The story of Gautama Buddha's enlightenment is known well to students of Buddhism: it is set in Deer Park at Isipatana near ancient BaraI).asi, the audience is comprised of five religious seekers with whom the Buddha once travelled in his search for release from the cycle of rebirth and death in
sam~ara, and it is to these men that the Buddha announced that he had attained enlightenment. The term used by the Pali canon for this address that the Buddha gave is a talk (katha), although the Pali word is often translated as 'sermon.' The Buddha begins his talk to KOI).9afifia, Vappa, Bhaddiya, Mahanama, and Assaji by stating that there are two extremes to be avoided: devotion to sensual pleasures and devotion to mortification of the body. Between these two poles, he continues, lies the middle way which consists of the noble eightfold path: right view, right aim, right speech, right action, right living, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. This middle path leads to 'insight, knowledge, calm, higher knowledge, enlightenment, and nibbana.' The Buddha then states the four noble truths: 'this is pain' (idarrz dukkharrz) , 'this is the origin of pain' (ayarrz dukkhasamudayo), 'this is the ending of pain' (ayarrz dukkha-nirodho), and 'this is the way leading to the ending of pain' (ayarrz dukkha-nirodha-gaminf patipada). The Buddha tells his former companions that once he realized and knew the four noble truths, he knew that this life was his last rebirth and that he had no more births in the future. Inspired by this talk, KOI).9afifia cultivates a knowledge of the four noble truths and thereby becomes a stream-enterer, which means that he reached the first of four stages of the path to nibbana. At the end of the sutta ('discourse' or 'text'),
Pain and its Ending
the gods in the heavens and all beings in the cosmos proclaim that the wheel of dhamma has been turned and that no one may turn it back. The title of the sutta in which this story is told is the 'Sutta on the Turning of the Dhamma-Wheel' (Dhammacakkappavattana-sutta). 2
At the center of this sutta are the four noble truths. One of the striking features of the four noble truths is how they reveal a certain set of relationships between religious experience, doctrine, and cosmology. The four truths are the substance of what the Buddha knew as he became enlightened; thus, they are a doctrine that emerges out of a particular religious experience. The Buddha taught the four noble truths as his first dhamma talk, which means that they are the first teaching about what is fundamentally right. Finally, the four truths are the means by which the wheel of dhamma is turned: when KOI).Qaftfta realized the truth of the four truths, he became enlightened. This turning is a cosmogonic moment that reverberates throughout the earth and the heavens of the Buddhist cosmos. The relationship between religious experience, doctrine, and the Buddhist cosmos reflected in the four noble truths is the primary subject of this book.