"Well taught by me is Dhamma,"
... this is what the Buddha says over and over in the suttas.
What does this mean?
The section that follows is one one-dimensional presentation of the way I see the system being described in the suttas. I say this presentation, (which actually has depth through linking), is one-dimensional because it presents the system [naya] in a straight-line or in a straight line with loops describing a single path from beginner to complete detachment.
In fact most of the 'units' or 'dhammas' of the system are complete systems in and of themselves and have no need to be linked together with other units, and further, each of these units can be made, with very little difficulty, to encompass each (or all) of the other units. In this way it can be seen that the one-dimensional approach described here can be expanded limitlessly in all directions.
To directly teach this omni-present [capable of being applied at any point in time/space], omni-directional [presenting a limitless number of paths to ultimate detachment] system is impossible [there's no limit to it!], and what is being suggested here is that even to attempt to teach the method in a linear way is to severely restrict one's teaching focus and by that to direct one's teaching at explaining a specific concept or approach to a specific audience located in a specific time, place and state of consciousness.
What we have today of what the Buddha has done to present the Dhamma is a recording of a huge number of complete 'situations' in which the various units of the system are pieced together in a huge variety of ways to suit the needs of a large variety of types of individuals.
We see these situations from the point of view of a story teller relating the details of where a teaching was given, the circumstances of the conversation, the characters, what the Buddha said, what was said in response, and sometimes follow-up in terms of questions or results.
The insightful reader should immediately see the increase in richness of the environment for understanding that 'situations' provide over 'raw data teaching', but even this is not to be understood as the limit of what was meant when the Buddha stated that the Dhamma was well taught by him.
What else is there?
There was the walking of it by the Buddha himself, the attaining of it's goals by him, the decision to teach; there was the listening to it, remembering it, reviewing it, testing it, evaluating the results of testing it, and continued progress to the point of attaining the goal of a huge number of people classed as 'the sangha' or the group of individuals of varying degrees of accomplishment of the system, both layman and bhikkhu.
It is this entire spectrum of things (one might say it is 'the living of the system'), not just the teachings, that is 'The Dhamma.' And it is, for us today, only through reading the suttas that we get a glympse of the totality of the meaning of the term 'Dhamma'. And it is only when we get a grip on the totality of the meaning of this term that we can see that what is to be taught goes far beyond the system proper. Once we see that we can then see the real genius of teaching by situation ... and we can see how much of the 'True Dhamma' we have lost.
In the old days, the Buddha, or one of his accomplished followers would grasp a teaching opportunity and from the wisdom of experience, teach in response to the need and by that create a 'situation.' Today few if any teachers have experience, let alone accomplishment or wisdom, and for the reader to determine for himself from the suttas exactly which of the limitless number of methods available will best suit his needs is a very time consuming and unreliable process made even more difficult by the fact that the entire collection of suttas is still at this point not freely available to one and all.
Keeping all this in mind, the reader is asked to indulge his servant (fancy story-teller's way of saying 'me') in the Dhamma in this projection of his own needs onto his readers: in essence the 'situation' being 'responded to' here is that of myself from the perspective of time: this is the sort of information I would have liked to have had for myself when starting out. It is intended as an aid in orienting one's self to the materials presented in the suttas, not a substitute for them or a statement that 'this and this alone is what Buddhism is all about.'
[Skip 'The Method' and return to reading suttas] [Go on to 'The Method']