Buddha's First Sermon

I have been continually amazed by how many lay persons in the Buddhist community have not heard of or read Buddha’s first sermon entitled Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (Turning the Wheel of Dhamma). It’s considered to be the “handful of leaves”  Gotama spoke about when he compared what he knew to a forest of leaves and the handful of leaves in his hand as all the necessary teachings to awaken.

I started out learning about Gotama’s teachings 12 years ago and, up until 2 years ago, had never heard a dharma talk on the subject. It was only after Stephen Batchelor visited the area in which I live (Santa Fe/Albuquerque) in October of 2009 that I started to become familiar with it. It was at that time that I took it up as my main practice and realized how helpful it could be.

I have taken the liberty of posting the translation by Stephen Batchelor because it is not widely accessible and can be a valuable resource for Secular Buddhism.

Turning the Wheel of Dhamma

This is what I heard. He was staying at Baranasi in the Deer Park at Isipatana. He addressed the group of five:

One gone forth does not pursue two dead ends. Which two? Infatuation, which is vulgar, uncivilised and meaningless. And mortification, which is painful, uncivilised and meaningless.

I have awoken to a middle path that does not lead to dead ends. It is a path that generates vision and awareness. It leads to tranquillity, insight, awakening and release. It has eight branches: right seeing, thinking, talking, acting, working, trying, recollecting, concentrating.

This is dukkha: birth is dukkha, ageing is dukkha, sickness is dukkha, death is dukkha, encountering what is not dear is dukkha, separation from what is dear is dukkha, not getting what one wants is dukkha. This psycho-physical condition is dukkha.

This is craving: it is repetitive, it wallows in attachment and greed, obsessively indulging in this and that: craving for stimulation, craving for existence, craving for non-existence.

This is cessation: the traceless fading away and cessation of that craving, the letting go and abandoning of it, freedom and independence from it.

And this is the path: the path with eight branches: right seeing, thinking, talking, acting, working, trying, recollecting, concentrating.

Such is dukkha. It can be fully known. It has been fully known.

Such is craving. It can be let go of. It has been let go of.

Such is cessation. It can be experienced. It has been experienced.

Such is the path. It can be cultivated. It has been cultivated.

There arose in me illumination about things previously unknown.

As long as my knowledge and vision was not entirely clear about the twelve aspects of these four noble truths, I did not claim to have had a peerless awakening in this world with its humans and celestials, its gods and devils, its ascetics and priests. Only when my knowledge and vision was clear in all these ways, did I claim to have had such awakening.

The freedom of my mind is unshakable. There will be no more repetitive existence.

This is what he said. Inspired, the five delighted in his words. While he was speaking, the dispassionate, stainless dhamma eye arose in Kondanna: “Whatever has started can stop.” [Mv. I, 6.16-28, pp. 15-7.  Cf. SN 56:11, pp. 1843-6, tr. SB]

You can compare Batchelor’s translation with the more traditional translation at: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn56/sn56.011.than.html

Do you see any differences?

No Comments

  1. Ratanadhammo on September 10, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    It is clear from this text that, to the best of our knowledge, the Buddha taught that craving can be let go of, that cessation can be experienced, and that the path can be cultivated. The goal can be achieved! And it is clear that only after this letting go, after this experiencing, and after this cultivation is complete that things that were previously unknown can become known.

    The unshakable freedom of my mind is possible!

    I’m glad Batchelor translated it.

    Btw, it looks like the link provided in the post is not to a more traditional translation of the same text, but to a translation of a different text, i.e. the version of the first sermon found in the Sutta Pitaka (as opposed to the very similar account of it that’s found in the Mahavagga of the Vinaya Pitaka, which is what Batchelor translated). If the traditional explanation of the origins of the two collections is correct, then the most interesting thing about the two accounts of the first sermon is that they are so similar!

    • Ron Stillman on September 11, 2011 at 11:37 am

      Ratanadhammo, thank you for pointing out the possible confusion around Batchelor’s translation of the text from the Mahavagga of the Vinaya Pitaka. When I’ve heard him talk about the first sermon, he refers to the text in the Samyutta Nikaya. The abbreviation he uses at the end of his translation is S. I have changed the abbreviation to SN which is the abbreviation used in Access to Insight. Hope that helps clear up any confusion.

      • Ratanadhammo on September 11, 2011 at 6:41 pm

        The use of S to abbreviate the Samyutta Nikaya as opposed to using SN isn’t what created confusion.

        At the end of the post, you ask readers to consider what you apparently think are significant differences between Batchelor’s translation of the first sermon found (the one found in the the Mahavagga of the Vinaya Pitaka, which is the text you provided) and what you call a “more traditional” translation of the first sermon (the one found in the Samyutta Nikaya of the Sutta Pitaka, which is in the link you provided), even though the difference is not between a Batchelor translation and a “more traditional” translation of the same text. They’re two different texts!

        The abbreviation that Batchelor uses at the end of the text he translated is Mv, as in the Mahavagga of the Vinaya Pitaka.

        After, he provides references to other texts that are not the ones he translated. The “Cf.” in his citation (an abbreviation for the Latin “confer”) does not mean that the other references are the same texts, which is what you’re suggesting when you say, “You can compare Batchelor’s translation with the more traditional translation,” followed by a link to a translation of a different text.

        Meanwhile, if you are correct, Batchelor has published a translation of the first sermon as it is found in the Mahavagga of the Vinaya Pitaka, even though, as you point out, the one he typically refers to in his talks on the first sermon is the other version, the one from the Samyutta Nikaya of the Sutta Pitaka.

  2. mknick on September 12, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    Hi guys —

    Unlike Ron, I haven’t heard Stephen in person, only on mp3 files. In those, however, he has made clear that his translation (which has changed itself in recent months) is from the Vinaya. The big change is that he’s stopped translating “dukkha” (he was rendering it as “painful” in some verses) and now just lets the word stand, for reasons I’ve written about ad nauseum. Unfortunately, there are only excerpts of the Mahavagga on Access to Insight, and the First Sermon isn’t one of them (an indication of its importance to modern Theravadins?)

    What’s so useful about the Twelve Aspects in the First Sermon is that they make it crystal clear that the Truths are not propositions to be believed, but actions to be taken. As Batchelor says, the Truths are prescriptive, not descriptive. This aspect is less apparent in many of the other standard formulations in the suttas (“This is suffering, this is the origin of suffering, this is the cessation of suffering, this is the way leading to the cessation of suffering”, as BB renders it), especially when accompanied by a phrase like “he understands as it really is.” The First Sermon emphasizes not only gnosis but praxis.

    Of course the other big difference is that the First Sermon states that it is craving that can cease, not dukkha or “suffering”. And I’ve written enough elsewhere about the way dukkha itself is defined here and how that definition is incompatable with the standard Western definition of the word as “suffering.”

    Thanks for sharing, Ron!

  3. Cezar Jenkins on September 15, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    Where could I get my hands on more translations from Mr. Batchelor?

    • Ron Stillman on September 15, 2011 at 10:10 pm

      Cezar, I sent you a message with an attached file entitled The Pali Canon: Source Texts for Secular Buddhism compiled by Stephen Batchelor. As stated in the message, they are selected passages that he uses with his talks on Secular Buddhism, the latest being dated 07/17-7/23/2011 at http://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/169/?page=1&search=

      • Cezar Jenkins on September 15, 2011 at 10:13 pm

        Thank you. I assume through Facebook? Possible that it may take a while to come through then. I’m eagerly awaiting it. 🙂

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    Buddha’s First Sermon : Secular Buddhist Association

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