In the footsteps of the Buddha, monks and nuns today continue the tradition of the Rains Retreat. This is a time they dedicate to focus on their own spiritual development. But the Rains Retreat is not just for the benefit of the monastics; for even in the time of the Buddha, lay followers would eagerly go to the monasteries where the monks or nuns were having their retreat to listen to their teachings.
In the same spirit, even as spiritual teacher, Bhante K. Rathanasara, enters the Rains Retreat from 24th July to 20th October 2021, the devotees are invited for 13 weeks of weekly dhamma practice sessions. Each session starts with paying homage to the Buddha, a dhamma talk based on the Dhammacakkappavattana sutta, followed by a spiritually uplifting chanting of the Dhammacakkappavattana sutta, and ends with sharing of merits.
The 13 weeks of dhamma talks are made available here for all who wish to learn and deepen their understanding of Dhammacakkappavattana sutta, the sutta in which the Buddha first taught the Four Noble Truths.
Two Extremes and Middle Path
True happiness, insights and liberation, just some of the fruits of the noble life, are to be attained by following the Middle Path. Middle because it avoids the two extremes of addiction to sensual pleasure and self-mortification practices of some ascetics. But what’s harmful about the two extremes? How does staying on the Middle Path take us to the noble life? How did the Buddha arrive at this conclusion?
The Truth of Unsatisfactoriness
The Buddha described the fact of suffering as the first Noble Truth. This underscores how important it is for us to realize its deep significance for the Buddhist path. What did the Buddha mean by suffering? What about the pleasures and good experiences we enjoy? Are they suffering too? How does understanding and realizing the first noble truth set us off on a path of transformation?
Why does suffering exist? The second of the Four Noble Truths tells us its root cause is our craving. We may not realize it but this craving is so powerful and intense, it literally drives us around seeking pleasures here, there and everywhere. It even drives us to take up future existence. Understanding this noble truth is in seeing how insatiable our craving is and how it will inevitably lead to suffering.
Freedom and Bliss
Nibbana – the ultimate goal of the Buddhist path. But what is Nibbana and how can we arrive at it? The suttas offer glimpses of Nibbana as a blessed state free of all suffering, of perfect peace and supreme happiness. But these descriptions can offer no more than just glimpses; for Nibbana can only be understood through direct knowledge of experience. So how can we come to realize Nibbana? The answer lies in the Noble Eight-fold Path.
The Path to Enlightenment
How can we truly understand dukkha, uproot our defilements and achieve Nibbana? The answer lies in the fourth Noble Truth where the Buddha laid out the Noble Eight-fold Path. It is a path of mental cultivation, and of the development of our ethics and wisdom. You will find no other path to Enlightenment that is as good, straight, systematic and proper as this. How so? This talk offers an overview of the Noble Eight-fold Path and how it will take us all the way to Nibbana.
The final breakthrough on the Buddhist path comes with the true wisdom that arises only with direct experience of the Dhamma. Yet, some initial wisdom is required if we are to head in the right direction and be on the path in the first place. This initial wisdom arises from having the right understanding and the right thoughts – the first two factors of the Noble Eight-fold Path. How does initial wisdom arise from these two factors? How can it be developed? How do they keep us on the path?
In Buddhism, the motivation for ethical conduct is neither the fear of hellish punishment nor the desire for heavenly rewards. Instead, it comes with the development of the right understanding and right thoughts. And how are we to differentiate between right and wrong? Certainly not by blind faith but by using our commonsense to analyze the motives, intentions and consequences of our actions, speech and livelihood.
With the ethical training of right speech, right action and right livelihood, we would have built a foundation for cultivating our minds. But what does mental cultivation entail? The answer lies in the last three factors of the Noble Eight-fold Path – right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. These factors, when fully developed, will take us to all the way to the end – Nibbana. But how do we develop these three factors? What are the hindrances we need to overcome? What must we do to fully develop our minds?
Development of Wisdom
To truly free ourselves of suffering, we must remove our ignorance; for it is ignorance that prevents us from seeing reality for what it is. Our perceptions, thinking and views are all distorted – and we do not even realize that to be the case. To break through this web of illusion that surrounds us, we need to develop our wisdom. But how do we do that? Is the answer found in the Noble Eight Path? How does developing our wisdom ultimately liberate us?
Three Aspects and Twelve Modes
The full realization of the Four Noble Truths, each in its three aspects, are what takes one to the end of the Spiritual Path. The first aspect is to fully grasp the Truths of suffering, craving as its cause, Nibbana as the end of Suffering, and the Noble Eight-fold Path as the way out of suffering as existential realities and not merely as some intellectual concepts or statements. The second aspect is to fully realize that something has to be done with each Noble Truth – that suffering has to be seen in all its subtleties, that craving has to be uprooted, that Nibbana has to be realized for oneself, and that the Path has to be cultivated. The final aspect is when what needs to be done has been done – when the Truth of Suffering has been fully understood, craving completely uprooted, Nibbana fully realized, and the Path fully cultivated. These are the three aspects and 12 modes of the Four Noble Truths.
The Highest Teaching
What is the highest teaching in Buddhism? It is the Four Noble Truths. There is a tendency to regard the Four Noble Truths as its basic teaching when, in fact, it is the pinnacle of the gradual training set out in the suttas. Furthermore, it is the Four Noble Truths, not the practices of generosity, virtues or even meditation, that distinguishes Buddhism from all other religions.
The Eye of the Dhamma
How well can we see with dust in our eyes? And what if our eyes were stained? How distorted would the vision be? This is exactly how we are as ordinary human beings. With mental defilements – of sensual desire, ill-will, restlessness, drowsiness and laziness, and doubt – our views of the world are obstructed. We are unable to see the unreliability of our body and worldly pleasures, that all is impermanent, and that the self to which we are so attached is ultimately a delusion. It takes one who is enlightened, one with the eye of the dhamma, to see through all these and fully realise reality for what it is.
The Wheel of Dhamma and Realms of Existence
In pronouncing the Four Noble Truths, the Buddha set in motion The Wheel of Truth. The wheel in motion signifies the Four Noble Truths as an unstoppable force as the teachings spread far and wide over the past 2500 years and will continue to do so – as long as there are people who keep the wheel turning. It also signifies how the Four Noble Truths can take us from our current existence marked by delusion and suffering all the way to the ultimate bliss and liberation of Nibbana. Such was the power of Buddha’s pronouncement of the Four Noble Truths that the message reverberated through the various realms of existence. Truly, the Buddha is the unsurpassed teacher of humans and divine beings.