Tridharmacakrapravartana

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Key Term tridharmacakrapravartana
In Tibetan Script ཆོས་འཁོར་རིམ་པ་གསུམ་
Wylie Tibetan Transliteration chos 'khor rim pa gsum
Devanagari Sanskrit Script त्रिधर्मचक्रप्रवर्तन
Romanized Sanskrit tridharmacakrapravartana
Tibetan Phonetic Rendering chökhor rimpa sum
English Standard The Three Turnings of the Wheel of Dharma
Term Type Noun
Source Language Sanskrit
Basic Meaning Three successive stages of the Buddhist teachings. Though they are traditionally attributed to the historical Buddha, modern scholarship tends to view them as developmental stages that occurred over the course of an extended period of time, with interludes of several centuries, in which we see major doctrinal shifts often based on seemingly newly emergent scriptural sources.
Definitions
Rangjung Yeshe's English Term Three Successive Promulgations of the Doctrinal Wheel. The first promulgation (chos 'khor dang po) at Varanasi, the intermediate promulgation (bar ma'i chos 'khor) at Vulture Peak, and the final promulgation (chos 'khor tha ma) in indefinite realms.
Other Definitions

According to the three-wheel scheme in the Discourse Explaining the Intent (Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra), the first wheel of doctrine conveys the teachings of “the four noble truths.” The emphasis of the teachings here is the nature of existence as suffering, impermanence, and no-self (anātman). The content of the second wheel of doctrine, which the sūtra calls “signlessness,” is characterized by emptiness (śūnyatā), the principle that all phenomena lack any true essence. While the second wheel of doctrine is certainly a response to the first, where the ethical foundations of Buddhism are laid, the dis-courses of the second wheel are not a critique of ethics per se, but rather critique a causally constructed, relational world composed of static, discrete entities. That is, the Perfection of Wisdom discourses of the second wheel convey that every phenomenon is empty; even wisdom, nirvana, and the principal teaching of the first wheel (the four noble truths) are denied the status of having any ultimate existence or real identity. Nāgārjuna (ca. 150–250 CE) showed how such denials cut through metaphysical views (dṛṣti) of reality when he stated: “The Victorious Ones have proclaimed emptiness as that which relinquishes all views; but those who hold emptiness as a view are incurable” (Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way [Mūlamadhyāmakakārikā]XIII.8). In short, the second wheel exemplifies deconstruction.

In contrast to simply deconstruction, in the third wheel, we get a different characterization of the ultimate truth. The Discourse Explaining the Intent says that the third wheel contains “the excellent differentiation [of the ultimate].” Rather than simply depicting the ultimate truth via negativa, the third wheel reveals the ultimate as an immanent reality; it depicts the pure mind as constitutive of the ultimate. It is the third wheel of doctrine that Tibetan exegetes identify with the teachings of the presence of buddha-nature (in addition to Yogācāra). Significantly, the relationship between emptiness in the second wheel and the presence of buddha-nature in the third wheel becomes a pivotal issue around which Buddhist traditions in Tibet stake their ground.

Duckworth, Douglas. "Onto-theology and Emptiness: The Nature of Buddha-Nature." Journal of the American Academy of Religion vol. 82, no. 4, (2014): 1073–1074.


It is said that the Buddha’s method of guiding his followers was always adapted to his audience. His teaching is likened to the way specific medicines are used to cure particular diseases. Thus the instructions given to a certain group of disciples in a given context were not in line with—or even seemed to contradict—teachings given at another time, simply because it was not appropriate for all students to hear the same words in order to progress on the spiritual path.

To help later followers distinguish between the words that are to be taken literally and those that require interpretation, the Saṃdhinirmocanasūtra (Sutra Unraveling the Intent) introduces the hermeneutic principle of differentiating between interpretive meaning (neyārtha; drang don) and definitive meaning (nītārtha; nges don). With this tool, the discourses may be divided into three groups called turnings. The first two turnings are interpretive and the third one is definitive, according to this sutra.

In the sutras of the first turning based on the exposition of the four ārya truths, the Buddha affirms the existence of certain phenomena such as form, feeling, discrimination, formative factors, and consciousness, that is, the five skandhas, or psychophysical groups of phenomena that make up a human being. What is denied in those discourses is the existence of an independent, substantially existent identity or self, which is asserted to be imputed on the basis of those skandhas.

In the sutras of the second turning based on the Perfection of Wisdom (prajñāpāramitā) teachings, the existence of these phenomena is denied. In the discourses of this group we find words such as, “no form, no feeling, no discrimination, no formative factors, no consciousness,” and so forth. These passages refer to the emptiness (śūnyatā; stong pa nyid) or lack of inherent existence of all phenomena, explained to be their ultimate reality.

To resolve the contradictions emerging from the first two turnings, the Buddha turned the Dharma wheel a third time, making a clear distinction between the discourses of interpretive meaning and those of definitive meaning. In these teachings, certain phenomena are identified as nonexistent, while others are defined as bearing the characteristics of existence. The emphasis in this group of discourses is on the luminous and primordially untainted nature of mind, the potential for awakening, or buddha-nature, present in all beings, and on the three-nature model of reality that will be explained below. The Sutra Unraveling the Intent is itself part of this group.

Bernert, Christian, trans. Adorning Maitreya's Intent: Arriving at the View of Nonduality. Boulder: Snow Lion, 2017, pages 3-4.
sutra/śastra quote:

From the seventh chapter of the Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra:

Then the Bodhisattva Paramārthasamudgata said to the Bhagavan, "Initially, in the Vārānasī area, in the Deer Park called Sages' Teaching, the Bhagavan taught the aspects of the four truths of the Āryas for those who were genuinely engaged in the [Srāvaka] vehicle. The wheel of doctrine you turned at first is wondrous. Similar doctrines had not been promulgated before in the world by gods or humans. However, this wheel of doctrine that the Bhagavan turned is surpassable, provides an opportunity [for refutation], is of interpretable meaning, and serves as a basis for dispute.
"Then the Bhagavan turned a second wheel of doctrine which is more wondrous still for those who are genuinely engaged in the Great Vehicle, because of the aspect of teaching emptiness, beginning with the lack of own-being of phenomena, and beginning with their absence of production, absence of cessation, quiescence from the start, and being naturally in a state of nirvana. However, this wheel of doctrine that the Bhagavan turned is surpassable, provides an opportunity [for refutation], is of interpretable meaning, and serves as a basis for dispute.
"Then the Bhagavan turned a third wheel of doctrine, possessing good differentiations, and exceedingly wondrous, for those genuinely engaged in all vehicles, beginning with the lack of own-being of phenomena, and beginning with their absence of production, absence of cessation, quiescence from the start, and being naturally in a state of nirvāna. Moreover, that wheel of doctrine turned by the Bhagavan is unsurpassable, does not provide an opportunity [for refutation], is of definitive meaning, and does not serve as a basis for dispute.
sutra/śastra quote source: Translated from the Tibetan by John Powers, Wisdom of Buddha (1995), pages 139-140.
Usage Example

།དེ་ནས་བཅོམ་ལྡན་འདས་ལ་བྱང་ཆུབ་སེམས་དཔའ་དོན་དམ་ཡང་དག་འཕགས་ཀྱིས་ཡང་འདི་སྐད་ཅེས་གསོལ་ཏོ། །བཅོམ་ལྡན་འདས་ཀྱིས་དང་པོར་ཡུལ་ཝཱ་ར་ཎཱ་སི་དྲང་སྲོང་སྨྲ་བ་རི་དྭགས་ཀྱི་ནགས་སུ་ཐེག་པ་ལ་ཡང་དག་པར་ཞུགས་པ་རྣམས་ལ་འཕགས་པའི་བདེན་པ་བཞིའི་རྣམ་པར་བསྟན་པས་ཆོས་ཀྱི་འཁོར་ལོ་ངོ་མཚར་རྨད་དུ་བྱུང་བ། སྔོན་ལྷར་གྱུར་བའམ། མིར་གྱུར་པ་སུས་ཀྱང་ཆོས་དང་མཐུན་པར་འཇིག་རྟེན་དུ་མ་བསྐོར་བ་གཅིག་ཏུ་རབ་ཏུ་བསྐོར་ཏེ། བཅོམ་ལྡན་འདས་ཀྱི་ཆོས་ཀྱི་འཁོར་ལོ་བསྐོར་བ་དེའང་བླ་ན་མཆིས་པ། སྐབས་མཆིས་པ། དྲང་བའི་དོན། རྩོད་པའི་གཞིའི་གནས་སུ་གྱུར་པ་ལགས་ལ། བཅོམ་ལྡན་འདས་ཀྱིས་ཆོས་རྣམས་ཀྱི་ངོ་བོ་ཉིད་མ་མཆིས་པ་ཉིད་ལས་བརྩམས། སྐྱེ་བ་མ་མཆིས་པ་དང༌། འགག་པ་མ་མཆིས་པ་དང༌། གཟོད་མ་ནས་ཞི་བ་དང༌། རང་བཞིན་གྱིས་ཡོངས་སུ་མྱ་ངན་ལས་འདས་པ་ཉིད་ལས་བརྩམས་ནས་ཐེག་པ་ཆེན་པོ་ལ་ཡང་དག་པར་ཞུགས་པ་རྣམས་ལ་སྟོང་པ་ཉིད་སྨོས་པའི་རྣམ་པས་ཆེས་ངོ་མཚར་རྨད་དུ་བྱུང་བའི་ཆོས་ཀྱི་འཁོར་ལོ་གཉིས་པ་བསྐོར་ཏེ། བཅོམ་ལྡན་འདས་ཀྱི་ཆོས་ཀྱི་འཁོར་ལོ་བསྐོར་བ་དེའང་བླ་ན་མཆིས་པ། སྐབས་མཆིས་པ། དྲང་བའི་དོན། རྩོད་པའི་གཞིའི་གནས་སུ་གྱུར་པ་ལགས་ལ། བཅོམ་ལྡན་འདས་ཀྱིས་ཆོས་རྣམས་ཀྱི་ངོ་བོ་ཉིད་མ་མཆིས་པ་ཉིད་ལས་བརྩམས། སྐྱེ་བ་མ་མཆིས་པ་དང༌། འགག་པ་མ་མཆིས་པ་དང༌། གཟོད་མ་ནས་ཞི་བ་དང༌། རང་བཞིན་གྱིས་ཡོངས་སུ་མྱ་ངན་ལས་འདས་པ་ཉིད་ལས་བརྩམས་ནས། ཐེག་པ་ཐམས་ཅད་ལ་ཡང་དག་པར་ཞུགས་པ་རྣམས་ལ་ལེགས་པར་རྣམ་པར་ཕྱེ་བ་དང་ལྡན་པ། ཤིན་ཏུ་ངོ་མཚར་རྨད་དུ་བྱུང་བའི་ཆོས་ཀྱི་འཁོར་ལོ་གསུམ་པ་བསྐོར་ཏེ། བཅོམ་ལྡན་འདས་ཀྱི་ཆོས་ཀྱི་འཁོར་ལོ་བསྐོར་བ་འདི་ནི་བླ་ན་མ་མཆིས་པ། སྐབས་མ་མཆིས་པ། ངེས་པའི་དོན་ལགས་ཏེ། རྩོད་པའི་གཞིའི་གནས་སུ་གྱུར་པ་མ་ལགས་སོ།

འཕགས་པ་དགོངས་པ་ངེས་པར་འགྲེལ་པ་ཞེས་བྱ་བ་ཐེག་པ་ཆེན་པོའི་མདོ། བཀའ་འགྱུར་སྡེ་དགེ་པར་ཕུད། Vol. 49, pages 48-49.