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Just like the title my question is as simple as it gets. Please give your thought as short as possible. I just wanna confirm my idea.

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OP: Is life not a blessing or mystery but suffering in Buddhism?

All three are correct in Buddhism in my opinion. Past is mystery, present is suffering and future is blessing. Let me explain.

Life in the past is a mystery. Life in the present moment for an unenlightened being, is suffering. Life in the future is an opportunity for blessing.

Why is life in the past a mystery?

From the Tears Sutta:

From an inconstruable beginning comes transmigration (samsara). A beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating & wandering on. Long have you thus experienced stress, experienced pain, experienced loss, swelling the cemeteries — enough to become disenchanted with all fabricated things, enough to become dispassionate, enough to be released."

In this question, we find that when effluents arise, ignorance arises, and when ignorance arises, effluents arise. So, a beginning point of samsara is not evident.

In any case, according to the Parable of the Poisoned Arrow, it is not useful to try to discover the origin of all this suffering. And according to the Unconjecturables Sutta, that might drive you crazy.

Why is life in the present moment for an unenlightened being, suffering?

In MN 75:

"Now suppose that there was a leper covered with sores & infections, devoured by worms, picking the scabs off the openings of his wounds with his nails, cauterizing his body over a pit of glowing embers. The more he cauterized his body over the pit of glowing embers, the more disgusting, foul-smelling, & putrid the openings of his wounds would become, and yet he would feel a modicum of enjoyment & satisfaction because of the itchiness of his wounds. In the same way, beings not free from passion for sensual pleasures — devoured by sensual craving, burning with sensual fever — indulge in sensual pleasures. The more they indulge in sensual pleasures, the more their sensual craving increases and the more they burn with sensual fever, and yet they feel a modicum of enjoyment & satisfaction dependent on the five strings of sensuality.

Analyzing this more closely in the Fire Sermon Sutta:

"Monks, the All is aflame. What All is aflame? The eye is aflame. Forms are aflame. Consciousness at the eye is aflame. Contact at the eye is aflame. And whatever there is that arises in dependence on contact at the eye — experienced as pleasure, pain or neither-pleasure-nor-pain — that too is aflame. Aflame with what? Aflame with the fire of passion, the fire of aversion, the fire of delusion. Aflame, I tell you, with birth, aging & death, with sorrows, lamentations, pains, distresses, & despairs.

"The ear is aflame. Sounds are aflame...

"The nose is aflame. Aromas are aflame...

"The tongue is aflame. Flavors are aflame...

"The body is aflame. Tactile sensations are aflame...

"The intellect is aflame. Ideas are aflame. Consciousness at the intellect is aflame. Contact at the intellect is aflame. And whatever there is that arises in dependence on contact at the intellect — experienced as pleasure, pain or neither-pleasure-nor-pain — that too is aflame. Aflame with what? Aflame with the fire of passion, the fire of aversion, the fire of delusion. Aflame, I say, with birth, aging & death, with sorrows, lamentations, pains, distresses, & despairs.

Why is life in the future an opportunity for blessing?

Although it's not possible to change one's past, it's possible to change one's future to become free from suffering, by changing how one responds in the present moment.

As written by Thanissaro Bhikkhu in "To Suffer Is an Active Verb":

This is one of the reasons why the Buddha doesn’t have us try to go back into the past and ask, “What did I do to deserve an illness, a mental state, a situation in life?” He said that if you tried to trace all those things back, you’d go crazy. In fact, he said, you can’t trace back and find a beginning point for the ignorance that underlies suffering. But you can see what you’re doing to sustain it now.

From the Themes Sutta, we find that we can avoid future suffering by being aware of the consequences of our thoughts, words and deeds of the present moment:

“And for the sake of what benefit should a woman or a man, a householder or one gone forth, often reflect thus: ‘I am the owner of my kamma, the heir of my kamma; I have kamma as my origin, kamma as my relative, kamma as my resort; I will be the heir of whatever kamma, good or bad, that I do’? People engage in misconduct by body, speech, and mind. But when one often reflects upon this theme, such misconduct is either completely abandoned or diminished.

Continuing the Fire Sermon Sutta, we find that ultimately all suffering traces back to craving and craving needs to be eliminated, in order to become free of suffering:

"Seeing thus, the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones grows disenchanted with the eye, disenchanted with forms, disenchanted with consciousness at the eye, disenchanted with contact at the eye. And whatever there is that arises in dependence on contact at the eye, experienced as pleasure, pain or neither-pleasure-nor-pain: With that, too, he grows disenchanted.

"He grows disenchanted with the ear...

"He grows disenchanted with the nose...

"He grows disenchanted with the tongue...

"He grows disenchanted with the body...

"He grows disenchanted with the intellect, disenchanted with ideas, disenchanted with consciousness at the intellect, disenchanted with contact at the intellect. And whatever there is that arises in dependence on contact at the intellect, experienced as pleasure, pain or neither-pleasure-nor-pain: He grows disenchanted with that too. Disenchanted, he becomes dispassionate. Through dispassion, he is fully released. With full release, there is the knowledge, 'Fully released.' He discerns that 'Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.'"

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Life as in our existence is explained to be worth escaping from and the escape is possible because there is an element to be discerned apart from life and existence as we know it. The "unconditioned" element, when discerned, it is discerned as superior of the two and an escape even from the highest pleasures of existence and so to it there is a natural inclination and a preference. The release even from the pleasant feelings is the most pleasant of the two because having discerned directly the cessation of feeling and the release from feeling there is inclination to the escape due to the superior discernment of the greater good. Apart from that, the "existence" in the Sutta is once compared to the excrement and is called dukkha and even the rupa and arupa jhana can be explained to be dukkha because there is a progressive release, so the highest release is the purity itself and everything else is defilement by definition.

  • I assume your answer to my question is "Yes life is suffering according to Buddha" and love to read this kind of clarification. – X-pression Mar 3 at 18:26
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    yes if one had all possible information and essential experience to make such distinction one would say that there is an escape from existence and that existence turns out to be comparable to shit. – 1231546 Mar 3 at 18:31
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    There are levels and categorizations of suffering and an objective standard for not-suffering. – 1231546 Mar 3 at 18:39
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The English word "blessing" usually means "a gift from God" -- so yes, maybe it's not that (though with due gratitude to one's benefactors).

I suppose it's not meant to be much of a "mystery" either -- e.g. there's a lot of doctrine which explains what "life" is, which predicts, and which makes generalisations (e.g. sabbe sankhara anicca)

I'm not sure "life is suffering" is right either -- Did the Buddha really say that "life is suffering"?

I think I've seen (e.g. here but elsewhere too) that life (and especially this life) is an opportunity -- to learn the dhamma, to stay mindful/heedful, for enlightened practice and even to "live the holy life".

Or if it's true that we don't believe in death then maybe beliefs about "life" (and suffering) are a bit conceited as well.

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Attachment to anything is suffering in Buddhism. A being can experience life with complete freedom from suffering if it doesn't cling to anything. But most important thing is to become free from the self-view and completely disidentifying from it. If there is no identification with the self/ego then it is not possible to experience the life as suffering and the being would have continous peace and joy no matter what is happening in the outside world or in the being's mind. But the ultimate freedom from suffering and the perfect peace and happiness is Nibbana. As for "blessing" or "mystery" words, some spiritual traditions and teachers uses that words for life, I don't know If Buddhism uses these kind of words for life but it says that: "Happiness follows a pure mind".

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Life is a blessing especially if

  • not stupid
  • coming into contact with the Dhamma
  • living in an area where people hold right view (having good friends and association).

Life, or better birth, is the first prerequisite for liberation and one is wise to have a lot of gratitude and estimate in regard of ones many sacrifices done to come till here, should not neglect them and use them wise to go toward beyond birth, aging, sickness and death. See: Upanisa Sutta: Prerequisites

So one can be 100% sure that life of a person of gratitude is no wast at all but a Maha Mangala (the basic Great blessing one owes foremost ones parents who gave one this possibility hard ever to gain).

For more an value Condistions one may look here Workplace for good condition - [Arbeitsplatz für gute Bedingungen] pāramī and this Why it is important to value our Conditions?

One knowing this "gate, gate, paragate..." might find this as a bridge to the Buddhas Dhamma: Modern "hierarchy" and devotion - obstacles: āgati & agati

May all strive for the best use of sugati and toward a better with every deed.

And to get aware of suffering, suffering perceived, is actually the highest blessing in the set of the Maha Mangalas.

  1. "The mind that is not touched by the vicissitudes of life,[1] the mind that is free from sorrow, stainless, and secure — this is the highest blessing.

  2. "Those who have fulfilled the conditions (for such blessings) are victorious everywhere, and attain happiness everywhere — To them these are the highest blessings."

Only fools value what is a hindrance to go beyond and make no wise use of good gifts but take the waste as gold.

{not for trade, exchange... but for liberation}

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"Is life not blessing or mystery but suffering in Buddhism?"

Life is not _______ (any one thing) "in Buddhism". For every sentient being the experience of life is different. According to Mahayana Buddhism, sentient being's experience depends on 1) their state of mind and 2) on the choices they make.

Bhavachakra

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This is not an answer to be read alone by itself, but as an addition to the other wonderful and insightful answers.

The Pali texts tell us that the Buddha pointed to three main features of existence:

1) All phenomena are empty of self

2) All conditioned phenomena are impermanent

3) All conditioned phenomena are Dukkha

Let's check the two latter statements:

The second statement may, in some respects, point to the direction asked by you. Conditionality is a feature of most phenomena (except Nibbana, "The Unconditioned" by definition). This means that if something arises, there must have been some previous causes that, under certain conditions and specific arrangements, made possible the existence of that very phenomena. The thing is, in practice, we, ignorant and not-omniscient creatures, will hardly ever know all the conditions responsable for every cause; this problem leads to a factical uncertainty of the world and, in other words, to its mysterious façade.

The Buddha talks about this conditionality most prominently in the context of the arising of Dukkha; this is the teaching about Dependent Origination. In this case, the conditions that give rise to Dukkha are well-defined, and are no longer a mystery for us - thanks to the Buddha.

This leads us to the third idea: what does "Dukkha" mean?


It is important to know why this term is left untranslated. To illustrate the reason behind that, think about the word "love" as it's used in the gospels of Christianity. Originally, the gospels were written in greek, and later translated into other languages as time went by and new missions were done in places outside the greco-roman world. In greek, there are at least three words to describe the idea behind our modern term "love", with very different meanings: eros, philia and agape are the most frecuently used, which indicate three different kinds of love (sexual attraction, fraternal love, and all-inclusive/encompassing love). As you can see, the modern english word "love" is one with a broad range of uses and meanings, and in modern translations of the Bible, "love" is used for those three contexts.

Well... the same thing happens in buddhism.

Dukkha was the word used by the Buddha when talking about existence in general, and when the first western translations of the Pali texts were made, that concept was translated as "suffering". Maybe it was due to sheer ignorance, or maybe because it was convenient to translated such a rich word into one easily understandable. I have no idea. Regardless of that, that translation is only partially true.

"Dukkha" suffers from the same issues above mentioned as the word "love".

Have you ever felt happiness in your life? Well, certainly I have, and the Buddha does not deny that fact (doing it would be delusional). We, wordly creatures, have most likely experienced happiness in our lives, no matter how short in duration and shallow in quality it was; the important fact is that we feel happiness, at least some times and under specific conditiones. So, we cannot say that "life is suffering", because that would rule-out all those moments of little (compared to the bliss of Liberation), conditioned happiness.

So, what does 'Dukkha' mean?


The Buddha talked about three kinds of Dukkha (which I will explain with my very limited understanding of Pali, [so, please, correct me if I'm wrong]):

1) Dukkha-dukkhata: this kind of dukkha points to the grossest/broadest definition of the word, which is physical suffering and mental affliction (stress, frustration, depression, etc.)

2) Viparinama-dukkhata: this points to the unsatisfactoriness born from the fluidity and impermanence of all conditioned phenomena. Since all conditioned phenomena come to an end, we cannot put all our trust in them. It is unwise to attach to the things, because, at the time of their end, we will suffer.

3) Sankhara-dukkhata: this points to the very conditionality of all conditioned phenomena (forgive the redundancy). Everlasting happiness and satisfaction cannot come from conditionality, because of their impermanence.

In sum, as long as we are fettered by ignorance, craving and aversion, we will suffer when:

1) We lost what we love/want

2) We have what we do not want

3) We cannot obtain what we desire.

But we will find wordly happiness as long as we have what we want, and supramundane happiness if we do not depend of changing conditions to feel at peace and blissful.

"Life is suffering" is, as we can see, a very simplified, shallow, unnuanced and pessimistic statement. That's why you will find a lot of times the word without translations. If life was only suffering, Nibbana wouldn't be possible, because it is the very ending of Dukkha.


If you have noticed, most answers are not short nor straight to the point, because there is not easy and short answer for this kind of questions. If the answers were easy to find and understand, suffering and unsatisfaction would not exist anymore.

And a personal opinion: be careful of confirmation biases. Its better to be open to new perspectives and not to get attached to our own views.

Have a wonderful day!

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