The First Sermon of Buddha

                   from Basic Buddhism Course by Phra Sunthorn Plamintr

       The Truth that the Buddha realized is universal.  In Buddhist terminology it is known as Dharma or Dhamma in Pali.  The realization of the Dharma was the result of a long and arduous spiritual quest.  The Buddha attained enlightenment through his own efforts without any help from a teacher.  His knowledge was full and complete, ultimate and perfect, in all respects.

       After enlightenment, the Buddha continued to remain for seven weeks in the vicinity of the Bodhi tree, reflecting on the Truth he had discovered.  It became clear to him thta what he had realized could not be easily understood by ordinary peple, shrouded in ignorance and overcome by hate and lust.

       The Buddha therefore hesitated for a moment if it would not be futile to teach the Dharma to the world.  His boundless compassion, however, gave him a second thought and he saw that people were of different levels of intellect and perfection.  Those who had "less dust in their eyes," i.e. not too ignorant or spiritually blind, would be able to "see" the Dharma and benefit from it.  He therefore decided to begin his noble mission to lead the world out of ignorance and suffering.

      The Buddha then started for Benares (Varanasi) in search of the five ascetics.  There, at the Deer Park near the city, on the fullmoon of the month Asalha (June - July), he delivered to them the first sermon that came to be known as Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta or "Setting into Motion the Wheel of Dhamma."  The name of the sermon symbolizes the beginning of a spiritual movement that would permanently affect the religious history of the world.

      The five ascetics who listened to the first sermon were Kondanna, Vappa, Bhaddiya, Mahanama, and Assaji.  Of these, Kondanna was the first to realize the Truth after the Buddha.  He is thus considered the Buddha's first disciple.

      The Wheel of Dharma, set into motin for the benefit and well-being of mankind, cannot be stopped, and the following centuries witnessed its advance into many lands and nations.  Buddhism has since been qualified as one of the major world religions and is still a spiritual power to reckon with.

      The first sermon begins with the Buddha's advice against the two extremes which, according to him, should not be practiced by monks.  These two extremes are sensual indulgence and self-mortification.  The Buddha, having had experience in both, knew that they would not in any way lead to spiritual perfection and enligtenment, and were thus inappropriate for holy life.

      The path that the Buddha advises us to follow is called the Middle Path or the Noble Eightfold Path, which avoids the two extremes.  It consists of eight factors, namely:
          1. Right Understanding
          2. Right Thought
          3. Right Speech
          4. Right Action
          5. Right Livelihood
          6. Right Effort
          7. Right Mindfulness
          8. Right Concentration

      Briefly, the first sermon states the following:

         Existence is Dukkha (suffering)
         Dukkha is caused by Craving (Tanha)
         There is the end of Dukkha (Nirvana)
         The Noble Eightfold Path is the way leading to the extinction of Dukkha.

     The Pali word "dukkha" has no exact English equivalent.  It combines together many meanings and connotations, such as suffering, unsatisfactoriness, emptiness, pains, etc.  It is, nonetheless the word that precisely describes the real nature of existence.

      The four points in the first sermon are collectively called the Four Noble Truths.  They are the embodiment of the whole teachings of the Buddha.

      At the conclusion of the First Sermon, there arose in Kondanna the 'Eye of Truth," thus confirming the validity of the Buddha's claim of enlightenment and signifying at the same time the completion of the Holy Triple Gem, also known as the Buddhist Trinity namely the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha (community of monks, nuns, and lay disciples).