Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta – Four Noble Truths

by

Related Talks

Introduction

The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta is the very first teaching ever presented by the Buddha. It occurred a few weeks after Siddhartha Gotama awakened and gained full human maturity – complete understanding of the human life experience.

For a few weeks after his awakening, Siddhartha carefully considered if it was possible to teach to others his profound understanding of the nature of suffering  (Dukkha) arising due to wrong views of self (Anatta) within an impermanent, ever-changing environment (Anissa). Developing the wisdom of a Buddha is developing insight into these Three Marks Of Existence. [1]

As described in the Paticca-Samuppada Sutta, [2] the primary sutta on Dependent Origination, the conditions that Dukkha is dependent on arise from ignorance of Four Noble Truths. [3] As shown and taught in the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, the Eightfold Path [4] is the middle-way that avoids extreme views that would continue wrong views rooted in ignorance of the Four Noble Truths described in this sutta. The Eightfold Path is the path developed by Dhamma practitioners that brings wisdom and awakening.

It is the self-identification with ongoing suffering – clinging or joining with suffering – that obscures impermanence through the continuation of self-referential unsatisfactory experiences.

The Buddha taught an Eightfold Path to develop the concentration supporting the refined mindfulness necessary to integrate the Eightfold Path as the framework for recognizing and abandoning all wrong views rooted in ignorance.

The entire forty-five-year teaching career of the Buddha was taught in the context of Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths to bring wisdom, understanding, and profound insight into Three Marks Of Existence.

This very first teaching was presented to the five ascetics he had previously befriended, all seeking understanding.

In addition to the audio recordings above, there are videos of these talks on my Video Archive Page.

My comments in italics.

Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion

Samyutta Nikaya 56:11

I have heard that on this occasion the Buddha was staying at Varanasi in the Game Refuge at Isipatana. There he addressed the group of five:

“There are these two extremes that are not to be indulged in by one who has gone forth. Which two? That which is devoted to sensual pleasure with reference to sensual objects. This behavior is base, vulgar, common, ignoble, unprofitable. It is devoted to self-affliction. That which is devoted to self-affliction is (always) painful and ignoble. Avoiding both of these extremes the middle way is realized by the Tathagata. This middle way produces vision and knowledge. This middle way leads to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding.

“One who has gone forth” refers to one who has gained understanding framed by the Eightfold Path and no longer craves after or clings to the impermanent objects, events, views, and ideas of the world.

“And what is the middle way realized by the Tathagata that brings vision and direct knowledge, that leads to calm and to self-awakening and Unbinding? The middle way is precisely this Noble Eightfold Path:

  1. Right View
  2. Right Intention
  3. Right Speech
  4. Right Action
  5. Right Livelihood
  6. Right Effort
  7. Right Mindfulness
  8. Right Meditation

“This is the middle way realized by the Tathagata that brings vision and direct knowledge, that leads to calm and to self-awakening and Unbinding.

“Tathagata” means “One who has gone forth” and is the word the Buddha used when referring to himself. By using this word the Buddha established his life and his teachings as a continual reference to the Eightfold Path. “Unbinding” refers to the culmination of the path – abandoning clinging to views rooted in ignorance of these Four Noble Truths.

“I teach the truth of stress (Dukkha) and the truth of the path leading to the cessation of stress. Nothing More.

“This is the noble truth of stress:

“Birth is stressful, aging is stressful, death is stressful. Sorrow, regret, pain, distress, and despair are stressful. Furthermore, association with the unbeloved is stressful and separation from is loved is stressful. Not getting what is craved for is stressful. In short, the Five Clinging Aggregates [5] are stressful.

“Five Clinging Aggregates” are form, feelings, perceptions, mental fabrications, and ongoing thinking rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths. Five Clinging Aggregates describe the ongoing personal experience of stress. Gaining insight into Five Clinging Aggregates is gaining insight into Three Marks Of Existence.

“And this, monks, is the noble truth of the origination of stress: the craving that makes for further becoming (rooted in ignorance) and accompanied by passion and delight, (in becoming) relishing now here and now there by craving for sensual pleasure, craving for becoming, craving for non-becoming.

“Relishing now here and now there by craving for sensual pleasure, craving for becoming, craving for non-becoming” means compulsive seeking to establish a “self” rooted in ignorance in every thought, word, and idea that occurs.

“And this, monks, is the noble truth of the cessation of stress: the remainderless fading & cessation, renunciation, relinquishment, release, and letting go of that very craving.

The previous statement describes the purpose of a Buddha’s Dhamma. The following statement provides the focus and framework for Dhamma practice and points directly the Eightfold Path:

“And this, monks, is the noble truth of the way of practice leading to the cessation of stress: precisely this Noble Eightfold Path – Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Meditation.

“Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before: ‘Dukkha (stress) occurs.’ (First Noble Truth)

“Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before: The noble truth of stress is to be understood.

Understanding the nature of stress, its arising and passing away, is the task associated with the First Noble Truth. Understanding that ignorance of the impermanence of all conditioned phenomena, including what constitutes a “self,” initiates craving and clinging. This initial ignorance then allows for “clinging” wrong views of self – mental fabrications – to impermanent objects, events, views, and ideas.

This unknowingly – mindlessly – establishes disappointing and unsatisfactory experiences, Dukkha, as personal experiences given an individual personality from this initial ignorance. Life experience established in ignorance can only lead to continuing confusion, deluded thinking, and ongoing disappointing experiences.

It is insight into Anicca, impermanence, and Anatta, the Not-Self characteristic, that brings wisdom and knowledge of “things never heard before” and results in awakening as the Buddha describes awakening:

“Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before:

  • The noble truth of stress has been understood.

The Eightfold Path develops the skills of concentration and refined mindfulness necessary to support accomplishing the tasks associated with developing understanding of Four Noble Truths. Profound and penetrative understanding of the origination and cessation of stress, of Dukkha, is awakening:

“Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before:

  • This is the noble truth of the origination of stress.
  • This noble truth of the origination of stress is to be abandoned.
  • This noble truth of the origination of stress has been abandoned.

This refers to the Second Noble Truth.

“Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before:

  • This is the noble truth of the cessation of stress.
  • This noble truth of the cessation of stress is to be directly experienced.’
  • This noble truth of the cessation of stress has been directly experienced.’

This refers to the Third Noble Truth.

“Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before:

  • This is the noble truth of the way of practice leading to the cessation of stress.
  • This noble truth of the way of practice leading to the cessation of stress is to be developed.
  • This noble truth of the way of practice leading to the cessation of stress has been developed.

This last refers to the Fourth Noble Truth, the truth of the path developing profound and penetrative insight into Three Marks Of Existence. The Eightfold Path provides simple and direct guidance of  an awakened human beings Dhamma.

“Monks, as long as my knowledge & vision concerning these Four Noble Truths was not pure, I did not claim to have directly self-awakened. My self-awakening is unexcelled in the cosmos even with its deities, Maras, & Brahmas, with its contemplatives & brahmans, its royalty & commonfolk.

Here the Buddha is declaring that his Dhamma surpasses the “spiritual” practices of his time for all beings regardless of their understanding or social position.

The Buddha continues: “But as soon as my knowledge & vision concerning these Four Noble Truths was truly pure, then I did claim to have directly self-awakened, an awakening unexcelled in the cosmos. Knowledge & vision arose in me: ‘Unprovoked is my release. This is the last birth. There is now no further becoming.’

“Unprovoked is my release” refers to the emptiness of ignorance in the Buddha’s mind. Having become empty of ignorance there is no longer the condition present – ignorance – to “provoke” craving, clinging, or any thought, word, or deed rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths.

“This is the last birth” is the Buddha’s declaration that the conditions giving rise to the birth of life experiences arising from ignorance of Four Noble Truths and resulting in Dukkha no longer exist. The Buddha has emptied himself of ignorance.

“There is now no further becoming” means that having emptied himself of ignorance, becoming further established in ignorance is abandoned and becoming awakened, Becoming Buddha is achieved.

That is what the Blessed One said. The group of five monks were delighted at his words. While this discourse was being given,  Venerable Kondañña declared: “All conditioned things that arise are subject to cessation.”

Kondana now understands the impermanence of all phenomena arising from the “condition” of ignorance.

Having heard Kondanna the Buddha exclaimed: “So you really know, Kondañña? So you really know? You are now “Anna Kondanna – Kondañña who knows understands.”

End Of Sutta

Every teaching presented during the Buddha’s forty-five-year teaching career was presented in the context of Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths. Being mindful of this simple truth then shows how to understand and integrate any sutta.

 

  1. Three Marks Of Existence 
  2. Paticca-Samuppada Sutta
  3. Four Noble Truths
  4. Eightfold Path
  5. Five Clinging Aggregates

My Dhamma articles and talks are based on the Buddha's teachings  (suttas) as preserved in the Sutta Pitaka, the second book of the Pali Canon. I have relied primarily on Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s excellent and insightful translation of the Pali generously made freely available at his website Dhammatalks.org, as well as the works of Nyanaponika Thera, John Ireland, Maurice Walsh, Hellmuth Hecker, and Sister Khema, among others, as preserved at Access To Insight.

Also, I have found Bhikkhu Bodhi's translations from Wisdom Publications Pali Canon Anthologies to be most informative and an excellent resource.

I have made contextual edits to the suttas from these sources for further clarity, to modernize language, to minimize repetition, and maintain relevance to Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths.

If You Find Benefit Here Please

Support John With Your Donation

 Thank You!

Creative Commons License
Becoming-Buddha.com and Dhamma articles and recordings by John Haspel are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Subscribe To My Newsletter

Subscribe To My Newsletter

Subscribe to my bi-weekly newsletter with the week's Dhamma Talk topics, class and retreat schedule, and updates on new Dhamma articles and audio and video recordings.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This