Buddhist philosophy, Chinese

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-G002-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 12, 2024, from

13. Sinicizing Buddhist concepts: suffering and ignorance

For all forms of Indian Buddhism, the fundamental fact with which Buddhism begins, and the problem it attempts to solve, is the problem of suffering (duḥkha). The first of the Four Noble Truths is: ‘All is suffering.’ Suffering does not mean simply pain. Buddhism does not deny joy, pleasure, delight and so on; but it claims that all is impermanent, so that whatever the source of a particular pleasure, that pleasure can never be permanent. The more pleasure one feels, the greater becomes one’s attachment to the presumed source. The greater the attachment, the greater the pain at the loss of that pleasure. Since everything is impermanent, such loss is inevitable. So, ironically, pleasure itself is ‘suffering’. Suffering is the affective reaction to impermanence. According to general Buddhist causal analysis, the causes of suffering are desire and ignorance. We desire permanent pleasures because we are ignorant of the fact that all is impermanent, empty of eternal selfhood. As the Four Noble Truths state, these causes of suffering can be eliminated, and Buddhism is the method or path for eliminating those causes. The purpose of Buddhism, then, is the elimination of suffering.

Chinese Buddhist texts do occasionally mention suffering, but usually in passing. Instead the root problem became ignorance. Discussions of the dialectical conflict between ignorance and enlightenment grew so pervasive that suffering was all but forgotten. This shift helped reinforce the emphasis on mind and mind-nature. Enlightenment was no longer defined as awakening to the causes of suffering, but instead denoted seeing the nature of the mind itself (see Suffering, Buddhist views of origination of).

Citing this article:
Lusthaus, Dan. Sinicizing Buddhist concepts: suffering and ignorance. Buddhist philosophy, Chinese, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-G002-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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