Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote, “The essence of the Buddha’s teaching can be summed up in two principles: the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. The first covers the side of doctrine, and the primary response it elicits is understanding; the second covers the side of discipline, in the broadest sense of that word, and the primary response it calls for is practice. “
Webster’s dictionary defines discipline as “a branch of knowledge, typically one studies in higher education.” Of course, the Dharma (Dhamma in Pali) is a life long course of “higher education.”
He continues, “In the structure of the teaching these two principles lock together into an indivisible unity called the dhamma-vinaya, the doctrine-and-discipline, or, in brief, the Dhamma. The internal unity of the Dhamma is guaranteed by the fact that the last of the Four Noble Truths, the truth of the way, is the Noble Eightfold Path, while the first factor of the Noble Eightfold Path, right view, is the understanding of the Four Noble Truths. Thus, the two principles penetrate and include one another, the formula of the Four Noble Truths containing the Eightfold Path and the Noble Eightfold Path containing the Four Truths.”
This is a beautiful explanation of how the teachings interpenetrate and clarify one another. As we explore the Noble Eightfold Path we will see how the promise of the Third Noble Truth–the cessation of suffering–can be fulfilled by applying each step of the path in our lives moment to moment.
An excerpt from and article by DZOGCHEN PONLOP RINPOCHE| MAY, 2006
“The Buddha offered a progression of teachings appropriate to people’s different spiritual needs. With great compassion and incomparable skill, the enlightened master Buddha Shakyamuni taught in any way that would lead beings on a correct path to liberation and, finally, to buddhahood. Sometimes the Buddha taught in a way that led his disciples gradually to an understanding of the absolute nature of reality, and in these situations, he taught about relative reality first. At other times he taught the ultimate nature directly and explicitly.
“Over the course of his forty-five years of teaching, the Buddha turned the wheel of dharma three times, initiating new cycles of teachings for the benefit of sentient beings. These three turnings are commonly known as the dharmachakra (“dharma wheel”) of the four noble truths, the dharmachakra of essencelessness or non-characteristics—emptiness, and the dharmachakra of full or thorough distinction—buddhanature.
“The first turning of the wheel of dharma took place in Deer Park at Sarnath, not long after the Buddha’s enlightenment. At this time, Buddha presented teachings on the four noble truths, karma, and the selflessness of the person. These teachings form the basis for what is called the “common vehicle,” also known as the path of individual liberation, or the vehicle of the “listeners” or “hearers.””
“The second and third turnings form the basis of the vehicle known as the Mahayana. The second turning took place at Rajagriha on Vulture Peak Mountain. There the Buddha taught the Prajnaparamita Sutras, or the Sutras of Transcendent Knowledge. In this phase of his teaching, Buddha emphasized the emptiness or lack of true existence of both self and phenomena. The third turning took place in various cities, beginning in Vaishali. At this time, Buddha presented the teachings on tathagatagarbha, or buddhanature. These focus on the luminous nature of emptiness and reveal that the potential for buddhahood has always been present within our hearts. At the same time, in the final turning of the wheel of dharma, Buddha clearly distinguished between the indicative and definitive meanings of his various teachings.”