Du?kha (Sanskrit; Pali dukkha) is a term found in ancient Indian literature, meaning anything that is "uneasy, uncomfortable, unpleasant, difficult, causing pain or sadness". It is also a concept in Indian religions about the nature of life that innately includes the "unpleasant", "suffering", "pain", "sorrow", "distress", "grief" or "misery." The term du?kha does not have a one word English translation, and embodies diverse aspects of unpleasant human experiences. It is opposed to the word sukha, meaning "happiness," "comfort" or "ease."
The word is commonly explained as a derivation from Aryan terminology for an axle hole, referring to an axle hole which is not in the center and leads to a bumpy, uncomfortable ride. According to Winthrop Sargeant,
The ancient Aryans who brought the Sanskrit language to India were a nomadic, horse- and cattle-breeding people who travelled in horse- or ox-drawn vehicles. Su and dus are prefixes indicating good or bad. The word kha, in later Sanskrit meaning "sky," "ether," or "space," was originally the word for "hole," particularly an axle hole of one of the Aryan's vehicles. Thus sukha ... meant, originally, "having a good axle hole," while duhkha meant "having a poor axle hole," leading to discomfort.
The word dukkha is made up of the prefix du and the root kha. Du means "bad" or "difficult." Kha means "empty." "Empty," here, refers to several things--some specific, others more general. One of the specific meanings refers to the empty axle hole of a wheel. If the axle fits badly into the center hole, we get a very bumpy ride. This is a good analogy for our ride through sa?s?ra.
However, according to Monier Monier-Williams, the actual roots of the Pali term dukkha appear to be Sanskrit?- (dus-, "bad") + ? (stha, "to stand"). Regular phonological changes in the development of Sanskrit into the various Prakrits led to a shift from dus-sth? to du?kha to dukkha.
Contemporary translators of Buddhist texts use a variety of English words to convey the aspects of du?kha. Early Western translators of Buddhist texts (before the 1970s) typically translated the Pali term dukkha as "suffering." Later translators have emphasized that "suffering" is too limited a translation for the term du?kha, and have preferred to either leave the term untranslated or to clarify that translation with terms such as anxiety, distress, frustration, unease, unsatisfactoriness, etc. Many contemporary teachers, scholars, and translators have used the term "unsatisfactoriness" to emphasize the subtlest aspects of dukkha. Contemporary translators have used a variety of English words to translate the term du?kha,[note 1]
and many translators prefer to leave the term untranslated.
Within the Buddhist sutras, du?kha is divided in three categories:
Dukkha-dukkha, the du?kha of painful experiences. This includes the physical and mental sufferings of birth, aging, illness, dying; distress from what is not desirable.
Viparinama-dukkha, the du?kha of pleasant or happy experiences changing to unpleasant when the causes and conditions that produced the pleasant experiences cease.
Sankhara-dukkha, the du?kha of conditioned experience. This includes "a basic unsatisfactoriness pervading all existence, all forms of life, because all forms of life are changing, impermanent and without any inner core or substance."[web 1] On this level, the term indicates a lack of satisfaction, a sense that things never measure up to our expectations or standards.
Various sutras sum up how life in this "mundane world" is regarded to be du?kha, starting with samsara, the ongoing process of death and rebirth itself:[note 2]
The Buddhist tradition emphasizes the importance of developing insight into the nature of du?kha, the conditions that cause it, and how it can be overcome. This process is formulated in the teachings on the Four Noble Truths.
In Hindu literature, the earliest Upani?ads -- the B?had?ra?yaka and the Ch?ndogya -- in all likelihood predate the advent of Buddhism.[note 3] In these scriptures of Hinduism, the Sanskrit word du?kha (?) appears in the sense of "suffering, sorrow, distress", and in the context of a spiritual pursuit and liberation through the knowledge of Atman (soul/self).
The verse 4.4.14 of the B?had?ra?yaka Upani?ad states:
While we are still here, we have come to know it [?tman]. If you've not known it, great is your destruction. Those who have known it -- they become immortal. As for the rest -- only suffering awaits them.
ihaiva santo 'tha vidmas tad vaya? na ced avedir mahat? vinai? ye tad vidur am?t?s te bhavanty athetare du?kham ev?piyanti[web 2]
The verse 7.26.2 of the Ch?ndogya Upani?ad states:
When a man rightly sees [his soul], he sees no death, no sickness or distress.[note 4] When a man rightly sees, he sees all, he wins all, completely.[note 5]
na pa?yo m?tyu? pa?yati na roga? nota du?khat?m sarva? ha pa?ya? pa?yati sarvam ?pnoti sarva?a?[web 3]
The concept of sorrow and suffering, and self-knowledge as a means to overcome it, appears extensively with other terms in the pre-Buddhist Upanishads. The term Duhkha also appears in many other middle and later post-Buddhist Upanishads such as the verse 6.20 of Shvetashvatara Upanishad, as well as in the Bhagavada Gita, all in the context of moksha.[note 6] The term also appears in the foundational Sutras of the six schools of Hindu philosophy, such as the opening lines of Samkhya karika of the Samkhya school.
Comparison of Buddhism and Hinduism
Both Hinduism and Buddhism emphasize that one overcomes du?kha through the development of understanding.[note 7] However, the two religions widely differ in the nature of that understanding. Hinduism emphasizes the understanding and acceptance of Atman (self, soul) and Brahman, while Buddhism emphasizes the understanding and acceptance of Anatta (Anatman, non-self, non-soul) as each discusses the means to liberation from Du?kha.
^Contemporary translators have used a variety of English words to translate the term du?kha; translators commonly use different words to translate aspects of the term. For example, du?kha has been translated as follows in many contexts:
Frustration (Dalai Lama, Four Noble Truths, p. 38)
Anxiety (Chogyam Trungpa, The Truth of Suffering, pp. 8-10)
Uneasiness (Chogyam Trungpa)
Unease (Rupert Gethin)
^Paul Williams: "All rebirth is due to karma and is impermanent. Short of attaining enlightenment, in each rebirth one is born and dies, to be reborn elsewhere in accordance with the completely impersonal causal nature of one's own karma. The endless cycle of birth, rebirth, and redeath, is samsara."
^See, e.g., Patrick Olivelle (1996), Upani?ads (Oxford: Oxford University Press), ISBN978-0-19-283576-5, p. xxxvi: "The scholarly consensus, well-founded I think, is that the B?had?ra?yaka and the Ch?ndogya are the two earliest Upani?ads.... The two texts as we have them are, in all likelihood, pre-Buddhist; placing them in the seventh to sixth centuries BCE may be reasonable, give or take a century or so."
^For a general discussion of the core Indian spiritual goal of developing transcendent "seeing," see, e.g., Hamilton, Sue (2000/2001), Indian Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction, (Oxford: Oxford U. Press), pp. 9-10, ISBN978-0-19-285374-5.
^Original Sanskrit: Samkhya karika Compiled and indexed by Ferenc Ruzsa (2015), Sanskrit Documents Archives; Second Translation (Verse 1): Ferenc Ruzsa (1997), The triple suffering - A note on the Samkhya karika, Xth World Sanskrit Conference: Bangalore, University of Hungary, Budapest; Third Translation (all Verses): Samkhyakarika of Iswara Krishna John Davis (Translator), Trubner, London, University of Toronto Archives
^Samkhya karika by Iswara Krishna, Henry Colebrooke (Translator), Oxford University Press