22 November 1976
Thank you for your letter. I would love to have your answers to the ‘Questions on Life’ since they will be helpful reminders for me and for others. I had some good answers from Marie Antoinette in Paris and I will quote from different reaction I receive.
I was happy to hear about Richard and I would like to know about the reminders he provided you with, since I always like reminders, any time of the day. Now you asked what dukkha is. I cannot answer your question very well, I can only say a few things on the theoretical level. When one has not realized the four Nobel Truths, dukkha is only a word and one cannot really know it.
I looked up some passages in Vis. XVI, 34 and following, and I see that there are many aspects of dukkha. You mentioned: suffering of suffering (intrinsic suffering, which includes all forms of physical and mental suffering), suffering produced by change (happiness changes and then it causes sorrow) and the third: the dukkha inherent in all conditioned realities. You were wondering how to explain the last aspect to others. What arises because of conditions has to fall away again and thus it cannot be happiness, we cannot take refuge in it. People hope to find true happiness in their lives, but there isn’t any, since the phenomena in and around us are only conditioned realities which arise and fall away. Some people think that the body is happiness, but what we take for body are only elements arising and falling away, thus where is happiness? The same with what we call mind. People like seeing and hearing. You could ask them whether these are happiness.
How can they be, they arise and fall away, never to return again. Still, these are only words. But even the sotapanna who knows the truth of dukkha, still clings to life, takes it for happiness, although not with wrong view. (Compare: vipallasa in your dictionary, where it is explained which perversities are eradicated by which Paths.) When people ask a lot about dukkha, I would explain to them the way to realise the truth of dukkha, but first more knowledge has to be built up. Is the seeing-consciousness of the arahat dukkha? You are right: all conditioned realities are dukkha. The arahat still has the khandhas, but these are no longer khandhas of grasping. When the Buddha speaks about the khandas of grasping which are dukkha, he does not speak about arahats; but surely, everything which arises and falls away is dukkha. When the arahat has passed away, there are no more khandhas. And the arahat can even have bodily painful feeling, being the result of past kamma. Helen wrote to me that she prefers the translation of ‘unsatisfactoriness’ for dukkha.
Did you know that sometimes the word Mara is substituted for the word dukkha? Birth is Mara, defilements are Mara, the five khandhas are Mara. There are many ways to explain the truth. Some people think that they understand what dukkha is when they think with aversion about the sorrows of life. That is not the realisation of the truth of dukkha. It is certainly not a feeling of disappointment about life. I think the less said about dukkha as a concept, the better. Rather, point to the way in order to realise it.