we speak of dharma, we usually refer to the teachings given
by the Buddha, but in fact dharma has two meanings: one is
the scriptural dharma that came down to us from the Buddha
and the other is the dharma of realization. Actually, the
root of all dharma is realization, meaning that one understands
the true nature of phenomena just as it is. To obtain such
understanding, one has to develop all the good qualities of
meditation with much diligence, effort, and perseverance.
Through this work in meditation, one comes to a point where
a very special understanding, knowledge, and insight never
experienced before arises. At this time one reaches the ultimate
fruition, true realization. This is what is meant by the dharma
of realization. But in order to achieve this realization,
we need a foundation to work from. We need to work from the
scriptural dharma which is the dharma as a teaching given
us by the Buddha.
are two main classes of scriptural dharma: the teachings of
the sutras and the teachings of the tantras. The sutras of
the Buddha were given in three different waves or turnings
of the wheel of dharma. The first turning of the wheel of
dharma were the Hinayana teachings. These teachings were intended
for individuals whose mind was not yet very open and had a
lesser aspiration to achieve enlightenment.
second wave of teachings called the second turning of the
wheel of dharma are the teachings on emptiness and on the
Prajnaparamita teachings. These are teachings of the Mahayana.
the third wave of teachings were the bridge between the sutras
and the tantras. These were the teachings in which the Buddha
taught that absolutely everyone has Buddha-nature or Buddha-essence.
the first turning of teachings were given in Varanasi which
you can visit in India nowadays. The Buddha taught in the
deer park (which is now called Sarnath) which at the time
was a very remote and very solitary place.6 After the Buddha
reached his enlightenment, he remained completely silent and
didn't teach for seven weeks. The reason for this was to show
that the dharma is very rare, very special, very valuable,
and this is why the Buddha just remained silent for some time
and until he was requested to teach. The request was made
by many gods including Brahma. Having had the request to teach,
the Buddha went to Varanasi and gave the teachings in the
deer park. He gave the teachings to five men who were called
"the five good followers" who were connected by
previous karma to the Buddha and who through this link, were
the first ones to receive his teaching.
subject matter of this first turning of the wheel of dharma
was the teaching of the Four Noble Truths. The Buddha expounding
these Four Noble Truths to make it very clear to all those
who were going to follow the Buddha's path what the teaching
was, why one needed to practice it, and what kind of results
one could be expected from the practice. So to clarify the
path the Buddha laid it out in a very clear form of the four
showed that if we don't practice the path of dharma, we will
wander on and on in samsara, but if we practice the dharma,
we will gain the liberation of nirvana. The Buddha first taught
that suffering is inherent to samsara and that this is what
we must really overcome. Secondly, he taught that the cause
of this suffering are the disturbing emotions (or kleshas)
and karma. To counteract samsara we must engage in the aspect
of nirvana which again has two parts. The third noble truth
of cessation or peace shows what we can achieve. Nirvana is
cessation of suffering. And fourth the way to achieve this
is the truth of the path. Since samsara is by nature suffering,
we have to go beyond samsara to eliminate samsara. Since nirvana
is peace, this is what we have to try to achieve. But achieving
nirvana and eliminating samsara can not be done automatically.
So it is done through working on the causes of these that
we can achieve our goal. This is why the Buddha expounded
on the four truths in the form of causes and their effects.
The causes of the suffering of samsara are the disturbing
emotions such as lust, anger, and ignorance and karma which
need to be overcome. In the same way, the cause of peace and
bliss of nirvana is the path which needs to be practiced.
this is how the Buddha gave the whole outline of his teaching
in the form of these four truths. Within each aspect of samsara
and nirvana, there is this causal relationship between cause
series of teachings which began in Varanasi were called the
turning of the first wheel of dharma. Later the Buddha taught
the second wheel of dharma at Vulture Peak in Rajagriha, India.
The people who were present during this teaching were arhats
and bodhisattvas in great numbers. The teaching itself was
mostly the exposition of the Prajnaparamita. This is when
the Buddha gave the teachings on emptiness and on the conduct
of a bodhisattva through the teachings on the six paramitas.
the first turning of the wheel of dharma, the Buddha showed
that one had to abandon samsara to achieve nirvana. But how
is this possible? Does it mean that we have to go on a long
journey to where we have never been before to find nirvana?
Does it mean that we have to create something new called nirvana?
In fact, it doesn't mean that at all. All it means is that
we have to understand the actual nature of phenomena10 that
we have to understand that our present view of reality is
mistaken, and we have to remove our impurities. And once we
see things as they really are, this is when we can achieve
third turning of the wheel of dharma is also called the teachings
that gave complete clarification. These teachings were given
in Shravasti and other places in India in the presence of
all the great bodhisattvas. These teaching revealed that Buddha-nature
is present in the mind of all beings. We may wonder why this
was taught last. The reason is that in the second turning,
the Buddha taught that everything was empty of inherent nature.
This teaching could lead to the belief that the goal of the
Buddhist path-nirvana-is actually simply complete emptiness
or annihilation. To avoid this mistake, the Buddha gave this
third set of teachings showing that the mind is not just nothingness.
When one achieves Buddhahood, the original intrinsic luminosity
of the mind becomes manifest. This luminosity or clarity of
the mind means that the mind is not a dark, obscure thing
by nature, but it has its own inherent, intelligent clarity.
Once one has removed the veils, the thick shroud of ignorance,
the inherent clarity of the mind, this brilliance of the intelligence
of mind, will shine in its fullness. Once this clarity of
the mind has manifest, then one can understand all things
of nirvana and samsara very clearly. One has the understanding
of phenomena and this knowledge is accompanied by the greatest
of bliss and peace.
three turnings of the wheel of dharma that have just been
described correspond to the sutras taught of the Buddha. The
Buddha also taught the tantras which are the teachings of
the Vajrayana. The Buddha gave four tantras: the kriya tantras,
the carya tantras, the yoga tantras, and the anuttarayoga
teachings were given in many places. Sometimes the Buddha
gave these teachings in some of the god realms such as Tushita
and some of the teachings were given in physical places in
India. Those receiving these teachings were bodhisattvas and
dakas and dakinis practicing the secret mantas. The sutras
already provided very deep and vast teachings on the nature
of phenomena. But with the Vajrayana, the Buddha was able
to give people the possibility to achieve the fruition of
the Buddhist path very quickly and without major hardships.
The Vajrayana can do this by providing special skillful means
such as the meditation on the generation stage and the completion
stage of a deity,12 and using meditation techniques of looking
at the nature of the mind directly.
the Buddha turned the wheel of dharma and gave all the various
teachings of the Hinayana, the Mahayana, and the Vajrayana.
in different places with different people and at all different
times. But also because he was teaching students of vastly
different abilities, at times it seemed to them as if the
Buddha was mainly spreading the Hinayana; at times it seemed
to them as if he was teaching the Mahayana and sometimes as
if to the Vajrayana. Of course, this was just a matter of
the way in which the people were perceiving the teachings
of the Buddha; it seemed to some that the Buddha was giving
completely Hinayana teachings and to others that he was giving
completely Mahayana teaching. The Buddha could also be somewhere
else and through his miraculous powers giving other teachings
of this, some people started having the impression that the
Buddha had only given the Hinayana teachings, and had not
given the Mahayana teachings which were made up by someone
else. Others believed that the Buddha had given the Mahayana
teachings, but had not given the Vajrayana teachings and that
these Vajrayana teachings had been fabricated by his followers.
The belief that the Mahayana and the Vajrayana teachings were
created by someone else is based on the belief the Buddha
was just an ordinary man with no extraordinary qualities of
enlightenment instead of seeing a Buddha as being a very exceptional
being who came into the world to help people out of his great
compassion and to lead them to liberation. Once one thinks
of the Buddha as an ordinary Indian man, then next one will
have doubts as to whether he actually gave the various teachings
attributed to him and one begins picking and choosing between
teachings of the various vehicles.
is a mistake to identify the Buddha as an ordinary person
and to start thinking that maybe the Buddha didn't have complete
knowledge, or was not able to teach a complete range of teachings
or that the Buddha could have taught in this place, but not
in that place. It is not worth entertaining such doubts because
the Buddha was not an ordinary person nor was he a god who
if pleased with you will send you to heaven and if displeased
throw you into the hell realms. But at the same time, saying
the Buddha is not a god doesn't mean that we should think
of the Buddha as someone devoid of any special qualities of
knowledge, intelligence, and understanding or without any
special direct intuition and insight. He was indeed a very
special being who gave the complete set of dharma teachings
which were not in contradiction to each other. Each has its
own relevance. Whoever practices a teaching of any level or
vehicle properly will be able to achieve the respective result
of that particular path.
Buddha could have remained in our world for thousands and
thousands of years, and this may have been quite beneficial.
On the other hand, there would have been the danger that people
would start thinking that the Buddha was permanent which could
generate all kinds of misconceptions. Instead by passing away,
the Buddha showed that if he had to die, then, of course,
everybody else would have to also die one day. So it was to
make everyone aware of the impermanence of life so that they
could generate a sense of renunciation, a sense of urgency
in the practice, a sense of weariness with this world. It
was also to instill the feeling that dharma, the teachings
of the Buddha, is very rare, very precious, and very valuable.
So this is why the Buddha passed away in Kushinagari in India.
did the Buddha come into our world? The reason was the very
exceptional compassion of the Buddha wanting to help all beings
and to lead them onto the path that leads to real happiness.
He wanted to show individuals the path to peace, the path
to true happiness by teaching the four truths or the two truths
that describe the true nature of everything. He showed us
that we can have the choice to choose our own happiness and
travel on the path that leads to ultimate liberation and happiness.
So the Buddha because of his very great love and compassion
for all of us, did not keep these teachings to himself, but
turned the wheel of dharma.
the Buddha passed away, his teachings were preserved without
any alteration or without any loss by means of three great
councils. The Buddha didn't speak from books that he had written
and he didn't write anything down. Instead people came and
asked him questions and voiced their doubts and their uncertainties.
The Buddha would answer these questions, so that the teaching
of the Buddha were actually answers to various people's questions
and doubts. These questions would become the opportunity for
expounding the truth, for speaking of the true nature of everything.
may ask, "Well, if everything was just said by the Buddha
and nothing was written down, how come things didn't get lost
or altered or modified as time went on?" The reason this
did not happen was that many of those who were receiving the
Buddha's teaching were monks totally dedicated to the path
of the Buddha. When they listened to the teaching, they did
it with all their heart and immediately put the teachings
into practice so they realized the fruition of the path extremely
quickly, allowing all the qualities of intelligence to rapidly
blossom in them. Among other things, they achieved the power
of perfect memory which means each word the Buddha said was
engraved very deeply in their memory so that every word was
kept in their minds and nothing was lost.
his passing away one of the Buddha's most important monks
named Mahakashyapa gathered 500 arhats for a great council
to keep all the teachings in tact. The meeting took place
in the great Banyan cave which was on the bank of hot springs
which are quite close to Vulture Peak near Rajagriha. So these
500 arhats gathered there and the meeting was presided over
by three of them in particular: Ananda, Mahakashyapa, and
Upali. They recited every word of the Buddha that they had
heard and each of these three expounded on particular aspect
of the teaching of the Buddha. So Upali expounded the Vinaya
teachings, Ananda the Sutras, and Mahakashyapa the Abhidharma.
They would begin by saying, "Thus have I heard. This
is how the Buddha spoke" and then they would recite everything
they had heard. In this way, they established very clearly
and formally what the Buddha's teachings were, so that from
that point onwards all the teachings were classified into
these three groups and kept very systematically.
purpose of this first council was to make sure that all the
immaculate words of the Buddha would be preserved in their
purity and wouldn't be lost. For instance, if even one part
of a sutra had been lost, then the whole teaching of the Buddha
would have lost some of its meaning. That is why they wanted
to keep everything in tact. But, of course, it is possible
that some of us will have doubts about this. We may feel that
if there were no books to record the teachings of the Buddha,
then maybe the sutras are not complete or maybe some of them
have been made up by his followers so it is quite possible
that the sutras are not pure teachings at all.16
Well, we do not need to entertain that kind of doubt because
the arhats were very great beings who respected the Buddha's
teaching so deeply, that they wanted to keep the teachings
very pure, as they had been delivered originally by the Buddha.