How did the first five Bhikkhus (especially Anna Kondanna) get the understand the Noble 8 fold path mentioned briefly in the Dhammacakkappavattana sutta?

Hi all,
This random thought came to me. How did the first five Bhikkhus manage to understand the Noble 8-fold path when it was mentioned briefly for the first time without any clarification from the Buddha? It’s strangely curious because if I were to be told that all those 8 paths, I would have no idea that samma sankappa means renunciation, freedom from ill will and harmlessness. Was the Noble 8-fold path adopted from Brahmanism? Otherwise, how would anyone understand what the Buddha said?

Thank you in advance.

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This is the phenomenon of Multiple Discovery that recurs time and again in human history.
All first 5 bhikkhus and the Buddha were close comrades, working on the same problem with the same tools and sharing their insights with each other. Hence their knowledge base was literally the same. It so happened that the Buddha made the breakthrough due to his extra persistence, effort and kamma. But the five bhikkhus would not have needed much additional information to come to the same conclusions.


It was a gradual process:

"Lend ear, friends: the Deathless has been attained. I will instruct you. I will teach you the Dhamma. Practicing as instructed, you will in no long time reach & remain in the supreme goal of the holy life for which clansmen rightly go forth from home into homelessness, knowing & realizing it for yourselves in the here & now.’
“And so I was able to convince them. I would teach two monks while three went for alms, and we six lived off what the three brought back from their alms round. Then I would teach three monks while two went for alms, and we six lived off what the two brought back from their alms round. Then the group of five monks — thus exhorted, thus instructed by me — being subject themselves to birth, seeing the drawbacks of birth, seeking the unborn, unexcelled rest from the yoke, Unbinding, reached the unborn, unexcelled rest from the yoke: Unbinding.”—MN 26

“That is what the Blessed One said. Gratified, the group of five monks delighted at his words. And while this explanation was being given, there arose to Ven. Kondañña the dustless, stainless Dhamma eye: Whatever is subject to origination is all subject to cessation.”—SN 56.11

This standard description occurs several times involving different people in the suttas and means the seeing of impermanence resulting in stream entry.

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That’s an interesting take. I’m not sure what to make of it after re-reading the MN26. Am I correct to interpret that Dhammacakkappavattana sutta may not be the first teaching that Buddha gave and that the 5 Bhikkhus were gradually trained before the sermon of Dhammacakkappavattana sutta was given? That explanation kind of make sense to me. I was under the impression SN 56.11 was the first teaching right after the Buddha’s enlightenment.

Thanks for the trouble of answering my question.

Thanks, that explanation also makes sense. Anyway, this question is not so important. Thanks for taking your time to explain.

I would say that it could be considered extremely deep :upside_down_face:, if one ponders the implications… there being no persona / Self as such, the undefiled Citta within each person is equally capable of enlightenment as the Buddha’s … all that stops any one of us are our Kilesas and our Avijja!

Remember, only Ven. Kondañña attained stream entry. And people have attained stream entry from just a single line of Dhamma. So I’m not sure I understand the premise of your question. And the sutta specifically states what Ven Kondañña’s understanding was, and it had nothing to do with the Noble Eightfold Path.

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My question was more specifically pointed to the Noble 8-fold Path as explained in that SN 56.11 in brief without much context and that the Bhikkhus could understand them (or maybe didn’t understand, but never bothered to ask for clarification on the spot).

While attending the talk by Bhante Sujato just now, I was reminded of the frivolity of this question. A scholarly monk once prepared hundreds of questions to Bhante Thanissaro. To which Bhante Thanissaro replied, “Tell me which question should I answer before you can become an Arahant”. At least, that’s how I remember what Bhante Sujato said. Sorry for wasting everyone’s time with this silly question. :grimacing:

It wasn’t a silly question. Understanding the minds and enlightenment of arahants is very difficult.

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Ven Kondanna was a mystic who had been able to predict the child Siddhartha would become the future Buddha. Therefore at the first sermon he was able to grasp the essential characteristic of the four noble truths as impermanence. The Buddha’s second sermon SN 22.59 further explains the role of impermanence as the causal factor giving rise to the other two characteristics. So for the person interested in practice, the point of the first sermon is clear. In the interval between the first and second sermons, the Buddha instructed the other four monks. On hearing the second sermon describing the effects of impermanence, all five are then said to have attained awakening.

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Hello @paul1,

Could you please explain what you mean by “[grasping] the four noble truths as impermanence?” It seems to me that the noble truths were understood to be universally true, although they could be forgotten. So, for example, the cause of suffering (samudayo dukkaṃ), as a noble truth, is what the cause of suffering is. And this remains true even after the cause itself is brought to an end, through following the path to its conclusion. Moreover, even though the understanding is that the cause of suffering can be brought to an end, its ending is different from what I understand the suttas mean by “impermanence” (anicca). Anicca, as I understand it, refers to the observation that every physical and mental phenomenon naturally ends. Therefore, every instance of the cause of suffering will end naturally, due to anicca, but new instances of suffering will continue to appear until its cause (samudayo dukkaṃ is eradicated. That eradication, as I understand it, cannot be due to anicca alone.


Taking the four noble truths as a process, the first and fourth noble truths can be taken as known to some degree, placing the dynamic emphasis on the second and third in the progressive development of right view. That’s why MN 117 says:

“Thus these three qualities — right view, right effort, & right mindfulness — run & circle around right view.”

The second noble truth instructs that attachment to all or any conditioned phenomena (subject to the cycle of impermanence) results in suffering. The third noble truth instructs that the extinction of craving results in the extinction of suffering. Extinction of craving is achieved by the development of dispassion for conditioned phenomena through recognizing their property of impermanence.

These second and third noble truths must be investigated and proven by the practitioner as the Buddha-to-be did prior to awakening:

Proving the second noble truth, attachment to conditioned reality results in suffering:

“And as I remained thus heedful, ardent, & resolute, thinking imbued with sensuality arose in me. I discerned that 'Thinking imbued with sensuality has arisen in me; and that leads to my own affliction or to the affliction of others or to the affliction of both. It obstructs discernment, promotes vexation, & does not lead to Unbinding.”

Proving the third noble truth, renunciation of conditioned phenomena leads to nibbana:

“And as I remained thus heedful, ardent, & resolute, thinking imbued with renunciation arose in me. I discerned that 'Thinking imbued with renunciation has arisen in me; and that leads neither to my own affliction, nor to the affliction of others, nor to the affliction of both. It fosters discernment, promotes lack of vexation, & leads to Unbinding.”—MN 19

N8P is not required for Right view to arise. It is one of the items practitioner needs to attain in order to walk N8P.

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The last paragraphs of MN 26 is an instruction on sensual pleasures and how to abandon them with jhanas. In MN 26 it isn’t clear whether this instruction is delivered to the monks assembled in brahmin Rammaka’s hermitage (whom the Buddha taught this sutta to) or to the first five monks on the first discourse. But according to Bhante Analayo’s Comparative Study of Majjhima Nikaya, in the Chinese Madhyama Agama parallel version of MN 26 this instruction is indicated to be delivered to first five monks. So, I think this instruction is a part of the first discourse to the first five monks and they can realized their attainment because they trained themselves according this instruction.


Any stage of awakening requires insight as well as tranquillity. Developing jhana alone would not further right view. This is why the wisdom component of the noble eightfold path employs two links:

"When tranquillity is developed, what purpose does it serve? The mind is developed. And when the mind is developed, what purpose does it serve? Passion is abandoned.

“When insight is developed, what purpose does it serve? Discernment is developed. And when discernment is developed, what purpose does it serve? Ignorance is abandoned.”—AN 2.30

Passion= the emotional defilements of anger and desire.