Adventures : Zeph Tales (11)

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From Ennui to Dukkha, From Arghhh! to Ahhhhhhhhh!

Zeph chanced upon the word ‘ennui’. According to, it means ‘a feeling of weariness and dissatisfaction: boredom’. Ahhhh! He thought… a word that labels his otherwise unnameable demon of dread and fret. The word even somewhat sounds like what it is supposed to feel like. (Click the above link to hear it.) Having discovered this word, he felt slightly less weary, less dissatisfied. The ‘Ahhhh!’ arrived simply by wording the ‘Arghhh!’ How ironic? Well, naming the demons does relieve being haunted by them to some extent. At least you have defined and temporarily ‘contained’ the troubling experience. The word originated from old French, – back in 1732. There’s a strange sense of comfort that he has never really been alone with his ennui – though he wouldn’t wish this upon anyone from the past, in the present or future (Come to think of it, the Singaporean slang for ennui should be the Chinese dialect word “xian!”)

Just as he thought ‘ennui’ summed up the misery that bugged him, Zeph chanced upon another interesting word online (through seemingly ‘random’ six degrees of hyperlinked separation or less!). The word is ‘Dukkha’. From – ‘No single English word adequately captures the full depth, range, and subtlety of the crucial Pali term dukkha. Over the years, many translations of the word have been used (“stress”, “unsatisfactoriness”, “suffering”, etc.). Each has its own merits in a given context. There is value in not letting oneself get too comfortable with any one particular translation of the word, since the entire thrust of Buddhist practice is the broadening and deepening of one’s understanding of dukkha until its roots are finally exposed and eradicated once and for all. One helpful rule of thumb: as soon as you think you’ve found the single best translation for the word, think again: for no matter how you describe dukkha, it’s always deeper, subtler, and more unsatisfactory than that.’

This introduction to Dukkka made him more curious about it. It seems something more existentially in-depth (and disturbing!) than ennui. He scrolled through the page to read more on what defined Dukkha. From the same link – ‘Dukkha is: Disturbance, irritation, dejection, worry, despair, fear, dread, anguish, anxiety; vulnerability, injury, inability, inferiority; sickness, aging, decay of body and faculties, senility; pain/pleasure; excitement/boredom; deprivation/excess; desire/frustration, suppression; longing/aimlessness; hope/hopelessness; effort, activity, striving/repression; loss, want, insufficiency/satiety; love/lovelessness, friendlessness; dislike, aversion/attraction; parenthood/childlessness; submission/rebellion; decision/indecisiveness, vacillation, uncertainty. – Francis Story in Suffering, in Vol. II of The Three Basic Facts of Existence (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1983)‘ That is quite a huge range – though all listed in it are relevant to him! Now, is that truly comforting or disturbing… or both?

More surprisingly, still from the same link, Zeph saw this quote from the Buddha – ‘Both formerly and now, it is only dukkha that I describe, and the cessation of dukkha. – SN 22.86‘ What a succinct proclamation! Though half of the quote is about ‘deep ennui’, what a breath of fresh air it is – for the Buddha says there is an end to it! Dukkha simply lists all the problems we have. And here, the Buddha is saying that all he is concerned about is to name all the minions of this ‘demon’, and to point out the path on how to ‘exorcise’ them. Zeph had never seen such a direct definition of the Buddha’s teachings – given by the Buddha himself! Zeph thought… ‘I got to look more into the Buddha’s stuff. It might be the true beginning of my path to… what do the Buddhists call it… yes – Enlightenment!’ As he shutdown his computer to turn in for the night, he realised he was sighing a bigger sigh of relief…. Ahhhhhhhhh! Hope is at hand!

Related Articles:

Definition of Dukkha
A Brief List of Dislikes
Indignation that is Almost Tonglen

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