What makes Dukkha dukkha? If you’re not familiar with the word, ‘dukkha’ is a Pali word that was used by the Buddha to articulate a sense of dis-ease, of suffering even; a sense that something is not right in our world or in our being. Dukkha can be a state of internal agitation and stress usually in relation to not getting the things we want and getting the things we don’t want. Everyone’s life has things in it we don’t want. It’s natural that we want to be happy, to feel satisfied and for things to go our way. We don’t want to lose our job, our health, or our marriage. We want to be agreed with or we want a vigorous debate. Our desires can be quite contradictory but one thing the Buddha was very clear on; wanting or desiring creates dukkha.
Life involves suffering, there is no way around that. The Buddha said ‘birth is suffering, sickness is suffering, old age and death are dukkha’; if we are born into human form at some point we will suffer. But how we relate to that suffering and dis-ease determines whether we suffer.
VUCA is an acronym I’ve come across recently that I think connects to Dukkha. VUCA draws on leadership theory developed in the 1980’s in the US and is a way of describing and becoming conscious of situations that are Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. It has been used in the US Military, and other high-risk occupations such as fire-fighters, paramedics, and police. What these situations have in common is a potent mixture of threat and danger amidst highly charged and complex conditions, but alongside periods of routine or even boredom and waiting around.
I think VUCA goes quite a way to helping our understanding of the dynamics of Dukkha; it lays out some deep truths about ourselves and our world which can help us recognise some of our core desires. Our outer and inner worlds, at times, (or a lot of the time) can seem volatile with the ground swept out from under us. Things are not always clear; our own minds, let alone other peoples, can be mystifying! Our own indecisiveness or our relationship to uncertainty can create stress for us. And our world and the choices available to us have become increasingly complex; what is the best thing to do? How can we make sense of different possibilities?
Thinking in terms of VUCA can help objectify what we often react to and are confused by. They can be additional labels that help us get curious about why we’re suffering or even experiencing slight dis-ease or uncomfortableness that’s often present (for me anyway). It can help us accept that complexity or uncertainty are natural parts of the ups and downs of life. And reveal the link between dukkha and craving; how suffering comes about through wanting to change things that are beyond our control. When we recognise the forces that are way beyond our control, and we can observe the constant attempts to try to control we let go a little.
We get a stronger sense of the futility of seeking stability etc in a world which is inherently changing. We see how the tight grip of desiring it to be otherwise makes us suffer. And we come to an understanding, through our direct experiencing, that peace comes from a deep acceptance of things just as they are.
As the great Thai meditation master Ajaan Chah said:
“If you let go a little you will have a little happiness,
If you let go a lot you will have a lot of happiness,
If you let go completely you will be free.”
PS – I’m now on Page 359 of the Anguttara Nikaya….