Samyutta Nikaya LVI.11
The Setting Rolling of the Wheel of Dhamma
Translated with commentary by
Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw
Light of the Buddha: Vol. III, No. 4, 1958
Reprinted with permission from Nibbana.com
A translation of the radio-talk in Burmese on the full-moon day of Asalha (11th. July of 1957) by the Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw, Bhadanta Sobhana Maha Thera, Agga Maha Pandita, Chatthasangiti-Pucchaka.
To-day is the two thousand five hundred and forty sixth anniversary of the preaching, by the Omnisient Buddha, of his first sermon. It is called "Dhammacakka Pavattana Sutta" in Pali. It means the setting rolling of the wheel of Dhamma. Now in celebration of the great event as 'Dhammacakka Day' and in paying a high tribute this sutta is treated as a subject of this discourse.
For the sake of general interest and keen devotion, a short account of the circumstances leading to the preaching of the first sermon will be given in the first place.
Before he became the Buddha, the Bodhisatta had practised ten kinds of Parami, the three kinds of Cariya and five kinds of Caga for a period of four immensities and one hundred thousand of world cycles. On the completion of this period of the practice, he was born 2581 years ago in the city of Kapila-Vatthu in northern India, as Prince Siddhatha, son of King Suddhodana and Queen Mayadevi. At the age of sixteen he married princess Yasodharadevi, and they led a happy life together for thirteen years, enjoying the pleasures of the world. To them was born a son called Rahula. At the age of 29, Prince Siddhatha came to realize the undesirability of old age, illness and death and he renounced the world to search for a way to be free of old age, illness and death. He became a wandering recluse, and for six years he studied and practised all the systems of philosophy and religious beliefs which were current at that time. He followed many severe ascetic practices at a place known as Uruvela. Some of the most severe ascetic practices are:
(a) By striving to hold down and suspend the breath: yet no benefit was derived by that striving. On the other hand much suffering accrued.
(b) By feeding himself with a spoonful of the juice of (Chewed) beans or peas. Yet there was no good result but there was a great deal of suffering.
Then he decided to give up the austerities and take substantial food to bring his health and strength back to a normal state so as to enable him to develope the Jhanic states in the system of Anapana Meditation. Then the band of five ascetics, who attended to him and did all manner of service during the struggle of six years, thought that there was no prospect of his attaining the Buddha-hood as he had given up the great struggle. They therefore left him and went to Isipatana near Banares.
On regaining his normal state of health and strength, the Bodhisatta proceeded to cultivate the jhanic states. Finally, under the bodhi-tree at what is now known as Buddha Gaya, he sat himself down in a cross-legged posture and began to contemplate on the cyclical principal of cause and effect, known as Paticca-samuppada. He then carried out the meditation of deeply observing the arising and falling of the phenomena of the five groups of grasping (Pancupadanakkhanda), and by gradually advancing through successive stages of purity, he attained the final stage of Buddha-hood with full penetrating knowledge of the four Noble Truths and all other dhammas. Then the Blessed One spent altogether forty nine days- seven days each at the bodhi-tree and other 6 places nearby respectively- experiencing the bliss of emancipation.
Then the Omniscient Buddha started on his journey to preach the first sermon to the five ascetics staying at Migadaya Grove near Banares. In the commentaries it is stated that the distance from Buddha Gaya to Migadaya Grove is 18 yojanas. It is now said that the distance through railway journey is 142 miles. On reaching the place of five ascetics the Blessed One sat down at the readily prepared seat. When he had sat the five ascetics addressed him as "Friend Gotama" because they did not know that he had already attained the Buddha-hood. The Blessed One had therefore to speak out the fact of his attainment of the Buddha-hood. He spoke in this way: "Do not, monks, address me who am now a Tathagata like those bygone Tathagatas by his name "Gotama", by the epithet "friend". Monks, I say that I am a real Tathagata who is, like all past Tathagatas, perfect, fully self-awakened, enlightened and worthy to receive the highest homage from all. Now listen, monks, I have found the Nibbana which is free from death: I shall instruct you, I shall teach the Dhamma: if you will work in accordance with the instructions, you will soon here in this present life realize the highest Dhamma which is the supreme goal of leading the life of a monk and also living the noblest conduct of life, for the sake of which the young men of the family rightly go forth to the life of homelessness."
Thus the Buddha gave out the bold declaration. In spite of the direct statement, the band of five ascetics failed to grasp the sense of the true fact. They, therefore, objected by saying thus: "Friend Gotama! But did you not fail to attain the highest stage of intellect though you had pushed yourself to the extreme in the practice of austerities. How can you attain the highest ideal state when you leave the great struggle and lead the life of abundance? "The Buddha then took a very compassionate view of their refusal to be convinced of the true fact and he repeated for three times the declaration of the fact of his being a Tathagata like those of the past. They too refused for three times. Then the Buddha spoke thus just to remind them: "Monks, just think! Did I ever make such a declaration like this in the past?" They replied: "You have not, Lord." They were then convinced that the Buddha had not declared the fact during the great struggle because he had not attained the state of being a Tathagata and that the present declaration was a true fact. They then listened to the sermon attentively and respectfully.
The Buddha then spoke to the band of five:
"Dve me bhikkave anta pabhajitena na sevitabba, katame dve? yo cayan kamesu kamasukhallikanuyogo hino gammo pothujjiniko anariyo anatthasanhito, yo cayan attakilamathanuyogo dukkho anariyo anatthasanhito."
"Monks, these two extremes should not be followed by one who is leading the life of a monk. What are the two? Devotion to the pleasures of sense is one of the two extremes. It is the low practice of villagers. It is not the noble practice of Ariyas. It has no connection whatever with the profit of the discipline of Sila, Samadhi and Panna, the observance of which will bring forth deathlessness (Nibbana). There is another extreme. It is the devotion to self-mortification by refusing to eat proper and enough food, by living without clothes, by exposing to all kinds of weather, by keeping oneself to one posture of sitting, of standing or lying, and so forth. This practice of self-mortification brings forth only bodily suffering, it is not the noble practice of Ariyas. It has no connection whatever with the profit of the discipline of Sila, Samadhi and Panna, the observance of which will bring forth deathlessness (Nibbana)."
"Ete kho bhikkave ubo ante anupagamma majjhima patipada tathagatena abhisamBuddha cakkhukarani nanakarani upasamaya abhinnaya sambodhaya nibbanaya samvattati."
"Monks, by avoiding these two extremes the Tatthagata has gained the knowledge of the practice of middle path, which opens the intellectual eye, produces the knowledge, causes calm of kilesas, special knowledge, enlightenment and realisation of Nibbana.
"Katame ca sa bhikkave majihima patipada tathagatena abhisamBuddha cakkhukarani nanakarani upasamaya abhinnaya sambhodhaya nibbanaya samvattati, aya meva ariyo atthangiko maggo, seyadhidham?. . . Sammaditthi, sammasan kappo, sammavacca, sammakammanto, sammaajivo, sammavayamo, sammasati, sammasamadhi; ayam kho su bhikkhave maijhima patipada tathagatena abhisamBuddha cakkhukarani nanakarani upasamaya abhinnaya sambhodhaya nibbanaya samvattati"
"And monks, the practice of the middle path of which I have gained the knowledge, is verily this Ariyan eightfold way, to wit: Right view, right aim, right speech, right action, right living, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. This, monks, is the noble practice of that middle path which opens the intellectual eye, produces the knowledge, causes calm of kilesas, special knowledge, enlightenment and realisation of Nibbana."
Here a few remarks would seem to be necessary for more clarification of the real intention of the Omniscient Buddha. He had as Prince Siddhattha lived the life of enjoying the pleasures of senses (kamasukhallikanuyoga) till he attained the age of 29 years. In his great struggle as an ascetic for six years he had lived the life of devoting to self-mortification in the highest from (attakilamathanuyoga). He attained the state of SamasamBuddha when he followed the noble practice of the middle path known as 'majjhima patipada' after having rejected the two extremes. Alluding to that fact, he spoke those words :- "Ete kho bhikkave ubo ante anupagamma majjhima patipada tathagatena abhisamBuddha." "Monks, by avoiding these two extremes the Tatthagata has gained the knowledge of the practice of middle path."
The middle path which he had learned is the eightfold noble path. Of the eight constituents of the middle path, it would serve the purpose if an explanation is given in respect of right view (sammaditthi). In the commentaries the right view is classified into six categories, viz., 'kammasakata-sammaditthi, jhana-sammaditthi, vippassana-sammaditthi, magga-sammaditthi, phala-sammaditthi and paccavekkana-sammaditthi.' The last two being the sequence of 'magga-sammaditthi' need no particular explanation here. Of the first four, the 'kammasakata-sammaditthi' refers to the acceptance of the view that every individual evolution of re-birth processes is subject to the operation of good and evil deeds committed by each one. This view is an important factor in the evolution of life processes, because this can invariably promote the state of liberal and charitable mindedness. It will also encourage the practice of bhavana (meditation) which will finally result in realising Nibbana. In every meritorious act of charity, sila etc. this 'kammasakata-sammaditthi' and its other constituent factors, such as, 'sammasankappa etc.' as a whole are involved. By virtue of these factors, these meritorious acts can lead to good birth like the present life where Nibbana can be realised. Therefore, this 'kammasakata sammaditthi' should be accepted as one of the factors leading to Nibbana.
'Jhana-sammaditthi' means the practical knowledge in respect of the mental state of four rupajhanas and four arupajhanas. If this ditthi forms the basis of Vipassana-bhavana, it can be taken as a factor leading to the realisation of Nibbana. Because of the fact that they can form the basis features, the 'kammasakata-sammaditthi' and 'jhana-sammaditthi' may be understood as 'mula-magga'. (basis state of way).
'Vipassana-sammaditthi' virtually means the Vipassana knowledge. On the full maturity of the 'Vipassana-sammaditthi' the 'magga-sammaditthi' arises. For this reason this 'vipassana-sammaditthi' is known as 'pobbabhaga magga', that is, former part of the Noble way.
'Vipassana' knowledge is the direct personal knowledge of the material and mental phenomena constituting one's own body and their chief characteristics of 'anicca, dukkha and anatta'. This knowledge is gained through the deep meditation of the material and mental phenomena at any of the six sense-doors of the body while they occur prominently. As things are rightly perceived in their real form through the knowledge of Vipassana, there ceases the rising of kilesas in any form of sensual pleasures, desires etc. on coming across pleasant things. For this reason, the partaking of suitable food, wearing of proper garments and using of other proper requisites for the sake of normal health and hygiene cannot be claimed to be 'Kammasukalli-kanuyoga'. Nor can it be asserted to be 'Attakilamathanuyoga' as it is not the practice of fasting by refusing to partake of suitable food and of avoiding to use other proper requisites at all. So there should be the normal procedure of partaking suitable food in proper time, wearing of proper garments and using of other proper requisites just to avoid undue suffering. These acts should, therefore, always be carried out accompanied by the practice of 'Vippassana-sammaditthi'just to prevent the rising of kilesas. This path is neither too rigid as that of 'Attakilamathanuyoga' nor too loose as that of 'Kammasukhallikanuyoga'. It is termed as 'Majjima patipada' because of its mid-way state. Through the practice of the middle path, there arise 'Vipassana-sammaditthi' and its associate constituents on every moment of meditating the phenomena occurring successively at any of the six sense-doors of the body. When this 'Vipassana-magga' ripens fully there arises 'Ariya Magga (Noble way)'. Then the Nibbana where there is no death is realised and the penetrating knowledge of the four noble truths is gained. Hence the Omniscient Buddha spoke about the four noble truths which he had personally found out by virtue of the practice of middle path as follows
"Idam kho pana bhikkave dukkham ariyasaccam jatipi dukkha, jarapi dukkha byadhipa dukkha, maranampi dukkham, soka, parideva, dukkha, domanasa, upayasa, sambhavanti appiyehi sampayogo dukkho, piyehi Vappayogo dukkho yampiccham na labhati, tampi dukkham, sankhittena pancupadanakkhandha dukkha."
"Now this, monks, is the noble truth about ill as may rightly be understood by the Ariyas.
Birth is ill, decay is ill, sickness is ill, death is ill: likewise are sorrow and grief, woe, lamentation and despair. To be conjoined with things which we dislike: to be separated from things which we like. - that also is ill. Not to get what one wants, - that also is ill. In a word, this body, this five-fold mass which is the object of grasping and which is taken on the wrong view of 'I and mine', - that is ill."
"Idam kho pana bhikkave dukkhasamudayo ariyasaccam, yayam tanha ponobhavika nandiraga-sahagata tatra tattabhinandini. Seyathidan? kamatanha bhavatanha vibhavatanha."
"Now this, monks, is the truth about the origin of the Ill as may rightly be understood by the Ariyas. It is that craving that leads back to birth. It is consisted of lure and lust. It lingers longingly now here, now there. This craving may be classified into three categories, namely, the craving for sensual pleasure, the craving for eternal life and the craving for the ending by itself of the life."
"Idam kho pana bhikkave dukkha-nirodho ariyasaccam; yotassayeva tanhaya asesaviraganirodho cago patinissaggo mutti analayo."
"And this, monks, is the truth about the ceasing of Ill as may rightly be understood by the Ariyas.
Verily, it is the utter ceasing of the three forms of this tanha, the giving up, the forsaking, the release from, the disentanglement from this tanha."
"idam kho pana bhikkave dukkhanirodhagamini patipada ariya saccam ayameva ariyo atthangiko maggo seyathidan? samma ditthi. ... sammasamadhi."
"Now this, monks, is the truth about the practice that leads to the ceasing of Ill.
Verily, it is the noble eightfold path, to wit: Right view, right aim, right speech, right act, right living, right mindfulness, right concentration."
With these words the Omniscient Buddha had declared the four noble truths which He himself had discovered. The knowledge He had acquired consisted of the comprehension of the respective nature of the Four Noble Truths (four sacca-nanas), that of the respective duties to be performed with regard to the Four Noble Truths (four kicca-nanas) and that of the complete performance of the respective duties with regard to the Four Noble Truths (four kata-nanas). He then continued to speak about the manner of the arising of these 12 nanas as follows:
"Idam dukkham ariyasaccanti me bhikkave pubbe ananussutesu dhammesu cakkhum udapadi panam udapadi panna udapadi vijja udapadi aloko udapadi. Tam kho panidam dukkham ariyasaccam parinneyanti me bhikkave pubbe.... udapadi. Tam kho panidam dukkham ariya-saccam parinnatanti me bhikkave. . udapadi."
"Monks, of things unheard of before, there arose in me the intellectual eye seeing that this is the Noble truth of Ill, the knowledge comprehending it, the understanding in all aspects of it, the wisdom distinctly knowing it and the enlightenment perceiving it.
Monks, of things unheard of before, that this truth is to he understood distinctly, and that this truth has been understood quite distinctly, there arose in me the intellectual eye, the knowledge, the understanding, the wisdom and the enlightenment."
"Idam dukkha-samudayo ariyasaccanti me bhikkave pubbe ananussutesu dhammesu cakkhum udapadi. .aloko udapadi. Tam kho panidam dukkhasamudayo ariyasaccam pahatabbhanti me bhikkave pubbe. . . aloko udapadi. Tam kho panidam dukkhasamudayo ariyasaccam pahinanti me... aloko udapadi."
"Again monks, of things unheard of before, that this is the noble truth of the origin of Ill, that this truth is to be put away, and that this truth has been put away, there arose in me the intellectual eye, the knowledge, the understanding, the wisdom and the enlightenment."
"Idam dukkha nirodho ariyasaccanti me bhikkave pubbe ananussutesu dhamesu cakkhum udapadi nanam udapadi, panna udapadi, vijja udapadi aloko udapadi. Tam kho panidam dukkha nirodho ariyasaccam saccikatabbhanti me bhikkave pubbe. . .aloko udapadi. Tam kho panidam, dukkha nirodho ariyasaccam saccikatanti me bhikkave pubbe.. . aloko udapadi."
"Monks, of things unheard of before, that this is the truth of the ceasing of Ill, that this truth is to be realised and that this truth has been realised, there arose in me the intellectual eye, the knowledge, the understanding, the wisdom and the enlightenment."
"Idam dukkha nirodhagamini patipada ariyasaccanti me bhikkave pubbe ananussutesu dhammesu cakkhum udapadi nanam udapadi panna udapadi vijja udapadi, aloko udapadi. Tam kho panidam dukkha nirodho-gamani patipada ariyasaccam bhavetabbhanti me bhikkave pubbe.. aloko udapadi. Tam kho panidam dukkha nirodhagamini patipada ariyasaccam bhavetabbhanti me bhikkave pubbe. . .aloko udapadi."
"Monks, of things unheard of before, that this is the truth of the practice leading to the ceasing of Ill, that this truth is to be cultivated and that this truth has been cultivated, there arose in me the intellectual eye, the knowledge, the understanding, the wisdom and the enlightenment."
"Yevakivanca me bhikkave imesu catusu ariyasaccesu evam tiparivattam dvadasakaram yathabhutam nanadassanam na suvisuddham ahosi, n'eva tavaham bhikkave sadevake loke samarake sabrahmake sassamanabrahmaniya pajaya sadeva-manussaya anuttaram sammasambodh abhisambuddhoti paccanasim. Yato ca kho me bhikkave imesu catusu ariyasaccesu evam tipari vattham dvadasakaram yathabhutam nanadassanam suvisuddham ahosi, athaham bhikkave sa devake loke samarake sabrahmake sassamana-brahmaniya pajaya so deva-manussaya anuttaram sammasambodhi abhisambuddhoti pacca nasim."
"Now monks, so long as my thrice revolved twelvefold knowledge and insight of these noble Truths, in their essential nature, was not quite purified, I do not declare myself in the midst of the world and its Devas, its Maras, its Brahmas, and in the midst of the hosts of recluses and brahmins, of Devas and mankind that I had attained the supreme enlightenment and the state of Buddhahood. But, monks, so soon as my thrice revolved twelvefold knowledge and insight of these noble truths, in their essential nature, was quite purified, then, monks, I declared myself in the midst of the world and its Devas, its Maras, it Brahmas, arid in the midst of the hosts of recluses and brahmins, of Devas and mankind that I have attained the supreme enlightenment and the state of Buddhahood."
In conclusion the Omniscient Buddha made this declaration of his definite and sure state after his retrospection through paccavekkhannanana: "nananca pana me dassanam udapadi: akuppa me vimutti ayamantimajati n'atthi dani punabbhavoti."
"Now knowledge and insight have arisen in me so that I know: the state of the purity and my heart's release from kilesas is not of a temporary nature like 'tadanga-pahana' and 'vikkhambhana.-pahana' but it is of the nature of 'samuecheda-pahana' and 'patippassaddhi-pahana' which could never be destroyed. This is my last birth. There is no more becoming for me."
Now when this sermon had been spoken, about 180 millions of Brahmas and Devas realised the Dhamma of Magga and Phala. Of the company of five monks of human beings there arose in the Venerable Kondanna the pure and stainless Sotapatti eye to see the Dhamma, to wit: Whatever is of a nature to arise is likewise of a nature to cease. Seeing the attainment of the Venerable Kondanna to the state of Sotapanna the Omniscient Buddha spoke in a delightful mood
"Annasi vata bho Kondanno, annasi vata bho Kondanno"... "Kondanna has been convinced, monks, Kondanna has been convinced." Then the Venerable Kondanna requested the permission to be ordained as a Bhikkhu. The Omniscient Buddha said: "Ehi bhikku, svakhato dhammo, cara brahmacariyan samma dukkhassa antakiriyayati. . Come, dear monk. The Dhamma is well spoken. Do practice the noble religious life which surely causes the cessation of Ill."
Here ends the discourse. May every one soon learn the four noble Truths by the earnest practice of the eightfold noble path which is proclaimed as the right middle way in the Dhammacakka Pavattana Suttana.