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The Dharma Wheel Sūtra (chos kyi ‘khor lo’i mdo ‘gyur byang med pa)

The Tibetan ‘Missing Translator’s Colophon’ Version of the Dharma Wheel Discourse (chos kyi ‘khor lo’i mdo ‘gyur byang med pa):

A New Translation into English by Erick Tsiknopoulos (2013)

Translator’s Note:

This is one of two versions of the Dharma Wheel Discourse in Tibetan. The other one is called chos kyi ‘khor lo rab tu bskor ba’i mdo (Skt: dharmacakrapravartana-sūtra), which I nickname the ‘Pravartana’ version to distinguish its inclusion of the “pravartana/rab tu skor ba/fully or mightily turning” part of the title. This present version is the chos kyi mkhor lo’i do (‘gyur byang med pa), “The Sūtra of the Dharma Wheel (Without the Translator’s Colophon)”, and I nickname it the “Missing Translator’s Colophon” version. In Sanskrit its title is dharmacaka-sūtra, which does not correspond directly to the Pāli title dhammacakkappavattana-sutta, as the former means the “Discourse on the Dharma Wheel” and the latter means ‘The Discourse on the Turning of the Dharma Wheel”. This Tibetan version is, however, definitely a version of some form of the dhammacakkappavattana-sutta, although a very “condensed” one which is missing the traditional first third of the discourse for one reason or another. It is clearly a version of the same discourse because the remaining portions in this Tibetan version correspond very closely to those of the Pāli version. It is listed in the Kangyur’s table of contents with the qualifying appellation ‘gyur byang med pa, “without the translator’s colophon”, probably mainly to distinguish it from the other version, and perhaps to simultaneously denote one of its noticeable peculiarities. However, it is not titled as such in the text itself, where it is listed simply as dharmacakra-sūtra and chos kyi ‘khor lo’i mdo in Sanskrit and Tibetan respectively, although at the end of the discourse, the longer title of ‘The Turning of the Dharma Wheel’ (chos kyi ‘khor lo bskor ba) is given at its very end. It was most likely a translation from Sanskrit, as the vast majority of the Tibetan translations of Buddhist texts were from Sanskrit. In most translator’s colophons, the name of the Indian Buddhist scholar with whom the translator consulted during the translation is listed.

However, based on its major omissions, the presumably-Sanskrit version which was used for the Tibetan translation of the ‘Missing Translator’s Colophon’ version must have been quite different (and shorter) than other extant Sanskrit versions, as these omissions are not found in the Chinese and even the other Tibetan version. Because the translation does not feature a colophon written by the translator, its translator is unknown and no other information can be easily discerned, making the origins of both the original Sanskrit text and its Tibetan translation rather mysterious.

According to Anālayo’s notes (2012) and based on my own research, it would seem that as of this writing there is no full English translation of either of the Tibetan versions. This translation contained herein is therefore possibly the first complete English translation of either of the Tibetan versions of the Dharma Wheel Discourse. At the least, a translation from the Tibetan has not been widely distributed on the internet or in print.

The Dharma Wheel Discourse is often considered to be one of the most important teachings in the Buddhist canon, particularly by the Theravāda Buddhist lineage. Its importance is generally held by the Buddhist traditions to be as follows:

1)      It is identified by most Buddhist traditions as being the Buddha’s very first teaching after attaining his state of Enlightenment or Awakening, especially by the Theravāda, but also by most of the Mahāyana traditions.

2)      It is one of the most well-known and frequently referenced of the Buddha’s discourses dealing explicitly with the Four Noble Truths (hereafter “the Four Ennobling Truths”).

3)      Since the Four Ennobling Truths are considered to be one of the most important teachings of the Buddha by most Buddhist schools (especially the Theravāda), this particular discourse is given special regard and consideration by most Buddhist traditions, including Tibetan Buddhism.

Some Notes on the Translation and Terminology:

Here I am tempted to follow Dr. Peter Harvey’s suggestion of ‘ennobling’ rather than ‘noble’, although not so much his ‘spiritually ennobled’ and ‘realities’. He makes arguments against the translation of the use of the word ‘truth’ and prefers ‘reality’, thus ‘Four Realities for the Spiritually Ennobled’. Although I do have some partiality to ‘reality’, and agree with much of his analysis here, I also think that it is debatable and flexible, depending on the audience and context. Adding ‘spiritually’, a new word which has no etymological basis, while philosophically sound, is in my opinion as a translator, a form of fabrication. In regard to ‘ennobling’ specifically, Harvey explains in his excellent book, An Introduction to Buddhism (1990, 2013) as follows, with relevant notes or explanations in brackets:

The translation of ariya-sacca [Tibetan: 'phags pa'i bden pa] as ‘Noble Truth’, while well established in English-language literature on Buddhism ([for example] Anderson, 1999), is the ‘least likely’ of the possible meanings ([as] Norman [said in] 1997:16). To unpack and translate this compound, one needs to look at the meanings of each word, and then how they are related…

And:

What of the term ariya [Tib: 'phags pa]? As a noun, this means ‘noble one’. In Brahmanism, the term referred to members of the top three of the four social classes, denoting purity of descent and social superiority. In Buddhism it is used in a spiritual sense: the Buddha is ‘the noble one’ and other ‘noble ones’ are those who are partially of fully awakened, and those well-established on the path to these states. To make clear the spiritual sense of the term, and that being a ‘noble one’ is an attainment rather than something one is born to, the translation ‘the spiritually ennobled’ seems most apposite: a person who has been uplifted and purified by deep insight into reality. As an adjective, ariya means ‘noble’, hence the Buddhist path, the practice of which makes ordinary people into noble ones, is itself said to be ‘noble’.

And:

The four of these are the most significant categories of existence, [which] only the spiritually ennobled recognize the full import of. Correct identification of them, and deep insight into their nature, is what makes a person spiritually ennobled.

Despite my inclination, I have decided to retain the traditional term of ‘the Four Noble Truths’. However, I do think that these issues of terminology are important to consider, and that Dr. Harvey has made some interesting suggestions.

To this I would add Dr. Peter Harvey’s excellent translator’s note to his own translation of this discourse from the Pāli, which sums up the important information better than I can:

Translator’s note: The setting: seven weeks after the Buddha’s enlightenment/awakening, he goes to five former companions that he had previously practiced extreme asceticism with (Vin i 8-10). After trying asceticism, he had given this up for a more moderate approach based on a healthy body and jhāna (mindful, calm and joyful altered states of consciousness based on samādhi (mental unification)). The following is seen as the first teaching he gave to anyone. In other contexts, the Buddha taught the Four True Realities for the Spiritually Ennobled Ones to people after first giving them a preparatory discourse to ensure they were in the right frame of mind be able to fully benefit from the teaching:

“Then the Blessed One gave the householder Upāli a step-by-step discourse, that is, talk on giving, talk on moral virtue, talk on the heaven worlds; he made known the danger, the inferior nature of and tendency to defilement in sense-pleasures, and the advantage of renouncing them. When the Blessed One knew that the householder Upāli’s mind was ready, open, without hindrances, inspired and confident, then he expounded to him the elevated Dhamma-teaching of the buddhas: dukkha, its origination, its cessation, the path.” [M i 379-80]

The four true realities taught by the Buddha are not as such things to “believe” but to be open to, see and contemplate, and respond to appropriately: by fully understanding dukkha/pain/the painful, abandoning that which originates it, personally experiencing its cessation, and cultivating the path that leads to this. These four true realities are the four fundamental dimensions of experience, as seen by a spiritually noble person with deep wisdom: the conditioned world, that which originates it, the cessation/transcending of it (the unconditioned, Nibbāna), and the path to this. Indeed, it is by insight into these that a person becomes spiritually ennobled.

 

The Tibetan ‘Missing Translator’s Colophon’ Version of the Dharma Wheel Discourse (chos kyi ‘khor lo’i mdo ‘gyur byang med pa):

A New Translation into English by Erick Tsiknopoulos (2013)

 

The Dharma Wheel Sūtra

In the Indian Language: Dharmachakra Sūtra [dharmacakra-sūtra]

In the Tibetan Language: Chhö kyi Khorlo’i Do [chos kyi ‘khor lo’i mdo]

In the English Language: The Dharma Wheel Sūtra [The Sūtra of the Dharma Wheel]

 

ADORATION TO THE COMPREHENSIVELY UNDERSTANDING ONE.

Thus have I heard these words: At one time the Buddha, the Sublime Master, was residing in the Deer Grove of Sagely Exposition in Vārāṇasī, and it was from there that the Sublime Master bestowed teaching upon the the five-fold group of spiritual mendicants:

[The First Phase]

“Seekers of virtue, I gave rise to vision concerning things I had not heard before, as I progressively contemplated, “The noble truth of suffering is this itself.” Understanding, awareness, knowledge, and realization arose.”

“Seekers of virtue, I gave rise to vision concerning things I had not heard before, as I progressively contemplated, “Suffering is this itself. The origination of suffering is this itself. The stopping of suffering is this itself. The path leading to the stopping of suffering is this itself.” Understanding, awareness, knowledge, and realization arose.”

[The Second Phase]

“Seekers of virtue, I gave rise to vision concerning things I had not heard before, as I progressively contemplated, “I must directly know the noble truth of suffering, and thereby comprehensively understand it.” Understanding, awareness, knowledge, and realization arose.”

“Seekers of virtue, I gave rise to vision concerning things I had not heard before, as I progressively contemplated, “I must directly know the noble truth of suffering’s origination, and thereby comprehensively eradicate it.” Understanding, awareness, knowledge, and realization arose.”

“Seekers of virtue, I gave rise to vision concerning things I had not heard before, as I progressively contemplated, “I must directly know the noble truth of realizing suffering’s stopping, and thereby comprehensively actualize it.” Understanding, awareness, knowledge, and realization arose.”

“Seekers of virtue, I gave rise to vision concerning things I had not heard before, as I progressively contemplated, “I must directly know the noble truth of the path leading to suffering’s stopping, and thereby comprehensively cultivate it.” Understanding, awareness, knowledge, and realization arose.”

[The Third Phase]

“Seekers of virtue, I gave rise to vision concerning things I had not heard before, as I progressively contemplated, “The noble truth of suffering has been directly known, and thereby comprehensively understood.” Understanding, awareness, knowledge, and realization arose.”

“Seekers of virtue, I gave rise to vision concerning things I had not heard before, as I progressively contemplated, “The noble truth of suffering’s origination has been directly known, and thereby eradicated.” Understanding, awareness, knowledge, and realization arose.”

“Seekers of virtue, I gave rise to vision concerning things I had not heard before, as I progressively contemplated, “The noble truth of suffering’s stopping has been directly known, and thereby actualized.” Understanding, awareness, knowledge, and realization arose.”

“Seekers of virtue, I gave rise to vision concerning things I had not heard before, as I progressively contemplated, “The noble truth of the path leading to suffering’s stopping has been directly known, and thereby cultivated.” Understanding, awareness, knowledge, and realization arose.”

“Seekers of virtue, for so long as I had not given rise to vision, given rise to understanding, awareness, knowledge, and realization in regard to the Four Noble Truths, enumerated into their three phases and consequent twelve modes, I was not emancipated from this world with its Devas, with its Māras, with its Brahmās, with its living beings including spiritual contemplatives and priests, with its gods and humans; I did not have liberation and definitive deliverance, did not increasingly abide with a mind of utter freedom, without distortion, and, O seekers of virtue, I did not know what is called ‘the unparalleled authentically complete awakening of manifestly complete Buddhahood’.”

“Seekers of virtue, when I had given rise to vision, given rise to understanding, awareness, knowledge, and realization in regard to the Four Noble Truths, enumerated into their three phases and consequent twelve modes, thereafter I was emancipated from this world with its Devas, with its Māras, with its Brahmās, with its living beings including spiritual contemplatives and priests, with its gods and humans; I did have liberation and definitive deliverance, did increasingly abide with a mind of utter freedom, without distortion, and, O seekers of virtue, thereafter I did know what is called ’the unparalleled authentically complete awakening of manifestly complete Buddhahood’.”

When the teaching on this section of Dharma was bestowed, the Venerable Kauṇḍinya and eighty thousand gods gave rise to the dustless and stainless Dharma Eye.

Then, the Sublime Master granted instruction to Venerable Kauṇḍinya:

“Kauṇḍinya, have you understood all dharmas?”

[Kauṇḍinya:] “Bhagavān, I have fathomed all.”

[The Buddha:] “Kauṇḍinya, have you understood all?”

[Kauṇḍinya:] “Sugata, I have fathomed all indeed, I have fathomed all indeed.”

Because Venerable Kauṇḍinya had understood all of the Dharma, Venerable Kauṇḍinya was therefore dubbed with the moniker Ājñātakauṇḍinya, “All-Understanding Kauṇḍinya”.

The earth-dwelling yakṣas broadcast the announcement: “Kauṇḍinya has understood all of the Dharma!”, and then boomed a song, which went:

Friends! The Bhagavān, in the Deer Grove of Sagely Exposition, in Vārāasī, has turned the Dharma Wheel, imbued with the Dharma, enumerated into its three phases and consequent twelve modes, which has gone unturned in accordance with the Dharma by anyone in the world, whether spiritual contemplatives, priests, gods, Māras, or Brahmās, for the sake of helping many living beings, for the happiness of many living beings, out of compassionate love for the world, for the benefit, support, and welfare of humans and gods, and thus, the abodes of gods shall deeply thrive, and the abodes of anti-gods shall utterly decline!

Having heard the uproar of the earth-dwelling yakṣas, the announcement was then resounded from the abodes of the sky-traveling yakṣas, to those of the Four Great Kings, to the heavens of the gods of the Thirty-Three, to those of the gods of Joyous, Conflict-Free, Emanation Delight, and Mastery Over Others’ Emanations, within that single moment, within that single instant, within that very second, at that moment, instant, and very second, all the way up to the world of Brahmā. The gods of the Brahmā abode also broadcast the announcement as follows:

Friends! The Bhagavān, in the Deer Grove of Sagely Exposition, in Vārāasī, has turned the Dharma Wheel, imbued with the Dharma, enumerated into its three phases and consequent twelve modes, which has gone unturned in accordance with the Dharma by anyone in the world, whether spiritual contemplatives, priests, gods, Māras, or Brahmās, for the sake of helping many living beings, for the happiness of many living beings, out of compassionate love for the world, for the benefit, support, and welfare of humans and gods, and thus, the abodes of gods shall deeply thrive, and the abodes of anti-gods shall utterly decline!

Because the Sublime Master had thus turned the Dharma Wheel, imbued with Dharma, enumerated into its three phases and consequent twelve modes, at the Deer Grove of Sagely Exposition in Vārāṇasī, this section of Dharma was designated with the title ‘The Turning of the Dharma Wheel’.

THE SŪTRA OF THE DHARMA WHEEL IS COMPLETE.

Translated by Erick Tsiknopoulos, October-November 2013, in the Sanctuary of Yearning for Release (Thardö Ling), McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India. Special thanks to Géshé Lobsang Chögyël Rinpoché for his profound and powerful teachings and commentary on this discourse on the holy day of Chhökhor Düchhen, the ‘great time (celebration) of the Dharma Wheel’, for which I had the good fortune to interpret for a group of about ten people in Rinpoché’s room, and to Dr. Lobzang Gyamtso for his insightful and erudite commentary on the Tibetan text. Also thanks to Gésheyma candidate Ven. Zangmo for her kind and lucid explanation of Illuminating Emancipation’s Path: An Exposition on the Four Noble Truths & Dependent Arising (bden bzhi dang rten ‘brel gyi rnam par bzhag pa thar lam gsal byed ces bya ba bzhugs so) by Choné Jetsün Drakpa Shaydrup (co ne rje brtsun grags pa bshad sgrub).

 Updated late December, 2013. 

 

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