The full moon, which falls in July, is of great importance as it commemorates a significant event that took place in India. On this very full moon day Buddha set in motion the wheel of truth (Dhamma) at Isipatana, Sarnath. This discourse came to be known as Dhammachakkapavattana Sutta. It was the occasion when Buddha preached his first sermon to his five ascetic friends Kondanya, Vappa, Bhaddiya, Mahanama, and Assaji, precisely two months after his enlightenment. This sermon known as Dhammachakkapavattana sutta comprises four noble truths centred on the universal malady called suffering.
The noble truths
On this memorable day, Buddha’s Saasana (dispensation) came into existence and then spread not only in India but also throughout the world. Thus Buddhism now is not considered as an Indian religion but as a world religion, which was recognised by the United Nations too, on ‘Vesak-2000’. Buddhism is the only Indian religion to become a world religion and Buddha the only Indian guru to become Jagat Guru. Thus, this Purnima is also known as Guru Purnima.
The importance of the four noble truths could be gauged by the fact that Buddha himself had said: “It was through not understanding, not penetrating the four noble truths, that I, as well as you, have wandered so long through the countless rounds of birth.”
The noble truth of suffering is a fact of every day life for all. It may be direct or indirect and coarse or subtle. This fact of existence of suffering in everyone’s life forms the base for Buddha’s teachings. Having experienced this truth of suffering, Buddha taught the four noble truths of suffering namely:
1) There is suffering, that is, birth is suffering, old age is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering, association with the unpleasant is suffering, dissociation from the pleasant is suffering, one does not get what is desired — that too is suffering, in short, the five aggregates affected by clinging is suffering.
2) There is cause for suffering, that is, where ever there is greed, consisting of passionate delight, finding pleasure in things — greed for sensual pleasures, greed for becoming, greed for non-becoming.
3) There is cessation of suffering, that is, the extinction, which comes through complete detachment, giving up, complete abandonment, release, non-attachment.
4) There is path leading to the cessation of suffering, that is, the noble eight-fold path — right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.
Realism in teachings
In Majjima Nikaya, Buddha categorically states that he teaches only one thing, namely, suffering and the path to cessation of suffering and is not interested in any philosophical or intellectual quest.
Though suffering is pain, it is used as a wet stone to sharpen one’s wisdom and to face the reality accordingly. It is a wise man’s saying that, it is easy enough to be pleasant, when life flows like a sweet song. But the man who is worthwhile is the one who can smile when things go dead wrong.
Hence in order to overcome suffering one has to work patiently and persistently on the eight-fold path, which forms the fourth noble truth, and through gradual progress, one would ultimately bring an end to suffering as taught by the Buddha. This noble eight-fold path is divided into three sections as sila, samadhi and panya. The malady of suffering is not confined to a particular caste, colour, region, religion and nation. It is a universal malady and hence the remedy too must be universal. Thus the path of sila, samadhi and panya, which has no trace of any sectarianism, is the universal remedy for the ills of the world called suffering.
In order to get established in sila (morality), it is necessary to have complete control over one’s own mind. The mind should be fully restrained and disciplined. For this, it is necessary to practise samadhi (concentration). Practising only sila without samadhi is like standing on one leg and straining one’s self. On the other hand, samadhi without sila is like one leg hanging in air without support.
Again, it is not enough to just concentrate one’s mind. It is also necessary to develop panya (wisdom). By panya, it is possible to eradicate the ingrained habit of the mind that generates, multiplies and accumulates sankharas (reactions ) of raga (greed) and dosa (hatred) out of moha (ignorance). So if sila and samadhi are two legs on which one stands, balances and walks, then panya is like the eye which enables us to see things as they are, thereby helping us avoid dangers and leading us through the safe noble eight-fold path, which forms the fourth noble truth of suffering.
The teaching based on suffering seems to be pessimistic and definitely people would like to have an optimistic teaching. But, the question is not of pessimism or optimism, it is the question of realism on which the Buddha stresses. His teachings are not customer oriented to please individuals or masses but just truth oriented.
Path to heaven
In Alagaddupama sutta (MN-22 BPS) Buddha says, “Before and now, what I teach is suffering and the cessation of suffering. If others abuse, revile, scold, and harass the tathagata for that, the tathagata on that account feels no annoyance, bitterness, or dejection of the heart. And if others honour, respect, revere, and venerate, the tathagata on that account feels no delight, joy, or elation of the heart. If others honour, respect, revere, and venerate the tathagata for that, the tathagata on that account thinks thus: They perform such services for the sake of what had earlier come to be fully understood. Thus this noble truth of suffering may seem to be pessimistic or bitter because of our wrong perception and conditioning, but if one compares it with the verifiable facts of day-to-day life, one will find the profound truth of it. In the same sutta, Buddha further says, “The dhamma, well-proclaimed by me, is clear and free of patchwork. Those who are dhamma followers are all headed for enlightenment and those who have sufficient faith in me, sufficient love and regards for me, are all headed for heaven.” Thus, the July full moon is a festival of truth. On this day Buddha taught the noble truth. He preached the dhamma as noble truth and came to be known as embodiment of truth.
Noble truth of suffering is no secret. It is a truth we refuse to acknowledge. Truth undermines the selfness of I, my and mine, to which we cling so desperately. Truth is not hidden from us. We are hiding from it. To develop Buddhist cultural identity, every Buddhist must visit the nearest Buddha Vihara on Sundays and on full moon days of every month, and not just once in a blue moon.
Wish you all a pious, peaceful and prosperously Guru Purnima.
The writer Venerable Vinayarakkhita Thero is chief monk, Lokaratna Buddha Vihara, Spoorthidhama, Bengaluru