Questioner: What should a layman do who wants to be free from dukkha? He may see that there is such a great deal of dukkha, that it is so terrible and that it occurs all the time, because people are born and they have to be born again and again. Is there a short way to become free from dukkha?
Sujin: When someone says that there is such a great deal of dukkha, that it is so terrible, there is bound to be wrong view that clings to the concept of self. Only if there is no wrong view of self can dukkha become less. The Buddha explained that all the different kinds of dukkha can be eliminated according as defilements are eradicated stage by stage. So long as defilements have not been eradicated there have to be countless rebirths. So long as there is birth there is dukkha. The sotapanna who has attained the first stage of enlightenment and has eradicated defilements in accordance with that stage, will not be reborn more than seven times.
We read in the Kindred Sayings (II, Nidåna vagga, Ch XIII, § 1, The tip of the nail):
Thus have I heard. On a certain occasion
the Exalted One was staying near Savatthi at the Jeta Grove,
in Anathapindika’s Park.
Then the Exalted One took up a little pinch of dust on the tip of his finger-nail
and said to the monks:
”What do you think, monks?
Whether is this pinch of dust that I have taken up on my finger-nail
the greater, or the mighty earth?"
"The latter, lord, the mighty earth is the greater.
Infinitely small is this pinch of dust
taken up by the Exalted One on his finger-nail,
not by a hundredth part,
nor by a thousandth part,
not by a hundred thousandth part
does it equal the mighty earth when set beside it–
this pinch of dust taken up by the Exalted One on his finger-nail.”
“Even so, monks, for the ariyan disciple who has won vision,
for the person who has understanding this is the greater dukkha,
to wit, that which for him is wholly perished, wholly finished;
little is the dukkha that remains,
not worth the hundredth part,
not worth the thousandth part,
not worth the hundred thousandth part
when measured with the former dukkha which for him is wholly perished,
wholly finished, to wit, a term of seven times.
So great in good, monks, is it to be wise in the Dhamma;
so great a good is it to have gained the eye of the Dhamma.”
Since the number of rebirths of ordinary people, who have not attained
enlightenment, is countless, the dukkha that arises because of birth must
accordingly be immeasurable, as you suggested in your question.
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