January 29, 2016; revised January 7, 2019; February 22, 2020
1. We discussed the tiparivaṭṭa (three rounds of bondage) briefly in the post “Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta – Introduction.” Here, we will discuss it in a bit more depth.
- We remind ourselves that the Buddha delivered this sutta to the five ascetics right after attaining the Buddhahood. The five ascetics first refused to believe that the ascetic Siddhartha had attained the Buddhahood. This and other details of Buddha’s life are described in the Vinaya Piṭaka, “Going forth (Pabbajjā).” This particular account is in the sub-section, “ON THE GROUP OF FIVE.”
- According to that account, the five ascetics first refused to believe that ascetic Gotama had attained the Buddhahood. They did not believe Buddha’s words!
- Some people ask me whether there is a way to know someone who has attained the Sōtapanna stage. Those five ascetics, who were with the ascetic Siddhartha for five years, could not even believe Buddha’s own words. How can any of us figure out whether another person has attained magga phala? Unless that person declares it, there is no way to know. Even then, there is no way to verify it. Now let us get back to the sutta.
Four Noble Truths Comprehended in Three Rounds (Tiparivaṭṭa)
2. At each round of the three rounds (tiparivaṭṭa,) three pieces of knowledge about the Four Noble Truths arose in the Buddha. Those 12 pieces of knowledge are stated in sections 4 through 7 of the sutta.
- We will follow the sutta text (you may want to print it out so that you can refer to each section): Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta – Printout.
- Of course, the Buddha attained all 12 types of knowledge together upon reaching the Buddhahood, but we (normal humans) achieve them in four stages of Sōtapanna, Sakadāgāmi, Anāgāmi, and Arahant.
The Three Rounds or Barriers
3. There are three rounds or barriers (ti + parivaṭṭa) to overcome: (1) The apāyā or the four lowest realms, (2) kāma lōka (human realm and the six deva realms), (3) rūpa lōka (16 rūpi Brahma realms) and arūpa lōka (4 arūpi Brahma realms).
- At each round, one comprehends the Four Noble Truths to a certain extent.
- For example, when one becomes a Sōtapanna and overcomes the first round (barrier), he/she understands all Four Noble truths to some extent. When one becomes an Anāgāmi by overcoming the second round, he/she has understood all Four Noble truths to a higher level, and it is complete at the Arahant stage.
- The Four Noble Truths discussed at “Four Noble Truths – Suffering and Its Elimination.”
First Noble Truth in Three Rounds
4. First is the knowledge about the suffering in the wider world of 31 realms, as stated in verse 4(i) (Idam dukkham ariyasaccan’ti me). This Dhamma had never been known to the world. That is what an average human comprehends when he/she attains the Sōtapanna stage, and overcomes the first round of bondage in the three rounds (tiparivaṭṭa), i.e., becomes free of rebirths in the apāyā.
- Then that knowledge becomes even more evident when one starts to lose attachments to this world; verse 4(ii). That is the second round of tiparivaṭṭa overcome at the Anāgāmi stage. The keyword is “pariññeyyan’ti,” which means “seeing with less attachment to sense cravings” or “pirisindha” (“piri” or liking + “sindha” or removed in Sinhala). Thus an Anāgāmi will never be reborn in the kāma lōka (i.e., overcome the second round of tiparivaṭṭa).
- The last round is when “seeing” is done with all cravings removed, as stated by “pariññātan’ti.” That happens to a human when attaining the Arahant stage. But here it is stated, “pariññātan’ti mé,” as said by the Buddha, where “mé” means “I” in verse 4(iii). That will become more clear in section 8.
- These three types of knowledge are about the First Noble Truth, dukkha sacca.
Second Noble Truth in Three Rounds
5. Section 5 describes three pieces of knowledge for the Second Noble Truth, the causes of suffering (dukkha samudaya). The Four Noble Truths succinctly stated in Section 3.
- At the second round of the tiparivaṭṭa, the root cause for suffering identified as “taṇhā“; verse 5(i): Idam dukkhasamudayaṃ ariyasaccan’ti me. This is the knowledge a Sōtapanna acquires simultaneously with round 1 for dukkha sacca. See, “Taṇhā – How We Attach Via Greed, Hate, and Ignorance” for a discussion on taṇhā.
- In the second round, one realizes that cause for suffering is attachments to all sensory pleasures (kāma rāga): “pahātabban’ti,” where “pahā” means “to remove.” For an average human, this knowledge comes in two stages of Sakadāgāmi and Anāgāmi; verse 5(ii).
- In the third round, at the Arahant stage, one realizes without any doubt that any taṇhā is a cause for suffering: “pahīnan’ti“; verse 5(iii).
- These three types of knowledge are about the Second Noble Truth, dukkha samudaya sacca.
Third Noble Truth in Three Rounds
6. Section 6 describes the three pieces of knowledge for the Third Noble Truth, stopping causes for suffering (dukkha nirōdhaya).
- At the first round of the tiparivaṭṭa one realizes that taṇhā must be removed to end the suffering; Idaṃ dukkhanirodhan ariyasaccan’ti me. As stated in section 3: “..Yo tassā yeva taṇhāya asesa-virāga-nirodho, chāgo, paṭinissaggō, mutti, anālayō..”.This was discussed in the previous post, “Majjhimā Paṭipadā – Way to Relinquish Attachments to this World.” That realization sets in at a preliminary level in the first round (i.e., Sōtapanna stage.)
- In the second round, the need to lose all attachments to sensory pleasures (kāma rāga) is realized: “sacchikātabban’ti.” For an average human, this knowledge comes in two stages of Sakadāgāmi and Anāgāmi, when one actually starts seeing the perils of kāma rāga; verse 6(ii).
- In the third round, one realizes without any doubt that any type of taṇhā (including bhava taṇhā and vibhava taṇhā) must be removed: “sacchikatan’ti“; verse 6(iii).
Fourth Noble Truth in Three Rounds
7. The way to accomplish this nirōdhaya comes in three rounds, as stated in section 7.
- The Noble Eightfold Path as the way to liberation is first grasped in the first round. For an average human, this knowledge is gained when attaining the Sōtapanna stage: Idaṃ dukkha nirodhagāmini paṭipadā ariyasaccan’ti me. One “sees” the Path through the “Dhamma eye”: verse 7(i). An enormous amount of defilements disappear just with this “clear vision.”
- Then in the second round, it is realized that one must cultivate the Noble Eightfold Path (bhāvanā) to remove the root causes (verse 7(ii)): bhāvetabban’ti.
- In the third round, it is realized that one has completed that task, and there is nothing else to be done (verse 7(iii)): bhāvitan’ti.
- However, as I mentioned above, all 12 types of knowledge arose in the Buddha simultaneously, upon attaining the Buddhahood.
Declaring the Attainment of the Buddhahood
8. In section 8, the Buddha says: “I had NOT previously declared the Buddhahood since I had not attained all 12 types of knowledge..”. Here, “na suvisuddhaṃ ahōsi” means “had not accomplished it completely.”
- In the next phase, the Buddha declares that he has now done that (suvisuddhaṃ ahosi) and that he is declaring to the “.. world of humans, Devā, Brahmā,..” that he has attained the Buddhahood.
- In the next verse (Section 9), he declares: “the vision arose in me (dassanaṃ udapādi), unmovable calm mindset arose in me (akuppā me vimutti), this is my last birth (ayaṃantimā jāti), and there will be no more bhava for me (natthi’ dāni punabbhavō).”
- Lastly: “Idamavoca bhagavā“: “Thus declared the Buddha.”
The Last Long Section
9. Section 10 states that one of the five ascetics, Kondanna, attained the Sōtapanna stage after the desanā. This section was discussed in the previous post, “Majjhimā Paṭipadā – Way to Relinquish Attachments to this World.”
- Then those Devā and Brahmā who attended the desanā identified repetitively; see, “Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta – Introduction.”
- Note that this sutta mentions many of the 31 realms. Large numbers of Devā and Brahmā from most of those realms were present to hear the first discourse. I have marked in blue those different realms.
Path to Be Followed Sequentially
10. The important thing to understand is that one needs to go through these stages sequentially (only a Buddha goes through them at once). Some people try to get rid of “the perception of a self” even before the Sōtapanna stage. A “self” will be there until any “gati” is still there. With the “apāya gati” removed at the Sōtapanna stage, one overcomes the first stage. “Kāma gati” reduce at the Sakadāgāmi stage, and eliminated at the Anāgāmi stage, thus overcoming the second round of bondage.
- The two samyōjanā of māna and uddacca go away only at the Arahant stage together with the other three samyōjanā of rūpa rāga, arūpa rāga, and avijjā. Māna is the perception, “I need to be treated well because I am superior in some way.” The tendency to get at least irritated when not respected is uddacca.
- However, the levels of māna, uddacca, avijjā that an Anāgāmi has, are at a much-reduced level. They gradually decrease through various stages of Nibbāna and disappear at the Arahant stage.
- Thus the critical step is to understand the nature of the wider world of 31 realms and get through the first round of bondage. That releases one from rebirths in the apāyā where the dangers are the highest. The only way to do that is to learn and contemplate the true and pure Dhamma. Relinquishing sense pleasures comes naturally after that. Trying to give up sense pleasures forcefully before the Sōtapanna stage only leads to frustration.
11. No matter how intelligent, an average human cannot grasp the dangers of existence in the wider world of 31 realms because of various forms of wrong views or micchā diṭṭhi. A Buddha discovers those realms and the unbearable suffering encountered (especially in the apāyā).
- Until one gets rid of those wrong views and attain the Sōtapanna stage, it is impossible to “clearly see” the dangers of sense cravings.
Suttā Should Not Be Translated Word-by-Word
12. That is why a sutta cannot be translated word by word. A sutta states the key ideas or steps. The key concepts need detailed explanations. This sutta, even though delivered overnight, is summarized in a few pages.
- The Buddha must have described what we discussed here, plus much more during the several hours of delivering the sutta. In the next post, we will discuss some details, making the connection to concepts that we have already discussed in other sections.
- As we have seen, the same holds for other suttā and Paṭicca Samuppāda. Just listing the eleven steps in Paṭicca Samuppāda will have no benefit. The stages in Paṭicca Samuppāda vary according to each Paṭicca Samuppāda cycle of relevance (akusala-mūla, kusala-mūla, etc.) Yet, the steps are the same.