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The Buddhist Archives of Dr. Alexander Berzin

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All-Pervasive Suffering

Tsenzhab Serkong Rinpoche II
translated, compiled, and edited by Alexander Berzin
Bodh Gaya, India, December 2009

According to one explanation, the three types of true sufferings refer to the three types of feelings within the aggregate of feeling levels of happiness (tshor-ba’i phung-po).

  • The suffering of suffering (sdug-bsngal-gyi sdug-bsngal) refers to unhappiness (sdug-bsngal).
  • The suffering of change (‘ gyur-ba’i sdug-bsngal) refers to tainted happiness (zag-bcas-kyi bde-ba).
  • The all-pervasive suffering or, more fully, the all-pervasively affecting type of suffering (khyab-par ‘du-byed-kyi sdug-bsngal) refers to a tainted neutral feeling (zag-bcas-kyi btang-snyoms).

[See: Tainted and Untainted Phenomena.]

All-pervasive suffering refers to the neutral feeling on the mental continuum of a human meditator focused single-pointedly on the peak of samsara (srid-rtse), which is the highest of the formless metal stabilities (gzugs-med bsam-gtan). It can be considered the basis for the other two types of sufferings, because people aim for this as the highest state, as liberation. But since it is not liberation, then from this attainment, they fall to all other states of samsara and experience the other two types of suffering.

When it is explained that an example of the all-pervasive suffering is the five tainted aggregate factors of experience (zag-bcas-kyi phung-po lnga), it is technically referring to the five aggregates of a mind with grasping for the truly established existence of the peak of samsara – such a meditator.

Also, the main focus is on humans striving to attain liberation or enlightenment. So this explanation of the three types of suffering is not referring to the tainted neutral feeling on the mental continuum of formless realm beings.

Thus, we have repulsion (anger) toward the suffering of suffering; longing desire for the suffering of change; and naivety toward the all-pervasive suffering – we are naive about it because we think that it is liberation.

More commonly, however, it is explained that the all-pervasively affecting type of suffering refers to the five tainted aggregates in general, which are the basis for continuing experience of the suffering of suffering and the suffering of change. Nevertheless, because in sutra the nature of the mind is neutral in feeling, the five aggregates taken as a whole are also considered as neutral in feeling. So, although the three types of suffering are in the aggregate of feelings, this does not contradict the nature of the five aggregates as a whole being neutral. This is because the three feelings pervade all five aggregates.