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Dharma wheel
A Dharma-cakra, a Buddhist symbol

The Dharmacakra Sutra

The Dharmacakra Sutra is Buddha's first discourse after he was Enlightened. The full title of the Dhammasakka Sutta is Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta in the Pali language. In the sutra, Buddha talks of the Middle Way, the Eightfold Path and the Four Truths.

Dharma-c(h)akra in Sanskrit is Dhamma-cakka in Pali, and means such as "The Teaching's Wheel". There are other meanings of it too. When eight spokes are depicted in the wheel, it signifies the Eightfold Path or the cardinal points of the compass.

The Dharmacakra discourse is found in several ancient scriptures, such as the Samyutta Nikaya, chapter 56, verse 11, in the Pali canon.

Setting: Seven weeks after Buddha's awakening, he goes to five former companions that he had practiced extreme asceticism with for six years previously (Vinaya Pitaka 1:8-10). After trying asceticism, he went for a quite moderate approach based on a healthy body and meditative absorption: the middle path (way).

The four truths about duhkha (stress, suffering, etc.) taught by Buddha are not things a lay person has to "believe stupidly", but to be open to and respond to according to his Kalama Sutta teachings, where he discourages dumb belief, but prefers provisional belief that manages to test his basic approach with care and ride higher.

Duhkha (Skt) or dukkha (Pali). There is no exact equivalent to the word in English, and it has been variously translated as 'suffering', 'unsatisfactoriness', 'frustration', 'unhappiness', 'anguish', 'ill', 'dis-ease' (opposite: sukha, 'ease, well-being'), stress and suffering, also pain.

Traditional Buddhism defines 'duhkha' in several ways.

1. In the Four Noble Truths, duhkha is represented as 'birth, old age, sickness and death; grief, sorrow, physical and mental pain, and despair; involvement with what one dislikes and separation from what one likes; not getting what one wants; in summary, the five groups of grasping are a source of suffering'.

2. Threefold duhkha is ordinary mental and physical pain, intrinsic suffering; suffering as the result of change, owing to the impermanent nature of things; and suffering due to the formations, that is. in part our own temporality and finiteness.

3. It is held that all sentient beings – including gods and humans, are subject to duhkha. Gods suffer the least, and the inhabitants of hell the most.

Compared to nirvana, everything manifested is understood as [tinged with] duhkha (stress, frustration, something unfulfilling, lack of total well-being, i.e., suffering. Along the road to Emancipation, Great Awakening, one goes for decent, balanced, sound and appropriate forms and ways of sukha (ease, well-being, being comfy, joy, happiness, delight, felicity, (sound) pleasures and conveniences) in living and attainments otherwise too, toward fulfilment. That is the old improvements teaching in a nutshell.


Two Extremes

Once Buddha was staying at Varanasi in the Game Refuge at Isipatana. There he addressed a group of five ascetics. [They had been training in ascetic yoga with him for six years in the Uruvela forest before he was enlightened]. Buddha said:

"These two extremes are not to be indulged in by one who has gone forth: That which is devoted to sensual pleasure with reference to sensual objects: base, vulgar, common, ignoble, unprofitable; and that which is devoted to self-affliction: painful, ignoble, unprofitable. Avoiding both of these extremes, the middle way realized by the Tathagata – producing vision, producing knowledge – leads to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding [of the fetters].

The Middle Way, Majjhima Patipada

The middle way realized by the Tathagata produces vision and knowledge. It leads to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding. This is the Noble Eightfold Path: right (Sanskrit: samyak, samyag, Pali: samma) view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. This is the middle way realized by the Truth-arriver (Tathagata, Thus-come, etc.].

Words on Duhkha (dukkha)

"Now this is the noble truth of duhkha (stress and pain, etc.): Birth is "duhkhy" (painful, stressful, and so on), aging is "duhkhy", death is "duhkhy"; sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, and despair are "duhkhy"; association with the unbeloved is "duhkhy", separation from the loved is "duhkhy", not getting what is wanted is "duhkhy". In short, the five clinging-aggregates are "duhkhy".

"And this is the noble truth of the origination of duhkha: the craving that makes for further becoming – accompanied by passion and delight, relishing now here and now there – i.e., craving for sensual pleasure, craving for becoming, craving for non-becoming.

"And this is the noble truth of the cessation of duhkha: the fading and cessation without remainders, renunciation, relinquishment, release, and letting go of that very craving.

"And this is the noble truth of the way of practice leading to the cessation of duhkha: this Eightfold Path – right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.

"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 duhkha to be comprehended [as it] has been comprehended.'

"This is the truth of the origination of duhkha to be abandoned' 2 [as it] has been abandoned.'

"This is the truth of the cessation of duhkha: It is to be directly experienced [as] it has been directly experienced.'

"This truth of the way of practice leading to the cessation of duhkha is to be developed [now that it] has been developed.'

Duhkha and sukha

A human life at best manages many influences and conditions. To lessen or get wholly rid of sufferings and stress form central parts of it, and of Buddhism too. To create and preserve good opportunities for progress, happy, successful living are vital parts. In other words:

The scholar Richard Gombrich explains in What Buddha Thought. the terms duhkha (various forms of stress, pain and suffering) and sukha (well-being, being unhampered (ease), pleasure, happiness, or bliss) represent opposites. The meanings may be placed more or less adequately on a gliding scale. Yet some meanings intertwine.

Suffice to say the words suffering (duhkha) and bliss (sukha) show opposites of existence. (1) On one end of the scale, dukkha covers the range from extreme pain and suffering to some unsatisfactoriness, not being quite OK and so on. (2) On the other end of the scale, sukha covers a range from pleasant, or OK, to bliss.

A span from forms of Dukkha to forms of Sukha ranges from extremely painful, negative, and non-assertive at one end - and at the other end of such a gliding curve are positive outlets of life, from mild and gentle to extreme ones. They may be at least tentatively and heuristically graded in so far as there is scope for several gradations (cf. Gombrich 2009:69-70).

It is of value to be on the positive side. It may be nourished. Good food for body and mind help, adjustments to keep well (treatments), and nice, helpful surroundings may spell all-over satisfaction.

As for dukkha, pains, sufferings, impoverishments and so on, maybe we learn lessons from them in time if we survive. Much in a life may depend on that. And if we do not learn well enough from the lessons of others, our own lessons may cost a lot.

Anyway, we hopefully learn in time how to lessen and get rid of sufferings, duhkha, before they get beyond repair and choke our lives, and put forth efforts at getting into the fit sukha-sides of living, all the while keeping an eye on this: effects of your efforts are not just short-range, but also middle-range and long-range. Better adjust so that all three phases work well, and in particular long-range effects, if you manage to see (foresee) them beforehand. "Forewarned is forearmed," is a saying that suits in many cases and phases.

To understand a particular set of sufferings, such as a disease, learn to gauge whatever appears and manifests, as symptoms. Then probe for deeper, underlying (sets of) causes while you seek help or cure, as the case may be. The good aim is to heal the root causes also, and not only symptoms that "pop up" from some of them if not all at once. Apply skills and help yourself, save the best teachings you find and discard bad, unhelpful ones, all in all.

A sane mind in a sane body is much, but to employ them for good, solid progress along the Gentle Middle Way, should be much better. Thus, in Buddhism it is fit to get schooling, learn to put our assets to good use, and make money too if we are so inclined.


"As soon as [this my] knowledge and vision about these four noble truths was truly pure, then I did claim to have directly awakened. Knowledge and vision arose in me."

That is what Bhagavan [the Blessed One, i.e., Buddha] said. While this explanation was being given, the dustless, stainless Dharma eye rose in Kondanna [one of the ascetics]: Whatever is subject to origination is all subject to cessation.

And when Buddha now had set the Wheel of Dharma in motion, devas cried out: "The unexcelled Wheel of Dharma cannot be stopped by priest or contemplative, deva, Mara or God or anyone in the cosmos."

The cry shot right up to the Brahma worlds, while a great, measureless radiance appeared in the cosmos, surpassing the effulgence of the devas.

Then Buddha exclaimed: "So you really know, Kondanna? So you really know?"


Buddhism is an approach to living that seeks to make the most of it in a very long perspective, one of many lives, if needs be. It consists in dealing with karma as one is up to it, and much else. A well regulated life is cosy too, not too austere, and laughter is not barred from it. The crowning attainment is called Liberation and Awakening and Enlightenment; pick your choice. That flower is plucked as a result of meditating deeply and well for as long as it takes. For some, half a year or less may do. It depends to a great extent on the method and the readiness (read: preparations of many sorts).


Buddha thought, Dhammacakra Sayings, Buddist teachings, Buddhism, Literature  

Gombrich, Richard F. What the Buddha Thought. London: Equinox, 2009.

Shrand, Joseph A., with Leigh M. Devine. Manage Your Stress: Overcoming Stress in the Modern World. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2012.


Dr Richard Gombrich remarks:

We do not really know what the Buddha said in his first sermon . . . and it has even been convincingly demonstrated 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. - [Gombrich, Richard F. Theravada Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Benares to Modern Colombo. London: Routledge, 1988, repr. 2002, p. 61. - A second edition from 2006 exists too.]

Dr Gombrich's quotation helps us to understand something vital about the first old documents of Buddhism. First they were orally transmitted, and the very many repetitions in them help in such circumstances. After a period of oral transmittion they were put down in writing and apparently translated into such as Pali.
    Many of the sutra repetitions occur through fixed schemas that statements are put into, maybe with slight variations. For the most part repetitions have been omitted here, as the new media seldom call for them. "Keep It Sweet and Short" is very often fit nowadays. Even so, there may be many views to go through or look into.

Buddha (Sanskrit, Pali): An enlightened person, literally, 'one who has awakened'. In this case Gautama (Pali: Gotama) Buddha.

Dharma (Sanskrit) can mean a variety of things depending on its context. Chakra (Cakka in Pali) can be translated as "wheel." The full title of the sutra is Dhamma-Cakka Pavattana in Pali. ' Pavattana' in it can be translated as "turning" or "rolling" or "setting in motion, and the full title is translated into such as "Setting in Motion the Wheel of Truth," "Setting Rolling the Wheel of Truth," and "Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion."

Duhkha (Skt) or dukkha (Pali). Some researchers argue that any major change can be stressful, and unresolved issues can cause stress. Stress may affect health and impair the immune system. Granted that, stress research findings show how to lessen stress - and thereby dhuhkha in some of its forms - considerably. On the one hand it helps to gain more stress-resistance. On the other hand it helps to learn strategies to cope and to cope with stressful environment too, for example by more effectual stress responses, exercise, and better control. To see stressful events as challenges is fit. Either we cope with issues by solving problems or with main emotions. There is much you can do to gain a firmer hold, reduce sufferings, and keep your inborn joyfulness (somewhat better) intact. It is much up to you. Relaxation training may help somewhat, and sound meditation is very good help. [cf. Hi 505; ch 14]

The languages of the Buddha's time were oral dialects that were likely to contain many grammatical irregularities, as judged by codes that were more fully established later.

The term "Noble Truth" is shrinked into Truth throughout above. In Vedic Sanskrit as in modern English a "truth" mean both a fact and an accurate statement about a fact. An accurate statement about a set of facts is not something to be abandoned. In ordinary consciousness, craving is to be abandoned, but not a truth about craving.

The exposition in the four paragraphs that begin with the phrase, "Vision arose . . .," uses two sets of variables – the four noble truths and the three levels of knowledge applied to each – and lists twelve combinations of them. In ancient Indian philosophical and legal traditions, such a sort of discussion is called a wheel [cf. schema above]. Thus, the Wheel of Dharma that the discourse takes its name from, refers to the ancient presentation method. It also relates to the Buddhist Wheel symbol.

Pali Canon collections:

AN - Anguttara Nikaya (Collection of Discourses arranged according to numbers)

DN - Digha Nikaya (Collection of Long Discourses)

MN - Majjhima Nikaya (Collection of Middle-Length Discourses)

SN - Samyutta Nikaya (Collection of Kindred Sayings)


Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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