'Suffering' in Buddhism

When the Buddha found that he was Awake during that night under the bodhi-tree it may be assumed that he observed that what hitherto he had regarded as happiness, as compared with suffering, was such no longer. His only standard henceforward was ananda or what we try to think of as bliss. Suffering he saw as the negative form of happiness, happiness as the positive form of suffering, respectively the negative and positive aspects of experience. But relative to the noumenal state which now alone he knew, both could be described by some word in Maghadi, the language he spoke, which was subsequently translated as dukkha. Dukkha is the counterpart of sukha which implied 'ease and well-being', and whatever the Maghadi word may have meant it remains evident that to the Buddha nothing phenomenal could appear to be sukha although in phenomenality it might so appear in contrast to dukkha.

This proposition is quite general and can be more readily perceived in the case of - say - humility. Humility is the negative form of pride, and pride the positive form of humility: they are not different as what they are but only in their interpretation. What we mean by true or perfect humility is not that at all: it is the absence of ego-entity to experience either pride or humility because, if humility is experienced, it rebecomes a form of its opposite - pride.

Similarly what we interpret as suffering and its opposite are just negative and positive experience, but when there is no longer a supposed ego-entity to experience either, neither can be present any longer, and what remains is sat-chit-ananda the division of which into three elements is merely a dualistic convenience. To require an accurate translation into Pali or Sanscrit of words in a lost language, long centuries before the dialectics of Nagarjuna, Arya Deva, and Candrakirti, is unreasonable, particularly in a tradition rooted in the Positive Way which is natural to Indians: it is the inevitable burden of the Buddha's teaching which concerns us rather than the dubious terms in which it may have been put into writing several centuries after his parinirvana.

(© T.J. Gray, 1968)

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