“The root of suffering is attachment.”

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Message:
Hello,

I would like to know if the following is a Buddha quote or not:
“The root of suffering is attachment.”

Thanks,
Ozkan

This precise wording wasn’t familiar to me, and I’d assumed that it was an interpretation of Buddhist teaching rather than something the Buddha said himself, but there is a saying from the Pali canon, upadhi dukkhassa mūlanti, which means “Attachment is the root of suffering.” So this is a genuine canonical quote.

You’ll find it in this sutta, but translated by Thanissaro as “Acquisition is the root of stress.” His translations are rather idiosyncratic, and he regularly renders “dukkha” (pain, suffering, unsatisfactoriness) as “stress.”

In this translation of the same sutta it’s “acquisition is the root of suffering.”

Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation (not available online, but in The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, page 868) has “attachment is the root of suffering,” although he sometimes has “acquisition” in place of “attachment,” in various repetitions of the phrase.

My Pali dictionary gives upadhi as “clinging to rebirth (as impeding spiritual progress), attachment (almost syn. with kilesa or taṇhā…).”

So attachment is the root of suffering” is a perfectly fine translation.

All the best,
Bodhipaksa

5 thoughts on ““The root of suffering is attachment.””

    1. Not really. The Buddha praised couples who lived together harmoniously and lovingly. The root attachment we have is to ourselves, and this exhibits as clinging, aversion, and refusal to accept reality. This can obviously happen in a marriage, as it can in any relationship, but it’s not the relationship itself that’s the primary problem — it’s whether we’re able to let go of our selfishness and relate to the other person empathetically, kindly, and with wisdom. A marriage, in fact, is a wonderful opportunity to practice these things.

  1. I always thought the translation of the four noble truths said ” all life is suffering because of desire”? I may of course have the ‘life’ bit wrong as perhaps it was ‘all beings’. Of course you mention the attachment quote does appear in other texts. Anyway, what is the difference between ‘attachment’ and ‘desire’ from a Buddhist perspective?

    I’m remember reading way back that passion is not necessarily a bad thing in the Buddhist context yet the English definition aligns this term/word with desire. What does Buddhism have to say about passion?

    I’m familiar with the concept of non-attachment as well as non-duality, I’m more into Tibetan Buddhism as well as the Tao Te Ching, but wouldn’t it be wrong to deny out ‘true nature’? By true nature I mean what we instinctively feel and, for lack of a better word, desire. If we tame our mind and become spontaneous beings then we will surly act, live and react? If out reactions are aligned with our intrinsic nature then our actions must be true whether deemed justified by relative perceptions or not.

    What I’m getting at is the idea that even enlightened beings are distinct individuals and not a shadow of the same one object. Of course be an empty vessel but that vessel is unique.

    1. Hi, Patrick.

      Here are the four noble truths, as they’re found in the scriptures:

      “Suffering, as a noble truth, is this: Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, sickness is suffering, death is suffering, sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief and despair are suffering; association with the loathed is suffering, dissociation from the loved is suffering, not to get what one wants is suffering — in short, suffering is the five categories of clinging objects.

      “The origin of suffering, as a noble truth, is this: It is the craving that produces renewal of being accompanied by enjoyment and lust, and enjoying this and that; in other words, craving for sensual desires, craving for being, craving for non-being.

      “Cessation of suffering, as a noble truth, is this: It is remainderless fading and ceasing, giving up, relinquishing, letting go and rejecting, of that same craving.

      “The way leading to cessation of suffering, as a noble truth, is this: It is simply the noble eightfold path, that is to say, right view, right intention; right speech, right action, right livelihood; right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.”

      The word “passion” is very loaded, and if you want to look for positive senses of this word, the question arises, “Which traditional term are you translating with that word?” Passion originally meant “suffering,” and it’s not generally a good word for translating, say, chanda, which means “desire.” Desire can be directed skillfully or unskillfully, which may be what you’re getting at. “Passion” is usually used to describe craving, which by definition is unskillful.

      Enlightened beings are of course distinct individuals. What leads you to think would they not be? There’s no sense in which they’re “empty vessels.” They’re empty of delusion, but full of personality, compassion, wisdom, and uniqueness. It’s non-enlightened individuals who tend to manifest “cookie-cutter” options and predictably reactive emotions. For an example, just look at the stereotypical polarization you see on social media whenever politics is being discussed.

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