The Three Levels Of Suffering

To fully recognise suffering
is to fully begin the path
to fully transcend suffering.


The practice here is to meditate on the three expressions of suffering and to experience their nature. The Buddha said there is one word that can describe the meaning of suffering, and that is fear. Fear is what suffering means. But what is this fear? It is the fear of losing something that is pleasant, something that is very dear and beloved, something to which you have become attached. It is also the fear of gaining something that is unpleasant that you don’t want. Overall, you always get what you don’t want, and you don’t get what you really want. Therefore, we have three levels of suffering, which we call the suffering of suffering, the suffering of change, and all-pervasive suffering.

All pervasive suffering is the fundamental fear that exists whether we are happy or down. All of our feelings are pervaded by this fundamental fear, which is why it is called all-pervasive suffering. It’s compared in traditional Buddhist literature to developing a fatal disease that has not fully ripened. You haven’t really experienced it yet, but its presence is there all of the time, growing every minute. That kind of fundamental situation is known as all-pervasive suffering.

The traditional metaphor for the suffering of change is a very delicious cookie baked with poison. When you eat that cookie, it’s very pleasurable – but it is deadly poisonous. In order to show that more dramatically, Shantideva, in the Bodhicharyavatara, said the suffering of change is like honey on a razor blade. When we lick this honey, it’s very sweet, and because of our desire and attachment, we want more and more all the time. With our poverty mentality, we lick the honey harder each time we experience its sweetness, and the harder we lick the honey, the deeper we cut our tongue on the razor blade. So the suffering or change is experienced initially as a pleasurable, pleasing feeling, but it leads us to suffering.

The suffering of change leads us to the suffering of suffering, which is the most obvious level of suffering. This simply means that, in addition to our fundamental fear, we accumulate further sufferings, one on top of the other. For example, after experiencing the delicious honey, we notice that we have cut off our tongue. When we notice that our tongue is gone, not only do we feel the pain of our wound, we also realize we won’t be able to taste the sweetness of the honey again in this lifetime.

As we work with and examine the three levels of experience – pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral – we can see they are related with the three sufferings. Pleasurable feelings are connected to the suffering of change, unpleasant feelings connected to the suffering of suffering, and the neutral state of mind is connected to fundamental suffering, all-pervasive suffering. So mindfulness of feeling is being totally watchful and present with every level of fear. This is the mindfulness of feeling from the perspective of the general Buddhist approach.

The Infinite Dot Called Mind
The Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche 


  • I fear more of being reborn as an animal or going to hell. The suffering will be greater than any other form of suffering that I can experience now as a human being. Therefore, I think it is a better deal to follow buddha’s teaching to exchange my greed, anger and desire for the path to pureland:)

  • Suffering is the nature of the universe like darkness. Other elements of nature of universe are non selfness and impermanence. Some people say that Buddhism teaches only sufferings. That is not correct and the belief is 🙂 due to their ignorance. In fact, The Lord Buddha has described existing sensual pressure in the universe.(Ambatta sutra in Digha nikaya) But the problem is the relativity of the pleasure to suffering. The Lord Buddha has described it with a nice example. If the pleasure is equal to the amount of soil under the your nail, the sufferings amounts to soil in the earth. The only way to release the NIRVANA.

  • There will be suffering only if we feel that we are suffering. For the same event that is experienced by two persons, one may feel that he is suffering while the other does not think so. Practice! Practice! Practice! With compassion and wisdom, we will not feel that we are suffering.

Please Be Mindful Of Your Speech, Namo Amituofo!

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