Dr. Kate Crosby, a scholar of Theravada Buddhism and the Pali Canon, translates ‘dukkha’ as insecure which puts it closer to impermanent, as ‘having no assurances, nothing to rely on.’ This finally gets to what I have been saying all along is the core of the human predicament, which is fear. That living things are insecure is without doubt, which is why we live in a state of perpetual anxiety.

That would seem to implicate that ‘taking refuge’ is an end to insecurity, a condition which pervades all existence. To the contrary, I contend that taking refuge is an acknowledgement of insecurity as our basic human condition.

If dukkha is ‘insecurity’, then the end of dukkha is…security? I doubt it. Rather, the end of insecurity is fully accepting the contingent and groundless nature of our existence. Realizing our interdependence on one another and on all other species and forms of life in the biosphere is the end of dukkha. Community and mutual care is the antidote of insecurity.

The following excerpt is from the first chapter of her book:

In northern India at the time of Gotama Buddha, the dominant (though not universal) presupposition underlying the religions of the period was that all living beings were subject not only to death, but to rebirth and redeath (saṃsāra). In Buddhism, this is encapsulated in the teaching of the three characteristics (ti-lakkhaṇa) of all phenomena, not just living beings. The first characteristic is dukkha, literally “insecure,” often translated as “suffering.” The term suffering conveys one sense of the term dukkha, but, even though it has become a very wide-spread translation of this term into English, it is misleading in this context. For the adjective ‘dukkha’ in Buddhism applies as much to pleasant and happy experiences as to negative ones. It also applies to objects (so not only to experiences). All these things, whether pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant, are insecure, dukkha, in that they cannot last so cannot be relied upon. The second characteristic is that everything is anicca “impermanent.” Thirdly, everything is characterized by anattā “lack of enduring self,” or, put conversely, there is nothing that can be identified as an enduring self. This definition of the true character of all phenomena is an explicit rejection of other religious encapsulations of the truth that circulated in India at that time, including the notion of a pure, blissful, enduring and unchanging self. For Buddhism any aspect of humanity or human experience identified as a self can be shown on closer analysis either to be subject to change or to be a projection of an imagined entity onto what is in fact a separate function. In Buddhism, an inert “self ” or “soul” is irrelevant, since there is no way of experiencing or engaging with it and it has no function.


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