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Part 7 in Body Series: Dukkha

Updated: Jun 22, 2023

Dukkha as Vulnerability

The Pali word Dukkha is best translated as a constellation of English words, rather than one word meant to embrace the immense depth and breadth of what Dukkha is pointing to. We've used “unsatisfactory” as a translation during our exploration with the body. Other words that round out what is meant by Dukkha include some of the following: stress, suffering, unreliable, uncertain, not quite right, and vulnerability. As human beings with bodies and minds, we are vulnerable to being affected by unwanted, painful sense contact. The phone can ring at 3:00 am on any given morning with news of the loss of a loved one; any ache or pain in the body could turn out to be a terminal diagnosis.

This sense of being vulnerable to the painful and unwanted is true regardless of where one finds oneself in society. Wealthy, poor, privileged, oppressed, etc., the truth of this vulnerability remains the same. With enough resources and privilege, individuals can arrange their lives so as to maximize pleasant experiences and minimize unpleasant ones. Yet, one cannot control or spend their way beyond this truth: that we are beings vulnerable to the unwanted and painful conditions in our lives.

Our job as Dharma practitioners is to understand the truth of Dukkha as intimately as possible. The Buddha said, "Dukkha is to be experienced/understood." One of the benefits of being able to do so is the growing understanding that we are all in this together. The S.S. Dukkha is an enormous ocean liner, and we're all passengers! To the degree this is apprehended is the degree that our hearts open to this shared plight we all have. Beyond or underneath our differences, we all share this truth and the heart responds with compassion. As it says in the Dhammapada, "All beings tremble at violence, all fear death." We can open our hearts to each other from a place that is beyond our differences and personalities. From a place of our common humanity.

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