To clear my and my friends doubts I ask the following question :

Does the word Dukkha mean the same in every context of Buddha Dhamma?

My opinion is that yes ,it is a general term for all kinds of stress. There is a range of stress , from subtle to deep,and kinds of stress, depending on nature of contact of six senses. Stress of heat , stress of too much cold , stress of sharp pinch , stress of bad smell , stress of loosing loved ones and so on..

  • It seems from your question that you have translated dukha as stress. I suggest you do not do that. While "stress" can certainly be brought under the umbrella of dukha, dukha includes a lot more. (From your name, I assume you are Indian and therefore know some Hindi. Stress is translated "tanaav" which is responsible for one feeling dukhi (is suffering) and not sukhi (happy). Dukha has a very wide connotative range. ) Commented Oct 22, 2023 at 10:53

6 Answers 6


"You also have to make a distinction between the dukkha in the three perceptions and the dukkha in four noble truths. The dukkha in the four noble truths is the dukkha caused by craving. The dukkha in the three perceptions is inherent in everything that changes, everything that’s fabricated."

~ Thanissaro Bhikkhu "The Three Perceptions" https://www.dhammatalks.org/books/uncollected/ThreePerceptions.html


Some time ago Dhamma Dhatu wrote a great answer that I can't find but the gist of what he explained was that the dukkha of three lakkhaņa-s is telling us that all dhammas are unreliable or deceptive or faulty, NOT that they are literally painful. So in that case "dukkha" refers to dhammas' potential or propensity for being the basis of dukkha.

This potential is always there, the dhammas aka appearances remain deceptive and faulty even for an arahant. It's just that the arahant no longer naively trusts appearances and does not keep grasping to his or her expectations when they don't match with reality.

So this potential dukkha, this quality of being deceptive (known in Mahayana as "Emptiness") is always there. It is not a conditioned dhamma, it is a universal principle.

However, the dukkha itself is a conditioned dhamma as famously declared in the Four Noble Truths.

So while the word dukkha has the same meaning, when we are using it in context of tilakkhanas what we are really talking about is the unconditioned universal principle of deceptive appearances ("emptiness") and how it generates dukkha due to grasping and ignorance, but when we are talking about the Noble Truths that's when we're talking about conditioned dhamma called "dukkha".

  • still imo, this is making some confusion where there might not be. there is only one duhkha. to say there is a duhkha that is not the duhkha of the 4 noble truths seems to be stretching the meaning, whether there is a spectrum of that same duhkha is a another topic
    – blue_ego
    Commented Oct 12, 2023 at 18:16
  • 1
    The main takeaway from this discussion, for me, is that all our concepts are approximate, including "dukkha", "dhamma", and even "same". We should not attach to concepts as if they were precise, and should always remember that all teachings are only rough pointers at what's going on in reality.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Oct 12, 2023 at 21:10
  • i scored this answer up, even though i only read: "Dhamma Dhatu wrote a great answer". Commented Oct 13, 2023 at 2:22
  • 1
    Where is this humor coming from @DhammaDhatu :=)
    – user13375
    Commented Oct 13, 2023 at 14:12

This is a technical term that goes beyond the ordinary meaning of the word in Pali.

The canonical definition is:

"Birth is dukkha, aging is dukkha, death is dukkha; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, & despair are dukkha; association with the unbeloved is dukkha; separation from the loved is dukkha; not getting what is wanted is dukkha. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are dukkha.".
SN 56.11

That's quite self-explanatory. But if you want a further explanation, just look at the Dukkha page for Ven. Sariputta's elaboration.

Ven. Bodhi's comments from the forum on Understanding Dukkha:

In the Pali suttas, the discourses of the Buddha, the word dukkha is used in at least three senses. One, which is probably the original sense of the word dukkha and was used in conventional discourse during the Buddha’s time, is pain, particularly painful bodily feelings. The Buddha also uses the word dukkha for the emotional aspect of human existence. There are a number of synonyms that comprise this aspect of dukkha: soka, which means sorrow; aryadeva, which is lamentation; dolmenasa, which is sadness, grief, or displeasure; and upayasa, which is misery, even despair. The deepest, most comprehensive aspect of dukkha is signified by the term samkara-dukkha, which means the dukkha that is inherent in all conditioned phenomena simply by virtue of the fact that they are conditioned.

This means that the technical term dukkha has a superficial meaning which is pain, suffering, stress, lamentation, sorrow, grief, despair, anguish, dissatisfaction, encountering that which is disliked, being separated from that which is liked, and not getting something you want.

However, the technical term dukkha also has a deeper meaning in sankhara-dukkha - which is that all conditioned phenomena are impermanent, and therefore is a cause of suffering, because "they cannot provide stable happiness and security" (see below). It is for this reason that some people say "unsatisfactoriness" or "discontent" is a better term to use than "suffering" to explain the deeper meaning.

The superficial meaning covers only the negative experiences, while the deeper meaning covers the fact that positive and neutral experiences cannot be sustained forever, and negative experiences cannot be avoided forever.

In "Anicca Vata Sankhara", Ven. Bodhi comments:

The most important fact to understand about sankharas, as conditioned formations, is that they are all impermanent: "Impermanent, alas, are formations." They are impermanent not only in the sense that in their gross manifestations they will eventually come to an end, but even more pointedly because at the subtle, subliminal level they are constantly undergoing rise and fall, forever coming into being and then, in a split second, breaking up and perishing: "Their very nature is to arise and vanish." For this reason the Buddha declares that all sankharas are suffering (sabbe sankhara dukkha) — suffering, however, not because they are all actually painful and stressful, but because they are stamped with the mark of transience. "Having arisen they then cease," and because they all cease they cannot provide stable happiness and security.

To win complete release from suffering — not only from experiencing suffering, but from the unsatisfactoriness intrinsic to all conditioned existence — we must gain release from sankharas. And what lies beyond the sankharas is that which is not constructed, not put together, not compounded. This is Nibbana, accordingly called the Unconditioned — asankhata — the opposite of what is sankhata, a word which is the passive participle corresponding to sankhara. Nibbana is called the Unconditioned precisely because it's a state that is neither itself a sankhara nor constructed by sankharas; a state described as visankhara, "devoid of formations," and as sabbasankhara-samatha, "the stilling of all formations."

  • samkara-dukkha = dukkha that is inherent in all conditioned phenomena simply by virtue of the fact that they are conditioned = sounds wrong Commented Oct 13, 2023 at 2:14
  • @DhammaDhatu That's explained by "suffering, however, not because they are all actually painful and stressful, but because they are stamped with the mark of transience. 'Having arisen they then cease,' and because they all cease they cannot provide stable happiness and security."
    – ruben2020
    Commented Oct 13, 2023 at 3:46
  • Dukkha & transience are viparinama-dukkha. The ideas of Bodhi come from the Commentaries, which interpret MN 44 falsely, saying viparinama-dukkha is about changing feelings. SN 22.1 clearly literally states viparinama is not necessarily dukkha. Samkara-dukkha refers to the dukkha of mental formations, such as conceit. Commented Oct 13, 2023 at 4:07

Well it has a meaning or a broad meaning -- or you said in the OP that it's "a range of stress or kinds of stress". Now is that "a range of meaning" (singular), or is it "a range of meanings" (plural)?

In Pali (like in German) you can combine words (several "root" words) to make a more-specific "compound" word -- for example, "dukkha-vedanā" (meaning "painful feeling"), or for example ruben2020's answer mentioned "Sankhara-dukkha" (meaning "unsatisfactoriness of sankharas").


Arahants experience painful feelings (Iti 44).

Arahants have ended thus do not experience "sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress & despair all cease. Such is the cessation of this entire mass of stress & suffering" (SN 12.2; SN 22.1).

Arahants view thus experience all conditioned things as "dukkha" (SN 22.59). MN 115 says: "It’s impossible for a person accomplished in view to take any condition as pleasant".

Obviously 'dukkha' does not have the same meaning if some 'dukkha' phenomena are experienced by Arahants & other 'dukkha' phenomena are not experienced by Arahants.

  1. "All conditioned things are unsatisfactory (dukkha)" — when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering (dukkha). This is the path to purification.



Honestly, I don't even think there was any dukkah before those noble ones appeared. I don't even remember suffering before I encountered the dhamma. It's like Buddha came along and said now it's time you understand what suffering is. Doesn't it seem like he's saying, 'Come my good man, eat from this tree of knowledge of good and evil?'

  • You haven't grieved someone's illness, death, injury, loss?
    – ChrisW
    Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 15:53
  • Seeing "greed" in connection with "grief" is the second noble truth, isn't it? I hadn't seen that truth articulated before I read it in the Buddha-Dharma. I also like the Dharma's preaching morality, taking that as a basis: without morality a person's [mis]behaviour is a cause of grief. Also I don't understand alcoholism, which I see as both a cause and consequence of grief, so I'm thankful that the doctrine's fifth precept says to refrain.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Oct 22, 2023 at 3:43

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