending journey somehow, you will not born (exist) as any kind of life again and there you are free from suffering (but no one exist as you when you come to this state call Nibbana).


Happiness in a worldly way is conditional. When cancer is cured and one becomes happy, it is conditional- the curing of cancer. When one eats chocolate and becomes happy, it is conditional-eating chocolate.

Happiness in Nibbana is non-conditional. It is happiness without any condition. Example of natural happiness is like the sun happily gives heat and light without any condition. Most happiness from motherly love in the animal kingdom is also unconditional.

This explains happiness without suffering.


Happiness without clinging is happiness without suffering! The Four Foundations of Mindfulness teach us that every mental and physical formation is nothing more than an experience, a phenomena, which is subject to the Three Universal Characteristics ( Impermanence,suffering and non-self). The Four Noble Truths show us and teach us the difference between an ignorant mind( a mind with wrong-view) and a mind with right-view, a mind that understands true reality, an experiential-reality, a reality without preferences, a reality without clinging.


Ultimate happiness is when the mind is unconditioned.

When the mind is unbalanced due to craving or ill will this creates suffering. This is due to Ignorance of a conditioned mind. When the mind reaches a stage of being unconditioned then you reach ultimate happiness. Any other state is always unsatisfactory as conditioned states are not permanent and you do not exercise control over them to make them last.

So suffering is the motivator to find happiness which is by practicing Vipassana Meditation to make your mind reach the unconditioned state.


One of the biggest problems I have found from self-study is the differing terminologies. I was reaching the same conclusions in study and reflection that were reached 3,500 years ago I just had different words for many of the concepts.I believe there is some of that effect here as well.

My simplistic view was/is dukkha identifies the dissatisfaction with impermanent conditions. Sukkha was/is eternal satisfaction. Happiness varies with conditions and is cyclical. Eternal satisfaction, however, is a constant. But thats just my understanding and the terms I use. Explanations vary.


Samsara is (wholly, entirely) Dukka (Suffering). Nibbana is (wholly) Happiness. This kind of thought clearly fits with the concept of Nibbana, where there is only Happiness and no suffering at all: so Happiness in Nibbana is not relative, it is something absolute.

Quotes from Maha Parinibbana Sutta

When the Blessed One was totally Unbound, simultaneously with the total Unbinding,

....without peer in the world the Tathagata, with strength attained, the Rightly Self-Awakened One, has been totally Unbound.

How inconstant are compounded things! Their nature: to arise & pass away. They disband as they are arising. Their total stilling is bliss.

With heart unbowed he endured the pain. Like a flame's unbinding was the liberation of awareness.

It was awe-inspiring. It was hair-raising when, displaying the foremost accomplishment in all things, the Rightly Self-Awakened One was totally Unbound.

When the Blessed One was totally Unbound, simultaneously with the total Unbinding, some of the monks present who were not without passion wept, uplifting their arms. As if their feet were cut out from under them, they fell down and rolled back & forth, crying, "All too soon is the Blessed One totally unbound! All too soon is the One Well-gone totally unbound! All too soon, the One with Eyes has disappeared from the world!" But those monks who were free from passion acquiesced, mindful & alert: "Fabrications are inconstant. What else is there to expect?"

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .