Drugpa Tshezhi and the Buddha’s First Sermon

WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO: Drugpa Tshezhi (འབྲུག་པ་ཚེས་བཞི་) or the 4th day of the 6th month is one of the holiest days in the Buddhist calendar. It is the day on which the Buddha delivered his first sermon or, to use the Buddhist idiom, turned the first wheel of dharma. Thus, the day is also known as Chokhor Duechen (ཆོས་འཁོར་དུས་ཆེན་).
After attaining perfect enlightenment, the Buddha remained in solitary retreat for seven weeks relishing the bliss of his enlightenment because he thought the ordinary world occupied by sensual pleasures would not understand his message of enlightenment which is profound, peaceful, subtle and ineffable. However, he is said to have agreed to teach after being requested by the kings of gods. The Buddha, thus, journeyed from Bodh Gaya to Banaras and delivered the first sermon on the Four Noble Truths to his five former colleagues in Deer Park on Drugpa Tshezhi. In this groundbreaking sermon, he declared:
“Now this, Bhikkhus, is the noble truth of suffering: birth is suffering, ageing is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates are suffering.
Now this, Bhikkhus, is the noble truth of the origin of suffering: it is this craving which leads to renewed existence, accompanied by delight and lust, seeking delight here and there; that is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for existence, craving for extermination.
Now this, Bhikkhus, is the noble truth of the cessation of suffering: it is the remainderless fading away and cessation of that same craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, non-reliance on it.
Now this, Bhikkhus, is the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering: it is this Noble Eightfold Path; that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.”
(Bhikkhu Bodhi (tr.), The Connected Discourses of the Buddha (Samyutta Nikāya), p. 1844.)
When the Buddha finished his sermon, all five ascetic audiences are said to have got enlightened and some 84,000 celestial beings are believed to have seen the truth. The sermon began for the Buddha 45 years of his mission.
The Buddha’s teachings on Four Noble Truths form the cornerstone of the Buddhist tradition and was the Buddha’s novel strategy of solving an existential problem. The main problem of our existence and world is its unending dissatisfaction, pain and suffering. The Buddha explained that we must first recognise the problem. Then, one must eliminate the causes of the problem and seek the solution by following the path and methods leading to the solution. Thus, in order to attain freedom from the problems of our existential status, he advised us to recognise suffering, (སྡུག་བསྔལ་ཤེས་པར་བྱ་), avoid the cause of suffering (ཀུན་འབྱུང་སྤང་བར་བྱ་), actualize the cessation of suffering (འགོག་པ་མངོན་དུ་བྱ་) and to adopt the path (ལམ་བསྟེན་པར་བྱ་) to the cessation of suffering.
Drugpa Tshezhi gives the Buddhists a special opportunity to reflect on the Buddha and his fundamental teachings of the Four Noble Truths and Right Eightfold Path.

Dr Karma Phuntsho is the President of the Loden Foundation, director of Shejun Agency for Bhutan’ Cultural Documentation and author The History of Bhutan.

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