Feelings are Suffering

How should one free oneself from suffering?

The very first step that one should make is to learn how not to crave the cessation of suffering. At first glance this might seem simple, but actually it is not so straightforward at all; for we cannot assume that an untrained, ordinary person even knows what truly suffering is.

In order to know dukkha it is not enough just to suffer. To know dukkha, one has to recognize, within the present experience, what is and what is not necessary. The point is that, in the experience of pain, certain aspects are inevitable, while others, are not. In different words – the ‘painfulness’ of pain is suffering and not the pain itself.

Let me get back to the opening statement that one should not crave the cessation of suffering; why is that essential? The immediate reason of our suffering, as the Buddha tells us, is our craving or taṇha. It is because of taṇha that our experience of pain is painful. This applies to the other two kinds of feeling too. Thus, we can say, that it is because of craving that feelings are dukkha. In the first type, unpleasant feeling, craving for the cessation of that feeling causes one to suffer: the painful feeling is present there, directly opposed to one’s desire for it to not-be, to disappear. In this way a discrepancy is created, a discrepancy which is nothing but dukkha. In the second type, pleasant feeling, craving for more of that feeling is manifested, thus the actual pleasant feeling appears as unpleasant, when attended from the direction of that increased pleasure which is craved for. The present feeling of pleasure becomes inadequate, a lack which needs to be satisfied. Again, the discrepancy arises, which one tries to overcome by a further pursuit of various things in the world which, will intensify his pleasure further. One hopes that such attempt will ‘fill the gap’ within, but needless to say, that is impossible since the discrepancy is actually being constantly generated by the presence of taṇha, and not by the various objects in the world.

“Thought and lust are a man’s sensuality,

Not the various things in the world;

Thought and lust are a man’s sensuality,

The various things just stand there in the world;

But the wise get rid of desire therein.”

– A.VI 63/iii, 411

When it comes to third type, neither-pleasant-nor-unpleasant feelings (i.e. neutral), suffering is experienced as a result of one craving for feelings themselves, since neutral feeling is not recognized at all:

“Neutral feeling is pleasant when known [as such],

and unpleasant when not-known [as such]”

– M. 44/i, 303

So, to summarize, one’s experience of pain is not the reason for one’s suffering. It is rather the presence of craving, in one’s experience, that suffering is there. As long as this remains the case, one will be a “victim” of one’s own feelings, be they pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.

by Bhikkhu Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli