The term "dukkha" in the Pali language is often translated as "suffering," which is not exactly right. In essence, "dukkha" conveys more a sense of "dissatisfaction" or "unsatisfactoriness" than it does suffering. We can perhaps relate to dukkha as a sense of incompleteness, imperfection, or lack of an existential kind. In more psycho-poetic language, we can call it "angst" or "anguish." In bare simple terms, we can say "pain."
One important principle in the Dhamma is this: pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. The Buddha compares pain to a first dart that strikes a person, causing an experience of pain. He goes on to say that suffering is like the second dart that strikes the same person at the same spot, multiplying and magnifying the pain. From this clear analogy, we see that life presents us with inescapable 'pains' of many kinds—pain of being born; pain of surviving and growing up; pain of getting sick; pain of the body getting hurt; pain of growing old and frail; and pain of dying. In and across all these events, while the sensorial pain is a given, the psychological suffering is not inevitable. The key is mindfulness and clear comprehension imbued with insight and loving-kindness.
Mindfulness is the ability to know and see, and be open to whatever experience comes up with bare yet discerning attention. No giving of pluses or minuses to experience, merely attending to unfolding physical and mental experience as they arise, abide, and pass away.
Clear comprehension is the meta-knowing of each moment of mindful experiencing, discerning its moral quality, texture, valence, nuance, and context with clear incisive knowledge.
Insight is the deep, stable, and sustained seeing and knowing of the nature of experience: deconstructing the self-making and thing-making delusion of experiencer and experienced. Insight enables and empowers the releasing of consciousness from its ingrained tendencies to grasping, clinging, and ego-conceit. At its deepest, insight completely dissolves ultimate duality of self and other, this and that, while allowing for plurality to have its place, relatively.
Loving-kindness is the heart-quality of gentle friendliness towards self and others, towards every moment of experience. It is an open and warm quality of caring without grasping; sensitivity without self-denigration; wishing well of self and others, conventionally speaking. Loving-kindness conduces to and flows from insight.
Taken together, we are able to encounter each moment of experience, even moments of pain, without the second dart of suffering. In fact, it is possible to transform even our experience of pain into bliss, in some instances. Labels and dichotomies cease to have the strangle-hold they used to have over us, when our meditative training of mindfulness, clear comprehension, insight, and loving-kindness progresses and grows.
Coming back to dukkha: there is much depth to dukkha that needs to be known. Beyond mere sense of dissatisfaction, we can delve deeper into seeing the moment-by-moment disintegration of experience, the flux of every sensorial and psychological experience. This happens as our mindfulness and clear comprehension is stable and clear, supported by pliancy and equanimity due to greater unification of mind. Beyond momentary disintegration, we can penetrate, by glimpses at first and steadily in time, into the sheer absence of ownership and agency in this processual and eventual continuum of experience. In light of these two insights, one sees the utter uncontrollability of experience pointing not only to the lack of an agentic and possessive self, but also to the all-pervasive existential dukkha of psycho-physical grasping and identification.
Knowing dukkha fully and to its very depths, the door to liberation opens up (the first: dukkha). Reactive craving, grasping, and clinging that gives rise to suffering can be released moment by moment (the second: samudaya). Cessation of anguish and coolness of heart can manifest—nibbana (the third: nirodha). From the ground of nibbanic awareness, we can enact a life of virtue, simplicity, contentment, joy, peace, kindness, compassion, and equanimity, and wisdom that benefits self and others (the fourth: magga). The "four" of the Buddha are thus accomplished. This approach follows Stephen Batchelor’s rendition.
This is a wonderful and profound expression of a life of Dhamma, a life of common grace that can feed into and flow out of a life of authentic faith in Christ. For a disciple of Christ, suffering is not necessarily evil. Suffering can be redemptive. The suffering of our Lord redeemed us all. Our suffering can express our participation in His suffering, allowing for His redemptive power to shine forth in our lives.
What's more, as we look deeply into suffering with mindfulness, clear comprehension, insight, and loving-kindness in light of the gospel, we can taste the freedom and coolness of nibbana cradled in the redemptive love of Christ. We can touch by grace, at least in some small and limited way, the impassibility (beyond suffering) and aseity (unconditioned being) of God in the life of Christ in our regenerated hearts. Will you join me?