Dharma chameleon

POSTED: February 25, 2020

I found this online:

The “illness” that the Buddha diagnosed as the human condition is duhkha, a term often rendered in English as “suffering” or “unsatisfactoriness.” The Buddha spoke of three types of duhkha. First, there is the ordinary suffering of mental and physical pain. Second, there is the suffering produced by change, the simple fact that all things—including happy feelings and blissful states—are impermanent, as is life itself. Third, there is suffering produced by the failure to recognize that no “I” stands alone, but everything and everyone, including what we call our “self,” is conditioned and interdependent.

I found it on a page of the Religious Literacy Project at Harvard Divinity School.

I found the whole page interesting but this paragraph interested me most. Why? Because most English translations of the Buddha’s words emphasise the notion of suffering which can make Buddhism into a gloomy and negative philosophy with the same “get me out of here” approach to living as Calvinism. The simple replacement of suffering with unsatisfactoriness causes a profound shift in the apparent approach on offer.

Relieving suffering offers a view of the world in which not having toothache becomes as good as it gets. In many ways this relates to the view of traditional psychology which has a large and complex vocabulary to describe the negative conditions into which people can fall, but little or (in some cases) nothing to say about what happens to people when they no longer suffer from maladies of the mind. They self-actualise or go clear, whatever they involve.

Switching to discussing unsatisfactoriness seems like a shift to thinking in terms paralleling those used in positive psychology where psychological health offers as much to study as neurosis. Achieving a state of satisfactoriness sounds like the first step on a positive ascent; relieving suffering less so.

As the article points out, the “Buddha’s sermons and teachings pointed toward the true nature of the universe, what is known within Buddhism as the Dharma.” The chameleon nature of language can sometimes weigh heavily upon us.