|English||Setting in Motion the Wheel of the Dharma,|
Promulgation of the Law Sutra,
The First Turning of the Wheel,
The Four Noble Truths Sutra
|Sanskrit||Dharmacakrapravartana Sūtra धर्मचक्रप्रवर्तनसूत्र|
|Sinhala||ධම්මචක්ක පවත්තන සූත්රය|
(RTGS: Thammachakkappavatana Sut)
|Vietnamese||Kinh Chuyển Pháp luân|
|Glossary of Buddhism|
|Part of a series on|
The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (Pali; Sanskrit: Dharmacakrapravartana Sūtra; Hindi: The Setting in Motion of the Wheel of the Dharma Sutta or Promulgation of the Law Sutta) is a Buddhist text that is considered by Buddhists to be a record of the first sermon given by Gautama Buddha. The main topic of this sutta is the Four Noble Truths, which refer to and express the basic orientation of Buddhism in a formulaic expression. This sutta also refers to the Buddhist concepts of the Middle Way, impermanence, and dependent origination.
According to Buddhist tradition, the Buddha delivered this discourse on the day of Asalha Puja, in the month of Ashadha, in a deer sanctuary in Isipatana. This was seven weeks after he attained enlightenment. His audience consisted of five ascetics who had been his former companions: Kondañña, Assaji, Bhaddiya, Vappa, and Mahānāma.
Dhamma (Pāli) or dharma (Sanskrit) can mean a variety of things depending on its context;[note 1] 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." The dhammacakka, which can be translated as "Dhamma-Wheel," is a Buddhist symbol referring to Buddha's teaching of the path to enlightenment. Pavattana (Pāli) can be translated as "turning" or "rolling" or "setting in motion."[note 2]
The sutra contains the following topics:[web 1]
According to the Buddhist tradition, the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta is the first teaching given by the Buddha after he attained enlightenment. According to Buddhist tradition, the Buddha attained enlightenment and liberation while meditating under the Bodhi Tree by the Nerañjarā river in Bodh Gaya. Afterwards, he remained silent for forty-nine days. According to MN 26 and MĀ 204, after deciding to teach, the Buddha initially intended to visit his former teachers, Alara Kalama and Udaka Ramaputta, to teach them his insights, but they had already died and born in a place where it is not apt to preach or they were deaf, so he decided to visit his five former companions. The Buddha proclaimed that he had achieved full awakening, but Upaka was not convinced and "took a different path".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 fundamental concepts of Buddhist thought, such as the Middle Way and the Four Noble Truths.
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. According to academic scholars, inconsistencies in the oldest texts may reveal developments in the oldest teachings.[note 3] While the Theravada tradition holds that it is likely that the sutras date back to the Buddha himself, in an unbroken chain of oral transmission,[web 2][web 3][note 4] academic scholars have identified many of such inconsistencies, and tried to explain them. Information of the oldest teachings of Buddhism, such as on the Four Noble Truths, which are an important topic in the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, has been obtained by analysis of the oldest texts and these inconsistencies, and are a matter of ongoing discussion and research.[note 5]
According to Bronkhorst this "first sermon" is recorded in several sutras, with important variations.[note 6] In the Vinaya texts, and in the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta which was influenced by the Vinaya texts, the four truths are included, and Kondañña is enlightened when the "vision of Dhamma" arises in him: "whatever is subject to origination is all subject to cessation."[note 7] Yet, in the Ariyapariyesanā Sutta ("The Noble Search", Majjhima Nikaya 26) the four truths are not included,[note 8] and the Buddha gives the five ascetics personal instructions in turn, two or three of them, while the others go out begging for food. The versions of the "first sermon" which include the four truths, such as the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, omit this instruction, showing that
...the accounts which include the Four Noble Truths had a completely different conception of the process of liberation than the one which includes the Four Dhyanas and the subsequent destruction of the intoxicants.
According to Bronkhorst, this indicates that the four truths were later added to earlier descriptions of liberation by practicing the four dhyanas, which originally was thought to be sufficient for the destruction of the arsavas. Anderson, following Norman, also thinks that the four truths originally were not part of this sutta, and were later added in some versions.[note 9] According to Bronkhorst, the "twelve insights" are probably also a later addition, born out of unease with the substitution of the general term "prajna" for the more specific "four truths".
According to Cousins, many scholars are of the view that "this discourse was identified as the first sermon of the Buddha only at a later date." According to Richard Gombrich,
Of course we do not really know what the Buddha said in his first sermon [...] and it has even been convincingly demonstrated[note 10] 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.
Yet, the understanding of what exactly constituted this "very essence" also developed over time. What exactly was regarded as the central insight "varied along with what was considered most central to the teaching of the Buddha." "Liberating insight" came to be defined as "insight into the four truths," which is presented as the "liberating insight" which constituted the awakening, or "enlightenment" of the Buddha. When he understood these truths he was "enlightened" and liberated,[note 11] as reflected in Majjhima Nikaya 26:42: "his taints are destroyed by his seeing with wisdom." The four truths were superseded by pratityasamutpada, and still later by the doctrine of the non-existence of a substantial self or person.
According to Anderson, a long recognized feature of the Theravada canon is that it lacks an "overarching and comprehensive structure of the path to nibbana." The sutras form a network or matrix, which have to be taken together.[note 12] Within this network, "the four noble truths are one doctrine among others and are not particularly central," but are a part of "the entire dhamma matrix." The four noble truths are set and learnt in that network, learning "how the various teachings intersect with each other," and refer to the various Buddhist techniques, which are all explicitly and implicitly part of the passages which refer to the four truths. According to Anderson,
There is no single way of understanding the teachings: one teaching may be used to explain another in one passage; the relationship may be reversed or altered in other talks.
In the Pāli Canon, this sutta is found in the Samyutta Nikaya, chapter 56 ("Saccasamyutta" or "Connected Discourses on the Truths"), sutta number 11 (and, thus, can be referenced as "SN 56.11"). There are multiple English translations of the Pali version of this sutta, including:
The 26th chapter of the Lalitavistara Sutra contains a Mahayana version of the first turning that closely parallels the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta. The following English translations of this text are available: