Today is Chokhor Duchen, the day when Tibetans celebrate the first teaching the Buddha gave, at Sarnath near Varanasi in India, on the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. The beautiful passage below describing it is from Jamgon Kongtrul’s Treasury of Knowledge, Volume 2 (http://shmb.la/tok-234).
THE ELEVENTH DEED
At the request of Brahma and others, he taught in known and unknown places
Expedient and definitive meanings in three successive turnings of the wheel of Dharma.
During the time the perfect Buddha sat beneath the tree of liberation, he thought that no worldly being could realize the profound understanding he had attained. Thus, he said,
Deep, tranquil, unformulated, non-composite clear light:
This ambrosia-like reality I have gained
Is unfathomable by anyone I might teach.
Thus, I will dwell at the forest’s edge in silence.
He sat alone with little activity in mind.
Through the Buddha’s power, Brahma with a tufted crown arrived with his retinue of sixty-eight hundred thousand, and beseeched him to teach the Dharma, but the Buddha did not do so. Brahma then called on Shakra for assistance. After their third request, the Buddha, clearly seeing his disciples’ different capabilities, promised to open the door of ambrosia-like teachings, beginning with teachings to any kind of sentient being. The tidings, “The Transcendent Buddha will turn the wheel of Dharma!” resounded as far as Brahma’s realm.
The Buddha then went to seek alms in Varanasi. When he arrived at Deer Park, Descent of the Sages, the fi ve excellent ones came to greet him. The Buddha called them forth, and they thereby became true fully ordained monks.
At that place, one thousand magnificent lion-supported thrones appeared. The Buddha circumambulated the first three; when he sat in cross-legged posture on the fourth, a great light spread throughout worlds in the ten directions, and a sound arose calling beings to listen to his teachings. A god called Bodhisattva Who Turned the Wheel of the Teachings upon Developing the Intention to Attain Awakening presented him with a one thousand-spoked wheel made of gold from the Jambu River. He and countless other bodhisattvas and gods assembled.
On the fourth day of the sixth lunar month, the Buddha taught the four truths in three enunciations: [he first explained] their essence, then their function, and finally their result. In this way, he presented that cycle of teaching in twelve aspects. As a result, the five excellent ones attained [the state of ] arhat (foe-subduer), and for the first time the three jewels (Buddha, Teaching, and Spiritual Community) appeared in this world.
Beginning with instruction in the expedient and definitive meanings [of Dharma], the Buddha turned the great wheel of Dharma—virtuous in the beginning, middle, and end—in three stages. He taught in known locations—Gaya Peak, Gandhamadana Mountain, Rajgir, Vulture Peak, Shravasti, Jetavana, Kosala, Kapilavastu, and the city of Vaishali—as well as in many places unknown [to humans], such as realms of gods and nagas, and the precious vajra palace.
The Buddha led innumerable disciples of the four kinds, including the sublime pair, to the attainment of four results. He foretold the awakening of countless humans and gods who had affinity with the great way. In Shravasti, he displayed supreme miracles, both mundane and supramundane. For his mother Mayadévi’s sake, he spent one summer retreat period in Heaven of the Thirty-three, then descended from the gods’ realm [back to earth] at Sankashya. At glorious Treasure Mound Stupa and other places, the Buddha taught the secret mantra way to exceptional disciples. In these ways, his display of the four taming miracles was inconceivable and indescribable.
In summary, the Buddha stayed in his father’s royal residence until the age of twenty-nine. He practiced austerities during six years, and at the age of thirty-five he attained enlightenment. From then until his eightieth year, he conducted forty-five summer retreats and set in motion the highest wheel of the teachings.