Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta

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The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (Pali; Sanskrit: Dharmacakrapravartana Sūtra; English: The Setting in Motion of the Wheel of the Dharma Sutta or Promulgation of the Law Sutta; Burmese: ဓမ္မစက္ကပဝတ္တနသုတ်) is a Buddhist text that is considered by Buddhists to be a record of the first sermon given by Gautama Buddha, the Sermon in the Deer Park at Sarnath. The main topic of this sutta is the Four Noble Truths, which refer to and express the basic orientation of Buddhism[1] in a formulaic expression.[2] This sutta also refers to the Buddhist concepts of the Middle Wayimpermanence, and dependent origination.

Modern Thai depiction of the Sermon in the Deer Park at Sarnath

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, BhaddiyaVappa, 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]

Buddhist understanding of the sutta

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, Āḷāra Kālāma and Uddaka Rāmaputta, 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. On his way, he encountered a spiritual seeker named Upaka. 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.[5][6][7][8][9][10]

Development of the sutta

Retaining the oldest teachings

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.[11][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.[12][13][14][15][note 5]

Development of the sutta

According to Bronkhorst this “first sermon” is recorded in several sutras, with important variations.[22][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[22][23] when the “vision of Dhamma”[24] 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.[22]

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.[22] Anderson, following Norman, also thinks that the four truths originally were not part of this sutta, and were later added in some versions.[28][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”.[30]

The “essence” of Buddhism

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.”[29] 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.[32]

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.”[33] “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.”[37] The four truths were superseded by pratityasamutpada, and still later by the doctrine of the non-existence of a substantial self or person.[38]

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.”[39] The sutras form a network or matrix, which have to be taken together.[40][note 12] Within this network, “the four noble truths are one doctrine among others and are not particularly central,”[40] but are a part of “the entire dhamma matrix.”[42] The four noble truths are set and learnt in that network, learning “how the various teachings intersect with each other,”[43] and refer to the various Buddhist techniques, which are all explicitly and implicitly part of the passages which refer to the four truths.[44] 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.[42]

Translations into English

From the Pali version

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:

From Tibetan, Chinese and Sanskrit versions

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:

  • The Play in Full: Lalitavistara (2013), translated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee. Translated from Tibetan into English and checked against the Sanskrit version.[web 5]
  • Voice of the Buddha: The Beauty of Compassion (1983), translated by Gwendolyn Bays, Dharma Publishing (two-volume set). This translation has been made from French into English and then checked with the original in Tibetan and Sanskrit.

See also


  1. ^ For instance, in the context of the objects of mindfulness, dhamma refers to “mental objects” (see, Satipatthana Sutta).
  2. ^ English translations of this sutta’s full title include:
    • “Setting in Motion the Wheel of the Dhamma” (Bodhi, 2000, pp. 1843–7)
    • “Setting in Motion the Wheel of Truth” (Piyadassi, 1999)[1]
    • “Setting Rolling the Wheel of Truth” (Ñanamoli, 1993)[2]
    • “Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion” (Thanissaro, 1993)[3] (Geshe Tashi Tsering, 2005)[3]
    • “The Discourse That Sets Turning the Wheel of Truth” (Ajahn Sucitto, 2010)[4]
    • “Turning the Wheel of Dhamma” (Dhamma, 1997).
    • “The Four Noble Truths Sutra” (Geshe Tashi Tsering, 2005)[3]
  3. ^ See:
    • La Vallee Possin (1937), Musila et Narada; reprinted in Gombrich (2006), How Buddhism Began, appendix
    • Erich Frauwallner (1953), Geschichte der indischen Philosophie, Band Der Buddha und der Jina (pp. 147-272)
    • Andre Bareau (1963), Recherches sur la biographiedu Buddha dans les Sutrapitaka et les Vinayapitaka anciens, Ecole Francaise d’Extreme-Orient
    • Schmithausen, On some Aspects of Descriptions or Theories of ‘Liberating Insight’ and ‘Enlightenment’ in Early Buddhism. In: Studien zum Jainismus und Buddhismus (Gedenkschrift für Ludwig Alsdorf), hrsg. von Klaus Bruhn und Albrecht Wezler, Wiesbaden 1981, 199-250.
    • Griffiths, Paul (1981), “Concentration or Insight; The Problematic of Theravada Buddhist Meditation-theory”, The Journal of the American Academy of Religion (4): 605–624, doi:10.1093/jaarel/XLIX.4.605
    • K.R. Norman, Four Noble Truths
    • Bronkhorst 1993, Chapter 8
    • Tilman Vetter (1988), The Ideas and Meditative Practices of Early Buddhism, by Tilmann Vetter
    • Richard F. Gombrich (2006) [1996]. How Buddhism Began: The Conditioned Genesis of the Early Teachings. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-134-19639-5., chapter four
    • Anderson, Carol (1999), Pain and Its Ending: The Four Noble Truths in the Theravada Buddhist Canon, Routledge
    • Alexander Wynne (2007), The Origin of Buddhist Meditation, Routledge
  4. ^ Bhikkhu Sujato & Bhikkhu Brahmali, p.4: “Most academic scholars of Early Buddhism cautiously affirm that it is possible that the EBTS contain some authentic sayings of the Buddha. We contend that this drastically understates the evidence. A sympathetic assessment of relevant evidence shows that it is very likely that the bulk of the sayings in the EBTS that are attributed to the Buddha were actually spoken by him. It is very unlikely that most of these sayings are inauthentic.[web 3]
  5. ^ According to Schmithausen, three positions held by scholars of Buddhism can be distinguished regarding the possibility to retain knowledge of the oldest Buddhism:[16]
    1. “Stress on the fundamental homogeneity and substantial authenticity of at least a considerable part of the Nikayic materials;”[subnote 1]
    2. “Scepticism with regard to the possibility of retrieving the doctrine of earliest Buddhism;”[subnote 2]
    3. “Cautious optimism in this respect.”[subnote 3]
  6. ^ The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta is best-known from the Pāli CanonSaṃyutta Nikāya chapter 56, sutta 11. In the Chinese Buddhist canon there are numerous editions of this sutra from a variety of different schools in ancient India, including the SarvāstivādaDharmaguptaka, and Mahīśāsaka, as well as an edition translated as early as 170 by the early Parthian missionary An Shigao. Parallel texts can be found in other early Buddhist sources as well, such as the Sarvāstivādin Lalitavistara Sūtra and the Lokottaravādin Mahāvastu.[web 4]
  7. ^ Translation Bhikkhu Bodhi (2000), Samyutta Nikaya, SN 56.11, p.1846. See also Anderson (2001), Pain and its Ending, p.69.
  8. ^ MN 26.17 merely says “[‘]This will serve for the striving of a clansman intent on striving.’ And I sat down there thinking: ‘This will serve for striving.’[25] According to Bhikkhu Bodhi Majjhima Nikaya 36 then continuous with the extreme ascetic practices, which are omitted in MN 26.[26] In verse 18, the Buddha has attained Nirvana, being secured from bondage by birth, ageing, sickness and death, referring to the truths of dependent origination and “the stilling of all formations, the relinquishing of all attachments, the destruction of craving, dispassion, cessation.”[27]
  9. ^ According to Cousins, Anderson misunderstands Norman in this respect, but does “not think that this misunderstanding of Norman’s position critically affects Anderson’s thesis. Even if these arguments do not prove that the four truths are definitely a later insertion in the Dhammacakkapavattana-sutta, it is certainly possible to take the position that the sutta itself is relatively late.”[29]
  10. ^ Gombrich includes an end note here citing “Norman 1982” (.[31]
  11. ^ “Enlightenment” is a typical western term, which bears its own, specific western connotations, meanings and interpretations.[34][35][36]
  12. ^ Gethin: “The word satya (Pali sacca) can certainly mean truth, but it might equally be rendered as ‘real’ or ‘actual thing’. That is, we are not dealing here with propositional truths with which we must either agree or disagree, but with four ‘true things’ or ‘realities’ whose nature, we are told, the Buddha finally understood on the night of his awakening. […] This is not to say that the Buddha’s discourses do not contain theoretical statements of the nature of suffering, its cause, its cessation, and the path to its cessation, but these descriptions function not so much as dogmas of the Buddhist faith as a convenient conceptual framework for making sense of Buddhist thought.”[41]


  1. ^ Well-known proponents of the first position are:
    A.K. Warder. According to A.K. Warder, in his 1970 publication “Indian Buddhism”, from the oldest extant texts a common kernel can be drawn out,[17] namely the Bodhipakkhiyādhammā. According to Warder, c.q. his publisher: “This kernel of doctrine is presumably common Buddhism of the period before the great schisms of the fourth and third centuries BC. It may be substantially the Buddhism of the Buddha himself, although this cannot be proved: at any rate it is a Buddhism presupposed by the schools as existing about a hundred years after the parinirvana of the Buddha, and there is no evidence to suggest that it was formulated by anyone else than the Buddha and his immediate followers.”[17]
    Richard Gombrich: “I have the greatest difficulty in accepting that the main edifice is not the work of a single genius. By “the main edifice” I mean the collections of the main body of sermons, the four Nikāyas, and of the main body of monastic rules.”[15]
  2. ^ A proponent of the second position is Ronald Davidson: “While most scholars agree that there was a rough body of sacred literature (disputed)(sic) that a relatively early community (disputed)(sic) maintained and transmitted, we have little confidence that much, if any, of surviving Buddhist scripture is actually the word of the historic Buddha.”[18]
  3. ^ Well-known proponent of the third position are:
    * J.W. de Jong: “It would be hypocritical to assert that nothing can be said about the doctrine of earliest Buddhism […] the basic ideas of Buddhism found in the canonical writings could very well have been proclaimed by him [the Buddha], transmitted and developed by his disciples and, finally, codified in fixed formulas.”[19]
    * Johannes Bronkhorst: “This position is to be preferred to (ii) for purely methodological reasons: only those who seek may find, even if no success is guaranteed.”[20]
    * Donald Lopez: “The original teachings of the historical Buddha are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to recover or reconstruct.”[21]


  1. ^ Gethin 1998, p. 59.
  2. ^ Norman 2003.
  3. Jump up to:a b Geshe Tashi Tsering 2005, Kindle Location 174.
  4. ^ Sucitto 2010, p. 193.
  5. ^ Sucitto 2010, pp. 10–12.
  6. ^ Dhamma 1997, pp. 22–24.
  7. ^ Geshe Tashi Tsering 2005, Kindle Locations 163-169.
  8. ^ Gethin 1998, p. 25.
  9. Jump up to:a b Thich Nhat Hanh 1991, Kindle Locations 1822-1884.
  10. ^ Thich Nhat Hanh 1999, pp. 6–8.
  11. ^ Vetter 1988, p. ix.
  12. ^ Bronkhorst 1993.
  13. ^ Vetter 1988.
  14. ^ Schmithausen 1981.
  15. Jump up to:a b Gombrich 1997.
  16. ^ Bronkhorst 1993, p. vii.
  17. Jump up to:a b Warder 1999, inside flap.
  18. ^ Davidson 2003, p. 147.
  19. ^ Jong 1993, p. 25.
  20. ^ Bronkhorst 1997, p. vii.
  21. ^ Lopez 1995, p. 4.
  22. Jump up to:a b c d Bronkhorst 1993, p. 110.
  23. ^ Anderson 2001, p. 69.
  24. ^ Bhikkhu Bodhi 2000, p. 1846.
  25. ^ Bhikkhu Nanamoli (translator) 1995, p. 259.
  26. ^ Bhikkhu Nanamoli (translator) 1995, p. 1216, note 403.
  27. ^ Bhikkhu Nanamoli (translator) 1995, p. 259-260.
  28. ^ Anderson 1999, p. 68.
  29. Jump up to:a b Cousins 2001, p. 38.
  30. ^ Bronkhorst 1993, p. 106.
  31. ^ Norman 1982.
  32. ^ Gombrich 2002, p. 61.
  33. ^ Bronkhorst 1993, p. 54-55, 96, 99.
  34. ^ Cohen 2006.
  35. ^ Sharf 1995.
  36. ^ Sharf 2000.
  37. ^ Bhikkhu Nanamoli (translator) 1995, p. 268.
  38. ^ Bronkhorst 1993, p. 100-101.
  39. ^ Anderson 2001, p. 131.
  40. Jump up to:a b Anderson 2001, p. 85.
  41. ^ Gethin 1998, p. 60.
  42. Jump up to:a b Anderson 2001, p. 86.
  43. ^ Anderson 2001, p. 86-87.
  44. ^ Anderson 2001, p. 132.
  45. ^ Thich Nhat Hanh 1999, p. 257.
  46. ^ Dhamma 1997, pp. 17–20.
  47. ^ Rahula 2007, Kindle Location 2055.
  48. ^ Thich Nhat Hanh 1991, Kindle Location 7566.
  49. ^ Thich Nhat Hanh 2012, p. 81.


Printed sources

Pali Canon

  • The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya, translated by Bhikkhu, Bodhi, Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2000, ISBN 0-86171-331-1
  • Bhikkhu Nanamoli (translator) (1995), The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya, Boston: Wisdom Publications, ISBN 0-86171-072-X {{citation}}|last= has generic name (help)

Buddhist teachers

  • Anandajoti Bhikkhu (trans.) (2010). The Earliest Recorded Discourses of the Buddha (from Lalitavistara, Mahākhandhaka & Mahāvastu). Kuala Lumpur: Sukhi Hotu. Also available on-line.
  • Sumedho, Ajahn (2002), The Four Noble Truths, Amaravati Publications
  • Sucitto, Ajahn (2010), Turning the Wheel of Truth: Commentary on the Buddha’s First Teaching, Shambhala
  • Dhamma, Ven. Dr. Rewata (1997), The First Discourse of the Buddha, Wisdom, ISBN 0-86171-104-1
  • Geshe Tashi Tsering (2005), The Four Noble Truths: The Foundation of Buddhist Thought, Volume I (Kindle ed.), Wisdom
  • Gethin, Rupert (1998), Foundations of Buddhism, Oxford University Press
  • Goldstein, Joseph (2002), One Dharma: The Emerging Western Buddhism, HarperCollins
  • Thich Nhat Hanh (1991), Old Path White Clouds, Parallax Press
  • Thich Nhat Hanh (1999), The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, Three River Press
  • Thich Nhat Hanh (2012), Path of Compassion: Stories from the Buddha’s Life, Parallax Press
  • Rahula, Walpola (2007), What the Buddha Taught (Kindle ed.), Grove Press



  1. ^ accesstoinsight, Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion, translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu]
  2. ^ Payutto, P. A. “The Pali Canon What a Buddhist Must Know” (PDF).
  3. Jump up to:a b *Sujato, Bhante; Brahmali, Bhikkhu (2015), The Authenticity of the Early Buddhist Texts (PDF), Chroniker Press, ISBN 9781312911505
  4. ^ Anandajoti (2010), “Introduction,” retrieved 18 May 2010 from http://www.ancient-buddhist-texts.net/English-Texts/Earliest-Discourses/index.htm.
  5. ^ A Play in Full: Lalitavistara (2013), translated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee

Further reading


Commentaries in English

External links

Saṃyukta Āgama 379: Dharmacakra Pravartana Sūtra

The Mog Nation Wiki
Kyaw Zaw Oo

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