Dukha is a Sanskrit and Pali word that can be translated to mean “suffering.” It is an important concept in Buddhism and yogic philosophy. The first of the Four Noble Truths in Buddhism states that life is suffering, or life is dukha. Thus, Buddha’s teachings were centered around the cessation and transcendence of dukha.
Different schools of thought take different approaches to dukha. In Buddhism, it is considered necessary to study and understand the causes and nature of dukha in order to overcome it. In the context of yoga, some teachers emphasize the importance of experiencing dukha in order to understand and appreciate its opposite, suhkha (or “sweetness and ease”).
Yoga, as a spiritual and physical practice, can help the practitioner reach the mental states necessary for understanding and moving beyond dukha.
The word dukha comes from the Sanskrit roots dus, which is a prefix meaning “bad,” and kha, which originally meant “hole [as in an axel’s hole]." Having a poor axel hole would lead to discomfort; hence, suffering and dukha.
As well as more general “suffering,” dukha encompasses a wide range of negative concepts, including pain, sadness, anxiety, frustration and dissatisfaction. There are generally considered to be three types of dukka:
The mental and physical suffering that comes as a natural part of life (i.e. growing older, becoming ill and dying). The anxiety or stress that is caused when we try to cling to things that are impermanent. Dissatisfaction, which pervades all of life due to its transient and changing nature. Buddhism and yoga teach understanding and knowledge as a way to gain freedom from dukha. Yoga practice seeks to help the individual transcend the self and the senses so they may become liberated from the things that cause dukha and come closer to moksha, or “spiritual freedom.”