Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta

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A depiction of the first teaching of the Buddha from a Buddhist monastery in Quebec, Canada.

Template:Buddhist term The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (Pali; Sanskrit: Dharmacakra Pravartana Sūtra; English: The Setting in Motion of the Wheel of Dharma) is considered to be a record of the first teaching given by the Buddha after he attained enlightenment. According to the Buddhist tradition, the Buddha gave this teaching in Sarnath, India, to the five ascetics (his former companions with whom he had spent six years practicing austerities).

The main topic of this sutta is the Four Noble Truths, which are the central teachings of Buddhism that provide a unifying theme, or conceptual framework, for all of Buddhist thought. This sutta also introduces the Buddhist concepts of the middle way, impermanence, and dependent origination.

Context and structure of the teaching

The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta is said to be the first teaching given by the Buddha after he attained enlightenment. It is taught that the Buddha attained enlightenment while sitting under the Bodhi tree by the river Neranjara, in Bodhgaya, India, and afterwards, he remained silent for forty-nine days. The Buddha then journeyed from Bodhgaya to Sarnath, a small town near the sacred city of Varanasi in central India. There he met his five former companions, the ascetics with whom he had shared six years of hardship. His former companions were at first suspicious of the Buddha, thinking he had given up his search for the truth when he renounced their ascetic ways. But upon seeing the radiance of the Buddha, they requested him to teach what he had learned. Thereupon the Buddha gave the teaching that was later recorded as the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, which introduces the fundamental concepts of Buddhist thought, such as the middle way and the four noble truths.Template:SfnTemplate:SfnTemplate:SfnTemplate:SfnTemplate:SfnTemplate:Sfn

The five ascetics

The Buddha addressed his first teaching, or discourse, to his five former companions, who are commonly referred to as the five ascetics. In this discourse, the Buddha addresses the ascetics as bhikkhus, a term which is normally translated as a Buddhist monk. However, Ajahn Sucitto explains that in this context bhikkhus means “alms-mendicants,” those who live on the free-will offerings of others.Template:Sfn

Ajahn Sucitto explains:Template:Sfn

The five bhikkhus at Deer Park were named Kondañña, Vappa, Bhaddiya, Mahanāma, and Assaji. Kondañña was the eldest. Many years previously, as a novice brahmin, he had been invited to the palace of the raja Suddhodana along with seven of his peers to see the baby Siddhattha Gotama [the future Buddha] and give predictions as to his destiny. They all agreed that this baby would be either a great emperor or a Buddha; perhaps this was why he was named Siddhattha, which means “Accomplishes the Goal.” Interestingly, it was Kondañña alone who reckoned that Siddhattha was destined for Buddhahood. Four of the brahmins who had been present at the palace later told their sons to keep their eyes on Siddhattha, as he was destined for greatness. These sons grew up to become the other four of the Group of Five.

The middle way

These five ascetics had renounced worldly life and, at the time of this meeting, they had been practicing severe austerities for many years in order to further their spiritual path and realize the ultimate truth. Therefore, the Buddha began his teaching by addressing their current situation. He affirmed their belief that indulging in sense pleasures would not lead to true freedom. He then stated that their practices of severe austerity, denial of the sense pleasures, would also not lead to the truth. Thus, the Buddha begins the teaching by asserting the position of the middle way, of avoiding extremes of self-indulgence or self-denial. The Buddha asserted that neither of these paths would lead to ultimate truth.Template:Sfn

Ajahn Sucitto explains:Template:Sfn

But in the case of the Group of Five, the Buddha was addressing “those who had gone forth.” They were samanas, “strivers”: they needed no recommendation that truth was worth seeking or that they had to apply themselves to it. They just needed to have the means clarified. So here the Buddha addresses them with some advice on the cultivation of right means as an expression and experience of enlightenment itself. And he begins with affirming the view that the ascetics would already have adopted—that chasing after and getting hooked on sense-pleasure is unworthy and useless. He starts where they already are—where every path should start. Then he balances that out by negating the ascetic view: saying that getting caught up with self-mortification was also useless. He thereby cuts away the ground and leaves them dangling in the middle, saying that it is in this “no position” that peace is to be found.

After rejecting the two extremes of self-indulgence and self-denial, the Buddha then asserts that the "middle way" is to follow the noble eightfold path—right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.Template:Sfn

The four noble truths

After presenting the middle way of the noble eightfold path, the Buddha then explains the four noble truths—the truth of suffering, its cause, its end, and the path to that end. Ajahn Sucitto explains:Template:Sfn

The four noble truths are about “suffering,” how it arises, how it ceases, and a way to bring around that ceasing. These occupy the center of the Buddha’s teaching, because they already are central to human experience. Everyone knows the feeling of lack or loss or conflict in their lives: this is what the Buddha called dukkha, often translated as “suffering,” but covering a whole range of meanings and nuances.

The Buddha asserted that dukkha, or suffering, can be transcended by following the noble eightfold path.

No-self and dependent origination

In this sutta, after presenting the four noble truths, the Buddha then states: "My release is assured. This is the last birth. There is no further becoming.”Template:Sfn Here the Buddha is asserting that he has realized selflessness or no-self (Pali: anatta)—the Buddhist view that what we call the "self" does not exist as a singular, independent, permanent entity, but is rather an ongoing process. Therefore, through complete understanding of the four noble truths, the Buddha has removed the causes and conditions for an ordinary rebirth (rebirth in samsara). This phrase can also be understood as an expression of dependent origination.

Realization of impermanence

This sutta then states that while listening to the Buddha's teaching, the eldest of the five ascetics, Kondañña, has the following realization: “Whatever has the characteristic to arise, all that ceases.”Template:Sfn This is an essential formulation of the Buddhist view of impermanence (Pali: anicca). The realization of impermanence is considered an important stage on the path to enlightenment. Ajahn Sucitto explains: "... in the Buddha’s discourses, this realization of impermanence represents the first major breakthrough of stream-entry."Template:Sfn

The wheel of dharma is set in motion

The sutta then states:Template:Sfn

When the wheel of Dhamma had been set rolling by the Blessed One, the devas of the earth raised the cry: “At Vāranāsi, in the Deer Park at Isipatana, the incomparable wheel of Dhamma has been set rolling by the Blessed One—and it can’t be stopped by any samana or brahmin or deva or māra or brahma or anyone whomsoever in the world.”

Ajahn Sucitto explains:Template:Sfn

This section of the sutta describes the effect the Buddha’s turning of the wheel of truth had on various celestial realms. The text is noncommittal; it simply states that various divine beings, or devas, [...] hear the teaching and start proclaiming it to each other.

In Ajahn Sucitto's commentary on this sutta, he describes the various realms where the Buddha's teachings were proclaimed.

Light in the world

The sutta concludes with the following passage:Template:Sfn

So in that instant, at that very moment, the word traveled up to the realm of the high divinities. This ten-thousandfold world system trembled and shook and resounded, and a great measureless radiance, surpassing the shining glory of the devas, was made manifest in the world.
Then the Blessed One uttered the pronouncement: “It is Kondañña who has seen deeply! Kondañña who has seen deeply.” And so it was that the name of Venerable Kondañña became “Kondañña the deep seer.”

Ajahn Sucitto explains the first part of this passage as follows:Template:Sfn

In The Discourse That Sets Turning the Wheel of Truth, the Buddha’s teachings were set rolling and produced a great light. It’s a light that is said to have radiated through the ten-thousandfold world system: from the twenty brahma realms of the highest divinities all the way down through the eight hells. Even down there, according to the accounts, it was a great moment too. In those places of utter gloom, there was an illumination by which the poor wretches could see that there were other beings in the same predicament. By the standards of those places, this was a burst of light. For a moment, some sense of not being alone in the mess lessened the intensity of it. Others have been here, and are here, now. It’s good to remember this. This light has this broad focus and also is long lasting. It continues to shine today. Once again, if we translate cosmological events into events in consciousness, the light that we’ve seen glowing throughout the discourse is the light of wisdom.

Ajahn Sucitto explains the second part of this passage ("It is Kondañña who has seen deeply!") as follows:Template:Sfn

At this time, the Buddha himself makes no mention of all the shining and shaking going on; more to the point, he was more concerned that the Dhamma he had taught had triggered a realization in Kondañña’s mind. If this could be communicated to one person, then there was no reason why it couldn’t be communicated to another. A big wheel of light—encompassing ethics, meditation, and wisdom—had started shining. This was a beginning, and it encouraged the Buddha to continue and develop his teaching.

Historical context

File:Dhamekh Stupa, where the Buddha gave the first sermon on the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path to his five disciples, Sarnath.jpg
Dhamekh Stupa, where the Buddha gave the first sermon on the Four Noble Truths to his five disciples.

Modern scholars agree that the teachings of the Buddha were passed down in an oral tradition for approximately a few hundred years after the passing of the Buddha; the first written recordings of these teachings were made hundreds of years after the Buddha's passing. Geshe Tashi Tsering explains:Template:Sfn

The sutras we have now in the Buddhist canon come from actual discourses of the Buddha that were memorized by the Buddha’s disciples and passed down in an oral lineage. Only centuries later were they written down, retaining much of the convention of the oral tradition. The repetition of phrases and even paragraphs was designed for easy memorization, and the whole style was developed to facilitate ritual recitation. As such sutras can be difficult reading, but their content, the actual words of the Buddha, are an infallible map out of the suffering that currently traps us.

Contemporary scholar Richard Gombrich remarks:Template:Sfn

Of course we do not really know what the Buddha said in his first sermon ... and it has even been convincingly demonstratedTemplate:Refn that the language of the text as we have it is in the main a set of formulae, expressions which are by no means self-explanatory but refer to already established doctrines. Nevertheless, the compilers of the Canon put in the first sermon what they knew to be the very essence of the Buddha's Enlightenment.

Sanskrit and Pali versions of the text

Differences between Sanskrit and Pali versions

The Sanskrit and Pali versions of this sutta contain minor differences. For example, Tibetan Buddhist scholar Geshe Tashi Tsering states:Template:Sfn

In Tibetan monasteries, as in most traditions within Mahayana Buddhism, the sutras (the discourses of the Buddha) and the shastras (the canonical commentaries) that are studied originate from the Sanskrit-language canon. In this case, however, we are using the sutra translated from the Pali language.Template:Refn Although it differs slightly in style and structure from the Sanskrit, the differences are minor, and in the West this is the better-known version.

Canonical sources

Pali Canon

In the Pali Canon, this sutta is contained in the Sutta Pitaka's Saṃyutta Nikāya, chapter 56 ("Saccasamyutta" or "Connected Discourses on the Truths"), sutta number 11. (Thus, an abbreviated reference to this sutta is "SN 56:11").Template:Refn

A similar account can be found in the Pali Canon's Vinaya Pitaka's Mahākhandhaka.

Chinese Canon

The Chinese Canon includes editions of this sutra from several different early Buddhist schools, including the Sarvāstivāda, Dharmaguptaka, and Mahīśāsaka schools, as well as an edition translated as early as 170 CE by An Shigao.

Tibetan Canon

The Tibetan Canon includes Tibetan translations of this sutra from both Pali and Sanskrit source texts. The original Sanskrit text on which the Tibetan translation was based is no longer extant.[1]

Translations into English

Pali Canon

Translations of the Pali Canon version of this text include:

Chinese Canon

Translations from the Chinese Canon include:

Tibetan Canon

The translations from the Tibetan Canon include:

Multiple sources

Translations from multiple sources include:

  • Thich Nhat Hanh (1991), Old Path White Clouds, Parallel Press, Chapter "Turning the Wheel of the Dharma"

Translation from SuttaCentral

Template:SuttaCentral Sujato translation


Commentaries in English

Related texts

The following early Buddhist texts include parallel stories of the first turning of the wheel:

Lalitavistara Sutra

The 26th chapter of the Lalitavistara Sutra contains a version of the first turning that closely parallels the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta. The following English translations of this text are available:

  • The Play in Full: Lalitavistara (2013), translated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee. Translated from Tibetan into English and checked against the Sanskrit version.[web 2]
  • Voice of the Buddha: The Beauty of Compassion (1983), translated by Gwendolyn Bays, Dharma Publishing (two-volume set). This translation has been made from French into English and then checked with the original in Tibetan and Sanskrit.

Etymology of Dhammacakkappavattana

  • Dhamma (Pāli) or dharma (Sanskrit) can mean a variety of things depending on its context;Template:Refn in this context, it refers to the Buddha's teachings or his "truth" that leads to one's liberation from suffering.
  • Cakka (Pāli) or cakra (Sanskrit) can be translated as "wheel."
    • Thus, the term dhammacakka, which can be translated as "Dhamma-Wheel," is a Buddhist symbol that represents the teachings of the Buddha
  • Pavattana (Pāli) can be translated as "turning" or "rolling" or "setting in motion."

Alternate translations of title

English translations of this sutta's full title include:

  • "Setting in Motion the Wheel of the Dhamma" (Bodhi, 2000, pp. 1843–7)
  • "Setting in Motion the Wheel of Truth" (Piyadassi, 1999)[1]
  • "Setting Rolling the Wheel of Truth" (Ñanamoli, 1993)[2]
  • "Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion" (Thanissaro, 1993)[3] (Geshe Tashi Tsering, 2005)Template:Sfn
  • "The Discourse That Sets Turning the Wheel of Truth" (Ajahn Sucitto, 2010)Template:Sfn
  • "Turning the Wheel of Dhamma" (Dhamma, 1997).
  • "The Four Noble Truths Sutra" (Geshe Tashi Tsering, 2005)Template:Sfn

See also



Web references


External links


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Page is sourced from

www.encyclopediaofbuddhism.org Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta