First Turning of the Wheel

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Chapter Sixteen: The First Turning

The omniscient Lion of the Sakyas was induced by the whole assembly headed by Maitreya's company to Turn the Wheel of the Law.

"Listen, Maitreya's group comprising one vast congregation, just as past Arhants proclaimed this, I am doing the same thing.

"Here are the two extremes, monks, in the self-control of the religious ascetic:  One is devoted to (satisfying the) joys of desire -- vulgar and common, -- and the other is tormented by an excessive pursuit of self-inflicted pain for the mortification of the Self's corruptions.  Those are the two extremes of the ascetic, and each is unworthy and useless."

"They have nothing to do with true asceticism, renunciation of the world or self-control, or with true indifference, the suppression of pain, or with any of the means of attaining deliverance.

"They do not lead to spiritual forms of knowledge, wisdom, nor to Nirvana.  

Let someone acquainted with the uselessness of inflicting pain and weariness on the body and who's lost interest in pleasure or pain of any kind -- now or in the future -- and who follows this Middle Path for the good of the world, -- let him, a Tathagata, Teacher of the World, proclaim the Dharma and begin with that manifestation of Dharma that consists of the (four) Noble Truths. And let that Buddha proclaim the Path with its eight divisions.  

I who am now the perfectly wise, the Tathagata in the world, also will proclaim the noble Law beginning with those sublime truths and the eightfold Path which is the means to the attainment of Perfect Knowledge.

"Instructing all the world, I will show it Nirvana.  (But) those four noble truths must be heard first and comprehended by the Self.  (For) what I have come to know here through the favour of all the Buddhas must be understood and thoroughly comprehended by true students of wisdom. 

"Having known the noble eightfold Path, and embraced it with joy as it is realized, that is how I declare to you the first means for the attainment of liberation.  Having  commenced the noble truths in that way, I will describe true self-control, (for) that noble truth is the best of all holy laws.

"Walk as long as existence lasts, holding fast to the noble eightfold Path.  This noble truth is the highest law for the attainment of true liberation.

"Once you've pondered and grasped the noble eightfold Path, walk in self-control.  Others, not understanding this -- self-centred idle talkers  -- say that through self-indulgence merit (accrues that) is the cause of bodily existence.  Others maintain that the soul must be preserved (after death,) for its merit is the cause of liberation.

"Some say that everything happens spontaneously; others that the consequence was produced before [ie., there is such a thing as fate.] Also, others loudly claim that everything depends on a Divine Lord.  (But) if merit and demerit are produced by the good and evil fortune of the soul, how is it that good fortune does not inevitably come to all embodied beings, even without merit?

"How is the difference which we see -- in form, riches, happiness, and the rest -- accounted for  if there are no prior actions?  How do good and evil arise here?

"If karma is said to be the cause of our actions, who could imagine there is any logic to that assumption?  If all the world is produced spontaneously, then who could talk of any responsibility for actions?

"If good is caused by good, then evil must cause evil, so then how could liberation from existence (Skt.: moksha) be the result of difficult penances (which are bad)?

"Others unwisely talk of Ishvara as the cause; if Ishvara is the uniformly-acting cause, how come there's no uniformity to the world ?  

As a consequence of the demerits of their false theories each of those ignorant people that pronounce upon (and promulgate views such as) "he is" or "he is not" are eventually born wretched into the various hells.  However, through the merits of good theories and (the practice of) self-restraint regarding body, speech and thought, virtuous men who understand the highest knowledge go to heavenly worlds.

"All those who are devoted to existence are tormented with the swarms of its evils, and being consumed by old age, diseases, and death, each one dies and is born again.

"There are many wise men here who can discourse on the laws of coming into being, but there is not even one who knows how the cessation of being is produced.

(It works like this:) "This body composed of the five skandhas is produced from the five elements.  It is all empty and without (any) soul, and arises from the action of the chain of causation.  This chain of causation is the cause of coming into existence, and the cessation of that series is the cause of the state of cessation, (ie. nirvana.)

"Anyone knowing this, who wishes to promote the good of the world, must keep in mind with a view to wisdom that chain of causality.

"He should undertake the vow of self-denial for the sake of wisdom, and practice the Four Perfections, and go through existence always doing good to all beings.  Then having become an Arhat and conquered all wickedness -- even Mara's armies -- and attained the threefold wisdom, he will enter Nirvana.

"Whoever cultivates indifference and is devoid of any desire for a further form of existence needs to abolish the many steps of the chain of causality one by one.  When the effects of the chain of causation are eliminated step by step, the individual now free of any stain or trace of one, will finally pass into blissful Nirvana.

"Listen all of you with minds free from stain, for (the sake of) your own happiness I will tell you about this chain of causality step by step:

"It is ignorance that gives root to the huge poison-tree of mundane existence with its trunk of pain.

"The impressions (samskaras -- latencies) are caused by that and give rise to [acts of] the body, voice, and mind.  And consciousness arising from these impressions naturally develops the five senses plus the mind (awareness, or internal sense.)

The organism sometimes referred to as samagna [energy-form] or samdarshana [stable manifestation,] springs from that, and so gives rise to the six organs of the senses that include mind [apperception.]

The association of the six organs with their objects is called "contact," and awareness of these different contacts is called "sensation. "

Resulting from this is thirst (or, craving) which is desire --  being troubled by worldly objects.  And "attachment to continued existence" arising from that is inclined to be drawn  towards pleasure and (all) the rest. 

(Now,) from attachment springs continued existence which is sensual -- either in a form, or formless -- and from existence arises birth through a returning to various wombs.

"On birth depends the (whole) series of (sufferings:) old age, death, sorrow and all that.  So, by putting a stop to ignorance and what follows from it, all those (stages) successively are ended [or, rendered superfluous.]

"This is the winding chain of causation whose sphere of action is created by ignorance.  It is to be contemplated  by you who enjoy the peaceful tranquility of dwelling in lonely woods.

"Anyone who thoroughly understands it will at last reach a dwindling that eventually results in the state of  blissful extinction (nirvana.)

"When you have applied your learning of this, with all your might chop down ignorance that is the root of pain in order to be freed from the bond of existence.

"Then, freed from the bonds of the prison-house of existence, as Arhats with perfectly pure natures, you shall attain Nirvana."

Having heard this lesson preached by the chief of saints, all the mendicants comprehended the course and cessation of embodied existence.  (For) as these five ascetics listened to his words, their "wisdom eye" was clarified for the attainment of perfect wisdom.

(And) that "wisdom eye" was purified in six hundred million deities, and in eight hundred million brahmins.  (Also,) the "wisdom eye" was purified in eighty thousand (ordinary) men, and even in all [sentient] beings an ardour for the Law was apparent.

Everywhere all kinds of evil became pacified, and all around, an ardour for everything that helps the Dharma manifested itself.

In the heavens everywhere, deities along with troops of apsarases loudly cheered, "That's right, Noble Being of Boundless Energy!"

Then Maitreya addressed the Holy One, "Great Yogi, what is the Wheel like, that you [just now] turned ?"

At that question by great-souled Maitreya, the Holy One looked at him and said:

"The profound subtle Wheel of the Law that is so hard to be perceived has been turned by me in such a manner that (even) the disputatious Tirthikas [philosophers] cannot penetrate [pick at it.]  (For) this rotating Wheel of Law has no extension, no origin, no birth, no home; it is unique and free of matter.  It has many divisions, so not being without divisions, it has no cause and so is not susceptible to any definition.  This is the Wheel, [traditionally] described as perfectly balanced, that has been proclaimed by the Buddha.

Everything subject to (the chain of) successive causation is like a delusion, a mirage, or a dream like the moon seen in water or an echo.  It coats the surface and cannot be scooped out, but it is not eternal.

The Wheel of the Law that has been described is one in which all false doctrines are extirpated.  It is always as pure as the ether [substance of space,] involving no doubts -- always bright.

The Wheel of the Law as described is without end or middle.  It exists apart from "is" or "is not," and distinct from "soul" (atman) or "soul-lessness" (anatman.)

"The Wheel of the Law has been presented with a description according to its real nature  -- with all its limits or lack of them -- in its actual quantity and quality.

"The Wheel of the Law as presented here is described as possessing unique attributes --  apart from the way it may look at first glance, or (for that matter) as regards our sense of hearing or smell;  apart from taste, touch, or  cognition (and) without (any reference to concepts such as) "soul" or "effort" -- that is (the nature of) this Wheel of the Law which has been turned by me.

"He makes wise all the ignorant ["illuminates those in the dark"] that's why he is called "Buddha." (Also,) this knowledge of the laws of reality has been ascertained by me and from myself distinct from all teaching by any other person, and therefore is he called "Self-existent."  And, having all laws [dharmas] under his control, he is called "Lord of Law" (Dharmaraja.)

"He knows what is right (naya) and wrong (anaya) with regard to laws, therefore he is called "Nayaka," teaching innumerable beings as they become fit to be taught.

(Because) he has reached the furthest limit of instruction, therefore is he called "Vinayaka," from his pointing out the best route to beings who have lost their way.

"He has reached the furthest extent of good teaching; he is the guide to all Dharma, attracting all beings by his knowledge of all the means of conciliation (his ability to synthesize -- to formulate.)

"He has passed through the forest of mundane existence, so he is called Caravan Leader;  and as absolute ruler over all law he is the Jina, Victorious One.

"From his setting in motion this Wheel of Law he is the lord of all (other) sovereigns of Law (law-givers); the Master-giver of Dharma, The Teacher, Master of the Dharma -- the Lord of the World.

"He who has offered the sacrifice, accomplished his end, fulfilled his hope, achieved his success, the consoler, the loving-regarder [cf. Avalokiteshvara,] the Hero, the champion, the victorious one in conflict.

(As) he has emerged from all conflict, released himself and the releaser of all, he is become Light of the World, Illuminator of the Knowledge of True Wisdom: 

"The dispeller of the darkness of ignorance, Illuminator of the Great Torch; Great Physician, Great Seer -- the Healer of all evils who is the extractor of the barb of evil from all those wounded by evil.

He is possessed of all distinctive marks and adorned with all signs. With his body and limbs in every way perfect, of pure conduct and perfectly clear mind, possessed of the ten powers, having great fortitude, learned in all learning,

"Endowed with all independent states:" Attainer of the Great Vehicle (Mahayana;) "Lord of all Dharma:" the Ruler, Monarch of All Worlds, the Sovereign;

"Lord of all wisdom:" the wise, the destroyer of the pride of all disputers, the omniscient, the Arhat, Possessor of Perfect Knowledge, the Great Buddha, Lord of Saints;

"The Victorious:" triumphant over-thrower of the insolence and pride of the evil Mara, the Perfect Buddha, Sugata, the wise one who fulfills the wishes of all beings,

"Ever cognizant of past acts, never speaking falsely, a mine of perfect excellence and of all good qualities; destroyer of all evil ways and guide to all right ways,

"The ruler of the world, bearer of the world, master of the world, sovereign of the world,  teacher of the world, preceptor of the world (since) he brings to the world the Law, virtue and its reward (true end.)

The Fount of Nectar that quenches the scorching flame of all pain, and the powerful luminary [the sun] which dries up the great ocean of all suffering.

Bringer of all virtue and all real wealth; possessor of perfect excellence and all good qualities; the guide on the road of wisdom who shows the way to Nirvana.

"Tathagata without stain, without attachment, without uncertainty.  That is the compendious [signature to this] declaration of the Turning of the Wheel of Law.

"I will now set out a concise manifestation of a Tathagata's qualities, for a Buddha's knowledge is as endless and unlimited as space.

"A narrator could spend a kalpa [eon] but the virtues of the Buddha would not come to an end, so that is [just] how I have described the multitude of virtues of the Buddha.

"Having heard this and welcomed it with joy, go on forever in happiness, for this, Sirs, is the Mahayana, the instrument of the Law of the perfect Buddha who establishes the welfare of all beings, as set forth by all Buddhas.

"In order that this methodical arrangement of the Law forever be spread abroad, always proclaim it yourselves and pass it on.

"Whoever, Sirs, hears, sees, and welcomes with joy this methodical arrangement of the Law, which is a mine of happiness and prosperity, and honours it with folded hands, shall attain pre-eminent strength with a glorious form and limbs, (accompanied by) a retinue of holy beings. And [they will have] intelligence of the highest extent, and [attain] the happiness of perfect contemplation [dhyana], with a deep calm of uninterrupted bliss [samadhi], with his senses at their highest perfection, and [be] illuminated by unclouded knowledge.

"Whoever hears and sees this Law with a serene soul and worships it with folded hands will assuredly attain those eight pre-eminent perfections. 

"Whosoever in the midst of the assembly shall gladly offer a pulpit to the high-minded teacher of the great Law, that virtuous man shall assuredly attain the seat of the most excellent, the seat of a householder, or the throne of a universal monarch.

"He will also be able to attain the throne of one of the (four) guardian-spirits of the world, the solid throne of Shakra, the throne of the Vasavartin gods -- yes and [even] the supreme throne of Brahma.  And also, with the permission of the Bodhisattva who is seated on the Bodhi throne, he can even obtain the throne of a teacher of the good Law who has attained Perfect Knowledge.

"Those eight seats shall the pure-souled one attain, who joyfully offers a seat to a  proclaimer of the Law.

"Whosoever with believing heart and after consideration, applauds a pious person who proclaims this carefully arranged Law will become a truthful, pure speaker -- one whose words are to be accepted -- one whose utterances are welcome and delightful, whose voice is sweet and gentle.  He will have the voice of a kalavinka bird with its clear, [resonant] sweet tone; a pure voice like Brahma's, loud as a lion's roar.

"He who applauds as an all-wise and truthful speaker one who proclaims the Dharma will acquire those eight excellences of speech. 

And whoever, after writing down this method of dharma in a book, sets it in his house, always revering and honouring it with all due observance,  and sings its praises distributing the doctrine everywhere, that very pious man will get the finest treasure of a memory, and a treasure of insight, of prudence, of mantras, and a treasure trove of intelligence; a treasure of supreme wisdom, the most excellent treasure of the Law, and a treasure of knowledge, and the means to attain the excellences of the Good Law.

That high-minded man who joyfully writes this down, sets it in a secure place and always worships it will gain those eight treasures. 

And anyone who keeps in mind this method of the Law and sets it going around him, will acquire prosperity for the liberal benefit of the world.  Next, a complete supply of virtuous attitude, sacred knowledge, perfect equanimity and what is known as spiritual insight;  a store of merit accrues via the Good Law, a most excellent supply of knowledge and of boundless compassion which is the means to attain the virtues of the perfect Buddha.

Full of joy, these eight supplies will go to whomever holds this method of the Law in mind and sets it going abroad.

And whoever declares this method of the Law to others will be purified by great merit and become prosperous and possessed of supernatural powers.  He will become a universal monarch -- a king of kings, and even a ruler among the guardians of the world, an Indra  -- king of the gods, and even the ruler of Yama's heaven.  Yes, even the ruler of the Tushita heaven, ruler of the Sunirmita, king of the Vashavartina, and the lord of Brahmaloka --  Maha Brahma, the highest of Sages,  until finally he will even become a Buddha.

Possessed of a thoroughly pure intelligence, he will obtain those eight sublime rewards of merit.

And someone who, fully intent with a believing heart filled with faith and devotion, hears this method of the Law as it is preached, will have his intellect made perfectly pure, his mind calmed with boundless charity, and his soul happy with boundless compassion, and he shall be filled with boundless joy.  His spirit will be constantly calm with universal equanimity, rejoicing in the four contemplations, having reached the samadhi of equipoise -- his senses abolished.  And with the five transcendent faculties attained and the samskaras [latent impressions] aggregate gone, then endowed with supernatural powers he will attain Shurangama samadhi.

His spirit pure, he will attain those eight forms of absolute spotlessness.  


Yes, wherever this Method of the Law universally prevails  there will be no fear of any civil disturbances, no fear of malicious thieves, nor of evil beasts.  (There will be) no fear of plagues, famines, or wildernesses, and no anxiety will spread caused by conflict or war. There will be no fear coming from demons, nagas, yakshas and the like.  Nowhere will there be the fear of any misfortune.

Those eight fears will not be found anywhere this Law reaches.  It is all briefly explained [here], my friends -- all the (benefits) that arise from holding steadfastly to it.

Even if all living beings were to practice complete self-restraint, there is a still higher and most excellent merit as declared by all the Buddhas.  That is, the result of a person's worship of the Buddhas, and dedication in faithfully honouring them.   From that ensues pre-eminent merit, as declared by the Jinas:  

Whosever joyfully worships a Pratyeka-buddha shall themselves become Pratyeka-buddhas; so let everyone worship them.

There is pre-eminent merit from the worship of [only] one Bodhisattva, so let everyone worship them and they will themselves all become Bodhisattvas.

Likewise, there is pre-eminent merit from the worship of one Buddha, and if every one devoutly worships them they shall all themselves become Jinas. Also, anyone who hears this or causes others to hear it will also obtain that highest merit.

And [even] in times when the Dharma is abolished and a person [might have to] abandon his love for his own body and his [very] life, that person will obtain the highest merit if he only proclaims these good words day and night. 

Anyone who wishes to worship constantly the Bodhisattvas, Pratyeka-buddhas and Arhats should resolutely call to mind the idea of True Wisdom, and proclaim these maxims and this Dharma.

Wherever this Dharma prevails, even a layperson (one who lives in a house) will be a Tathagata by means of this Jewel of all Good Doctrines as expounded by Buddhas for the sake of all beings. 

Whoever gives this Sutra to others -- whoever teaches even one word of it, not missing a single consonant nor its meaning, will obtain glorious and endless splendour. 

And whoever hears this Law with a pure heart is the best of all guides of men and no one is comparable; he is like a jewel of imperishable glory.

So let those endowed with lofty ambition always follow this Law which causes transcendent merit.  Let them hear it, gladly welcome it, store it in their minds, and continually and faithfully worship the Three Jewels."


NEXTReturn to Lumbini


elements: the five are earth, fire, air, water, and ether (or,  space.)  

past Arhants:  (The early English has 'arch-saint'.) Here begins the tradition of giving the lineage of a teaching right at the start.

Ishvara: "The Lord", the name used for God or Krishna, Rama, Vishnu, Shiva and so on. 

Samyutta Nikaya LVI.11 "Dhammacakka Sutta"

And when the Blessed One had set the Wheel of Dhamma in motion, the earth deities cried out: "At Varanasi, in the Game Refuge at Isipatana, the Blessed One has set in motion the unexcelled Wheel of Dhamma that cannot be stopped by priest or contemplative, deity, Mara or God or anyone in the cosmos." On hearing the earth deities' cry, the deities of the Four Kings' Heaven took up the cry...the deities of the Thirty-three...the Yama deities...the Tusita deities...the Nimmanarati deities...the Paranimmita-vasavatti deities...the deities of Brahma's retinue took up the cry: "At Varanasi, in the Game Refuge at Isipatana, the Blessed One has set in motion the unexcelled Wheel of Dhamma that cannot be stopped by priest or contemplative, deity, Mara, or God or anyone at all in the cosmos."

Buddha: Here follow all the epithets, names and titles of this fully-enlightened teacher, the reason for his deserving of them, and also how the names relate to the various benefits of his teaching. 

Some of the more usual ones are Sakya-muni (Sakyan Sage) and Sakya-Simha ( Sakyan Lion;)  some see Sakya as meaning Skythian -- more usually, Scythian.   Sugata (Happy)  Satthta (Teacher as Revealer of Trut)  Jina (Victor or  Conqueror)  Bhagavat (Sacred Lord) Lokanath (Lord of the World)  Sarvajna (All-seeing or Omniscient)  Dharmaraja (King of Law/Truth)  Tathagata ("Thus Come" or Expected.)

independant states: states of matter, also called dharmas.

There are eight happy estates in which beings may be reborn. (1) rich and honourably among human beings  (2) in the realms of the four kings or deva-rajas  (3) in Indra's heaven (4) the Suyama heaven(5) Tushita heaven (6) Nirmanarati heaven, the fifth of the devalokas (7) Ishvara's Paranimita-vasavartin the realm that is changeable i.e. the sixth devaloka (8) the creator, Brahma's heaven.

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