“The root of suffering is attachment.”



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


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,

13 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. Bodhipaska, I will differ with you as Tathagat when it comes to attachment he means every attachment even if it is marriage. In Hindu darshan such attachment is Maya but in Dhammapada the Sakyamuni states “All forms of existence are unreal (an-atta)…”. Therefore marriage attachments too are unreal as it too under the realm of “Maya (in Hindu darshan) “anatta (in Buddhsim).”

        In the canto XIV “Affection” of the Dhammapada the Sakyamuni mentions, ““Do not become attached to what is pleasing or to what is displeasing”…many bhikshus have interpreted attachments to even married couples.

        1. You’re right of course that monks and nuns aren’t supposed to have any attachments at all. What I wanted to do in replying to James was partly to get him away from thinking of attachment as being to do mainly with relationships. That’s a very common way of thinking. So for example when we hear the expression “a person of loose morals” most people probably jump to the assumption that it’s mainly, or perhaps entirely, sexual activity that’s being commented on.

          Also, what often happens is that people who are beginning to explore Buddhism hear about the monastic goal of being free from all attachments, and then assume that Buddhism condemns loving, intimate relationships, which it certainly doesn’t. In fact it praises intimate relationships when they are between two loving, respectful, and ethical individuals. But having assumed that Buddhism condemns intimate relationships, people may then start feeling guilty about doing something that the Buddha actually praised. And this guilt can lead to a great deal of suffering for themselves and for their partner.

  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.

  2. I find the concept that there is no personal God in Buddhism troubling because I have very strongly and and quite profoundly and personally felt the presence of God and Christ on three instances like no other I have ever heard about or read about. Yet I try to live the Four Noble Truths as much as I try to discern God’s will in all things.

    1. The thing is that people in other religious traditions have made similar claims. I assume they’ve had similar experiences. It seems unlikely to me that all of these various experiences of different gods are actually experiences of these different gods, and that they’re simply experiences that are interpreted in terms of people’s existing belief system. So if you’ve steeped in a Buddhist tradition you’re more likely to have a very vivid experience of Tara or Amitabha, while if you’ve been steeped in Christianity you’re more likely, as you did, to interpret this experience as being Jahweh or Christ.

  3. upadhi is upadhi
    kilesa is kilesa
    taṇhā is taṇhā
    all not same ,all diffirent
    and don’t compare to others
    Because It is panya(pali) or wit or intellect that come from enlightenment has only 1 result is 100% true it will come when you reach some point step by step.
    But philosophy or knowledge come from thinking accept when near true (not 100% true but everyone accept) or false

  4. Title of this message is …fake quote…!!! This message is saying that being in marriage relationship is perfectly ok …and gautam buddha also do praise it…i want to know ….even after the enlightenment why didn’t gautam buddha return to his home …in his beloved wife arms …if he praise the relationship …then why he didn’t go back to his beloved wife’s arm?????

    1. Many people are in intimate relationships. If those relationships are loving, then that brings them happiness, and that’s a good thing. So the Buddha praised kindness, empathy, and compassion in marriage.

      If someone’s heart’s desire is not going to be found in a loving relationship, then it’s probably best that, like the Buddha, they look elsewhere. He first sought liberating wisdom, which was not to be found in a relationship, and having found that wisdom his desire was to liberate others — something that would be actively inhibited by marriage. So he had no need to return to his wife.

      He also praised people being mindful in their work, but he didn’t have a job. He praised those who ruled well, even though he wasn’t a ruler. He praised many things because he saw them as sources of joy in people’s lives, but that doesn’t mean he had to do all those things, or that those things would being him happiness.

  5. Thanks for clearing this up.
    I thought the phrase sounded a little too perfect to be genuine and I am glad to hear it’s the real deal since I feel quite interested in how I/we should approach the phenomenon of attachment and the problems it might cause.

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