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‘Sarvam Duhkham’ – Is This Buddhist Principle, a Pessimistic One?

Sunil Upasana hails from Kerala (India) and has been a Bengalurean for 17 years. He has had a deep yearning to understand the profound philosophy that underlies Hinduism Read More.

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One of the cardinal principle of Buddhism is ‘Sarvam Duhkham‘. This is a direct utterance of Buddha and had never been questioned by any scholars. Buddha said that ‘birth is pain, death is pain, parting of friends is pain, etc‘. This may sound like pessimism. Is not it? If life is full of pain, then what value it has, enough to live? This is an important question that need an answer. To understand the kernel and real meaning of this teaching of Buddha, we must understand some other concepts. Then we will realize that, this teaching is not pessimism.

Buddha’s statement – ‘Sarvam Duhkham – actually is not just related to the experiential world realm, but also trans mundane realm. This dictum has a strong transcendental aspect. ‘Duhkha’ here don’t mean the same feeling that we feel, when we are pick pocketed, or our leg broken and when we are bed ridden due to that. The ‘duhkha’ of Buddha transcends natural world. How can we understand it?

The major tenet of Buddhism is none other than the Pratitya Samudpada doctrine. This doctrine states that from this, that arise; when this is stopped, that also stop . Pratitya samudpada is also known as ’12 chain of causation’. This chains contains…..

1. Avidya (Nescience).
2. Samskara (Karmic Impressions).
3. Vijnana (Consciousness).
4. Namarupa (Name and Form).
5. Sad Ayatana (Six Sense Organs).
6. Sparsa (Contact).
7. Vedana (Sensation).
8. Trishna (Thirst).
9. Upadana (Attachment).
10. Bhava (Becoming).
11. Jati (Birth).
12. Jaramarana (Old age & Death).

These are the stages involved in the chain. This 12 chain contains past, present and future events. The middle portion (3 – 10) representative the present, natural world and stages included in it. The origin of pratitya samudpada is Avidya (Cosmic Ignorance). It is from Avidya everything in the chain evolve, in a step by step manner. So the root of the wordly duhkha has a transcendental cause.

So is there no value to our life? Is this life is not worth to live? It is clear from the 12 chain that middle portion of it contain sense organs, pleasure, desire, etc which are involved in enjoying worldly things. From the ultimate point of view, this enjoyment is not same as supreme bliss, but Duhkha. An ordinary life without knowledge about the supreme bliss, is Duhkha. And who can know that this ordinary life is Duhkha? Common man cannot grasp that ordinary life is Duhkha. Only enlightened Yogis like Buddha can understand the Duhkha aspect of ordinary life. Common man will continue to consider ordinary life as the ultimate and nothing to attain beyond it. But the Yogis understand and realize the bliss lies beyond ordinary life. So we can aptly interpret that, any life short of attaining the Supreme Bliss (Nirvana) is Duhkha.

So while saying ‘Sarvam Duhkham’, Buddha meant all these manifold appearance of the world and people clinging to that appearance is Duhkham. The pain in our daily life is a result of our clinging to the object of the world.

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