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saṃskāraduḥkhatā (P. saṅkhāradukkhatā; T. 'du byed kyi sdug bsngal; C. xingku 行苦), or "suffering inherent in conditioning," is one of the three types of suffering (duḥkha).

The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism states:

This is the most subtle and most pernicious of the three types of suffering, since it conditions all of saṃsāra. Saṃskāraduḥkhatā is identified as neutral sensations and their objects, which, due to impermanence, can turn into sensations of pain in the next instant. It is said that this form of suffering generally goes unnoticed by ordinary beings (pṛthagjana), where it is like a wisp of wool in the palm of the hand, but it cannot be ignored by noble beings (āryapudgala), where it is like a wisp of wool in the eye.[1]

In the Tibetan tradition, saṃskāraduḥkhatā is commonly referred to as the "pervasive suffering of conditioning" (khyab pa 'du byed kyi sdug bsngal).

Geshe Tashi Tsering states:

This is the level of suffering that the Buddha is primarily referring to when he says that suffering should be understood. The Buddha concludes his description of the first noble truth with “The five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering.” Since our existence is nothing more than these five aggregates—our body and our mental states—this indicates how truly integrated suffering is with our very being. Pervasive means that this suffering pervades our entire existence.
This level of suffering, and the causes and conditions that bring it about, can be understood through the teachings on the subtle levels of impermanence. Pervasive suffering is present wherever we are born in cyclic existence; we cannot avoid it. And yet, because its causes and conditions are very deeply rooted, it is very difficult for us, as ordinary people, to even recognize it and acknowledge at all. However, only when we acknowledge it we can begin to abandon it. The effects of pervasive suffering spread throughout our lives and often manifest in the form of grosser sufferings, which makes it difficult for us to really come to grips with it. It is so enmeshed that even understanding it, let alone overcoming it, takes a lot of effort.
Of pervasive suffering His Holiness the Dalai Lama says:
This addresses the main question: why is this the nature of things? The answer is, because everything that happens in samsara is due to ignorance…. Here the third level of suffering therefore refers to the bare fact of our unenlightened existence.
This third level of suffering is actually our unenlightened existence itself, which is under the influence of fundamental confusion and negative karma. Therefore, nothing within our existence is excluded from this third level of suffering. The best instrument to further understand pervasive suffering is an understanding of impermanence. The Theravada writer Walpola Rahula says:
It is dukkha not because there is suffering in the ordinary sense of the word, but because whatever is impermanent is dukkha.
Literally, Rahula asserts that you are suffering at this moment, while reading this, because you are impermanent.
Tibetan Buddhism phrases it slightly differently, asserting that because something is contaminated, it is therefore suffering. This assertion does not have quite the same connotation as the statement, “Whatever is impermanent is suffering,” because it allows for impermanent things that are not contaminated.
Pervasive suffering refers to that unsatisfactory state that pervades our entire unenlightened existence. We will not be free of it until we are free from samsara, until we are buddhas.[2]


  1. Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. saṃskāraduḥkhatā.
  2. Geshe Tashi Tsering 2005, s.v. Chapter 2, section "Types of Suffering".


Further reading