Sarnath, where the Buddha gave his first teaching

By Matthieu Ricard on February 25, 2011

Sarnath is located in a dozen of kilometers of Varanaresi. It is there, in the Deer Park, that the Buddha delivered his first conferred his first teaching on the Four Noble Truths: the truth of the suffering, the truths of the causes of the suffering (the afflictive mental states and the fundamental ignorance), the truth of the possibility of the cessation of suffering, and the truth of path that leads to this cessation.

After having reached enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree at Vajrasana (the ‟Diamond Throne”, the present Bodh-Gaya), for five weeks the Buddha remained silent, considering that the truth that he had found was too deep to be taught.

It is said that the gods Indra and Brahma offered him a conch and a golden wheel, making it the request to set in motion the ‟Wheel of Dharma”. The Buddha then proceeded to Sarnath.

There were five companions with whom the Buddha had engaged in physical penance for six years on the banks of the river Nairanjana. At the end of six years, the Buddha realized that mere austerities of the body could not lead to enlightenment and that it was the mind that needs to be transformed. He then left his companions who considered him as a renegade.

When the five ascetics saw the Buddha sitting under a tree in the Deer Park, they told themselves that they would not salute the Buddha, nor show any mark of respect. But as they approached, they were overwhelmed by the splendor of the Enlightened One and spontaneously prostrated themselves before him and requested him to teach them.

Today we can see many ruins of stupas and temples built at various times in history. The Dhamekh Stupa is said to have been erected at the very place where Buddha gave his first sermon. The present 34 meters high monument seem to have been built in place of a stupa of Maurya period (200 years before J. -C.). The Asoka pillar is located in the main compound. It measured 20 meters high but was decapitated by Turk invaders.

It pinacle, which is now kept at the Sarnath museum, represents four lions back to back and served as a model for the emblem of the Republic of India.

At our pilgrimage to Sarnath after the consecration of the stupa constructed in fulfillment of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche's wishes, the young Yangsi Khyentse Rinpoche gave a teachings on the four Noble truths in the Deer Park.