From Dukkha to Wabi-Sabi

Kenneth Leong
4 min readSep 15

I recently saw a meme from Osho. It was impressive. Osho pointed out a Catch-22 situation with desire. Either your desire will be fulfilled or it will not. If it is not fulfilled, then you will feel defeated and frustrated. But even if it is fulfilled, you will still be disappointed. This is because nothing is permanent. Today, you may desire a certain thing. Tomorrow, your desire may change and what you desired earlier may become a nuisance. Further, nothing in the phenomenal world lasts. People break up. People get sick. People will eventually die. Thus, you discover that you have been chasing after a shadow or a mirage.

This is no different from the Buddha’s message in the First Noble Truth. There are three different types of dukkha(suffering): (1) ordinary suffering like illnesses, old age and death, (2) suffering due to change, and (3) suffering as “conditioned states” — as the conditions change, phenomena will appear or disappear accordingly.

There is no escape from dukkha. Even Buddha himself became old and eventually died. Your status as a sage or arahant does not matter. Impermanence is the law. The Three Marks of Existence applies to everybody. In the conventional Buddhist worldview, we can escape suffering only if we can exit Samsara and enter Nirvana. It is not something you can do in this life. Buddha said, “The five aggregates of attachment are dukkha.” This means that as long as you are a breathing sentient being, you will experience dukkha.

One strategy for dealing with suffering is to embrace it. Psychologist M. Scott Peck wrote in his book, “The Roadless Traveled,” the following:

Life is difficult. This a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult — once we truly understand and accept it — then life is no longer difficult.

Thus, suffering is transcended through our embracing of it. We must see happiness and sorrow as a package. There cannot be one without the other. We should manage our expectations. People suffer excessively because they have unrealistic expectations. It is the same with other things in life. Much of modern culture’s discontent with marriage is that many of us have a rosy, romantic vision of marriage. We expect it to be like a…

Kenneth Leong

Author, Zen teacher, scientific mystic, professor, photographer, philosopher, social commentator, socially engaged human