Drugpa Tshezhi (དྲུག་པ་ཚེས་བཞི་), or the 4th day of the 6th month, is one of the holiest days in the Buddhist calendar. It marks the day when the Buddha delivered his first sermon or, to use the Buddhist idiom, first turned the wheel of dharma. Thus, the day is also known as Chokhor Duechen (ཆོས་འཁོར་དུས་ཆེན་).
After attaining enlightenment, the Buddha remained in solitary retreat for seven weeks relaxing in the enlightened state and realizing its profound, peaceful, subtle and ineffable qualities. However, he is said to have returned to the world to teach after being requested by the kings of gods. The Buddha thus journeyed from Bodh Gaya to Banaras and delivered the first sermon to his five former colleagues in Deer Park on Drugpa Tshezhi. In this ground-breaking 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 [trans.], The Connected Discourses of the Buddha (Saṃyutta Nikāya), p. 1844.)
When the Buddha finished his sermon, all five ascetic audiences are said to have become enlightened and some 84,000 celestial beings are believed to have seen the truth. That sermon began the Buddha’s teachings, which would last for 45 years.
The Buddha’s teachings of the 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 the world is its unending dissatisfaction, pain and suffering. The Buddha explained that we must first recognize 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 the existential status, he advised his followers to recognize 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 Buddhists a special opportunity to reflect on the Buddha and his fundamental teachings of the Four Noble Truths and Right Eightfold Path.
Karma Phuntsho is the Director of Shejun Agency for Bhutan’s Cultural Documentation and Research, the President of the Loden Foundation and the author of The History of Bhutan. The piece was initially published in Bhutan’s national newspaper Kuensel in a series called Why We Do What We Do.