Buddhist Fables

Buddhist Classics

Life and Legends of Buddha

The Illustrated Jataka & Other Stories of the Buddha by C. B. Varma Introduction | Glossary | Bibliography

081 – Dhamma-Chakka-Pavattana-Katha

Buddha in the dhammacakka-pavattana mudra,
to set the wheel of dhamma (righteousness) in motion

After the attainment of Enlightenment and becoming a Buddha, Gotama Budddha thought of delivering his first sermon to some receptive ascetics. So, he thought of revealing his doctrine first to Alara Kalama, who was his first guru; and who he had left because his doctrine could not satisfy him. So, he looked for Alara by his divine eye; and learnt of his death

He then thought of teaching his other guru Uddaka Ramaputta, who he had deserted because he, too, was not convincing. So, he thought of delivering the first sermon to him. But he, too, was dead.

Now, he thought about his five companions with whom he had practised penances in Uruvela for six years before separating from them. (He had segregated from them after having realised that self-mortification, which was so ardently being practised by the five ascetics, was not the right path of Enlightenment). So, he looked for them by his divine eye and saw them wandering about the Isipatan Migdaya, popularly known as Deer Park, in Sarnath. Soon he reached there to deliver his first sermon. His first sermon in the history of Buddhism is often called the Dhamma-chakka-pavattana-katha, because that ‘sets the wheel of the dhamma into motion’ (Dhamma-chakka-pavattana) to take the people to the Final Destination of life, i.e., Nibbana.

When the five ascetics saw the Buddha approaching, they first decided to ignore him as he had deserted them. But having noticed his bright countenance they changed their mind and acknowledged his superiority by showing reverence to him. The Buddha then delivered his first sermon in the Isipatana Migadaya. He professed the doctrine of Four Noble Truths:

1. Suffering is a reality;

2. Cause of the suffering (as nothing in the world is uncaused);

3. Cessation of suffering (as the removal of the cause is logical);

4. The path leading to the cessation of the suffering, which implies, right determination; right speech; right action; right livelihood; right effort; right mindfulness; and right meditation. This is also called the eight-fold path.

The aforementioned path is also called the ‘Middle-Path’, as it avoids the two extreme paths to realise the Goal of Life. The first of the two extreme paths is the path of the extreme sensuality and mundane pleasures; and the other is the path of self-mortification, implying rigourous and austere penances to attain the summum bonum of life.

He also professed the doctrine of the Dependent Origination (Paticcha-Samuppada), which means, every worldly phenomenon is dependent on some other phenomenon. In light of the above – if there is suffering by way of old-age, disease and death and so on – it is due to the birth. If there is no birth, who would then suffer ? (It may be noted that Death is only the end of one birth; the next birth may be much worse). The birth is dependent on becoming; becoming is due to grasping; grasping is due to craving; craving is due to feeling; feeling is due to contact; contact is due to the six sense organs; the six sense organs are due to mind-body complex; mind-body complex is due to sensation; sensation is due to mental confections (samskaras) ; and mental confections are due to ignorance. In other words, he professed that ignorance is the root-cause of suffering.

Soon after hearing this sermon Kondanna (popularly called Annatta-Kondanna) became a Sotapanna; and others also became the followers of the Buddha.

See Mahaparinibbana Sutta (No.16 Digha Nikaya).