The Framework of Buddha Dhamma

February 22, 2020; revised February 25, 2020; May 16, 2023


The framework of Buddha Dhamma identifies the critical foundation upon which Buddha’s teachings can be understood.

1. We have finished the section on “Worldview of the Buddha.” We discussed Buddha’s analysis of sensory events, i.e., how we experience the external world. However, we have not addressed the “real nature” of that external world.

  • With this post, I will start a new section on the “Wider Worldview of the Buddha.” This section describes a world with 29 more realms than the two we are familiar with, i.e., human and animal realms. The Buddha explained how any living being keeps moving from one realm to another in the rebirth process with no discernible beginning (and no end until attaining Nibbāna.)
  • The First Noble Truth on suffering is NOT about the suffering we feel due to diseases, bodily pains, etc., even though that is a tiny fraction. It concerns the much worse possible suffering in future lives, where most suffering will be in “undesirable realms.”
  • To understand the “suffering” that the Buddha said we could stop, it is essential to understand that “wider worldview.”
  • The Buddha laid out the critical components of that framework in the first two discourses he delivered. In the word-by-word translations of the sutta, this “wider worldview” of the Buddha is just glossed over. No one seems to pay much attention to these key concepts, without which there is no point in further analysis. It is like trying to learn calculus without learning addition/subtraction first.
The First Two Discourses of the Buddha

2. “Dhamma­cakkap­pa­vat­ta­na Sutta (SN 56.11)” was the first discourse delivered by the Buddha. The five ascetics, Koṇḍañña, Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahānāma, and Assaji, listened to it several days after the Buddha attained Enlightenment (Buddhahood.) All five ascetics reached the Sōtapanna stage after several days of explaining by the Buddha.

  • Then with the delivery of the second sutta, “Anatta­lak­kha­ṇa Sutta (SN 22.59),” all five ascetics attained Arahanthood.
  • Later on, Ven. Sariputta delivered the “Sacca­vibhaṅ­ga Sutta (MN 141)” to a gathering of bhikkhus to explain further details of the Dhamma­cakkap­pa­vat­ta­na Sutta. 
  • Therefore, a good understanding of Buddha Dhamma is possible by discussing those three suttās.
The Framework of Buddha Dhamma

3. Dhamma­cakkap­pa­vat­ta­na Sutta has most of the essential concepts, even though it is in a highly condensed form.

In the document, Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta – Printout, I have divided the sutta into 14 sections; you may want to download and print it for reference. We will discuss that document first. It has the framework of Buddha Dhamma.

  • The name of the sutta comes from combining three terms: Dhamma, Cakka, and Pavattana.  Dhamma here means the Buddha Dhamma or the true nature of existence. Cakka means “wheel.” Pavattana means to “set in motion” AND to “maintain.”
  • Therefore, this first sutta “gets the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion.” It has all the critical concepts of Buddha Dhamma.
  • As in many Pāli terms, the word “dhammacakkappavattana” comes from combining the three above words with an additional “p” just before pavattana.  As discussed, pancakkhandha combines panca with khandha with an extra k in tying up the two words.
  • Sometimes the sutta is called the Dhamma Cakka Pavattana Sutta without combining those three words.
  • Let us go through the sutta from the beginning. I will refer to sections #1 through #14 in the document above. We will first go through the main ideas without going into detail.
The “Middle Path” Recommended by the Buddha – Sections 1 and 2

4. Section #1 can be summarized as follows. “Bhikkhus, two extremes should not be followed by you. What two? The pursuit of sensual pleasures, which is low and vulgar, is the way of the average ignorant person. The other is the pursuit of rituals that involve subjecting one to extreme hardships. Without veering towards either of these extremes, the Tathāgata followed the middle way of living a simple life leading to Nibbāna.”

  • That middle path is the Noble Eightfold Path of Sammā Diṭṭhi, Sammā Saṅkappa, Sammā Vācā, Sammā Kammanta, Sammā Ājīva, Sammā Vāyāma, Sammā Sati, and, Sammā Samādhi. 
Four Noble Truths -Section 3

5. The First Noble Truth of Suffering: Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, and death is suffering. Union with what is undesirable is suffering. Separation from what is desirable is suffering. Not getting what one wants (icchā) is suffering. In brief, clinging (upādāna) to the five aggregates is suffering.

  • The Second Noble Truth of the origin of suffering: Taṇhā leads to repeated rebirths. That taṇhā is three-fold: kāma taṇhā, bhava taṇhā, vibhava taṇhā.
  • The Third Noble Truth of the cessation of suffering is the remainderless fading away and cessation of the three types of taṇhā.
  • The Fourth Noble Truth of the way to the cessation of suffering: It is the Noble Eightfold Path or the Middle Path of Sammā Diṭṭhi, Sammā Saṅkappa, Sammā Vācā, Sammā Kammanta, Sammā Ājīva, Sammā Vāyāma, Sammā Sati, and, Sammā Samādhi.
The Previously Unheard Dhamma (Teaching) of Suffering in The Wider World – Sections 4 – 7

6. Sections 4 through 7 state how the Buddha attained the Buddhahood via comprehending — through Paṭicca Samuppāda —  the Tiparivaṭṭa (three ramparts or walls of bondage to this world) that has never been known to the world (except during the times of previous Buddhā): “..pubbe ananussutesu dhammesu..”.

  • We will discuss Sections 4 through 7 in more detail later. Right now, we are taking a quick look at the framework of Buddha Dhamma outlined in the sutta.
  • However, it is essential to discuss the verse, “..pubbe ananussutesu dhammesu cakkhuṃ udapādi, ñāṇaṃ udapādi, paññā udapādi, vijjā udapādi, āloko udapādi,” that appears 12 times in the Sections 4 through 7. It is critical to understand this verse.

7. When the Buddha attained the Buddhahood via comprehending this Dhamma that has never been known to the world, five unique pieces of knowledge arose in him at that moment: cakkhu, ñāṇa, paññā, vijjā, and aloka.

  • Here “cakkhu” is the “Dhamma eye,” the ability to “see” the true nature of this world. We can loosely translate ñāṇa and paññā as “knowledge” and “wisdom.”
  • The next one is “vijjā” (the Sanskrit word is “vidyā“). That is the “ultimate science” about the world, what I call the “Grand Unified Theory of Dhamma. “  A Buddha Is the greatest scientist that comes to the world very infrequently.
  • Simultaneously with the comprehension of vijjā, one is removed from “this material world” or “āloka” (“ā” + “lōka“). The word “āloka” has other meanings, including “light.” 
Three “Rounds” or Bondage to Overcome – Section 8

8. “Tiparivaṭṭa” means the three rounds of bondage. One may visualize a living being trapped inside the inner wall, a prison with three concentric walls or ramparts. To be freed (i.e., to get to Nibbāna,) all three barriers must be overcome. The 31 realms of this world (discussed below) divide into three sections with those three walls.

  • The first is to be released from the apāyā (four lowest realms), via the Sōtapanna stage, by removing the wrong views about existence in the 31 realms. This requires the first stage of Sammā Diṭṭhi or grasping the framework of Buddha Dhamma that we are discussing now.
  • In the second round, one overcomes the kāma lōka (realms 5 through 11, which include the human realm and 6 Deva realms). That happens in two stages. A Sakadāgāmi will not be reborn with bodies subjected to diseases. Thus there will be no more rebirths for a Sakadāgāmi in the five lowest realms (apāyā and the human realm.) Then, at the Anāgāmi stage, kāma rāga and paṭigha go away, and one is released from birth anywhere in the kāma lōka. That means complete cessation of kāma taṇhā. 
  • In the third round, any linkage to anywhere in the 31 realms was removed. The mind becomes free of attachment to any trace of matter, and the Arahant stage is attained. See “What Are Rūpa? (Relation to Nibbāna).” That is complete cessation of bhava taṇhā and vibhava taṇhā. 
The Result of Arahanthood (Parinibbāna)  Is No More Rebirths – Section 9

9. The rebirth process among the 31 realms in this world is a crucial concept to understand. More details are in #13 below. The “suffering” in the First Noble Truth is the harsh levels of suffering in the four lowest realms (apāyā.) Even if one spends millions of years in a Deva realm, that “pleasurable time” is insignificant because one will spend much more time in the apāyā in the LONG RUN.

  • As we proceed, we will discuss that in detail with Tipiṭaka references. But here, I want to point out that the verse, “Ñāṇañca pana me dassanaṃ udapādi: ‘akuppā me vimutti, ayamantimā jāti, natthi dāni punabbhavo’” ti.
  • There, ayamantimā isayam antima,” where “ayam” is “this” and “antima” means “last”), and punabbhavo is “puna bhava,” where “puna” is “repeated,” and “bhava” is “existence in THIS WORLD.”
  • Thus, the above verse means: “The knowledge and vision arose in me: ‘Unshakable is the liberation of my mind. This is my last birth. There will be no more rebirths for me.’”
  • Upon Parinibbāna, one is no longer born anywhere in the 31 realms of THIS WORLD. One is free of any future suffering.
Venerable Kondañña Attains The Sōtapanna Stage – Section 10 and 14

10. At the end of the discourse, Venerable Kondañña attained the Sōtapanna stage of Nibbāna. Venerable Kondañña understood the essence of the “framework of Buddha Dhamma”: “yaṃ kiñci samuda­ya ­dhammaṃ sabbaṃ taṃ nirōdha dhamman” ti.

  • That verse means: “Whatever dhammā that give rise to things in this world are subject to cessation.” Therefore, it is possible to stop any existence in this world from arising.”
  • We all have gone through innumerable lives filled with suffering in the rebirth process because we never understood how to stop future lives from arising. Of course, until a Buddha is born in the world, humans are NOT AWARE of the existence of the other 29 realms, including the four lowest realms (apāyā) filled with suffering.
  • Many of you must wonder why one would want to stop future lives! That is an important issue that we will discuss in the next post.
  • That involves the rebirth process in the “wider world of 31 realms” that only a Buddha can “see” upon Enlightenment. That is the “..pubbe ananussutesu dhammesu..” or “previously unknown nature of this world” discussed in #6 above.

11. At the end of the sutta (in Section 13), it says that the Buddha saw Ven. Kondañña has attained the Sōtapanna stage and declared: “Koṇḍañña has understood! Koṇḍañña has indeed understood!”

  • That is how Venerable Koṇḍañña acquired the name “Añña Koṇḍañña—Koṇḍañña Who Has Understood.”
The Wheel of the Dhamma Set in Motion – Section 11 and 12

12. With the Wheel of the Dhamma set in motion by the Blessed One, the earth-dwelling devā (bhummā devā) belonging to the cātumahārājikā devā realm raised a cry. “At Baraṇasi, in the Deer Park at Isipatana, the Wheel of the Dhamma has been set in motion by the Blessed One. It cannot be stopped by any ascetic or Brahmin or Deva or Māra or Brahma or by anyone in the world.”

  • That Wheel of the Dhamma is still in motion. It is supposed to be in effect for roughly 2500 more years for a total of 5000 years.
  • Such bhummā devā are part of the Cātumahārājika Deva realm but reside among humans (even though we cannot see them). They first became aware of the dēsanā and notified their higher-lying main realm with their cries.
  • Devā of the higher-lying cātumahārājikā devā realm then repeated that cry which then progressively transmitted to the other Deva realms lying further away from the Earth.
The 31 Realms of Existence – Section 13

13. Section 13 is long and takes a significant part of the sutta. That section names the 6 Deva realms and 15 out of 16 rupi Brahma realms. See the document, Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta – Printout. Most of this section is missing in many published versions of the sutta, including that at Sutta Central. However, this section is essential for a couple of reasons.

  • First, it clearly shows that the Buddha indeed described a “wider world” than we experience, consisting of 31 realms; see “The Grand Unified Theory of Dhamma” and “31 Realms of Existence.”
  • Second, it says that many Devā/Brahmā from those realms listened to the dēsanā. Starting from the 6 Deva realms, it lists 15 rupi  Brahma realms (except the asañña realms, where beings have only a physical body and thus cannot listen to a dēsanā). Numerous Devā and Brahmā attained various stages of Nibbāna.
  • Note that the Buddha discussed the contents of the sutta in detail with the five ascetics overnight until Ven. Kondañña reached the Sōtapanna stage. It took further discussions over several days before all five reached the Sōtapanna stage. Delivery of the second suttaAnatta­lak­kha­ṇa Sutta (SN 22.59), took place after that.

14. Section 13 lists how the news progressively propagated to higher-lying realms, and eventually, Devā from all those 21 realms came to listen to the dēsanā.

  • As you can see, those realms match the names listed in the posts: “31 Realms of Existence” and “31 Realms Associated with the Earth.”
  • Note that those realms are called Deva realms in the sutta, regardless of whether they belong to the 6 Deva realms or the rupi Brahma realms.
  • Of course, only five humans (the five ascetics) were present. Any living being in the lowest four realms cannot comprehend Dhamma. Also, Brahmā in the four arupi realms do not have ears to listen to. Thus section 13 lists 21 realms. The four lowest realms, the asañña realm, and the four arupi Brahma realms are not listed. Many other suttā mention those other realms.

We will discuss the details of this “framework of Buddha Dhamma” in upcoming posts.

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