The sixth limb of the seven-part practice is entreating the Buddhas and teachers to turn the wheel of dharma. Turning the Wheel of Dharma is an idiomatic expression for teaching. In the fifth practice, one requests the Buddha, bodhisattvas and masters to live long in the world to benefit the world. In this case, one entreats the enlightened beings to teach the dharma to the beings in the world.
This practice is important because the best and most lasting benefit the enlightened beings can bring to the world is by showing the true path to happiness and enlightenment, which they have themselves trodden. By teaching the path and instilling wisdom and light of knowledge, they dispel ignorance, the main cause of existential problems. Thus, one must request the Buddha and masters to turn the wheel of dharma, i.e. teach the dharma.
The metaphor of turning the wheel is used to describe the act of teaching because when the enlightened masters teach, the inner wheel of understanding and realization is turned in the minds of the disciples. Discerning wisdom and various noble qualities, like the axle and spokes of the wheel, are triggered into motion and new distance is covered on the spiritual path. Thus, by turning the external wheel of dharma through teaching, the inner wheel of spiritual experience is turned. This leads a person to the state of enlightenment, which is the ultimate state of peace and happiness according to Buddhism.
Subjects Tibet and Himalayas
One has to entreat the Buddhas to teach sometimes because the Buddhas and the masters are reluctant to teach. The historical Buddha is said to have reached his profound and blissful state of awakening under the Bodhi tree and remained for seven weeks in solitude without teaching because he felt no one would understand his profound and mystical enlightened experience. The dharma is very subtle, vast, profound and hard to fathom but most people are distracted by worldly vanity and occupied with superficial things. Thus, the Buddha was reluctant to teach and the celestial gods Brahma and Indra are supposed to have requested the Buddha three times to turn the wheel of dharma for the sake of the world.
Thus, when the Buddhas remain in solitude and enter deep meditation, they need to be persuaded to come out and share the dharma with the world. Following such requests, the Buddhas and enlightened masters adopt very expedient methods and teach the world to impart their deep understanding and experience. This is one reason why one must entreat the Buddhas and teachers to teach. Another reason is to create a stronger connection between the teacher and the disciples and make the teachings have greater effect. Buddhism is not a missionary religion and good Buddhist teachers do not go out promoting themselves or their teachings.
To make the teachings have strong impact on the disciple, the disciple must be really interested in it and seek it with earnestness and longing. Dharma should not be imposed. If disciples are interested, they must request the teacher or master to teach repeatedly. The historical Buddha was often asked three times to teach before he consented to teaching. A student must be seriously interested and willing to receive the teachings. This makes the student appreciate the value of dharma and helps the teacher and dharma have stronger impact on the student. When one values something, one deeply cherishes it and it will have a greater and deeper impression on one’s mind. If a lama puts a disciple through a long and arduous preparation, just as Marpa did for Milarepa, the student builds an intense longing, earnestness and respect for the dharma. When a disciple receives the dharma eventually, the dharma has greater impact. So that is why one needs to request a teacher to teach many times.
During prayers, one normally asks the Buddha or teacher to teach by chanting some fixed verses. One of the most common procedure is to offer the maṇḍala and other objects and then request the teachers to teach. After making the offering, one can chant the verse;
In accordance with the interests
And the faculty of the sentient beings,
Please turn the wheel of dharma
Of the small, great and common vehicles.
This is the standard verse which people often chant when they ask a teacher to teach. Whether one uses a set stanza or not, it is important to do this practice with full conviction that the true path to happiness, the greatest benefit the Buddhas and teachers can bring to the world, is to enlighten beings by removing their ignorance through education and teaching. One must also have deep faith in the teacher and the teachings.
Through this practice, one is basically asking the Buddhas to teach because the dharma is the only way to ultimate state of enlightenment. With that understanding, one must make the request to the Buddhas and other masters to teach and do so with the great regard for the teacher as well as his or her teachings. It is also crucial to make this request to dispel the darkness of ignorance and shed the light of dharma for the sake of all sentient beings, and not just for oneself.
Karma Phuntsho is the Director of Shejun Agency for Bhutan’s Cultural Documentation and Research, founder 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."