In Buddha's time, the word Dukkha was used to describe when a wheel was not turning smoothly on its axle.

ancient wooden spoked wheel The invention of continuous rotary motion – the potter's wheel, spinning wheel, and the wooden cartwheel – dates from around 3,000 B.C. By Buddha's time in 500 B.C., the spoked cartwheel had led to a cultural revolution.

The wheel was the epitome of repetition and self-perpetuating motion, with the possibility of momentum. It enabled a new form of movement, mobility, and transport of goods.

Imagine the fascination people felt when they first saw this phenomenon, similar to natural peoples these days when they first see an aeroplane. Wheels were the future. Wheels meant status. Everyone wanted wheels.

But ancient wooden wheels often squeaked, snagged, grinded and wobbled, and the hub needed constant maintenance in order to run smoothly. Dukkha described when the turning of a wheel was problematic.

Dukkha was not just an abstract concept as it is in modern times, it was a very real daily fact of life.

In Buddha's time this was an extremely important and commonplace word. Such words tend to have a very broad usage in all areas of life, when referring to anything being inefficient or going wrong. It was in all probability also used as a swear word.

There is one other fascinating message hidden in the symbolism of the old-fashioned cartwheel, it would have been obvious to anyone living in those days : the hard wheels on the soft dirt roads made tracks, habitual ruts, karmic ruts.

Modern suggestions for the interpretation of Dukkha suggest extreme states where the wheels are stuck in the mud, or grinding with friction : suffering, anxiety, distress, unsatisfactory, frustration and stress. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dukkha 2019, 2020, 2021).

But for Buddha, this was not a question of semantics and the literal meaning of the word Dukkha. In those days everyone knew what Dukkha meant. Buddha's question was what is the problem with life's wheel? What is going wrong?

In many texts, it is written that the Five Aggregates are Dukkha. The Aggregates are five umbrella terms which explain how we experience the world. They describe the process: manifest form, sensation, perception, concepts and consciousness. The Aggregates apply to all of our senses. 

The way we sense life, our sensory apparatus is Dukkha, it's not running smoothly.

In Buddhism, where thoughts are considered as manifest forms or 'mind-objects', the Aggregates also apply to how the mind senses its own thoughts. In other words, the mind sensing its thoughts, functions in the same way as the eye sees a sight, or the ear hears a sound.

So, to be exact, the First Truth tells us: Our sensory apparatus – the six senses of touch, taste, smell, sound, sight, and thought – is problematic, it's not running smoothly.

Please continue with The Second Noble Truth – The Origin of Dukkha

The Five Aggregates are simple enough for a child to understand, but the words for such phenomenon didn't exist in Buddha's times, they are demystified in The Five Aggregates.

The above definition of the First Noble Truth fits exactly with the Second and Third Truths, which examine the Aggregates and the six senses in great detail.

Buddhists of faith maintain The Transmission of the Teachings was accurate and the texts record Buddha's spoken words. However Buddha's words were subject to multiple translations before being written down more than 400 years after he spoke.

The texts of the traditional First Noble Truth, and the Second, and Third Truths are incongruous.

The traditional meaning of Dukkha is worldly suffering, old-age, sickness, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, distress, getting what you don't want and not getting what you do want.

Please continue with Suffering: The Traditional First Truth

Back to Dukkha in Depth
Back to Chapter Four : Buddhism and Wheels
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