Siddhartha Gautama was twenty-nine years old when he left his family to search for a way to end his and others’ suffering. He studied meditation with many teachers, and after six years of practice, he sat under the bodhi tree and vowed not to stand up until he was enlightened. He sat all night, and as the morning star arose, he had a profound
breakthrough and became a Buddha, filled with understanding and love. The Buddha spent the next forty-nine days enjoying the peace of his realization. After that he walked slowly to the Deer Park in Sarnath to share his understanding with the five ascetics with whom he had practiced earlier.
When the five men saw him coming, they felt uneasy. Siddhartha had abandoned them, they thought. But he looked so radiant that they could not resist welcoming him. They washed his feet and offered him water to drink. The Buddha said, “Dear friends, I have seen deeply that nothing can be by itself alone, that everything has to inter-be with everything else. I have seen that all beings are endowed with the nature of awakening.” He offered to say more, but the monks didn’t know whether to believe him or not. So the Buddha asked, “Have I ever lied to you?” They knew that he hadn’t, and they agreed to receive his teachings. The Buddha then taught the Four Noble Truths of the existence of suffering, the making of suffering, the possibility of restoring well-being, and the Noble Eightfold Path that leads to wellbeing. Hearing this, an immaculate vision of the Four Noble Truths arose in Kondanñña, one of the five ascetics. The Buddha observed this and exclaimed, “Kondañña understands! Kondañña understands!” and from that day on, Kondañña was called “The One Who Understands.”
The Buddha then declared, “Dear friends, with humans, gods, brahmans, monastics, and maras as witnesses, I tell you that if I have not experienced directly all that I have told you, I would not proclaim that I am an enlightened person, free from suffering. Because I myself have identified suffering, understood suffering, identified the causes of suffering, removed the causes of suffering, confirmed the existence of well-being, obtained well-being, identified the path to wellbeing, gone to the end of the path, and realized total liberation, I now proclaim to you that I am a free person.” At that moment the Earth shook, and the voices of the gods, humans, and other living beings throughout the cosmos said that on the planet Earth, an enlightened person had been born and had put into motion the wheel of the Dharma, the Way of Understanding and Love.
This teaching is recorded in the Discourse on Turning the Wheel of the Dharma (Dhamma Cakka Pavattana
Sutta), Samyutta Nikaya V, 420. Since then, two thousand, six hundred years have passed, and the wheel of the Dharma continues to turn. It is up to us, the present generation, to keep the wheel turning for the happiness of the many. See also the Great Turning of the Dharma Wheel (Taisho Revised Tripitaka 109) and the Three Turnings of the Dharma Wheel (Taisho 110). The term “discourse” (sutra in Sanskrit, sutta in Pali) means a teaching given by the Buddha or one of his enlightened disciples.
Three points characterize this sutra. The first is the teaching of the Middle Way . The Buddha wanted his five friends to be free from the idea that austerity is the only correct practice. He had learned firsthand that if you destroy your health,you have no energy left to realize the path. The other extreme to be avoided, he said, is indulgence in sense pleasures — being possessed by sexual desire, running after fame, eating immoderately, sleeping too much, or chasing after possessions. The second point is the teaching of the Four Noble Truths. This teaching was of great value during the lifetime of the Buddha, is of great value in our own time, and will be of great value for millennia to come. The third point is engagement in the world. The teachings of the Buddha were not to escape from life, but to help us relate to ourselves and the world as thoroughly as possible.
The Noble Eightfold Path includes Right Speech and Right Livelihood. These teachings are for people in the have to communicate world who with each other and earn a living. T h e Discourse on Turning the Wheel of the Dharma is filled with joy and hope. It teaches us to recognize suffering as suffering and to transform our suffering into mindfulness, compassion, peace, and liberation.
The Four Noble Truths
After realizing complete, perfect awakening (samyak sambodhi), the Buddha had to find words to share his insight. He already had the water, but he had to discover jars like the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path to hold it. The Four Noble Truths are the cream of the Buddha’s teaching. The Buddha continued to proclaim these truths right up until his Great Passing Away (mahaparinirvana).
The Chinese translate Four Noble Truths as “Four Wonderful Truths” or “Four Holy Truths.” Our suffering is holy if we embrace it and look deeply into it. If we don’t, it isn’t holy at all. We just drown in the ocean of our suffering. For “truth,” the Chinese use the characters for “word” and “king.” No one can argue with the words of a king. These Four Truths are not something to argue about. They are something to practice and realize.
The First Noble Truth is suffering (dukkha). The root meaning of the Chinese character for suffering is “bitter.” Happiness is sweet; suffering is bitter. We all suffer to some extent. We have some malaise in our body and our mind. We have to recognize and acknowledge the presence of this suffering and touch it. To do so, we may need the help of a teacher and a Sangha, friends in the practice.
The Second Noble Truth is the origin, roots, nature, creation, or arising (samudaya) of suffering. After we touch our suffering, we need to look deeply into it to see how it came to The Four Noble Truths & the Noble Eightfold Path. We need to recognize and identify the spiritual and material foods we have ingested that are causing us to suffer. The Third Noble Truth is the cessation (nirodha) of creating suffering by refraining from doing the things that make us suffer. This is good news! The Buddha did not deny the existence of suffering, but he also did not deny the existence of joy and happiness. If you think that Buddhism says, “Everything is suffering and we cannot do anything about it,” that is the opposite of the Buddha’s message. The Buddha taught us how to recognize and acknowledge the presence of suffering, but he also taught the cessation of suffering. If there were no possibility of cessation, what is the use of practicing? The Third Truth is that healing is possible.
The Fourth Noble Truth is the path (marga) that leads to refraining from doing the things that cause us to suffer. This is the path we need the most. The Buddha called it the Noble Eightfold Path. The Chinese translate it as the “Path of Eight Right Practices”: Right View, Right Thinking, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Diligence, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. The Pali word for “Right” is samma and the Sanskrit word is samyak. It is an adverb meaning “in the right way,” “straight,” or “upright,” not bent or crooked. Right Mindfulness, for example, means that there are ways of being mindful that are right, straight, and beneficial. Wrong mindfulness means that there are ways to practice that are wrong, crooked, and unbeneficial. Entering the Eightfold Path, we learn ways to practice that are of benefit, the “Right” way to practice. Right and wrong are neither moral judgments nor arbitrary
standards imposed from outside. Through our own awareness, we discover what is beneficial (“right”) and what is unbeneficial (“wrong”).
Quote from “The heart of Buddha’s teachings”- Thich Nhat Hanh