The concept of «suffering» in Buddhism: ontological problematics




duḥkha, cause of suffering, conditioned dharmas, self, emptiness, śūnyatā, body, Cūḷa-suññata Sutta, nonduality


Unlike the most common in the modern studies – the psychological, ethical, socio-cultural – approaches to the problem of suffering, in this paper the philosophical problematics of ontological dimension of the suffering in the Buddhist philosophy is raised.

Many modern scholars are inclined to think that a more adequate translation for the Sanskrit term duḥkha is “unsatisfactoriness”. However, from the material presented in the article follows that this rendering does not feet the sense of the notion of duḥkha when it is examined in the ontological plane, and thus the traditional translation “suffering” in this sense remains more adequate. It is also shown that the etymology of the Sanskrit term duḥkha as a «improperly installed» axle of the wheel of a cart has strong connotations with the metaphor of the wheel and the symbol of swastika in the Buddhist cultural tradition (wheel of being, three turnings of the Wheel of Dharma etc.).

In this paper the main causes of suffering (self, body, ignorance, desire and other afflictions) exposed in Buddhist texts and scholarship are revised, and on the example of the Cūḷasuññata-sutta it is demonstrated that the real final cause of suffering in the Early Buddhism is our body and not our “self” and ignorance. While in the Mahayana Buddhism based on the philosophy of emptiness and the principle of nonduality, the dichotomy of soul and body is removed, the attainment of nirvana becomes possible in this body and the real cause and source of suffering becomes the ignorance. On the other hand, the paper argues that just the ontological view on the problem of suffering (under the angle of the principle of nonduality) provides us with understanding of the fact that the suffering can be overcome despite its indestructible ontological status.

Author Biography

Anastasia Strelkova, Hr. Skovoroda Institute of Philosophy, NAS of Ukraine

Doctor of sciences in Philosophy, Senior Research Fellow


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How to Cite

Strelkova, A. (2022). The concept of «suffering» in Buddhism: ontological problematics. Sententiae, 41(1), 55–75.






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