QUESTION: Does the common Theravada and Tibetan Mahayana teaching of three levels of suffering, briefly:

  • suffering of suffering (Pali dukkha-dukkha) -- obvious physical and mental pain and our emotional reactions to it
  • suffering of change (vipariṇāma-dukkha) -- the suffering implicit in pleasant experience because of its transience and our desire to hold onto it anyway
  • suffering of conditioned existence (saṃkhāra-dukkha) -- the suffering implicit in identifying with the aggregates, which are subject to impermanence, suffering, karma, etc, and not under our much-desired control

have any place in Pureland?

SHORT ANSWER: It is not a Pureland teaching, but Amida loves you anyway.

LONG ANSWER: I am not aware of a specifically Pureland text that includes this formulation. Of course, I have not read them all, so you never know. However, Pureland is not really predicated on an assumption that the name of the game is to eliminate suffering except in the general sense that nobody wants to suffer more than they need. However, that said, it is evidently a central point of Buddhism that there is dukkha and in different schools one finds many different ways of classifying it. So I will comment on this Theravada classification from an Amida Pureland perspective. The first two are fairly self-explanatory - there is pain and there is the fragility of pleasant experience. Buddhist art often focusses on the second and this is the basis of the style that in Japan is called yugen. This is akin to the western idea of bitter-sweetness: the cherry blossom is doubly touching because any minute it is likely to be blown away and lost forever. This is the taste of life. Samskara-dukkha I would interpret taking samskara's to be "internal formations" or "mental confections". Buddha says that these are dukkha. From a Pureland perspective, we can say that these are what constitute the major part of our bombu nature - our foolishness.

So the basic Pureland perspective on this will be that Amida Buddha has a special care for beings like ourselves who suffer from all of these kinds of dukkha, that one is not going to cease to do so and therefore it is good to turn to Amida and rely upon his saving power. 

You need to be a member of David Brazier at La Ville au Roi (Eleusis) to add comments!

Join David Brazier at La Ville au Roi (Eleusis)

Email me when people reply –


  • One of David's points is that "you should be able to practice it under any conditions. But in reality, it's harder when you are wracked with pain or hunger, or angry all the time, etc" but I'm not sure that this is really true. It is a bit like Maslow's hierarchy in which higher functions only come into being when more basic needs are met, which, again, I don't think is necessarily true. In the pursuit of 'higher' things people will neglect 'basic' ones sometimes and sometimes it is the person who is in a state of lack who practises most vigorously because their sense of needing salvation is stronger.

    Taking up your point, Andrew, that is true but we should not take it that bombu nature means that we have no ability at all - we might, we might not. Honen 'understood all the teachings' better than anybody in his day, but still concluded that he needed Amida. Understand what one can, but know that awakening of faith is not just understanding. In yesterday's teaching, I talked about Shariputra who did understand the teachings, but his arising of faith came from encountering Ashvajit and I'm sure that he was touched more by Ashvajit's manner - which conveyed his own faith - as by the doctrine. The doctrine became an anchor that helped sustain the faith, but the thing itself was transmitted heart to heart.

  • Surely the point is we are all foolish and couldn't possibly fully understand all of the teachings. We therefore put out trust in Amida because we know he loves us for who we are however foolish.
    At the same time we should always attemp to live good lives practice the nembutsu.
  • Thanks!

  • Yes and no. I would translate samkhara-dukkha as suffering of conditioned mind. In Pureland one is concerned to reduce all these kinds of suffering, but just in the way that any ordinary person tries to reduce suffering. That is just natural behaviour. Pureland is certainly not masochistic. From a Purerland perspective, many other forms of Buddhism do appear somewhat masochistic and ascetic and this may be counter-productive. The attempt to eliminate one's own suffering by any self-perfected procedure does not work and certainly does not lead to salvation. The attempt to eliminate the suffering of others is an expression of whatever salvation one already has, not a means to more. Salvation itself, however, is not in our own hands. If one simply trusts in Amida - which also means, in all the Buddhas - they will save us, be it here or in the PL or wherever. When one feels such a sense of assurance that he can stop thinking about his own salvation that is how he gets saved, whereas if one is always thinking about his own salvation (or escape from suffering or however he thinks about it) he remains self-obsessed, never enters the non-self state that Buddhas talk of and so blocks any possibility of the Buddhas helping. This is the deep paradox of Buddhism.

  • Thanks, David. Very useful.

    Would the following further analysis be at all correct?

    Pureland is not aiming at liberation in this life, but in the Pureland. The third level of suffering in the scheme, suffering of conditioned existence (saṃkhāra-dukkha), is all about liberation, cessation of suffering. So Pureland does not address that, at least not as aggressively as Theravada and Tibetan Mahayana. You'll take that up in Amida's Pureland.

    But one does address the first two levels: for others as part of compassion; for oneself to create the conditions for oneself to turn toward Amida by practicing the nembutsu. Yes, you should be able to practice it under any conditions. But in reality, it's harder when you are wracked with pain or hunger, or angry all the time, etc (all suffering of suffering), or consumed with craving and addiction (suffering of change). So you do work to relieve the first two sufferings of yourself and others, but in the context of the nembtsu.

    Make any sense?  --David

This reply was deleted.