Chokhor Duchen

The following is an excerpt from the great Buton Rinchen Drup's History of Buddhism in India and Its Spread to Tibet: A Treasury of Priceless Scripture.  

Upon arriving at Varanasi, the Buddha collected alms of food, ate, and then went to Descent of the Sages. The group of five saw the Teacher approaching and said, "The mendicant Gautama who violated his renunciant’s vows approaches, relaxed and well-fed. No one need go to greet him. No one need stand, or take his robes or alms bowl. If he likes, he can sit in this extra seat." And so, privately, they agreed on a course of action, though within his mind Ajnatakaundinya did not accede. But when the Teacher reached them, the five disciples were overwhelmed by his presence, abandoned their plan, and rose from their seats. Some welcomed him. Some laid out a seat. Some prepared washing water for his feet. "Welcome, please rest here on this cushion," they invited. The Teacher, seated on the cushion, exchanged many pleasant words with the group of five.

The disciples then asked him, "O long-lived Gautama, your faculties are clear, and your skin is perfectly pure. Have you manifested the special qualities of wisdom’s sight?" The Buddha replied, "You mustn’t address a transcendent buddha with the familiar form 'long-lived.' To do so will definitely result in long-term sorrow. I have obtained nectar. I am enlightened, omniscient. Did you not just make a secret agreement like this?" As he spoke these words, they become monks. They touched the Teacher’s feet, confessed their mistake, and were filled with respect.

The Teacher washed his body and thought, "Where shall I turn the wheel of the doctrine?" In that place appeared one thousand thrones, decorated with the seven treasures of a universal monarch. The Teacher circumambulated the first three and then, as he seated himself upon the fourth, a light illuminated the entire three-thousandfold-universe, made the earth tremble, and purified all sentient beings. The gods offered him a thousand-spoked wheel of gold and beseeched him to turn the teachings’ wheel. The Teacher remained silent for the first part of the day, spoke during the noon session, and addressed the five disciples during the latter part of the day:

O Monks, renunciants do not enter these two extremes—the extremes of indulgence in desire or of exhausting hardship. Having abandoned both extremes, transcendent buddhas teach the doctrine in the middle way in this manner: the noble eightfold path. O Monks, these are the four truths: suffering, its origin, its cessation, and the path.

Further,

Fully understand suffering. Abandon its sources.

And,

I fully understood suffering. I abandoned its sources.

And so on he spoke, repeating the four noble truths three times, thus turning the teachings’ wheel in twelve aspects. Kaundinya thereby attained the level of arhat: the three jewels came into being.

Thus, with twelve aspects,
He fully turned the teachings’ wheel.
Kaundinya achieved omniscience
And the three jewels manifestly came into being.

Regarding the wheel of the doctrine, there are five points to be distinguished, namely, the teaching’s (1) location, (2) time, (3) gathering, (4) doctrine, and (5) purpose. The first, the location, is the regions around the place calleD Destruction of the Wheel. Second, some say that the period of this first cycle was six years and six months, while Chimpa claims that it was seven years, and Chak holds it to be two months short of seven years. Third, the gathering was of five human beings—Kaundinya, Advajit, Vaspa, Mahanaman, and Bhadrika—and a circle of many gods. Fourth, the doctrine was that of the four noble truths repeated three times, thus a wheel of twelve aspects. The Treasury of Observed Phenomena states:

The wheel of the doctrine is the path of seeing,
It resembles a wheel in its swiftness and its spokes.

The path of seeing is called the wheel of the doctrine because its qualities are consistent with a wheel’s in its swift movement, rejecting some places and entering others, in conquering what was not conquered, in establishing what is conquered in its natural state, and in ascending and descending. Venerable Ghosaka states:

The eightfold noble path’s view, intention, effort, and mindfulness have qualities consistent with the spokes; speech, actions, and livelihood, with the hub; and meditative concentration, with the circumference. Thus, it is a wheel. The path of seeing is the wheel of the doctrine. Its arising in Kaundinya is called "the turning of the wheel."

Its threefold repetition is indicated by "This is suffering" and so on; "It must be truly understood" and so on; and "It has been truly comprehended" and so forth. With each of these three repetitions, the passage "Sight arose; knowledge arose; awareness arose; and understanding arose" indicates the arising of the path of union, the path without obstacles, the path of perfect freedom, and the special path—the twelve aspects. However, if you ask, "Were there twelve repetitions and sixty-four aspects?" this would not be a mistake because that framework’s characteristics correspond to those of the threefold and twelvefold framework.

According to the great exposition school, the three repetitions present the path of seeing, the path of meditation, and the path beyond learning. If this were the case, the three repetitions of the turning of the wheel of the doctrine could not comprise twelve aspects: the path of seeing alone has no threefold repetition and twelve aspects.

Fifth, the purpose is as follows: At the first turning of the wheel, the path of seeing arose in Kaundinya and in many gods. With the second turning, Kaundinya attained the state of an arhat, and the path of seeing arose in the four other disciples. At the third turning, the four disciples likewise became arhats. This was the direct aim. The indirect or special aim was to turn disciples from grasping to an individual self, establishing them in the four results of arhat, nonreturner, returner, and stream-enterer.Therefore, this series itself is the wheel of the doctrine: "The three repetitions" refers to the three repetitions of the four noble truths. The twelve aspects consist of: "the truth of (1) suffering, (2) the origin of suffering, (3) the cessation of suffering, and (4) the path"; (5) "suffering must be fully understood, (6) its causes must be abandoned, (7) its cessation must be made manifest, (8) the path must be meditated upon"—the four truths’ function; "(9) suffering is fully understood, (10) its causes are abandoned, (11) its cessation is made manifest, and (12) the path has been meditated upon"—the four truths’ effect. It is called "turning" the wheel of the doctrine because it causes understanding or knowledge to arise in another’s mindstream.