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Compare Sutta with Sutta

For a time now I have been visiting websites and reading posts from some of the other Buddhist boards out there. I have decided to discontinue this practice as it is just placing myself in a state of continuous aggravation and anxiety for the Dhamma and for what can only be characterized as brave, intelligent, admirable individuals being mislead and misleading others by flawed methodology and corrupted dhamma. Bad conditions are increasing and good conditions are in danger!

Nearly all the people out there make the same sort of methodological error: they begin by accepting authority. Accepting the Zen or Tibetan or Mahayana or Theravada School as the true teaching of what the Buddha Taught is accepting authority. Accepting the Vipassana school, accepting the Abhidhamma, accepting the commentaries, accepting any of these is accepting authority.

Starting out to study what the Buddha taught should not be equated with accepting even what the Buddha taught at the start, let alone some interpretation of what it is that he taught.

You study the Original Sources to determine what the Buddha Taught by comparing sutta with sutta and eliminating anything that is not completely without conflict with anything else in the suttas (that means even if it is in the core suttas!). (Later you may find you have misunderstood and need to re-introduce things, but the method says that until you see the harmony, disgard the discord).

I say: "If you are going to study what the Buddha Taught, Go to the Original Sources." What are the Original Sources?
The only real clue we have about what can be considered "original sources" is what the Buddha states to be original sources in the works accepted by ALL Buddhists as original sources: the core Suttas and the Vinaya[1].

It might have been rational in an earlier day to accept the word of another as to what the Buddha taught because of the difficulty involved in checking with original sources, today, in this age of the computer, there is absolutely no excuse for accepting as what the Buddha taught something not found in the suttas. Guard your own minds friends! You will hold yourself accountable at the end for not having taken the time to do it right.

Here is what I suggest as a "pariyaya" (curriculum) for very beginners who wish to establish themselves in a rock solid foundation in what the Buddha taught:

I am going to begin with the assumption that BuddhaDust or some other site has been found accidentally or by recommendation and has managed somehow to interest one in Really understanding what it was that the Buddha taught. That was the intent with which BuddhaDust was built; as an advertisement for the real thing. I do not recommend blind acceptance of anything I have said on this site. I would hope that what I have said is kept in mind. So: up past what you have found interesting here or elsewhere:

1. Begin:
Read: Warren, Buddhism in Translations

2. Read the Pali Text Society Translations of:

The Dialogs of the Buddha
The Middle Length Sayings
The Gradual Sayings
The Kindred Sayings

Web site: http://www.palitext.com

If you cannot afford to buy these books new, they are often to be found in used bookstores. If you cannot afford them and cannot find them, I suggest you read the Wisdom Publications editions mentioned (#6) below; if you cannot afford these either; go to the translations found on Access to Insight: http://www.accesstoinsight.org (or browse through the 'Sutta Index' on BuddhaDust where the Access to Insight Suttas are linked along with other on-line and off-line resources. I suggest this order of priority because it is in this order that these sutta translations have evolved and there is a certain amount of building on one-another and dialog between them that has occurred.

3. Get yourself the Rhys Davids/Stead: Pali/English Dictionary and look up the various words discussed in the footnotes of the above (this Dictionary is now on Line: http://dsal.uchicago.edu/dictionaries/pali/index.html.

4. Get hold of the Pali for the Pali Text Society Translations mentioned in 2. (These are on line and available on very inexpensive CD: http://www.tipitaka.org/

It is not necessary to understand Pali as a language to understand the important words: you want the Pali to be able to determine for yourself the words being used when two translations of a unit of the teaching are translated in different ways. This is not to say that an early start on learning Pali is not valuable: it is; but I caution against putting the study of Pali ahead of the intent to comprehend the teaching.

5. Read the Pali Text Society Translation of the Vinaya Pitaka

6. Read the Wisdom Publications translations of:

The Long Discourses of the Buddha
The Middle Length Discources of the Buddha
The Connected Discourses of the Buddha

7. Read other translations of these core suttas.

Read some of the many translations of the very important and widely-followed Satipatthana Sutta. (Many translations and reference materials are available on BuddhaDust: ../../../backmatter/indexes/idx_satipatthana_resources.htm)

The Dialogs of the Buddha (Volume 1 available on BuddhaDust)
The Middle Length Sayings (The Mulapariyaya, first sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya, available on Buddhadust in several translations)
The Gradual Sayings (The Book of Ones, the first book of the Gradual sayings, available on BuddhaDust)

In spite of the propaganda out there that will tell you that you cannot understand the Dhamma just by reading the Suttas alone, I tell you that this is simply not true, and when the individual you are trying to research, says of his own teaching that he has taught it well, and that it can be understood, seen for one's self in the Here and Now, and realized for one's self by the intelligent and he further says that it is by comparing sutta to sutta that the true teaching is revealed, to believe otherwise is to go against reason. The other works are of doubtful origin, not accepted by all schools; the core suttas (as in #2) are accepted by all schools; none dare say not.

Until such time as you can say you have understood the Dhamma as set forth in the core Suttas, do not waste your time reading the Jatakas, the volumes of the Khuddaka Pitaka, Path of Purity, The Psalms of the Brothers/Sisters; any of the Commentaries, any of the volumes of the Abhidhamma, any of the commentaries on the Abhidhamma or any of the commentaries on the commentaries, or any of the vast number of books out there that explain what the Buddha taught (and if you had asked me first whether or not I would recommend reading the materials on BuddhaDust or those of the Suttas, I would say read the Suttas first). You would be better off, if you wish to venture outside the core suttas, to read some other system altogether. This would result in less confusion than reading what some commentator has to say.

 


 

The Four Great References

Here is one of the several passages in which the Buddha describes the proper method for determining the authenticity of his word. This is from Digha Nikaya, #16: Maha Parinibbana Sutta (Rhys David's Translation; from 'Buddhist Suttas'. Chapter 4.) (Here I have eliminated diacriticals, footnotes, etc.):

7. Now there at Bhoga-nagara the Blessed One stayed at the Ananda Cetiya.

There the Blessed One addressed the brethren, and said: 'I will teach you, O brethren, these four Great References. Listen thereto, and give good heed, and I will speak.'

'Even so, Lord!' said the brethren, in assent, to the Blessed One, and the Blessed One spoke as follows:

8. 'In the first place, brethren, a brother may say thus: "From the mouth of the Blessed One himself have I heard, from his own mouth have I received it. This is the truth, this the law, this the teaching of the Master." The word spoken, brethren, by that brother should neither be received with praise nor treated with scorn. Without praise and without scorn every word and syllable should be carefully understood, and then put beside the scripture and compared with the rules of the order. If when so compared they do not harmonise with the scripture, and do not fit in with the rules of the order, then you may come to the conclusion, "Verily, this is not the word of the Blessed One, and has been wrongly grasped by that brother?" Therefore, brethren, you should reject it. But if they harmonise with the scripture and fit in with the rules of the order, then you may come to the conclusion, "Verily, this is the word of the Blessed One, and has been well grasped by that brother." This, brethren, you should receive as the first Great Reference.

9. 'Again, brethren, a brother may say thus: "In such and such a dwelling-place there is a company of the brethren with their elders and leaders. From the mouth of that company have I heard, face-to-face have I received it. This is the truth, this the law, this the teaching of the Master." The word spoken, brethren, by that brother should neither be received with praise nor treated with scorn. Without praise and without scorn every word and syllable should be carefully understood, and then put beside the scripture and compared with the rules of the order. If when so compared they do not harmonise with the scripture, and do not fit in with the rules of the order, then you may come to the conclusion, "Verily, this is not the word of the Blessed One, and has been wrongly grasped by that company of the brethren." Therefore, brethren, you should reject it. But if they harmonise with the scripture and fit in with the rules of the order, then you may come to the conclusion, "Verily, this is the word of the Blessed One, and has been well grasped by that company of the brethren." This, brethren, you should receive as the second Great Reference.

10. 'Again, brethren, a brother may say thus: "In such and such a dwelling-place there are dwelling many elders of the order, deeply read, holding the faith as handed down by tradition, versed in the truths, versed in the regulations of the order, versed in the summaries of the doctrines and the law. From the mouth of those elders have I heard, from their mouth have I received it. This is the truth, this the law, this the teaching of the Master." The word spoken, brethren, by that brother should neither be received with praise nor treated with scorn. Without praise and without scorn every word and syllable should be carefully understood, and then put beside the scripture and compared with the rules of the order. If when so compared they do not harmonise with the scripture, and do not fit in with the rules of the order, then you may come to the conclusion, "Verily, this is not the word of the Blessed One, and has been wrongly grasped by those elders." Therefore, brethren, you should reject it. But if they harmonise with the scripture and fit in with the rules of the order, then you may come to the conclusion, "Verily, this is the word of the Blessed One, and has been well grasped by those elders." This, brethren, you should receive as the third Great Reference.

11. 'Again, brethren, a brother may say, "In such and such a dwelling-place there is there living a brother, deeply read, holding the faith as handed down by tradition, versed in the truths, versed in the regulations of the order, versed in the summaries of the doctrines and the law. From the mouth of that elder have I heard, from his mouth have I received it. This is the truth, this the law, this the teaching of the Master." The word spoken, brethren, by that brother should neither be received with praise nor treated with scorn. Without praise and without scorn every word and syllable should be carefully understood, and then put beside the scripture and compared with the rules of the order. If when so compared they do not harmonise with the scripture, and do not fit in with the rules of the order, then you may come to the conclusion, "Verily, this is not the word of the Blessed One, and has been wrongly grasped by that brother." Therefore, brethren, you should reject it. But if they harmonise with the scripture and fit in with the rules of the order, then you may come to the conclusion, "Verily, this is the word of the Blessed One, and has been well grasped by that brother." This, brethren, you should receive as the fourth Great Reference.'

'These, brethren, are the Four Great References.'

 


[1]See: On Reliance on Authority, note 1 and the reference in that note to Rhys Davids: Buddhist India, Literature II: The Pali Books; Appendix
and see also above, Rhys Davids The Four Great References, which uses the same terminology and makes the same argument.

 


 

References:

An extensive examination by Bhikkhu Thanissaro of the issue of authority and the authenticity of the Dhamma has been posted on Access to Insight:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/authenticity.html


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