Essay by PaperNerd ContributorCollege, Undergraduate August 2001

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The Four Noble Truths (and the Eightfold Path which followed from them) represent the basis of the Buddha's teaching. Historically, Lord Buddha Shakyamuni is said to have preached on these topics during his first public commentary following his enlightenment.

The First Noble Truth states that dukkha (suffering, dissatisfaction) exists, even that this is the natural and universal state of beings. The translation of the word dukkha from Pali has a bearing on how many readers will come to comprehend the basic teachings of the Buddha. The word dukkha is often rendered, in English, as "suffering". The resulting conclusion, "suffering exists" might suggest to many that Buddhism is a dire, fatalistic philosophy. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I heard someone say recently, "If everything is suffering, why is the Buddha always smiling?" The simplest explanation is that sukha also exists. Sukha is good fortune, happiness, pleasure. Some scholars opine that the Buddha did not need to address sukha in his teaching because it was not seen as a problem.

Sukha was desirable and dukkha was not. There would not have been a great point in discussing something good happening.

Using other translations of dukkha might lead us to (at least slightly) different conclusions as to the meaning of the First Noble Truth. The second rendering above, dukkha as dissatisfaction, may come closer to the intent of the original statement. "Dissatisfaction exists" seems a little more straightforward, a little less dire. Life is flawed, so there. It doesn't mean we will never have enjoyable moments, only that we will not only have them.

Expressed in a slightly different way, one could arrive at the conclusion that everything in the world, no matter how wonderful it may seem, is ultimately unsatisfying. One more twist and we can arrive at the conclusion...