The Three Turnings of the Dharma Wheel are the three cycles of the Buddha’s teaching, in which He emphasized various aspects. The First Wheel (in which He presented the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Noble Path) are focused on cause and effect, action and reaction —karma. The Second Wheel focuses on emptiness —that is, that our perceptions are conceptual elaborations, and have no independent existence. The Third Wheel focuses on Buddha Nature, the natural perfection of all sentient beings, which is ultimate reality.
One can go very deeply into all Three Wheels, but this is their essence: (1) as long as we live in duality, we must observe the law of cause and effect, avoiding harm and doing good; (2) we must understand that our perceptions are more indicative of our own perspective than of any substantial ‘facts’, and thus we must cultivate peace and clarity, purifying the mind of intrinsic and learned errors; and, (3) accepting every sentient being’s Buddha Nature, we must develop serene trust and great joy in the merit and wisdom of the Buddha, which are given freely to each and every one of us.
It need not be complicated. Extensive philosophical discussions are only necessary when we are attached to wrong views. If we can accept the teachings, then we need only practice with serene trust.
There is a very instructive story of a great philosopher who boarded a small boat to cross a river. The philosopher asked the boatman: “Do you know the doctrine of the four essential components of positive, negative, neutral, throwing, and completing karma?” The boatman answered “No”, and the philosopher said: “Then, I am afraid that you have wasted one third of your life.”
The philosopher then asked: “Do you know the doctrine of the twelve links of dependent origination?” The boatman answered that he did not, to which the philosopher replied: “Then, I am afraid that you have wasted two thirds of your life.”
As the philosopher was about to ask the boatman if he understood the doctrine of intrinsic emptiness, the weather turned very foul, and the boat started to make water. The boatman asked the philosopher: “Do you know how to swim?” The philosopher replied that he did not, and the boatman then said, with great sadness: “Then, I am afraid that you have wasted all of your life!”
It is better to know the essentials, and practice whatever we know, than to study much doctrine, and lack the practice which makes all the difference.
Do not worry. Enlightenment is our nature, our birthright.
om amideva hrih