Defining ‘dukkha’

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Here is an excerpt from a wonderful essay, “A Holistic Mindfulness,”  by Ajahn Amaro on the Buddhist context of the word “mindfulness,” which is so much the rage these days. The whole essay is worth a read, but the segment below gives a wonderfully nuanced explanation of the Buddhist term ‘dukkha,’ often translated as ‘suffering’, but which has a far more nuanced and complex meaning.


“It is also significant, in this same vein, to consider the etymology of the word dukkha (according to Analayo 2003, p. 244):

Dukkha is often translated as ‘suffering’. Suffering, however, represents only one aspect of dukkha, a term whose range of implications is difficult to capture with a single English word. Dukkha can be derived from the Sanskrit kha, one meaning of which is ‘the axle-hole of a wheel’, and the antithetic prefix duḥ (= dus), which stands for ‘difficulty’ or ‘badness’. The complete term then evokes the image of an axle not fitting properly into its hole. According to this image, dukkha suggests ‘disharmony’ or ‘friction’.
“Thus, when things are not attuned or balanced (sammā), the result is disharmony or friction (dukkha), like the wheel of a bicycle being out of kilter. The understanding of these terms, and their application in practice, lends a somewhat different tone to an individual’s appreciation of experience. They help the practitioner to reconfigure the customary absolute judgments of “good” and “bad,” right and wrong, and to reflect on what needs to be adjusted in a less personal and more practical way…”
~ Ajahn Amaro (Read on)

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