Translator: Loppon Geshe Jamyang Tsultrim
By Laura Ellis
On January 18-19, 2019, students gathered at Sakya Monastery to receive the very auspicious teaching on the Three Turnings of the Wheel of Dharma given by Khenpo Jamyang Chopal on his first visit to Seattle.
Venerable Khenpo Jamyang Chopal joined the Dzongsar Khyentse Chokyi Lodro Institute, India in 1999. Under the guidance of the late respected Khenchen Kunga Wangchuk and other prominent masters, he studied the five volumes: 1) logic, 2) madhyamika, 3) prajnaparamita 4) abhidharma-kosha, 5) vinaya (monastic discipline). In 2002, 2005 and 2007, he successfully obtained his Madyama, Shastra and Masters degrees respectively. In 2013, he received the certificate of Khenpo (Doctor of philosophy) from H.E. Khyentse Dzongsar Jamyang Norbu. In 2015, due to his knowledge and position, he was appointed as a special Instructor for H.E Sakya Khöndung Abhaya Vajra Rinpoche and currently remains as his Personal Tutor while simultaneously, also teaching at the Institute.
Khenpo Jamyang began his teaching by expressing his joy and enthusiasm for the opportunity to teach at Sakya Monastery before a western audience for the first time. He conveyed his gratitude and kind greetings to H.E. Avikrita Rinpoche, H.E. Abhaya Rinpoche, H.E. Dagmo Kusho, Dagmo Lhanze, and the audience who share a connection directly or indirectly with H.H. Jigdal Dagchen Sakya Rinpoche and Kyabgon Rinpoche (H.H. Sakya Trichen Rinpoche). Khenpo Jamyang also thanked the translator, Geshe Jamyang Tsultrim, who is himself a learned and accomplished teacher.
Khenpo Jamyang stated his hope that this teaching would be helpful for students in the next lifetime and also beneficial in this lifetime, especially if the mind is disturbed and in stressful times.
The source of this teaching topic is due to a request by H.E. Avikrita Rinpoche.
According to common Buddhist teachings there are 3 different types of teachings originating from the Three Turning of the Wheel of Dharma:
1. 1st Turning of the Wheel of Dharma: Taught by the Buddha in Varanasi, the teaching relates to the Four Noble Truths
2. 2nd Turning of the Wheel of Dharma: Taught by the Buddha on Vulture Peak, the teaching explains emptiness, or the absence of characteristics
3. 3rd Turning of the Wheel of Dharma: Taught by the Buddha in Vaishali, the teaching focuses on distinguishing between the first two teachings
In Tibetan, the Three Turnings of the Wheel of Dharma is referred to as Kha Korlo Sum. Kha means sutra. Sutra, in this context is the actual speech of the historical Buddha. In the sutras, Buddha explains what is to be discarded and what is to be adopted. Korlo means wheel. In this context the meaning of wheel is the Path that helps us to achieve higher rebirth and liberation, or nirvana. The Path is similar to a wheel. In ancient times, great rulers when they had contact with enemies, wheels were used to defeat them. Wheels are thus effective in terms of time (speed) and target (goal). The Buddhist Path assists us to go through our journey from Path to Result and swiftly achieve liberation and better rebirth.
Khenpo Jamyang explained why there are there only 3 turnings. It is because the audience of the teaching can be summarized into 3 capacities: individuals with lesser, middling and superior intelligence. Here, intelligence does not pertain to being ‘smartʼ or ‘dumbʼ, but rather an individualʼs karmic predisposition to receive and practice the teachings. Some people may be extremely intelligent from an academic perspective but they may not have the merit to hear or understand all of the Buddhaʼs teachings. This is why there is no fourth or fifth wheel of Dharma.
The 1st turning of the wheel of Dharma is for individuals with more concrete intelligence and is presented in terms of the Four Noble Truths. The primary purpose of Four Noble Truths is overcoming suffering and freedom from the 3 downfalls (3 lower realms) in order to achieve better rebirth and liberation.
The 2nd turning of the wheel is for individuals with middling capacities. The emphasis is on understanding emptiness through analysis and renouncing the self- cherishing mind.
The 3rd turning of the wheel is for individuals with the most advanced capacity or intelligence. The purpose is to achieve enlightenment through understanding the Middle Way.
1st Turning of the Wheel of Dharma
In order to be free from suffering we first have to understand suffering. Thus the Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths:
1. There is suffering
2. There is a cause to suffering
3. There is an end to suffering (cessation)
4. There is a path to the end of suffering
Khenpo Jamyang explained in detail how each of the Four Noble Truths have four attributes and that understanding the sequential order of the Four Noble Truths is necessary in order to liberate ourselves from suffering. For example, if we get sick we recognize we have sudden illness (1st Noble Truth). We then try to find the source of the illness (2nd Noble Truth). When we achieve relief from sickness this is the Truth of Cessation (3rd Noble Truth). When we know the disease is treatable, this is the Truth of the Path (4th Noble Truth).
In this way, through understanding the Four Noble Truths, we may not eliminate the source of suffering right away but if we persist long term we can overcome the sources of suffering. To achieve cessation, it is important to engage with the wisdom that realizes selflessness. There is no other effective method for achieving cessation. The 2nd Turning of the Wheel of Dharma addresses the wisdom of realizing emptiness.
2nd Turning of the Wheel of Dharma
The 2nd Turning of the Wheel of Dharma is for the person of middling capacity – the teaching is suitable for individuals with a direct connection with the topic or someone exposed to this concept of emptiness. Realization of emptiness is based on analysis, not on faith.
The meaning of emptiness of all phenomena doesnʼt mean nihilism. The 1st Turning explains suffering and happiness exist but in the 2nd Turning, all phenomena when analyzed, things donʼt exist inherently. Through analysis we canʼt find the thing as we perceive it. For example, a table. If we donʼt analyze the table, what we see is a table. But if we engage with thorough analysis the parts of the table (legs, top, edges etc.), we canʼt find any substantiality to the table. This is called emptiness of table in itself. All objects can be analyzed this way.
Through this kind of analysis we can eliminate self- grasping which is the root cause of all suffering.
3rd Turning of the Wheel of Dharma
In the 1st Turning of the Wheel of Dharma the teaching explained that things exist, for example suffering and happiness; that our experiences exist. The 2nd Turning of the Wheel of Dharma explains that things do not exist. The 3rd Turning of the Wheel of Dharma explains the “Middle View”, free from both existence and non- existence.
Each of the 4 Buddhist philosophical schools has its own commentary on which Turning of the Wheel of Dharma is definite/literal and which Turning is provisional. “Provisional’ means that is should not to be taken literally, it is context-dependent. The Great Exposition School considers the 1st Turning of the Wheel of Dharma as definite. The remaining two are provisional. The Madhyamika School views the 1st Turning and the 3rd as provisional. The 2nd Turning is seen as definitive. The Mind Only School sees the 1st and 2nd Turning as provisional and the 3rd Turning as definitive.
Khenpo Jamyangʼs personal basis of understanding the Three Turnings of the Wheel of Dharma is from the teachings of Arya Deva. Arya Deva was a 3rd century Indian scholar and a disciple of Nagarjuna. In Arya Devaʼs text book, “Four Hundred Stanzas on the Middle Way” he explains that in the 1st Turning teaches how to transform negative karma through understanding the law of causality and through the accumulation of merit. The result of accumulation of wholesome deeds prevents rebirth in lower realms and leads to higher rebirth as human. The 2nd Turning is to actualize liberation; to transform self-grasping by realizing emptiness. The 3rd Turning requires one to abandon all views. It means being free from views of existence or non-existence – free from all extremes. The 3rd Turning is needed because some people may grasp the 2nd Turning of the Wheel of Dharma as nihilism which becomes an obstacle to enlightenment.
It is important to reflect and understand the root of suffering, which is self- grasping. Analyzing the self-cherishing mind as well as analyzing the mind that cherishes others is important. To study and to understand this leads to an altruistic mind. To contemplate, analyze and engage in Dharma practice brings benefit in the present and the future.
To contemplate, analyze and engage in dharma practice brings benefit in the present and the future.