In the book Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, I read the following statement:

This is the basic teaching of Buddhism. Pleasure is not different from difficulty. Good is not different from bad. Bad is good; good is bad. They are two sides of one coin.

How does this make sense? Does this mean that every good action (for example trying to reduce suffering) is somehow also bad? Or at least destined to fail?

  • This type of doctrine deprives words of their rightful meaning in a context as that effectively solves the problem of inability to explain words with words by means of simplification and abstration of what is not understood. This i can liken to a child
    – user8527
    Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 3:34
  • Anything with the word "Zen", "Buddha", "Buddhism" or even "Mahayana" stuck on it doesn't mean it's that. Like seeing the sight "Apple Store", doesn't mean you walk in but buy the fruit for your snack, right? @ChrisW. Further, it's worth to note this "Beginner's Mind" is a corrupted term hitch-hiked by the author. Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 14:55

8 Answers 8


From a Theravada perspective, there is absolute good and absolute bad. The 2 can exist mutually exclusively.

Suffering is absolutely bad and the mind states that lead to suffering are absolutely bad. Nibbana is absolutely good and the mind states that lead to Nibbana are absolutely good.

There is no suffering in Nibbana and there's no Nibbana in suffering. They arise/exist without requiring the presence of eachother.

  • So the statement from the book is nonsense? Or just a try to somehow manipulate or confuse the reader? Or what does it mean?
    – Witek
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 16:50
  • It may make sense in some mundane way, but from the point of view of the four noble truths, it is nonsense. Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 16:55
  • I wouldn't say its nonsense - it is just prevalent Nagarjuna's influence on Mahayana, that of non-duality and emptiness. The problem with this kind of writing "Good is not different from bad" is that it is dangerous in not explaining what it conveys. And I have been reading statements like these that don't have explanation way too many times. People should start writing proper books instead of this sort of stuff, so people don't mistakenly think that Buddhism is nihilism etc.
    – user13383
    Commented Jul 1, 2018 at 9:12

When we are young and naive, we may have a very simplistic, polarized view of Good and Bad. Whoever is on our side, close to us, with us - is good, and whoever is on the other side is bad.

Then as we grow up we start developing a more sophisticated view of the world, in which we try to understand the different sides in every argument. Democrats vs Republican, India vs. Pakistan, Muslim vs Buddhist, Commerce vs Spirituality, Brexit or Stay, and so on - all these different dualities... We try to understand them as well as we can, identify pro's and con's and take the Good side, based on our own values and how their attributes match with our beliefs.

Then as we keep growing and start participating in situations ourselves, we may get into more complex scenarios, when the good may not always be good, and the bad may not always be bad. A drug dealer may use the money to help the poor. Buddha might have hurt his wife and child when he left home to pursue Enlightenment. Wolves hunt on hares - the murder of the hare is tragedy for the hare family, but is a hunting victory for the wolf family. There are all these different situations when good and bad are intermixed, depend on each other, and are two sides of the same coin.

There are however things that are invariaby good, regardless of which interpretative context you're in. In Buddhism traditionally, confusion is always bad, and clarity is always good. Suffering is always bad and peace is always good.

If you think about it a bit more however, you can see that even this may not always be true. Confusion may be saving someone who's not yet ready to know the truth, from getting hit by the reality they wouldn't be able to handle. Suffering may be a price we pay for progress, for growth, for helping others who are not always easy to help. So in Mahayana, even these old polarities of Confusion/Clarity and Suffering/Peace are not as black-and-white anymore. They too are conditional and subject to contextual interpretation.

Clarity that understands and appreciates both Clarity and Confusion, without rejecting either, without mixing them up, is the real Clarity. Being at Peace with Suffering is the real Peace.

Sentient beings have a tendency for reification, they tend to read-in solidity where there is none. "Right view with taints" already understands that clarity and peace are good, but still reifies them, still falsely assumes they can be solid, specific and tangible. "Right view without taints" is just analysis of factors. Now we are arriving at real clarity and peace.

Everything is perfect as is and no one needs saving, and yet, if I can, I'd like to try and help people move towards this peace and clarity - through the path of wisdom and tolerance.


These days, 99.9% of the books, if ever got printed out, are better used for toilet paper than for reading. (So f*** arrogant!! - I take the blame, ok :)

I've never read this book, just "scanning"; the title and what you quoted, what in Wikipedia about the author (I read that page when answering this post). This book useless but will waste my useful time if I read - Will never read.

Good is good, bad bad. Period. Trying to sex up words is clever scheme to induce interest of the reader though. But it harmed the mind, instills extra delusions and hinderances - corrupting the true Buddha Dharma, especially by claiming: "This is the basic teaching of Buddhism."

What truly useful, the wisdom, from real Buddhist teaching, is, "in good there is seed of bad, in bad seed of good." The ordinary can only see the good in good, bad in bad; the wise also the bad in (not "is"!!!) good, good in bad. Like the Chinese Yin-yang diagram Taiji, the black dot in the white, the white in the black - change. I-change (易經: I-Ching, how pre-telling the ancients able to pick the name, encompassing East and West). So, when the stock market swells, the vision it dipped; when bursted, foreseeing the boom. When life at the high, caution, time for downslope; at low, be alert, time for ascending soon; always keep your cool. Then you take the right action, with right attitude. This is what I called usefulness, real wisdom; not sexing-up words.

However, the pinnacle of comprehending, when qualified to utter: "good is bad, bad good, no difference", is when one able to truly dwelling in the state of Emptiness. Another word, Enlightened, Buddha-ed. But then the virtue is, silence. Period.

When one dwelling in Emptiness in real, he is able to transform - transform the physcial phenomena. A Chinese real Mahayana doctrine, "心能轉物, 即同如來" (When your citta/mind can turn the matter, you same as the Buddha), but is not learnt by other culture, yet.

Dwelling in Emptiness thus able to transform - legitimate to utter "good is bad, bad is good": Mahisasakas Vinaya recounted a very ardent Upāsikā she cut piece of flesh from her leg (market closed) to make soup in urgency for a sick Bhiksu who needed meat as medicine. When the Buddha visited her family she dying, she excused not shown for didn't want to worry him. Yet the Buddha insisted, her husband had to carry her out. Just right at seeing the face of the Buddha, she lapped on her feet, recovered. Her leg and all reverted to as before like nothing happened. This the power of Emptiness the Buddha demonstrated, the meat cut from the leg was no difference from not cut - good is bad, bad good. The Vinaya recounted another, the Buddha himself washed an old sick Bhiksu who spilled his defecations and vomits all-over his body and room; dirty is clean, clean dirty, no difference. If those who uttered that kind of words, get qualified first, please! Else what gives that sitting on the "dharma platform" to teach? Why not a street sweeper also teaching "dharma" but you? Since, street sweeper and "dharma teacher" are, no difference, right?

In this respect, I think one first learning the Theravadin teaching far safer than parroting the Mahayana or Zen one. The Chinese Canon placed Agamas (counterpart to the Pali Nikayas) as the First Section out of the Twelves, means its importance, had to be learnt first. Otherwise fiddling with those Mahayana terms in ambiguous abstruseness can only induce the readers to in$till your pocket/ego and your "dharma Hall ~ of Fame"; but not instilling any real Buddha Dharma to their minds.

  • Anything with a Buddha s name should not be used for toilet paper... As i see it, if someone was to appropriate it the Buddhas authority it makes him a thief but it does not defile the Name. Idk its just how i see it...
    – user8527
    Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 5:07
  • @Inb4dead how did you contrive that "Anything with a Buddha s name should not be used for toilet paper" out from the thin air and related it to my post??? Am I writing in English - let me check... Oh YES, English certified. I can see that you a passionate Theravadin Buddhist, it's ok. Bias doesn't bias the one being biased but the one who has bias - make sense to you, huh? Thanks for commenting :) Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 14:50
  • might be the and i quote "These days, 99.9% of the books, if ever got printed out, are better used for toilet paper than for reading." Maybe i misunderstood but it seems as if you said this commenting on a Buddhist book or did you mean books in general, do you think 99.9% of books do not mention the Tathagata? I am a Buddhist of Theravadin Lineage, proud of it too, your comment "it is ok" could be interperated as deregatory. I hope my perception is off on this one and you refrain from attacks.
    – user8527
    Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 17:21
  • @Inb4dead you are over sensitive :)) "it's ok" - just my 'sigh' of getting used to be misunderstood. I have big heart, I refused to define myself in any Buddhist Sect. I don't follow any teacher or sect (unless I come across one real great), my teacher the Buddha and Sutras (since I have my "direct initiation"). But I see people carried away by sexy words, false Dharma/Dhamma - that pained me - but, it's ok (see? live example for this phase). If I scored this post, mine ranked number 1, yours will be #2. I quite like your post in fact, almost an upvote till turned off by your down. Commented Jan 13, 2018 at 14:34

If seeing that certain things are easy misleading, not having real base in Buddhas teaching, especially for Beginners, till Awakening, it's good to throw such simply FAR away, and such to do, reasonable, after probe, althought it might look aversive, is actually good and leads minimum to heavenly states as effect.

If wishing to understand of what the Buddhas way of use of a very needed duality is, to reach the unconditioned, the importance of wise discrimination, not foolish deciding to run away in a pseudo-nonduality, eg simply ignorance, The Road to Nirvana Is Paved with Skillful Intentions and Virtue without Attachment might be good starter.

Watch out how the "no-dual" Zenis will react on the answer, to get the message.

In regard of feelings, it's right that pleasant as well as unpleasant feelings are suffering as well, it's just missed that neither-pleasant-nor-unpleasant feelings have this as well. Why? Because (the hide in) ignorance is not lasting.

As for deeds by mind, speech and body, there are skillful and unskillful, and yes, skillful often are not pleasing, because burdensome seen, connected with letting go and give.

[Note: This is a gift of Dhamma, not meant for commercial use or other lower wordily gains by ways of exchange or trade]

  • How is this an answer to the given question?
    – Witek
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 16:38
  • Burdensome to read and reflect carefully, or Mr @Witek ? What do you think is good to decide? Or better dwell in "nonduality", ignorance? He will work his way out, if really wishing to get understand the answer. Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 16:42
  • I appreciate your advice. But I am also interested in your try of an answer. What explanation would you write, if the question came from the Buddha to test your understanding of good, bad and nonduality?
    – Witek
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 17:55
  • @Witek I think the premise (e.g. "Bad is good; good is bad") is antithetical to the kind of message found in the Pali canon; there are different schools of Buddhism; IMO Samana Johann's answer is likely to be closer to Sankha's; conversely I'd expect Andrei to be more likely to be able to give a Mahayana/Zen kind of answer.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 21:41

It means that both pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow are part of suffering (dukkha).

Pain causes suffering when you encounter it. Pleasure causes suffering when you lose it or if you're denied it.

From SN56.11:

"The Noble Truth of Suffering (dukkha), monks, is this: Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, sickness is suffering, death is suffering, association with the unpleasant is suffering, dissociation from the pleasant is suffering, not to receive what one desires is suffering — in brief the five aggregates subject to grasping are suffering.


After the fireworks,

the spectators departed:

how vast and dark the sky! (c)

  • Sounds like fun, but we don't encourage Zen answers here. We tried them about 3 years ago and it did not work for most readers, so we decided to not allow them.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 18:49
  • 1
    I think we allow 'Zen-style' (short) answers ... but, I think that this isn't an answer and is advice instead.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 20:01
  • @ChrisW we allow short answers, if they are good and to the point. But if I remember correctly, there was discussion about riddle-style answers and we concluded they are not very useful on this site.... I think?
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Jan 20, 2018 at 19:36
  • Copying your criteria from meta, a short answer is okay if 1) Is not too "mysterious (and often incomprehensible yet seemingly wise)" 2) Addresses the question
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Jan 20, 2018 at 19:38

It is something like this. always there is duality in everything. Black white,good bad,beauty ugly etc. In order to see one instead of another, it should be comparatively high in content. Here good is not different from bad is same concept. If we see something is good we compare it with our old memories. In some point we have seen the same thing in as bad. We feel good now compare to our previous recognition. So everything has duality. Any action has good and bad side. Its just the way we look at it. Limitation of thinking


This type of statement taken at face value is rightfully said to deprive words of their rightful meaning which effectively solves the problem of inability to explain words with words by means of abstration. IE "apple=orange" as both clearly fruit , but if u asked for an apple and got an orange that model dont work. One could rightfully say "apple=orange" in sense that they are both fruit" but not the generalization. In same way whole doctrines are built on oversimplified models that are based on abstraction. Like a child s drawing of a plane one should not expect it to fly or make sense like engineering plans.

Also to anybody familiar with the actual Discourses of the historical Buddha, it should be obvious that this very much obscures the meaning of the teachings and is definitely not how the doctrine was taught. IE there is a way to say that all reality is suffering but there is a way to delineate what we called suffering into more subsets of experience and even make room for words like happiness and rightfully apply that to what is suffering in a different context/perspective and in the Suttas both contexts and meanings are found and should be discriminated.

This is also why physicists have to differentiate between classical and quantum mechanics. It seems to me that it is also right to say that The Perfect Ones teach the Middle Way as in not teaching the extreme views of both micro and macro perspectives but rather explaining their nature & the connection between them fully, providing a way for wise people to fully know and see and for unwise people to become wise even.

When addressing the issue of explaining words with words, it is stated(interpretation not a quote) that some Elements are to be experienced for knowledge rather than intellectual poundering and reasoning as some things can only be explained, they cannot be described, see MN72.

It is similar to trying to fully express Irrational Numbers like Pi in mathematical language, Circumference is an Abstraction, so is R, therefore it is irrational when expressed mathematicly. Circumference is a word, that can be expressed/translated in mathematical symbols but both type of symbols are an abstraction, one cant derive the "real thing" from abstractions, only get a better model, therefore it is "irrational" because it is not something "real", the engineering plans are not the plane, it would be truly irrational to expect engineering plans to function like the plane. Similar to how a map is not the territory, label is not the object, name is not the person etc but it is even more deep and profound of a teaching than that.

You must log in to answer this question.

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