Dukkha, the “malaise”

- through Francois Leclercq

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Another reading of the roots of malaise.

Evil is threefold in Buddhism and bears the Sanskrit name of trivisa, the “three venoms”, namely: the mistake (moha) or blindness (avidya), attachment (raga) or greed (trsna), hatred (dvesa). This should not, however, be reduced to a sort of moral defect, to a vice of character. Evil is more fundamental in the Buddhist horizon. It is the consequence of a way of being based on the subject/object duality, which consists in thinking of oneself and living oneself as a singularity separated from the world, as a je in front of a for another. It is from this me reified because illusorily isolated that this triple poisoning occurs which consists of a triple partitioning of the experience: depending on whether it is indifferent to me, and in this case je ignore it (moha); as I please and in this case je I cling to it; depending on whether she displeases me and in this case je rejects her. But the constant flavor of this world boarded by the je is always the same: dukkha.

When things go wrong

This Sanskrit term, the heart of the Buddha's first teaching, names one of the fundamental characteristics of existence. It is usually translated as "suffering" and, no doubt, it should be rendered as "ill-being". The translation is not false, but it does not mention the phenomenon pointed out by Sanskrit.

On the one hand, suffering is understood as a subjectively painful state (feeling pain), but dukkha has a more existential dimension which makes it, not a sensitive or psychological data among others, but something more fundamentally linked to the very fact of existing.

Suffering is being existentially off the mark.

On the other hand, “to suffer” is etymologically sub-fero, that is to say “to bear” in the painful sense of the term. But that is not what the Sanskrit word says that points in the direction of another experience. Dukkha is composed of a prefix duh, meaning "evil", and from the radical kha, from khanati (“he digs”), which means opening. It is usually used to designate a cave and more frequently still the hub of a wheel. When the opening is badly made in the center of the wheel, it squeaks and we then speak very concretely of dukkha. The idea conveyed here therefore relates to a “mis-opening” and a bad centering. The term kha has taken on, moreover, in Yoga in particular, the meaning of "seat of existence" - designating an opening in the center of these bodily areas that are called chakra (“wheel” in Sanskrit), more particularly the one located at the level of the plexus, considered to be the most central. Thus, many yogic practices aim to further open this opening of the kha so that the sukha, antonym of dukkha, which is generally and very correctly rendered by "well-being". It is therefore appropriate to render dukkha by "malaise". The advantage is obviously that this expression sounds immediately in French. It also invokes in an interesting way the verb to be, which must obviously be understood here in its existential dimension, that is to say via this original and essential form of openness.

“Mis-existence” would make a very good equivalent to what Buddhism understands by dukkha, whose suffering is only a case or an aspect and not the entirety of the phenomenon which must be understood as the fact of being "poorly centered", of being off-center, of being existentially off the mark . The meditative ethic of Buddhism responds directly to this.

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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