What Does “Turning the Wheel of Dharma” Mean?

Publish Date:2021-09-27

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Cakka (wheel) was a wheel-like weapon used in wars in ancient India. There was an old legend in India that the raja (king) that conquered the world would be the Rajacakkavattin, i.e. “The wheel-turning king”. At the time of his birth, a wheel appeared in the sky, prophesying that he would be unconquerable in the future. In Buddhism the wheel is used as a metaphor of the Dharma preached by the Buddha. Once the Buddha’s Dhammacakka emerged, all the wrong thinking and evil things would be smashed and vanish. Hence the preaching of Dharma is called Dharmaacakkappavattana (turning the wheel of Dharma). The Buddha’s initial turning of the wheel of Dharma took place at Sarnath Mrgadava (Deer Park) in present-day Benares. Through the recent excavations, quite a few valuable relics have been discovered at Sarnath, including the King Asoka stone pillar, stone-engraved images of the Buddha’s first turning of the wheel of Dharma dating from the 4th century AD etc. Even the ruins of the ancient thupa temple were unearthed. Buddhist temples, museums and a library now standing there were built over the last few decades. There are four places regarded as the holy places of Buddhism: ⑴ Sarnath, where the Buddha initially turned the wheel of Dharma, ⑵ Lumbini Grove, where the Buddha was born, ⑶ Buddhagaya, where the Buddha attained enlightenment, and ⑷ Kusinara, where the Buddha passed away. It is worthy of note that modern scholars excavated and required the holy places and other historical sites mainly on the basis of the records of the ancient Chinese pilgrims like Fa Xian (Fa Hsien) and Xuan Zang (Hsuan Tsang). (From Essentials of Buddhism: Questions and Answers)

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