Buddhist Philosophy on Dharmachakra Day – All India Radio (AIR) IAS UPSC

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Buddhist Philosophy on Dharmachakra Day

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Topic: General Studies 1:

  • Ancient History

Dharma Chakra Diwas: 4th July

Significance of the Day

The day commemorates Buddha’s first teaching experience after attaining Enlightenment to the first five ascetic disciples (pañcavargika) on the full-moon day of Asadha at ‘Deer Park’, Ṛiṣipatana in the current day Sarnath, near Varanasi, India.

This teaching of Dhamma Chakra- PavattanaSutta (Pali) or Dharma chakra Pravartana Sutra (Sanskrit) is also known as the First Turning of Wheels of Dharma and comprised of the Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path.

This day is also aptly observed as Guru Poornima by both Buddhists and Hindus as a day to mark reverence to their Gurus. 

The auspicious day of Asadha Poornima falls on the first full moon day of the month of Asadha as per Indian sun calendar.

  • Also known as Esala Poya in Sri Lanka and Asanha Bucha in Thailand
  • Second most sacred day for Buddhists after the Buddha Poornima or Vesak
  • Hindus dedicate this day to Maharshi Veda Vyasa, the sage who is believed to have edited the sacred Hindu text, the Vedas and created the 18 Puranas, Mahabharata and the Srimad Bhagavatam.

Buddhism in India

In India, we see Buddhism as a fresh expression of the sublime truth. Lord Buddha’s enlightenment, and the subsequent preaching by him for over four decades, were in line with India’s tradition of respect for intellectual liberalism and spiritual diversity. In modern times, two exceptionally great Indians – Mahatma Gandhi and Babasaheb Ambedkar – found inspiration in the words of the Buddha and went on to shape the destiny of the nation.

“Buddhism was not just a religious revolution, but a social revolution too.” 

Buddha did not intend to establish new religious or social order. But the simplicity of his teaching of truth connected with masses in such a manner that Buddhism became a completely new approach to look at religion and society. It became a new religious and social order.

Religious Revolution

  • Explanation of Sufferings through 4 simple noble truths and the wheel of dhamma was understandable by ordinary people unlike the scriptures interpreted by priests only.
  • Focus was on ethical living of astangika marga rather than rituals, animal sacrifices, etc.
  • A great stress was led to individual search of the truth and authority of Vedas was challenged. Faith was given rational basis.
  • It preached atheism that is, there is no God that will help us in Moksha but we ourselves are the makers of our destiny.
  • Further proliferation of multiple sects (Hinayana, Mahayana, etc) in Buddhism brought out characteristically new religious approaches

Social Revolution

  • Intimate connection between religion and society in those times led to the manifestation of Buddhism as egalitarian doctrine. It opposed caste and varna system, any form of hierarchy and discrimination.
  • Women were given equal status as men which was against the Shastras like Manusmriti (social code).
  • Use of Pali language as opposed to Sanskrit which could be read only by Priests, broke the monopoly over knowledge
  • Emphasis on ahimsa, avoidance of extremes led to establishment of peaceful society.
  • It became conducive to the progress in the areas of art, architecture, sculpture, literature. 
  • Trade flourished and India’s political power spread far and wide in subcontinent.

Value Add – All about Buddhism

Symbol and Event: 

  • Lotus or Bull: Birth of Buddha 
  • Horse: The Great Renunciation (Mahabhinishkramana) 
  • Bodhi tree: Enlightenment (Nirvana)
  • Wheel: First Sermon (Dhammachakraparivartan)
  • Stupa: Death of Buddha (Mahaparinirvana)

Four Noble Truths

  1. Dukkha (suffering, incapable of satisfying, painful) is an innate characteristic of existence in the realm of samsara
  2. Samudaya (origin, arising) of this dukkha, which arises or “comes together” with taṇhā (“craving, desire or attachment”)
  3. Nirodha (cessation, ending) of this dukkha can be attained by the renouncement or letting go of this taṇhā
  4. Magga (path, Noble Eightfold Path) is the path leading to renouncement of tanha and cessation of dukkha

Noble Eightfold Path

The Eightfold Path consists of eight practices: right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right samadhi (‘meditative absorption or union’).

  • In early Buddhism, these practices started with understanding that the body-mind works in a corrupted way (right view), followed by entering the Buddhist path of self-observance, self-restraint, and cultivating kindness and compassion; and culminating in dhyana or samadhi, which reinforces these practices for the development of the body-mind.
  • In the Theravada tradition, this path is also summarized as sila (morality), samadhi (meditation) and prajna (insight). In Mahayana Buddhism, this path is contrasted with the Bodhisattva path, which is believed to go beyond Arhatship to full Buddhahood.
  • In Buddhist symbolism, the Noble Eightfold Path is often represented by means of the dharma wheel (dharmachakra), in which its eight spokes represent the eight elements of the path.
Division Eightfold Path factors
Moral virtue (Sanskrit: śīla, Pāli: sīla) 3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right livelihood
Meditation (Sanskrit and Pāli: Samadhi) 6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration
Insight, wisdom (Sanskrit: prajñā, Pāli: paññā) 1. Right view
2. Right resolve

Bojjannakonda: Buddhist site in Andhra Pradesh

  • Bojjannakonda and Lingalametta are twin Buddhist monasteries dating back to the 3rd century BC. 
  • These sites have seen three forms of Buddhism — 
    • The Theravada period when Lord Buddha was considered a teacher; 
    • The Mahayana, where Buddhism was more devotional; and 
    • Vajrayana, where Buddhist tradition was more practised as Tantra and in esoteric form
  • The site is famous for many votive stupasrock-cut caves, brick-built edifices, early historic pottery, and Satavahana coins that date back to the 1st century AD.

The Fourth Buddhist Council

  • Held in Kashmir under the patronage of King Kanishka in 1st Century A.D
  • It was presided over by Vasumitra
  • Its main purpose was to settle the difference between all the 18 sects of Buddhism and to compose the commentaries. 
  • It led to the division of Buddhism into two sects, the Hinayanism and the Mahayanism.
  • Codification of Sarvastivadinn Doctrines into Mahavibhasa
  • The whole Council was conducted in Sanskrit instead of Pali as was done earlier. 
  • It led to the spread of Hinayanism to Burma and Sri lanka and Mahayanism to Central Asia, China and Japan.

Buddhist Tripitakas

  • The Tripitaka was compiled and arranged in its present form by those Arahants who had immediate contact with the Buddha. 
  • Immediately after the final passing away of the Buddha, 500 distinguished Arahants held a convention known as the First Buddhist Council to rehearse the Doctrine taught by the Buddha.
  • Ananda, the faithful attendant of the Buddha who had the special privilege of hearing all the discourses the Buddha ever uttered, recited the Dhamma, whilst the Upali recited the Vinayapitaka, the rules of conduct for the Sangha. The Tripitaka consists of three sections of the Buddha’s Teachings. 
  • They are the Discipline (Vinaya Pitaka), the Discourse (Sutta Pitaka), and Ultimate Doctrine (Abhidhamma Pitaka). 
  • The Sutta Pitaka consists chiefly of discourses delivered by the Buddha Himself on various occasions. 
  • The Abhidhamma is, to a deep thinker, the most important and interesting, as it contains the profound philosophy of the Buddha’s teaching in contrast to the illuminating but simpler discourses in the Sutta Pitaka. 
  • It was composed at a later stage than the other two Pitakas, which were compiled at the First Council itself.

The Original Pipal tree at Boudh Gaya was cut down by: Pushyamitra Sunga

  • Pushyamitra Sunga was the founder of Sunga Dynasty of Magadha. Pushyamitra Sunga was a military general in the Mauryan Army. He became the King by killing King Brihadratha, the last Mauryan emperor.
  • Pusyamitra was a staunch Hindu, a champion of Brahmanism and that is why the Buddhist texts show him as a cruel man.
  • The tree was again cut down by King Pushyamitra Shunga in the 2nd century BC, and by King Shashanka in 600 AD.

Pavarana ceremony in Buddhism

  • Pavarana is a Buddhist holy day celebrated on Aashvin full moon of the lunar month. It marks the end of the 3 lunar months of Vassa.
  • During the three-month rainy season, the Monks live indoors, at the end of rainy season, Pravarana ceremony takes place where every monk irrespective of rank, accept, if any, violation of the code of conduct on their part.

Guru Padmasambhava (also known as second Buddha): Founder of Tibetan Buddhism

There is a 19-foot-high statue of Guru Padmasambhava at Jirang in Gajapati district, Odisha. The statue is placed in the middle of ‘Padma Sarovar’, a large tank near Padmasambhava Mahavihara, the largest Buddhist monastery in eastern India. The Dalai Lama had inaugurated this monastery in 2010. Tibetan refugees settled in this region over six decades ago.

  • Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rinpoche, is considered to be the founder of Tibetan Buddhism.
  • Historians claim that Guru Padmasambhava, also known as second Buddha, was born and brought up in Odisha before he left for Tibet.
  • An International Conference on 8th century Himalayan sage Guru Padmasambhava was held in New Delhi. The conference was organised as part of events to commemorate 50-years of formalization of diplomatic ties between India and Bhutan.
  • There is an image or painting of the Guru Padmasambhava in every Bhutanese home or temple.
  • Guru Padmasambhava is also considered to be the founder of Nyingma tradition, oldest of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

Buddhism and Art

  • Stupas: were to commemorate important events or mark important places associated with Buddhism or to house important relics of Buddha. The best examples of stupas are those constructed at Amaravati, Sanchi, Barhut, Saranath and Gaya. One of the most striking architectural remains of ancient India and the earliest and largest of the three stupas found in Sanchi was built by Ashoka (273-236 B.C.)
  • Viharas or monasteries: constructed for prayer with a running verandah on three sides or an open courtyard surrounded by a row of cells and a pillared verandah in front. These cells served as dwelling places for the monks. These monastic buildings had a Chaitya hall or Chaitya mandir attached to a stupa – the chief object of worship. Some of the important Buddhist viharas are those at Ajanta, Ellora. Nasik, Karle, Kanheri, Bagh and Badami.
  • Paintings: Paintings which has been an accepted art since early times attained heights of excellence in Gupta period. These exquisite paintings or frescos are to be seen in the caves of Ajanta. The entire surface of the caves is exquisitely painted and shows the high standard reached in mural painting.
  • Sthambas or Pillars: with religious emblems were put up by pious Buddhists in honour of Buddha or other great Buddhists. Fragments of sthambas belonging to Mauryan times and later were found at Sanchi, Sarnath, Amaravati and Nagarjunkonda.
  • Literature: The canonical literature is best represented by the “Tripitakas”, that is, three baskets -Vinaya Pitaka, Sutta Pitaka and Abhidhamma Pitaka. The non-canonical literature is best represented by the Jatakas.

Role played by Indian sculptures to express the ideas of Buddhism 

  • Jataka stories became part of stupa decoration in post mauryan phase. Depiction of showing Queen Mayadevi’s dream; mother of Siddhartha Gautam indicates ideas of Buddhist symbolism used in sculpture.
  • The empty seat was meant to indicate the meditation of the Buddha, and the stupa was meant to represent the mahaparinibbana. Another frequently used symbol was the wheel. This stood for the first sermon of the Buddha, delivered at Sarnath. As is obvious, such sculptures cannot be understood literally – for instance, the tree does not stand simply for a tree, but symbolises an event in the life of the Buddha.
  • The shalabhanjika motif suggests that many people who turned to Buddhism enriched it with their own pre-Buddhist and even non-Buddhist beliefs, practices and ideas. 
  • Various schools of Buddhist sculpture emerged in India like Mathura school in which, abhayamudra of Buddha or depiction of bodhisattvas, in Gandhara school depiction of meditated peace and in Amravati school depiction of jataka tales propagate lessons of Buddhism.  
  • With the rise of Vajrayana Buddhism many Boddhisattva images were added as a part of the personified representations of certain virtues or qualities as propagated by the Buddhist religious principles for the welfare of the masses.


  • Lomus rishi caves of 3rd century BCE exhibit Chaitya- prayer hall of Buddhists.
  • Buddhist caves of Viharas and Chaityas included sculptures, paintings with frescos. Sculptures in the caves gives idea of religious traditions of those times. For examples, Hinayana Buddhist caves lacked sculpture of Buddha, whereas Mahayana caves have enormous sculpture of Buddha.
  • Caves on the trade routes give idea of economic linkages of caves to the traders, who used to give donations to the monasteries of Buddhists, Jains or Hindus. For example density of caves in the western ghat is quite high.
  • Painting of the caves depicts stories from the Jatakas, which are based on previous births of Buddha. Ajanta caves are the most elaborated cave complex significant for painting.   

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