Sukha (Sanskrit, Pali; Devanagari: सुख) means happiness, pleasure, ease, or bliss, in Sanskrit and Pali. Among the early scriptures, 'sukha' is set up as a contrast to 'preya' (प्रेय) meaning a transient pleasure, whereas the pleasure of 'sukha' has an authentic state happiness within a being that is lasting. In the Pāli Canon, the term is used in the context of describing laic pursuits, meditative absorptions, and intra-psychic phenomena.
According to Monier-Williams (1964), the etymology of sukha is "said to be su ['good'] + kha ['aperture'] and to mean originally 'having a good axle-hole'...." Thus, for instance, in the Rig Veda sukha denotes "running swiftly or easily" (applied, e.g., to chariots). Sukha is juxtaposed with duḥkha (Sanskrit; Pali: dukkha; often translated as "suffering"), which was established as the major motivating life principles in early Vedic religion. This theme of the centrality of dukkha was developed in later years in both Vedic and the offshoot Buddhist traditions. The elimination of dukkha is the raison d'être of early Buddhism.
In the Pali Canon and related literature, the term is used in a general sense to refer to "well-being and happiness" (hitasukha) in either this present life or future lives. In addition, it is a technical term associated with describing a factor of meditative absorption (jhāna) and a sensory-derived feeling (vedanā).
In the Pali Canon, the Buddha discusses with different lay persons "well-being and happiness" (hitasukha) "visible in this present life" (diṭṭha-dhamma) and "pertaining to the future life" (samparāyika), as exemplified by the following suttas.
Of these, the wise (sumedhaso) know that the happiness of blamelessness is by far the greatest householder happiness. Economic and material happiness is not worth one sixteenth part of the spiritual happiness arising out of a faultless and good life.
In the Kālāmā Sutta (AN 3.65), townspeople ask the Buddha how they are to ascertain which spiritual teaching is true. The Buddha counsels that one should "enter and dwell" (upasampajja vihareyyātha) in "things" or "qualities" (dhammā) that are:
Using the latter criterion, the Buddha then asks the townspeople to assess greed (lobha), hate (dosa) and delusion (moha) whereby it is agreed that entering and dwelling in non-greed, non-hate and non-delusion lead to well-being and happiness. The Buddha states that, given this understanding, a noble disciple (ariyasāvako) pervades all directions with lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity (see the four brahmaviharas); and, by doing so, one purifies oneself, avoids evil-induced consequences, lives a happy present life and, if there is a future karmic rebirth, one will be born in a heavenly world.
In a manner somewhat similar to his exposition in the aforementioned Anaṇa Sutta, the Buddha identifies four sources that lead to well-being and happiness in the current life:
In terms of well-being and happiness in the next life, the Buddha identifies the following sources:
As indicated above, in the Kālāmā Sutta, the Buddha identifies the practice of the four divine abodes (brahmavihara) as being conducive to one's own well-being and happiness. The first of these abodes is mettā (benevolence, kindness) which is, for instance, classically expressed in the Pali canon's Karaniya Mettā Sutta ("Scripture of Compassionate Benevolence") (Sn 1.8) by the sincere wish (in English and Pali):
Similarly, the Pali commentaries (SN-A 128) explicitly define mettā as "the desire to bring about the well-being and happiness [of others]" (hita-sukha-upanaya-kāmatā) Thus, in Buddhism, to dwell wishing for others' general happiness is conducive to the development of one's own happiness.
In the Buddhist frameworks of the five aggregates (Sanskrit: skandha; Pali: khandha) and dependent origination (Sanskrit: pratītyasamutpāda; Pali: paticcasamuppāda), "feelings" or "sensations" (vedanā) arise from the contact of an external object (such as a visual object or sound) with a sensory organ (such as the eye or ear) and consciousness. In the Pali Canon, such feelings are generally described to be of one of three types: pleasant (sukha), unpleasant (dukkha), or neither-unpleasant-nor-pleasant (adukkha-asukha).
As illustrated in the table above, both pīti and sukha are born of bodily seclusion and mental quietude. The Visuddhimagga distinguishes between pīti and sukha in the following experiential manner:
Providing a bare-bones conditional chain of events that overlaps the above more narrative exposition, the Upanisa Sutta (SN 12.23) states that sukha arises from tranquillity (passaddhi) of the body and mind, and in turn gives rise to concentration (samādhi). Citing traditional post-canonical Pali literature related to this discourse, Bodhi (1980) adds the following functional definition of sukha:
Nibbāna (Sanskrit: Nirvāṇa) entails the foundational extinction or "blowing out" of the processes of unwholesome desire, aversion, and delusion. From the perspective of awakened experience, the latter deleterious processes are appreciated as "agitations" of the mind. In comparative contrast to such agitation, sukha and its cognates are at places in the Pali Canon used to characterize the calm of Nibbāna, the "Unconditioned," as a bliss:
In the Yoga Sūtras, Patañjali uses the word 'sukha' when he defines asana as the balance between "Sukha" and "Stirah" (strength, steadiness, firmness).
Some researchers have proposed that a "shift" in the activity of the medial prefrontal cortex is what supports a state of inner fulfillment and equanimity.