I see many monks smiling ,which is a good thing, but logically speaking how can they smile when they know life is dukkha. Can you smile when you are watching somebody getting tortured ?

My question is : How can I smile when I know existence itself is dukkha ?


I see many monks smiling, which is a good thing, but logically speaking how can they smile when they know life is dukkha. Can you smile when you are watching somebody getting tortured ?

Think about this, when you see a toddler crying for a chocolate, do you smile or laugh or you get gloomy and sad about the fact that the child is not getting what it wants?

Monks are not smiling because there is 'dukkha', there are smiling even when there is 'dukkha'.

Hotei not just used to smile, he used to laugh.

How can I smile when I know existence itself is dukkha ?

Existence is dukkha is not a decree, it's a diagnosis, and you can smile that it's already been diagnosed, and there is a cure and many people have already gotten cured.


How can I smile when I know existence itself is dukkha ?

Doctrine doesn't say that "existence is dukkha". See also:

In 7 Things the Buddha Never Said, Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote (this is not a complete quote, I'm quoting selectively),

The phrase “Life is suffering” is supposed to be a summary of the Buddha’s first noble truth, but the first noble truth simply lists the things in life that constitute suffering: “Birth is stressful, aging is stressful, death is stressful; sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair are stressful; association with the unbeloved is stressful, separation from the loved is stressful, not getting what is wanted is stressful. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are stressful.” (Quotation from Samyutta Nikaya, The Grouped Discourses of the Buddha, 56.11)

Life, you’ll notice, isn’t on the list.

The other noble truths go on to show that there’s more to life than just suffering: There’s the origination of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path of practice leading to the cessation of suffering as well.

... the Buddha said simply that all fabricated things are impermanent. Anything perceived through the six senses is fabricated, in the sense that it is shaped by conditions, both external and internal.

However, there is something unfabricated that you can experience, and that’s nirvana. (See the Majjhima Nikaya the “Middle-Length Discourses” of the Buddha, 49, and the Samyutta Nikaya, the “Grouped Discourses of the Buddha,”43, for more.)

As the Buddha said, nirvana is the ultimate happiness (Dhammapada 203)—free from change, free from death, free from all limitations. That’s why he taught the path: so that people can find an unconditioned happiness.

... the Buddha actually said that people suffer because they identify with things that change. When the mind is strong enough that it doesn’t need to identify with anything, that’s when there’s no more suffering. On this point, see Samyutta Nikaya 22:1.

Can you smile when you are watching somebody getting tortured ?

I don't know. Is their smile intended as a form of communication in public, does it say something like, "Don't worry about me, I'm alright, you're alright with me", and so on?

If it isn't people "getting tortured", but rather, "torturing themselves", does a smile say something like, "you don't have to do that"?

That's the message which Thich Nhat Hanh took from the Buddha's smile in this story: "He was sitting on the grass, very peaceful, smiling. I was impressed. Around me, people were not like that, so I had the desire to be like him."

If you look at the Brahmaviharas as being:

... the right or ideal way of conduct towards living beings (sattesu samma patipatti) ... in fact, the answer to all situations arising from social contact

then perhaps the "right attitude" for you (or from you) towards these smiling monks is mudita -- i.e. sympathetic joy, joy at their accomplishments.


Have you read "Joy at Last to Know There is No Happiness in the World" by Ajahn Brahm?

  • No but will read. What is the answer ? – Dheeraj Verma Aug 23 '18 at 3:20
  • The answer is in the title itself. But you should read it first. It's very interesting. – santa100 Aug 23 '18 at 12:44
  • @Santa100. Good to see you back friend. – Lanka Aug 23 '18 at 16:27
  • Nice to hear from you @Lanka – santa100 Aug 24 '18 at 0:05

See this answer and question in regards to a different contexts of dukkha:


Since dukkha is a Pali term, Pali words may have many different contextual meanings in different sentences. Generally speaking, translating dukkha as suffering was questioned by many many scholars, and it's mainly used as a placeholder for a lack of a real word reflecting it in English language.

If one claimed that existence is suffering, one might come to conclusions that annihilation is liberating, but that is not Middle way. As in, breathing, seeing, smelling and simply being would be suffering, but that is not true.

What dukkha means in this context is that everything is unsatisfactory, but it does not mean not to enjoy life or feel joy, it means that these bring temporary, non-lasting satisfaction.

Note that however, pragmatically, people that are very wealthy are much more satisfied than people that are very poor and starve in grave conditions. Those simply are exposed to more conditions that make them suffer. Therefore, there is varying extent of suffering depending on different circumstances and conditions and always relates to some karmic burden.


This is a good question and also one that vexes many.

Part of the answer here is found in unraveling the confusion between compassion and empathy. I've tried to dispel that confusion with this answer. I won't repeat it here except to note that once you've understood the difference between compassion and empathy I think you'll find at least part of this question will melt away.

If we go around constantly feeling empathy for all the suffering in the world, then it will be very hard for us to smile. Why? Because we'd be experiencing the suffering of others in a very tangible way. Luckily, the Buddhist path does not advise that we do this!

What it does advise is that we perfect our compassion and hold a compassionate attitude at all times in every thing we do. Compassion is nothing more than the wish for others to be free from suffering. Compassion provides no hindrance whatsoever to our own happiness or in any way precludes our ability to smile. Just the opposite! The compassionate mind is the very basis for our own happiness and our ability to smile.

In summary:

Walk around with nothing but loving kindness in your heart and a constant compassionate thought for all sentient beings and try not to smile, I dare you :)


They used to frown because of suffering.

But now they smile because they know that suffering is optional (from the third and fourth noble truths) and because they know that Nibbana is the highest bliss or "nibbanam paramam sukham" from Dhammapada 203-204:

  1. Hunger is the worst disease, conditioned things the worst suffering. Knowing this as it really is, the wise realize Nibbana, the highest bliss.

  2. Health is the most precious gain and contentment the greatest wealth. A trustworthy person is the best kinsman, Nibbana the highest bliss.

Monks also have other reasons to smile, from Dhammapada 197-200:

How very happily we live,
free from hostility
among those who are hostile.
Among hostile people,
free from hostility we dwell.

How very happily we live,
free from misery
among those who are miserable.
Among miserable people,
free from misery we dwell.

How very happily we live,
free from busyness (materialism, avarice)
among those who are busy.
Among busy (materialistic, avaricious) people,
free from busyness (materialism, avarice) we dwell.

How very happily we live,
we who have nothing.
We will feed on rapture
like the Radiant gods.

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