26 June, 2019

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Is Life All Dukkha?

Shyamon Jayasinghe

Shyamon Jayasinghe

By Shyamon Jayasinghe

Impermanent are all component things,
They arise and cease, that is their nature:
They come into being and pass away,
Release from them is bliss supreme.
Aniccaa vata sankhaaraa — uppaada vaya dhammino
Uppajjitvaa nirujjhanti — tesa.m vuupasamo sukho.
— Mahaa-Parinibbaana Sutta (DN 16)[1]

Is life all a sad story? There are variations with regard to this observation even within different schools of thought in Buddhism. I feel impelled to examine this as a statement of reality. I am encouraged by the Buddha’s own exhortation to us not to accept what we have heard but to test even his Dhamma “as gold is tested with fire.”

The best test I can recall is one that the famous Karl Popper suggested, namely to try and see how a proposition can be falsified. Karl Popper is a philosopher of science and he was focused on scientific methodology as truth-bringers.

The cited extract is from an Early Buddhist Sutta. I venture to agree with the first three lines in the Sutta. This is about two of the three marks of existence according to Buddhism, namely, impermanence (anicca, in Pali) and soullessness (annatta). Here, anatta is hidden but implied in the concept of anicca. . “Dukkha,’ is also implied by the expressed desire to release oneself from this conditioned existence. Since anicca is true, anatta follows.

On the other hand, it is difficult to accept that dukkha is a defining mark of life in the manner the other two phenomena are. By the same logic I cannot accept the need to find release (nibbana or liberation) from a samsaric life presumably dominated by dukkha or sorrow. The Buddhist hope for release is either for a possibly better life in the next birth or for a total emancipation from samsaric existence, altogether.

Impermanence and passing away is the nature of things (yathaa bootha). In this day, it is a truism for all of us. The ancient Greek philosopher,Parmenides, many years after Skayamuni Buddha, famously stated,”one cannot step into the river twice; for fresh waters will flow against us.” That was, perhaps, a more dramatically expressed statement of the same truth in the Mahaa-parinibbana Sutta.

I read the second characteristic of nature, anatta, as an extension of anicca. If everything passes away from moment to moment then it means there isn’t anything in nature including ourselves that is substantial. The doctrine of a permanent soul embedded within us that travels accross several births in a samsara was in the Upanishads and it constitutes a core belief in Hinduism. The Abrahamic religions-Christianity, Islam and Judaism- have a similar core belief. The latter do not believe in several other births. They believe that at the end of our current existence the unchanging entity in us called the soul will head either to God in heaven God or go to interminable hell or to some transit realm. Buddhism rejects all these notions and justifiably so.

On the other hand, what about the third mark of existence: dukkha? This has been interpreted in myriad ways. It is likely that dukkha could not have meant something broader than ‘suffering.’ Mind you, we have to realise that Sakyamuni Buddha never put down any of his vast teachings into writing. It took 500 years after his passing away to do that. The game called Chinese Whispers will tell us how an original message can be misinterpreted in a short chain of communication. How much more in such a period of half a thousand years! In interpreting Buddhism, one has to bear in mind this adamantine reality and the attendant consciousness that one may be inaccurate in a given interpretation.The Abhidamma itself was a product of scholastic Buddhism as were the argumentation of St Thomas Acquinas in Middle ages Christendom.

Buddhist scholastics argue that by dukkha, Sakyamuni Buddha would have meant a mental state that is something more inclusive that encompasses anguish, disappointment, self-conflict and so on. In short, it meant the existential crisis or predicament of men and women. Or the concept may even include what existentialists like Albert Camus called ‘absurd,’ or devoid of real meaning. Camus remarked that life is absurd in that that events and phenomena behave randomly and without any pattern or sensible explanation.

That is the broadest notion one can get to. What it all tells us is that life is something negative and unsatisfactory, which impels us to find a way of release. The Abrahamic religionists, too, said the same thing and looked forward to an “eternal happiness,” out of “this mess,” in heaven.

While it is easy to accept anicca and anatta as marks of existence, dukkha presents a problem. For anything to be a mark of existence it must be something intrinsic to the nature of existence. Dukkha isn’t. It is, rather, a response relationship we develop with external happenings, situations and events. It is a reaction in our mind to our reading of an external tragedy. Attitudes to loss, failure or tragedy will depend from person to person. Some will simply breakdown; others may be unruffled. The Stoic philosophers wouldn’t bother at negative events. One Stoic philosopher is reported to have expressed thrill and enjoyment while being burnt. That is an extreme example; but it dramatises a point. The problem is not out there objectively in the external situation but in our response to it.In his best seller, “The Power of Now,” Ekhart Tolle expressed the point very tersely: “The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but the thought about it. Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking. Separate them from the situation, which is always neutral. It is as it is.” Two things in negative external events can help us stoically accept them namely that such occurrences are in the nature of things and, secondly, that they all eventually pass away.

The Buddha himself emphasised these points. A good illustration is found in a story in the Dhammapada Commentary about Kisagothami who came weeping remorselessly to the Buddha when her child had died. The Buddha gave her an exercise. He asked Kisagothami to go searching for a house that has not had or herd of death. That exercise assuaged Kisagothami.

Kisagothami had been administered a kind of cognitive therapy to deal with her crisis. There is also something within human nature that almost instinctually sets us in the direction of reversing misfortunes and restoring the balance. It is a resilient mechanism. British philosopher AC Grayling put it this way: “ordinary human nature is full of surprisingly deep courage, not least of the kind that makes hope and a return to happiness possible.” (The Meaning of Things.)

We commonly hear a false notion that anicca or impermanence necessarily conditions sorrow. A heap of gorgeous garden roses or ‘a host of daffodils’ would be a delight to the eyes. We all know the roses and the daffodils wouldn’t last. Yet, the fact is that their beauty and happiness-giving is real until it lasts. Something giving permanent happiness may be boring. The same could be said of the beautiful body of a young woman. So is a loving relationship or a work of art.

“Pemato Jayati Soko
Pemato Jayati Bhayan
Pemato Vippamuttassa
Natti Soko Kutho Bhayan?” (Pali)

This is from a Sarchchandra drama. “Love begets sorrow. Love begets fear. In the absence of love, what sorrow; what fear?” Love is a wonderful and beautiful experience as long as it lasts. Permanent love bores one. Love derives its joy in a temporary context. As long as one can cultivate love it, love brings wonderful joy and as long as one expects it may be torn apart and adjusts on’e expectations to such a situation love doesn’t bring such tragic sadness; nor fear.

Likewise, the moment of birth of a child can be an expansive and exhilarating joy to its parents.

In this way, it is easy to point out so much of beauty and happiness that life does offer despite its ephemeral nature. Bertrand Russell made the point when he said,“Life offers none- the- less true happiness although not everlasting.” (Conquest of Happiness).

There is a simple test for all of us: Undertake a survey of normally healthy individuals and find out how many of them would say that life is bitter and how many of them would like to terminate it? How many would like never to be born again? How many would like to be born again in better circumstances? I doubt you getting any significant number that would opt for the first mentioned opinion. If one believes in rebirth one would like to be reborn in happier circumstances. The latter implies satisfaction in existence-as one knows it.

Since the numbers in our imaginary statistical survey who say life is not worth living would evidently be trivial, then the need for striving to end an assumed Sansara would be a pointless exercise.

*THE WRITER read philosophy at the University of Peradeniya and worked in the Sri Lanka Administrative Service reaching the position of Ministry Secretary before retiring to settle down in Melbourne. He is more popularly known as a Sarachchandra player and as the first Pothegurunnanse in the landmark drama, Maname. He is the author of two books and he frequents international seminars in Applied Buddhism. Shyamon Jayasinghe can be contacted on sjturaus@optusnet.com.au

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  • 2
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    Shyamon Jayasinghe writes some different stuff. He is an atheist and rationalist.Readers should take a look at the last section of this article. Here it si:

    “There is a simple test for all of us: Undertake a survey of normally healthy individuals and find out how many of them would say that life is bitter and how many of them would like to terminate it? How many would like never to be born again? How many would like to be born again in better circumstances? I doubt you getting any significant number that would opt for the first mentioned opinion. If one believes in rebirth one would like to be reborn in happier circumstances. The latter implies satisfaction in existence-as one knows it.

    Since the numbers in our imaginary statistical survey who say life is not worth living would evidently be trivial, then the need for striving to end an assumed Sansara would be a pointless exercise.”

    Why don’t Shyamon’s critics take this simple test?

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      DE VOS:

      Why Should not I thik, Christians attempt of some failed Coup.

      Otherwise, which idiot use just “jsimple tests” to spoil philosophy.

      You people have to open eyes.

      Just tell us why christianity/Catholics are Extinct in europe and in a greater part of North america. the same fate comes to Asia too.

    • 0
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      Dear Shyamon..
      Your thinking is ok..but need more Intellectual and comprehensive thoughts both scientifically , rationally and morally.

      You know , for instance , 50% of the Sri Lanka’s 40,000 monks are diabetes patients , compared to the national average of 10%. WHY ? Didnt BHAVANA give them a healthy life ? Because , Monks are craving to eat more and more FREE FOOD without EARNING for life.

      2500 years ago , when caste system brutually killed man and woman , A man said to be from kings’ family who deserted his wife and children and went to jungle saying he was quest for the life’s truth. He claimed he found the truth and came out from the Jungle with the CLEAN SHAVEN face as his statue depicts.

      Wonder !! 08 years or so , a man lived in a jungle and came out clean shaven face with prolonged EARS like older Hindu woman’s custom in India’s rural areas???????? if this is NOT TRUE then Siddarththa stories are too UNTRUE but MYTHS. Maybe some history of his life prevails within his story.

      Siddartha gone , He never claimed to be a GOD or SUPER NATURAL figure. He never told to erect statue for him . But stupid followers did it against his teachings.

      These days BUDHA STATUES ARE USED TO TRESPASS AND GRAB OTHER COMMUNITIES LANDS AND HOUSES in SRI LANKA by the so called Budda Monk(eys ). WHAT A SHAME ?

      So Budha has now become a ILLEGAL LAND GRABER in Sri Lanka ..!!!!

      We all are human being. Regardless whoever declared as a noble man before 1000 years or so , we need to ask questions to ascert whether those quotes , teachings and history are true or not. We can go for searching the NOBLE DIVINE BOOKS first like Bible , Qur’aan and Budhas teaching books. Then compare all guidance rationally and scientifically. FIND THE TRUTH of human being existence in this world and purpose of life in this world.

      just watch this vedio..

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HPPPBQEy2SA

  • 1
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    Christianity and the other Abrahamic religions are surviving having lost the argument. Of all religions, Buddhism is closest to scientific thinking. In the absence of proper critique of my article I have to conclude that the argument of Buddhism itself does raise challenges.

    • 1
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      Shyamon Jayasinghe sir,

      That is perfectly fine. You are a free-willed human being who can think and make decisions for himself. You have your own reasoning based on your life experiences. Same applies to others. You probably have an optimistic view towards life. So for a person like you, the acceptability or relevance of “Dukkha” or in general the “unsatisfactoriness”, “anxiety”, “Anticipation/expectation” of life (in addition to more specific aspects like injury, torture, etc) is different from a pessimist like me. We are different from each other. Thats life.

      To me in general Anicca and Dukkha are acceptable (Oh at least how I interpret them). But “Anatta” while not unacceptable it is certainly not the clearest thing or the most understandable thing in Buddhism. Metaphorically maybe.

      Anyway,

      Wishing you all the best.

      A.D.

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      Shyamon Jayasinghe

      “Christianity and the other Abrahamic religions are surviving having lost the argument. Of all religions, Buddhism is closest to scientific thinking.”

      1. This is generally true. However, with the advent of the Scientific Method, the Age of Reason and Enlightenment, the Christian West was able to shed the restrictions on reason imposed by Christianity and advanced.

      2. With Islam, with the Islamic Scientist and Philosophers, with Reason being given more or less equal prominence compared to Revelation, there was a Scientific Method, the Age of Reason especially from around 800 CE to 1100 CE, when Islamic Science and Philosophy flourished. However, due to political reasons, the religious authorities, the Ulema and Mullah prevailed. It was downhill from then on to this day, because, Muslims were not able to shed the restrictions on reason imposed by the religions authorities.

      3. Agree, fundamental Buddhism does not impose restrictions on Reason, and in fact Buddha encourages reason, like Aristotle did, even though they are sometimes wrong.( Aristotle was wrong two out of three.)

      “I have to conclude that the argument of Buddhism itself does raise challenges.

      Yes. If Aristotle the Philosopher could be wrong 2 out of 3 times, why can’t Buddha, the Philosopher, as well cannot be wrong in some of this deductions?

      You ask “Is Life All Dukkha?”

      No. Then why are all the Buddhists Agitated? They are are not agitated with “Aristotlenism”.

      Because Buddhism is a Religion, talks about after life and “Aristotlenism” is a Philosophy with no fundamentalist insane Saffron clad followers who are seeking life after death.

      Just read up on Avorroes and Al-Ghazali and the Age of Reason.

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        AMARASIRI:

        Just understand.

        YOu can not live for ever, and one day.

        That is dukka.

        Buddha have said volumes of things to make it understand.

        superstring (purest Octat) has a planck time after which is it destroyed. so, do the every thing made up with that. Has a life time.

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          jim softy

          “YOu can not live for ever, and one day. That is dukka.”

          That is evolution. Evolution preceded Dukka and Buddha by millions of years.

        • 0
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          oh… ridiculous. The utmost important thing in Budha teachings urge MAN AND WOMAN GO BEGGING FOOD. Thus Budhism made the foundation for Begging instead of EARNING.
          Thats why these so called Monks become lazy. With excessive free food , dress and lodging they become THUGS,ROWDIES and even RAPIST AND KILLERS covering them under a KAAVI DRESS like in Myanmar and Sri lanka.They have no any other job except eating free food and getting erected inside temples.

          Budhism is not a religion from the almighty but just a principles from a man went to jungle for 8 years. But we should remember and keep in mind the budha as Siddarththa claimed, whatsoever, we have to respect him. only question what he preached is scientific and having guidance to full fill the purpose of life in this world.

          watch this video..

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HPPPBQEy2SA

        • 0
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          oh… ridiculous. The utmost important thing in Budha teachings urge MAN AND WOMAN GO BEGGING FOOD. Thus Budhism made the foundation for Begging instead of EARNING.
          Thats why these so called Monks become lazy. With excessive free food , dress and lodging they become THUGS,ROWDIES and even RAPIST AND KILLERS covering them under a KAAVI DRESS like in Myanmar and Sri lanka.They have no any other job except eating free food and getting erected inside temples.

          Budhism is not a religion from the almighty but just a principles from a man went to jungle for 8 years. But we should remember and keep in mind the budha as Siddarththa claimed, whatsoever, we have to respect him. only question what he preached is scientific and having guidance to full fill the purpose of life in this world.

  • 1
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    TO AMARASIRI
    You made a point that I love: Then why are all the Buddhists Agitated? They are are not agitated with “Aristotlenism”. When dealing with a subject that isn’t religious people’s minds are closed.
    Sakyamuni Buddha emphasised on the need for open minds and his Kalama Sutta represents the high water mark towards an open mind of enquiry. On the other hand, many Buddhists in this very forum are ‘agitated’ by the issues I have raised. Many ask me to ‘read more.’ If the latter feel my knowledge isn’t enough it implies that they know more than me. Otherwise, how can they assert that my knowledge isn’t enough? Good. If they know more, why don’t they reveal that extra knowledge in responding to the issues that have been raised in my article?

  • 1
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    Shyamon Jayasinghe

    Thanks for picking up on the agitation part.

    1. “You made a point that I love: Then why are all the Buddhists Agitated? They are are not agitated with “Aristotlenism”. When dealing with a subject that isn’t religious people’s minds are closed.”

    Did you mean
    When dealing with a subject that IS religious people’s minds are closed?
    Then I can agree. However, When dealing with a subject that isn’t religious people’s minds are NOT closed.

    Example 1. When Copernicus came up with the Heliocentric Model the planetary system,the Philosophers, Astronomers and scientists were open to examining the data in support of the Heliocentric Model Hypothesis, even though it conflicted with the Ancient Greek Philosophers.

    However, the Catholic Church was not so open, as it conflicted with the Church doctrine and as Revealed by Joshua, in the Bible. We all know the story of Galileo, who tried to promote the Copernican Model with more convincing data.

    2. “You made a point that I love: Then why are all the Buddhists Agitated? They are are not agitated with “Aristotlenism”.”

    This is not specific to Buddhists. You find that agitation with Christians, Muslims and others as well, when the new information or ideas are in direct conflict with their beliefs and what they have been taught and brainwashed.

    Example 2. Theory of Evolution vs. intelligent design. The Abrahamic religions clearly state that man came from Adam and Eve by intelligent design by God in Genesis. The Christians and Muslims are agitated on this, on the assumption that if the Theory of Evolution is correct, our scriptures were wrong, and there is no-religion and no salvation and no-after life.

    Religions perceive science, reason, observation and data as the biggest threat to their beliefs. You regularly see that in CT comments as well an in many other places. The biggest threat to religion is science, reason, observations and data that is in conflict with the teachings or Revelations of Religion.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJQ4r81DZtY

    Example 3. Race and Racial Beliefs.

    In Lanka,the Land of Native Veddah Aethho, the Sinhala try to claim all others are Paradeshis, Paras, and that they are Hela or Natives.The political party, Jatika Hela Urumaya, JHU is based on that belief. Deepawamsa, Katta Katha and Mahawamsa are a big part of it. However when confronted with facts, that it was the Native Veddah Aethho who are the true natives, they become agitated. Amarasiri’s constant reminder to the Sinhala and Tamils that they are Para-Sinhala and Para-Tamils along with the other Paras, in the Land of Native Veddah Aethho, has agitated them, but some have come to terms with the facts. However, in the case of religion is it much more serious. All the after-death beliefs are in shambles.

    http://www.nature.com/jhg/journal/v59/n1/full/jhg2013112a.html

    4. “On the other hand, many Buddhists in this very forum are ‘agitated’ by the issues I have raised. Many ask me to ‘read more.’ “

    They said the same thing to Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler,and Darwin. First they will ad hominem attacks, or ask to read more. and as more and more data and facts come out they gradually fade but slowly over centuries.

    I in 4 Americans, 1 in 3 Europeans…

    http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2014/02/14/277058739/1-in-4-americans-think-the-sun-goes-around-the-earth-survey-says

  • 3
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    Let me add another question to the survey questionnaire.

    If you honestly believe that ‘life is all dukkha’ , why do you go on gleefully procreating?.

    By procreating you are knowingly adding yet another wretched soul in to the heap of dukkha. I accept you cannot do much about your own wretchedness, short of ending the life or hastening the end (by refusing medical care). But surely as true followers of the dukkha doctrine , you can easily stop making more wretched souls….

    • 0
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      Not every one realize this truth and covered by ignorance, they continue to indulge in worldly pleasures. Those who leave it and become monks are the exception..

  • 4
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    If you take Dukkha to mean ‘suffering’ then all of Life is not Dukkha. But if you look at it’s real meaning ‘impossible to completely satisfy’ then all of Life is Dukkha.

    The first Noble Truth is often stated as ‘All of Life is Suffering’ or something to that effect but it was not meant to be a statement about Life. The first Truth simply states THERE IS Dukkha. What that means is ‘as you read this sentence, in the present moment there is the desire to understand what is written, or thoughts that contradict what you are reading stream through your mind, or points that have been missed are noticed, or contempt arises, or excitement at a new point of view, or interest, or boredom – all that is Dukkha’

    A Noble Truth is a signpost continuously pointing to the present moment, not a metaphysical statement on the nature of Life. That is why the Buddha called it a Noble rather than a conventional truth. This looking at the present moment ‘here and now’ runs throughout the teaching.

    Logic and reasoning alone are not wrong, but they are limited. One cannot THINK ones way to Nibbana. Even liberation is here and now and not a billion lives away. Uncritical awareness of the present moment is the starting point to seeing all this clearly, in the suttas it is called ‘the door to the deathless’.

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      Paul

      “If you take Dukkha to mean ‘suffering’ then all of Life is not Dukkha. But if you look at it’s real meaning ‘impossible to completely satisfy’ then all of Life is Dukkha.”

      Is Dukkha, another Aether, that is still percolating because it came from Buddha?

      Do you believe in Aether that as supposed to pervade space?

      According to ancient and medieval science, aether (Greek: αἰθήρ aithēr[1]), also spelled æther or ether, also called quintessence, is the material that fills the region of the universe above the terrestrial sphere. The concept of aether was used in several theories to explain several natural phenomena, such as the traveling of light and gravity. In the late 19th century, physicists postulated that aether permeated all throughout space, providing a medium through which light could travel in a vacuum, but evidence for the presence of such a medium was not found in the Michelson–Morley experiment.

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        Uncritical awareness of the present moment is the starting point to seeing all this clearly.

  • 2
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    Some helpful insight of Dukkha..
    “No single English word adequately captures the full depth, range, and subtlety of the crucial Pali term dukkha. The entire thrust of Buddhist practice is the broadening and deepening of one’s understanding of dukkha until its roots are finally exposed and eradicated once and for all. One helpful rule of thumb: as soon as you think you’ve found the single best translation for the word, think again: for no matter how you describe dukkha, it’s always deeper, subtler, and more unsatisfactory than that”.

    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dhamma/sacca/sacca1/dukkha.html

    • 0
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      paul .

      The definition
      “Birth is dukkha, aging is dukkha, death is dukkha; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, & despair are dukkha; association with the unbeloved is dukkha; separation from the loved is dukkha; not getting what is wanted is dukkha. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are dukkha.”

      — SN 56.11

      So, evolution is Dukkha too? To be born, need evolution.

      To die, need evolution.

      Everything else is between being born and dying is Dukkha?

      Everything else is between being born and dying is life, and life is Dukkha too?

      So, it looks like Dukkha, is is like the concept of Aether that is supposed to pervade space. The acceptance or rejection is based on belief, in this case, belief in Buddhism. Can’t Buddha be wrong?

      • 0
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        Amarey,

        Can’t Buddha be wrong? For the record, I don’t even have a time machine to go back and know whether the Buddha even existed let alone knowing whether things like “Anatta” or “Nibbana” actually exists.

        The acceptability of what the Buddha preached is highly individual based on individual experiences. This is the very reason Buddha never allowed Buddhism to be imposed as LAW among leyman/civilians. Civilians should be governed by secular/neutral-law. Monks have laws but even they are ultimately subject to the law of the land, including the Buddha himself. Buddha even obeyed the orders of his father the King Suddhodana. So when the Buddha is right to one person, he can wrong to 1000 more. What he said can be wrong to what is accepted as scientific fact and so on. The acceptance is purely individual according that individuals reasoning. So can Buddha be wrong? Off-course he can!

        Is Dukkha like Aether that is supposed to pervade space? No, that is not Dukkha. Concepts of Karma, Dukkha and so on ARE NOT EXTERNAL EFFECTS. They are personal effects. My Dukkha, Karma, etc are unique to me. My Dukkha, Karma, etc have no effect on you or anyone else. If an asteroid hits earth and destroys all life including Humans, that is NOT because of some overall or generic karmic effect. It doesn’t work that way. I hear people say thing like “Tsunami”, “Earthquakes”, etc happen because of Karma. WRONG! That is not how it goes. If some Buddhists believe that natural disasters, war, famine, plagues, etc happen due to Karma then they might as well believe and pray to the almighty god.

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        I have to refer you back to the broader meaning of Dukkha as I attempted in the above quote from Access-to-insight. I may also quote from Paul (not me) who is closer to the mark when he wrote : “If you take Dukkha to mean ‘suffering’ then all of Life is not Dukkha. But if you look at it’s real meaning ‘impossible to completely satisfy’ then all of Life is Dukkha”.
        I have a general reminder to those who indulge in this topic including the writer: This is a complex topic that can not be analysed by reading Philosophy in a University and given black and white answers. Non-practicing Buddhists, in particular, have a warped view on this – not dissimilar to prejudice against Islam that Christians have nor different to the question who is God, whether and where he exists, what power he has over Universe(s) and all their content.

      • 0
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        The concept that is supposed to pervade space is not Dukkha but Dharmatha (or Dharma in short) or the way things are.

        Evolution is not Dukkha. It is a Dharmatha (or way things are).

        Just like Karma (Casual translation: Cause and effect) is not dukkha, this too is a dharmatha.

        Another example of dharmatha: Everything that comes to being, ceases.
        None of these example are Dukkha per se.

        Hope all this is not confusing more.

  • 0
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    [Edited out]

  • 0
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    I liked Shyamon’s article which raises some valid questions and has evoked some interesting comments most of which are simply defensive in nature.

    I was born a Buddhist but always had this question bugging me: “How do we know what’s written in the sutta’s is what the Buddha actually said?”. There are no guarantees at all, are there? Even in the “Dhammachakka pavaththana sutta”, there’s a reference to various deva’s and even Mara being present there. This may sound just a trivial addition by the author who wrote this 500 years after the Buddha but there’s no escaping that fact that what we see today has to be what the author wanted others to believe what the Buddha said 500 years ago.

    We cannot ask Buddha and get matters clarified today so that there’s no need for various points-of-view, all these arguments, various Nikayas, yanas, etc. For instance, there’s only one universally accepted explanation about the movement of planets around the Sun. No arguments, no sects there, and the mankind has achieved a lot using that knowledge. But the Buddhist doctrine as we know it today is not like that, so, we have no other option but to use our own judgement to make some sense out of that. That’s what Shyamon’s trying to do I guess. Good on him!

    I haven’t so far come across a completely satisfactory explanation that can be considered as a single universal truth. For me, the best possible explanation so far of who we are and why we think and behave like this comes only from the Big Bang Theory and the Theory of Evolution within whatever limitations they may have. So, for me, Anichcha and Anatma – facts irrespective of one’s perspective. Dukkha – depends on individual perspective therefore not a fact. Karma, rebirth, nirvana – just mumbo jumbo.

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      Upul, What people claim the Buddha said or did not say is not important. What matters is that a method of knowing the truth has come down to us through the ages. If you try it you will see for yourself. Otherwise, there will be perpetual doubt and confusion. I repeat, thinking and logic will not lead to awakening. If this teaching was all to do with logic and reason, someone would have reduced it to a set of equations by now. All day we think, all night we dream and then we die…that is the sum of our lives. Fortunately there is an alternative. Here is an example…

      Someone insults you. Anger arises. There is a moment before it consumes you when you can be aware that anger has arisen. If you stop there and say to yourself “Hah! Anger arose and I caught it in time”, that is not awakening, that is thinking about anger. But that split second when you became aware of the presence of anger, that is a moment of awakening. At first it is very difficult to be aware because our mental states change so fast, but it is possible to start with the grosser states such as anger, hatred, lust, desire.

      Regarding rebirth and the ‘mumbo jumbo’, rebirth can only be a theory to the unawakened. However once anger arises, you are not angry all day. Anger gives way to sympathy as you watch some earthquake on your tv screen. And that changes to desire as you realise you are hungry and haven’t had lunch and so on. You can see that you are being reborn continuously and that rebirth is a mental, not a physical process.

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    Al we know is that there was a person called Gautama Skyamuni. He lived and he died. What he preached who knows?

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      See what I have written above, all day we think, all night we dream and then we die…that is the sum of our lives.

      There is an alternative to thinking. What is it that is aware in the present moment of anger? It is not thought. It is impossible to define because unlike thought, it is not based on conditions. Like space it is always there, but it is rarely noticed. Noticing, paying attention, not getting caught up in the emotions and giving them life, not reacting to every stimulus like Pavlovian dogs…just watching them without judgement, without comment, you will notice them all come into being and fade away (anicca), you will see that they are coreless, without substance (anatta), you will see that our ceaseless grasping of them to create the ‘I’ is unfulfilling (dukkha). You can see it for yourself, that seeing is more useful than reading the Tripitaka all your life.

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    Shyamon

    It was not Parmenides but Herakleitis whose date is given as 540-480 BC. (Parmenides denied change.)

    What is the modern consensus re the period of the Buddha?

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