The path of Dhamma is a journey towards the end of all suffering through the attainment of Nibbana. The Buddha set out to find the cure for human suffering, but there are so many people around us today, suffering in so many ways. Most of the people end up still finding a cure in the material world. There are very few people who are suffering might end up starting to think about life itself as suffering for e.g. philosophers like Schopenhauer. But even these intellectuals don't seem to have come to the conclusion of the need to transcend the mind. As against there are those might not be in a lot of suffering but in an, existential crisis seem to arrive at the path of Dhamma.

I am asking, is existential-crisis a pre-requisite and more fundamental human need than wanting to end suffering to start the journey towards Nibbana?

  • Is this a dupe of Why have I awoken Now?
    – Andriy Volkov
    Aug 16, 2018 at 17:19
  • No the answer below looks like a answer to that question. The question is inherently different. Here I am asking about the role crisis for meaning plays in arriving and not about tge probablity of arriving.
    – user13135
    Aug 16, 2018 at 17:22
  • 2
    Understood. Still, please check my answer to that question, specifically the part about "enough suffering in your life and enough confusion to push you to seek some sort of resolution", and "combination of positive and negative factors".
    – Andriy Volkov
    Aug 16, 2018 at 17:28
  • Schopenhauer refers to the consciousness beyond subject and object as his 'better consciousness', so maybe he had some idea of transcending mind.
    – user14119
    Mar 6, 2019 at 13:22

7 Answers 7


AN 3.38 describes Gotama having an existential crisis.

Even though I was endowed with such fortune, such total refinement, the thought occurred to me: 'When an untaught, run-of-the-mill person, himself subject to death, not beyond death, sees another who is dead, he is horrified, humiliated, & disgusted, oblivious to himself that he too is subject to death, not beyond death. And if I — who am subject to death, not beyond death — were to be horrified, humiliated, & disgusted on seeing another person who is dead, that would not be fitting for me.' As I noticed this, the living person's intoxication with life entirely dropped away.

Also, the traditional biography of Sariputta & Mogallana shows them having an existential crisis:

Now at Rajagaha there was an annual event called the Hilltop Festival. Seats were arranged for both youths and they sat together to witness the celebrations. When there was occasion for laughter, they laughed; when the spectacles were exciting, they became excited; and they paid their fees for the extra shows. In this manner they enjoyed the festival for a second day; but on the third day their understanding was awakened and they could no longer laugh or get excited, nor did they feel inclined to pay for extra shows as they had done on the first days. Each of them had the same thought: "What is there to look at here? Before these people have reached a hundred years they will all have come to death. What we ought to do is to seek for a teaching of deliverance."

It was with such thoughts in mind that they took their seats at the festival. Then Kolita said to Upatissa: "How is this, my dear Upatissa? You are not as happy and joyous as you were on the other days. You seem now to be in a discontented mood, What is on your mind?"

"My dear Kolita, to look at these things here is of no benefit at all. it is utterly worthless! I ought to seek a teaching of deliverance for myself. That, my Kolita, is what I was thinking, seated here. But you, Kolita, seem to be discontented, too."

And Kolita replied: "Just as you have said, I also feel." When he knew that his friend had the same inclinations, Upatissa said: "That was a good thought of ours. But for those who seek a teaching of deliverance there is only one thing to do: to leave home and become ascetics. But under whom shall we live the ascetic life?

  • Can you elaborate on how you concluded that the Buddha had an existential crisis? He had all the material comforts that a person could desire. Does the fact that he got horrified necessarily mean that he was in existential crisis? Nov 24, 2019 at 6:06

Siddhartha led a privileged life and was an intelligent and curious person. The story of he and his attendent seeing the three marks of living- illness, old age and death created an existential crisis for him. The crisis raised the haunting question of what is the meaning of life? Is it only to become ill, old and die? This created anxiety, a malaise, dysphoria or Suffering that he could not shake or eventually ignore. This is the Suffering the Buddha later talks about as having transcended and ended. This was the strong reason why he left his family to find the answer to the existential question of the meaning to life. Also, he wanted to find the answer so his loved ones would not suffer from the doubt and insecurity of a meaningless life of only living for sense pleasure gratification. He sought out leading gurus but eventually they did not have the answer. It was only until his Awakening to the non-duality of existence that he understood that this suffering or insecurity about the meaning of life was a cognitive event and once he transcended this he no longer was worried since the question is born out of the ignorance of dualism. He became the Buddha.


There are two types of existential crisis. One makes a person extremely corrupted, harmful to themselves and others. The second type of existential crisis leads a person to a spiritual opening. The second type of existential crisis is a very rare event in the human world, that's why there are very few people in the world who are interested to walk in the path of the dhamma.

In the modern world I think that the most people experiences existantial crisis, that's why when you look to the news you'll see many horrible things are happening daily all around the world. The wrong beliefs, ideas and modern age's advanced technology's effect on the human mind leads people to be "living deads". But the existantial crisis of the most of the humans don't lead them to the dhamma because most people are clinging to collective culture, wrong ideas and beliefs. So they continue the normal way of living with clinging to collective culture, wrong beliefs and ideas even more. People try to suppress their sufferings with using different kinds of tools, but this suppressing only makes them worse.

The important thing is to be disloyal to the collective culture, wrong beliefs and ideas in order to the start on the path of dhamma. You experience existantial crisis or not doesn't matter, but understanding the suffering aspect of the collective culture, society, beliefs, ideas and becoming at least a little bit detached from them is absolutely necessary in order to start the path.

For the ordinary people existantial crisis makes their heart more stiff, makes them more worldling. In the spiritual path the person also have these "existantial crisis" time to time but these experiences makes the person's heart open more to the nature of reality. As a result, the person gradually disidentifes from the collective humanity's insanity and eventually enters to the stream of enlightenment and after the purification and disidentification reaches to a point these existantial crisis periods ends and what remains is only very deep peace, happiness, contentment. So existantial crisis actually helps the spiritual people to walk in the direction of non-self and freedom from suffering. Because mindfulness of suffering eventually leads to complete freedom from suffering. As Thich Nhat Hanh said "Suffering and happiness is one". But for the beginners being "disloyal" to the collective culture, society, beliefs and ideas is the main necessity for starting to the path of the dhamma.


Yes, dukkha is the pre-requisite for Saddha, samvega, for pasada. No fear, no dhukka perceived, the path for escape the truths in the world is neither desired nor seen.


In Therigatha 6.1 (quoted below), the nun Bhikkhuni Patacara had an existential crisis over her son's untimely death. Recalling the Buddha's words, she had a deep realization, perhaps even enlightenment, that led her to take refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha.

[Patacara recalls the Buddha's words:]
"You don't know the path
of his coming or going,
that being who has come from where?
— the one you lament as 'my son.'
But when you know the path
of his coming or going,
you don't grieve after him,
for that is the nature of beings.

he came from there.
Without permission,
he went from here
— coming from where?
having stayed a few days.
And coming one way from here,
he goes yet another from there.
Dying in the human form,
he will go wandering on.
As he came, so he has gone
— so what is there to lament?"

Pulling out
— completely out
— the arrow so hard to see,
embedded in my heart,
he expelled from me
— overcome with grief
— the grief over my son.

Today — with arrow removed,
without hunger, entirely Unbound
— to the Buddha, Dhamma, & Sangha I go,
for refuge to the Sage.

  • 1
    Yes I was thinking of that ("the one you lament as 'my son.'") too. Or actually I was thinking of Gautami, rather than Patacara. But conversely "the weaver's daughter" (who attained stream entry just before she died), it's not clear she was having some existential crisis (unless her having been thinking about the impermanence of life for a while counts as that), nor why she alone (among the people of Alavi) took up that meditation at the Buddha's suggestion in the first place.
    – ChrisW
    Mar 1, 2019 at 15:33

Those beings fortunate enough to be born a person is as rare as a blind sea-turtle coming to the surface every hundred years in a world covered in oceans managing to put its neck through the hole of a yoke tossed about by the wind.

Those persons fortunate to encounter the dharma, recognize it as a refuge as such, in a time when the dharma hasn't completely disappeared, and have the leisure and opportunity to practice are at least as rare as that.

We should all be rejoicing that we've been able to find such a precious jewel given such meager chances!

See the Chiggala Sutta.

I can't speak for others, but I think I've been a seeker my whole life starting at a very early age. I read Siddhartha in high school which was my first introduction to Buddhism, but did not pursue it or inquire too much more. However, I do recall thinking that Buddhism seemed familiar or something about it warranted more investigation, but that didn't occur until into middle age. I can't speak for past lives, but I don't think there was existential crisis although again I've always been a seeker in this life.

  • Yes, but do we arrive here due to a crisis to find a meaning of life or sheer discretion on our part about the cure for suffering? How much do this search for meaning play its part? That seems more fundamental to me.
    – user13135
    Aug 16, 2018 at 17:13

A teacher of mine once said that there are two kinds of people who follow the dharma

  1. People who have seen through things already and had a level of insight
  2. People who just weren't very good at living in the modern world and were looking for something different

I guess you could view both groups as having some kind of crisis.

Supporting this, I read a forum post by Daniel Ingram who said that anyone interested enough in the dharma to be reading that kind of post probably already had had significant levels of insight. Or to read it another way - a crisis.

I have to say both figures (my old teacher and Daniel Ingram) are quite controversial.

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