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The Buddha ‘s First Teaching

One of the commonalities of the lots of traditions within Buddhism is the midpoint of the messages in the Buddha’s really first teaching in Sarnath, shortly after attaining knowledge in Bodhgaya. He kept back from really teaching the very first people he fulfilled including the Burmese traders (who tradition tells us revived some of his hair, which is framed in the unbelievable Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon) and the naked ascetic Upaka, all of whom were overwhelmed by his presence.

The Tibetan custom acknowledges this (Chokhor Duchen) on the 4th day of the 6th lunar month. Theravada customs typically mark the date (Asalha Puja or Asanha Bucha) as the moon of the eighth lunar month.

The first mentor, carved on ivory, by Nomu420, through Wikimedia Commons As we understand, when he was on the course of asceticism, the audience for the very first real mentors were his five buddies (Kaundinya, Ashvajit, Vaspa, Mahanaman, and Bhadrika or in the Pali custom, Kondañña, Vappa, Bhaddiya, Mahanāma, and Assaji). Initially intending to spur him, they were so overloaded by his presence, they all were relocated to stand up to greet and invite him.

Stars at Dawn: Forgotten Stories of Women in the Buddha’s Life records a fantastic description of the setting of this teaching as taped in the Sri Lankan custom:

The night was like a beautiful woman; the stars were pearls upon her neck, the blue clouds were her braided hair, and the area was her flowing robe. As a crown she had the [paradises]; the 3 worlds were as her body; her eyes resembled the white lotus …; and her voice was like the humming of a bee. To worship Buddha, and listen to the first announcing of the dharma, this beautiful woman came.

The Mahayana traditions set the phase a bit with a bit more excitement. Here is Jamgon Kongtrul’s description from The Treasury of Knowledge:

At that location, one thousand magnificent lion-supported thrones appeared. The Buddha circumambulated the first 3; when he beinged in cross-legged posture on the 4th, an excellent light spread throughout worlds in the 10 directions, and a sound emerged calling beings to listen to his mentors. A god called Bodhisattva Who Turned the Wheel of the Teachings upon Establishing the Intention to Achieve Awakening provided him with a one thousand-spoked wheel made of gold from the Jambu River. He and countless other bodhisattvas and gods assembled.

The Buddha then continued to state the Middle Method in between extravagance in desire and austerity (the term Middle Method is likewise used in a various context with a various significance in the Madhyamaka philosophy of the Mahayana); the Noble Eightfold Path consisting of Right Seeing, Right Thinking, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Recollection, Right Concentration; and then the Four Noble Realities, the third of which comes back to the Eightfold Path.

[For an introduction of the Eightfold Path, see our excerpt from The Course of Specific Liberation concisely detailing the eight aspects. For an introduction of the Four Noble Realities, see the sutta connected to from below.]

While lots of might take these for approved, sort of the ABCs from which they continue to study other mentors and participate in practice, there is a lot depth to these mentors that lots of instructors recommend trainees to invest a long time carefully studying them.

Among the most extensive discussions of this mentor is Ajahn Sucitto’s Turning the Wheel of Truth: A Commentary on the Buddha’s First Mentor. This is truly a commentary on the primary text in the Pali custom (where it appears in both the Sutta pitaka and the Vinaya pitaka), that retells the story, the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta.

You are welcome to download the Sutta itself, equated by Bhikku Bodhi and extracted from the book, here. For a terrific account from the Tibetan custom, Buton Rinchen Drup’s account from the early 14th century in Buton’s History of Buddhism in India and Its Spread to Tibet is superb.

You can download Buton’s area associated with the first teaching in its totality here.

From The Art of Buddhism

From The Art of Buddhism come a number of images associated with this scene. The image here crowned a column in Sarnath and is described here:

Four lions are put back-to-back on the seven-foot capital that once adorned a similar column (now damaged) developed somewhat earlier at Sarnath, the site of Shakyamuni’s very first teaching. A big wheel, a conventional symbol of rule that is associated with the act of mentor– known as “turning the wheel of the law”– once rested above the lions. Emblems of royal power and prestige, lions are in some cases identifi ed as references to the historical Buddha, who was at times referred to as the “lion of the Shakya clan.”

The teaching on this appear in various lengths in numerous books, probably all books on the mentors off the Buddha. A few other works to highlight:

The Four Noble Truths by Lobsang Gyatso.

The Life of the Buddha by Sherab Chodzin Kohn.


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