Saturday, June 12, 2010

What is True? What is False?

There are some Buddhists, especially the Theravadins who have this idea that only the Theravadian set of Buddhist scriptures are the most authentic. And all others are false. So, to them if a scripture is not found amongst their set of books, it means it is a false scripture, that is a false dharma. If what they say is true, it would mean that many Mahayana (and Tibetan included) Buddhist scriptures are not authentic. Once it is inauthentic, they are saying it was not preached by the Buddha. So, we are going to explore this issue here.

I am not going to say this set of texts is true and that set is false. Instead, I am going to approach this issue from the perspective of wisdom, that is, are those teachings in accordance with the general principles of the Buddha? If it is, then it is considered true. If not, then then it is not true. For this approach, people need to think and evaluate. Not just a mechanical process of referring to a fixed list of so-called authentic sutras, and if it is not found there, then it is a fake sutra. It should not be as simple as that because that will make us become dim-witted Buddhists. And Buddha always encourages his disciples to think for themselves. And not just accept what he said. This is also one of the principles of Buddhism, i.e. the freedom to enquire and evaluate. The people who subscribe to such ideas that only the Theradian texts are true scriptures of the Buddha have basically reduced the dharma to a mechanical process just like the other religions. Other religions always refer to the holy books and if something is not there, it is considered as not true.

They don't think with their heads anymore whether the substance of the teachings contained in the text is true or not. If it is not in their set of books, they just conveniently write it off as incorrect or false teachings. This is ridiculous. As Buddhists, we must be smarter than that. We must have more wisdom. The Buddha's wisdom is not limited to any particular set of books. However when he was alive he gave us a set of guiding principles. And one of these guiding principles is the Four Seals of Dharma. If something doesnot meet with this guiding principle, then it is considered not Buddhism.

What are the Four Seals of Dharma?

This is enumerated in many places, including the internet. One such reference is

The 4 seals are:
1.All compounded things are impermanent.
2.All stained emotions are painful.
3.All phenomena are empty.
4. Nirvana is peace.

Hence, what is an authentic Buddhist scripture or not should be determined by principles such as the four seals of dharma. Other guiding principles are such as Compassion for all sentient beings, Loving-kindness, Joy for others, and Equanimity for all. And the Buddha had said that greed, anger, hatred, temper, jealousy and other negative emotions are to be reduced and avoided eventually. Other generally accepted principles of the Buddha include non-attachment or letting go and not-harming. You just take the substance of the teachings and if it brings you closer to enlightenment, then it is an authentic teaching. If it takes you farther away from Enlightenment, instead add on more greed, more anger, more delusions, then it is a negative teaching, at least to the person. Note that care must be considered also that one person's meat is another person's posion. And vice-versa. It is entirely possible that one teachings may result in negative effect on the person, but positive effect on others. Could it happen? I don't know, but leave it open to such possibility. And also, the person could misapply the teachings, resulting in the reverse effect. So, nothing wrong with the teachings, just his own misapplication.

So, back to the question. Is only the Theradian tripitaka authentic? Or, phrased in another way,
is the Mahayana tripitaka the only authetic texts? I have to say, "No". I know people are concerned about the many inauthentic sutras there are now. Cults, especially, seems to be the main culprits for generating their own "sutras". At the end of the day, you still must have the wisdom to check and evaluate and compare with the general principles of Buddhism. If any teachings is not in line with the general principles of Buddhism, then you better be more careful in accepting what you hear or read. And if you are not so sure, there are always people you can talk to or consult. For example, your gurus. That's what they are there for. You can also check the opinion of others. What does the majority of the people say? But again, majority does not always mean majority is correct. So, again it comes back to yourself. You have to check and evaluate what is true and what is false.

It is not always easy but you have to start somewhere, sometime. Otherwise, you will risk being taken in for a ride and will not reach Nirvana for a long long time. So, I am going to wish you "good luck" even though luck has really nothing to do with the wisdom that is required here!

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