The hundred-and-eight sorrows

108 sorrows

I am not a Buddhist really. (Just ask Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse about that, and he’ll agree.) But I know some Buddhist doctrine, and it has actually helped me stumble through life.

How many different ways to suffer are there, do you think?

There are exactly one hundred and eight.

There are six senses in the Buddhist world view: smell, taste, touch, sight, hearing, and (the one we Westerners forget) the mind. Suffering can enter through all six of these.

What enters? The six stimuli: things we like, things we dislike, things we don’t care about, things that bring us joy, things that bring us suffering, things that make us feel nothing at all. Things we like may be bad for us (like alcohol). Things we dislike (like bitter medicine) may make us suffer, though they’re good for us physically. Things we don’t care about may be vitally important, but we don’t realize it. Joy is wonderful but it never lasts, and its departure causes suffering. Unhappiness is suffering itself. Indifference can lead to suffering later, through regret.

Six senses x six stimuli = 36.

All six stimuli can be past (remembering the six stimuli), present (experiencing them in the moment), or future (anticipating them).

36 x the three time periods of past / present / future = 108.

These are the hundred-and-eight sorrows.

In some Buddhist practices, there are commemorations of the number 108: 108 prostrations before the Lord Buddha, 108 circumambulations of his statue. Sometimes they ring a bell 108 times at the New Year.

Try this exercise: think of something you do, something you love or hate or don’t care about in the least. It will be one of the hundred-and-eight.



How about smoking? I smoked for fourteen years. I liked the way it tasted back them.



So: (sensation: taste) x (stimulus: liking) x (time: past).



And now I have throat cancer, almost certainly as a result of those fourteen years of smoking. (See also karma.)



The one-hundred-and-eight sorrows go on and on, endlessly, so long as there’s a single unenlightened being in the entire universe.



We need to realize them, and name them, and let them go.



Then we can move on to whatever comes next.

About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

One Response to The hundred-and-eight sorrows

  1. starproms says:

    Very interesting Loren. I’ve never thought about it all like that before.

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