We have all experienced what it’s like to have the mind cling to an unpleasant moment in the past or to be obsessed with desire only to have new desires arise soon after we have achieved what we thought we wanted. The tendency of the mind to behave this way is what Buddhists refer to as dukkha.
The standard translation for dukkha from the Pali language is ‘suffering’ but this word does not do justice to the concept that we are getting at. Dukkha encompasses the kind of states we normally associate with the word suffering, but it also has a much deeper meaning. Another way to translate dukkha is to describe a condition where no state has an enduring or lasting postive quality. For example, if you try to sit still, how long can you do it without the desire arising to move or shift positions? We spend our whole lives changing positions both literally and figuratively never to find one that is comfortable and this concept, dukkha, pervades every aspect of our existence.
The Buddha’s discovery of a path leading out of this condition was a revolution because human beings finally had a means to overcome their unhappiness in an enduring way. The little secret that the Buddha discovered turned out to have an enormous impact. That little secret was the subtle difference between being aware of what you’re doing and being heedless.
When a person trains the mind to be continually aware, it becomes apparent that there is nothing wrong with the present moment. The desire itself for something different is the cause of our problems. But these desires don’t subside just because we want them to. We have to train the mind to stay in the present moment. And that is the purpose of insight meditation: to train the mind in that little secret to happiness that has been passed down from the Buddha for over 2,500 years.