319. Becoming Whole Again And The Concept of 'Dukkha'

The center piece of Gotamo's teaching was the concept of 'dukkha'.

This concept can be found in ALL religions and philosophies in one variation or another, from Taoism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism, to the Church of Scientology, from Plato to Hegel and Nietzsche.

It is therefore a central question in the discourse of 'How To Escape From This Universe' and is certainly relevant beyond traditional Buddhist thought.

But this chapter will show not only how this concept could be developed in a more sensible way, it will also attempt to demonstrate how it became perverted by a phenomenon called 'confusion of orders of abstraction'. This phrase was coined be Alfred Korzybski who posited that this phenomenon would lead straight to insanity.

The perversion of the 'dukkha' concept is proving his position beyond any doubt. In fact, the insanity and with it the amount of _real_ suffering that follows this specific 'confusion of orders of abstraction' is so incredibly horrifying that the author will refrain here from pointing to it explicitly. (cp. The Devastating (Mis)Translations of 'Dukkha').

But once the 'correct' order of abstraction has been restored, countless oddities in 'traditional' Buddhist thought become magically resolved and a new slant on both theory and method of Gotamo Siddharto reveals itself in the process.

Now, what does 'dukkha' mean in the first place?

Rhys-Davids and William Stede write in their Pali-English Dictionary (which is _by far_ the most comprehensive Pali-English dictionary ever compiled in history):

   Dukkha (adj.-n.) [Sk. du.hka, from du.h-ka, an adj. formation
           from prefix du.h (see du)...
           There is no English word covering the same ground
           as Dukkha does in Pali. Our modern words are too
           specialised, too limited, and usually too strong.
           Sukha and dukkha are ease and dis-ease (but we use
           disease in another sense; or wealth and illth (from
           well and ill (but we have now lost ilth); well-being
           and ill-ness (but illness means something else in
           English). We are forced therefore in translation
           to use half synonyms, no one of which is exact.
[end of quote]

Rhys-Davids/Stede unfortunately shied away from proposing a translation that _would_ make sense, regardless of the existing (mis)translations.

Now, this notebook is not the place for elaborate etymological musings, but, in short, 'dukkha' consists of 'du-' (dis- in English), and 'kha'.

The English prefix 'dis-' does not indicate the _opposite_ of the following term but means that it has been 'lessened' or that there is a 'difference'.

What, then, does the word 'kha' means? After all, this it what has been lessened, as indicated by the prefix 'dis-'.

The Indic word 'kha' could be tracked to today's English in at least two ways: 'come', as in 'come together, unite'; or to the Engish words 'whole' and 'health', both of which are derived from the same root 'hál'.

Interestingly, both derivations yield the nearly the same concept and  therefore it does not really matter which route is being taken except for academic (linguistic) purposes.

Let's take the 'hál' path:

Websters New Universal Unabridged Dictionary shows:

  whole a. [M.E. hol, hool, from AS. hál whole, healthy]

    1. (a) in sound health; not diseased or injured; (b) [Archaic.]
       healed; said of a wound.
    2. not broken, damaged, injured, defective, etc.; intact
    3. containing all of its elements or parts; entire, complete;
       as, a whole set of Dickens,
    4. not divided up in; in a single unit.
    5. constituting the entire amount, extent, number, etc.;
       as he slept through the night.
    6. having both parents in common; as a whole brother; distinguished
       from half.
    7. in arithmetic, not a fraction; as, 28 is a whole number
    ..examples omitted..

  Syn.- all, undivided, uninjured, unimpaired, integral, unbroken,
        entire, total, complete.
[end of quote]

Considering that 'kha' is an adjective that is also being used as a noun, the 'precise' formations in English would then be:

'wholesome' (as an adjective) and 'wholesomeness' (as a noun).

'dukkha' then becomes a 'departure from wholesomeness'.

But what 'is' the 'whole'?

We can find the word 'whole' at the very top of possible levels  of abstractions. At such a position, the possibility of generalization and identification with other abstractions  becomes a considerable and consequential danger.

In the Indic view of the world, a Being must divide itself into fractions in order to bring about any kind of 'reality'.

It must then 'identify' itself (improperly!) with disintegrated parts in order to bring about 'sensations'.

For example, the Being must create a 'viewpoint' from which to 'see' an event, and then assume an identity that must collide  with at least one other identity to bring about experience, such as feeling 'heat' or 'weight' of something with one's 'hand'.

A possible, very-high-level abstraction of the characterics of these experienced events is the classification as:

  'pleasant, unpleasant, and neither-pleasant-nor-unpleasant'


But this (new) abstraction is clearly 'lower' than the super-high (meta) abstraction of 'wholeness'. The latter is an abstraction that has no explicit class enumeration and therefore cannot be abstracted any further by definition.

Collapsing the item 'unpleasant' from the class of 'experience' with the abstraction of 'deviation from the wholeness',  will result in a 'confusion of orders of abstraction'.

The same holds true, of course, of the improper identification of the item 'pleasant': this yields the 'All Is Well' philosophy, which is also an extreme view of the 'complete' picture of the 'Whole'.

Now, with this revised perspective, one can replace the word 'suffering' with the new concept everytime the word 'dukkha' occurs in the Pali Canon (the earliest recordings about Gotamo's teachings).

And, lo and behold, quite a different picture emerges:

the 'Noble Truth of Suffering' now becomes the 'The Basic Law of Dissociation from the Whole' - the 'Noble Truth of the Path that Leads to The Disappearing of Suffering' becomes simply the 'Technology to Become Whole Again'.

In this sense, the title for this book, The Little Purple Notebook On How To Escape from This Universe, is a catchy-flashy misnomer. This book would better be called 'Notes On Becoming Whole Again'. (But, then, who would read the latter???)

It may not be obvious to some readers how devastating the effects can be that follow from the mistaking of 'suffering' for 'dukkha'.

It can be illustrated a bit further in the following way:

'dukkha' is the condition of this Universe as such. Everything observable around here is never the 'whole' but always parts of a larger structure and, at the same time, a composition of still smaller structures.

Now, if one would see the world as 'everything is suffering', then everything _will appear_ as 'suffering'.

Furthermore, since the 'things' in the Universe are structures that are preceded by a mind, the view 'everything is suffering' will directly _create_ the experience of suffering in the future(s).

It thus becomes a 'classic' self-fulfilling prophecy and the resulting trap condition is quite obviously self-reinforcing.

At the same time, the basic condition of this Universe as 'not-being-whole' could be ignored altogether.

Another classic example which is very often thoughtlessly 'quoted' by  'Buddhists' is the utterly silly viewpoint that 'everything is suffering' BECAUSE 'everything is impermanent'.

It is commonly connected to Gotamo's observations: 'Everything in the world is structure' (lit.Pali: sabbe dhammaa sankharaa) and 'Everything is a process' (sabbe dhammaa aniccaa).

But that doesn't mean that 'everything is suffering'. It just means what is says: 'structure and processes', and, as a derivation: 'a part of it is not the whole!'

For example, painful processes such as physical illnesses are impermanent, too. Would their recovery be 'suffering'? This obviously would be a non-sensical and a catch-22 of magnitude!

Now, it is much easier to critisize than to lead by example.

But even if we firmly hold the vision of 'becoming whole again', it is still necessary to turn around every once a while and to examine the possible obstacles on the way.

This does not imply a denial of good intentions or abilities of those who fell for the traps along the path. If a pointing finger ever shows up in some of the chapters of the notebook, then it is for the purpose of rubbing it into the complacency of  those who feel chosen to 'be a teacher' but are just repeating mere words without reflecting on them first.

And here in this book, even with the best intentions behind it, there are still many deficiencies, too.

The best the author can do, is to shout every once a while into the ears of his readers to not forget that it is THEM who craft THEIR destiny!

While the concept of 'suffering' allows for a super-healer to come along and take away the pain, looking at the 'resolution of dukkha' as 'becoming Whole again', it becomes clear that everyone has to collect his pieces by HIM/HERSELF and a book like this can, at the most, be a reminder of this circumstance.

There is this famous classification of California road-behavioral strategies:

    "Lead, Follow, or get out of the way!"

On the path to Wholeness, 'following' leads into disaster and 'getting out of the way' leads into obliterating oblivion.

The only remaining choice, like it or not, is to 'lead' the way yourself for yourself.

Or, to paraphrase Gotamo Siddharto: 

  In the darkness of the world, everyone
  has no other choice than to be his own light!

Copyleft © 1998 by Maximilian J. Sandor, Ph.D.