Duka and Suka

Examining these terms on a deeper level


Duka (pain) and Suka (comfort) are Sanskrit terms describing ways that our mind reacts. Sathi examines these words in greater depth by first looking at discomfort and comfort from a materialistic point of view. Ordinary people think that if they have more things, money, or power, they will be happy.

Four efforts that make up life on a basic level:

  1. Obtaining comfort.
  2. Maintaining our comfort.
  3. Removing discomfort.
  4. Avoid future discomfort

Next, Sathi explores the level that most major religions promote. By having compassion and generosity we can experience a release from pain or discomfort. Giving makes us feel good.

Finally, the third level of these terms is explained based on Buddha’s observations. Comfort and discomfort are simply reactions to our cravings. They are neither good or bad, just reactions. (One person’s pain can be another person’s pleasure.). By having these unrecognized cravings we can be manipulated by outside influences.

Through meditation and being mindful, we can recognize and observe these cravings (like recognizing the weeds in our garden) and let the cravings go. This frees us from being driven by internal or external influences.

Thank you for the question.

The question is about duka and suka. The translation that you heard is that suka is easy to face and suka is difficult to face.

That translation is just touching the surface. There are two levels we have to understand with these two words. Those are Pali and Sanskrit words. Duka is the negative part. A simple direct translation is “pain”. Suka is “comfort”. Those are the simple translations for those two words.

But, these two words have a deeper concepts of beliefs, religion, and human life. We are after comfort, happiness. We think happiness comes from comfort. We are trying to experience this comfort through our senses and we are trying to experience comfort through our life experiences.

If something goes as we like, as we planned, in favor to us, we say “That makes us happy.” But, if something goes against us against our will, against our comfort, against our plans, that brings discomfort. When that discomfort comes to our mind, we translate or we experience pain. The comfort and pain are experiences of our mind. Somebody’s comfort can become another person’s pain. Someone’s pain can become somebody’s comfort. The same thing will bring two opposite experiences in two different people depending on how they are looking at it.

When we think about human beings and animal beings, we are after comfort. We think, if we can maintain this comfort, that will be the happiness of our life. We have a four different efforts. 1) We try to achieve comfort, achieve suka and 2) we are having an effort of maintaining the comfort we have. Achieving and maintaining. 3) we are having the effort to overcome or destroy the discomfort, pain. 4) We are having an effort to avoid future discomfort, the possible discomfort.

Those are the four different efforts we are maintaining in our life. Those are the four efforts we are continuously working on. We call it Life. Our life is nothing else. Just trying to achieve and maintain comfort. Trying to avoid discomfort and overcome discomfort. We call this Life.

As an ordinary person, we think that this comfort comes from materials. Or materialistic things can bring comfort. Basically today we can call it money, wealth. Some people might call it power. But, those are materialistic achievements. Ordinary people will think, “If I can achieve all the materials I want I would be able to experience comfort and overcome discomfort. Overcome pain.” That is the path of ordinary people.

But, thinkers realize that even though people have achieved those [goals] they are not free from pain or discomfort. Thinkers realized comfort and discomfort is not really the subject of the materialistic world. But, everyone is following that [premise]. That is what we have learned. That is what we have been taught. We think that by achieving those materialistic goals we can overcome pain and we can maintain comfort.

In the past, spiritual people, when they developed themselves with spirituality, they thought by not going through the route of materialistic achievements but, [we can] achieve a [more] spiritual level and be able to overcome pain permanently. That was the route followed by many spiritual people. They found that two of the basic [ideas] are practicing and promoting compassion, practicing and promoting generosity can achieve comfort and can overcome discomfort.

They also found, that later they would be happy by knowing they have been generous. Later they would be happy by thinking of their compassionate actions. Always fulfilled their heart. That is why if you look at any spiritual culture, anybody who practices spirituality, they are mainly talking about compassion and generosity. It doesn’t matter what religion you follow or what church you go to all the spiritual paths are following those two practices to achieve this spiritual comfort. Compassion and generosity.

When Buddha thought about this situation he also recognized how we experience this pain, duka. Duka is a reaction to something that is happening outside or inside. Comfort or suka is also the same. A reaction. We are trying to change the involvement around us to experience the reaction. Somebody can buy a car. Somebody can give someone a gift. When you are giving a gift to somebody, what is the reaction you are expecting from that person? When you receive a gift? What kind of reaction do you experience? Unless you are expecting something bigger than what you received…[laughing] I’m sure you would be happy. But, if you received something that is smaller than that gift can make you unhappy. So this duka, discomfort, pain and sukah, comfort and happiness is a reaction.

If you have a mind, who would have a reaction for another person’s reaction? Think how vulnerable you are because you cannot decide or you won’t be able to maintain who you are. Others can change your behavior and your happiness or unhappiness due to this reaction.

This is what Buddha started to recognize. If I have a mind which can be changed due to other people’s actions, then your mind does not belong to you. Not only Buddha but many people who have been practicing and have been recognizing this situation of the mind they have been noticing this.

This ability of change due to another person’s action whether it is good or bad, that weakness described in Buddhist teachings as duka. Ability to be changed due to outside [influences] or another person’s action. Duka is not a negative thing in Buddhist teachings. It is a situation [condition]. It can be either negative or positive. It is simply a situation.

When Buddha paid more attention to this, he was trying to recognize what makes us this vulnerable. What makes us keep our mind open so it can be changed by others It was craving. If you have a craving to receive a 60″ TV by your grandparents, that craving can create trouble by receiving a 24″ TV. Because you cannot enjoy that 24″ TV because you were expecting a 60″ TV. Peter might be really unhappy receiving an IBM computer instead of a Mac one. [laughing] Your expectations.

If you don’t have any expectations to receive anything can another person’s actions bring happiness or unhappiness? Can another person change your state of mind? If you don’t have any expectations, you would be able to enjoy all the moments if you receive something or not. Your happiness is there. You can enjoy either 24″ TV or a 60″ TV. That will not make a difference in your mind. They are the same. What Buddha found is that you can be free from duka or suka by overcoming the craving.

But, before we overcome this craving, we need to understand, we need to realize it, we need to see, how deep this craving is buried in me. How have I been maintaining this internal craving without knowing it? You will not be able to remove it. If you don’t know the weeds on your farm or your garden, you don’t know how to do weeding.

Sathi closed by pointing out that by practicing meditation we are able to become more mindful, and observe the “weeds” or cravings we have and to let them go. This allows us to be free from duka or suka and the influence of cravings both good and bad. It allows us to see each moment of our lives as it is.