"The Buddha did not teach it..."

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths. What can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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"The Buddha did not teach it..."

Postby Dan74 » Fri Feb 01, 2013 10:47 am

Going over an old thread I saw this statement and the conclusion that therefore it is of no relevance. This logic appears to be quite common here and I'd like to query it in this thread, if I may.

Firstly, how can we be confident that every single teaching the Buddha gave has been recorded and passed down? I mean 45 years worth of teaching? Do we think we have it all??
Given that the earliest existing Pali document dates to about 1000 years after the Buddha's parinibbana, I think this is a big leap of faith.

Secondly, supposing that the Buddha really did not teach something (like the Ajahn Sumedho's Sound of Silence meditation for example). Does this mean it is irrelevant and of no use? This to me seems a big leap of logic. Surely we are a product of quite a different culture and quite a different conditioning to the audience the Buddha faced. Wouldn't it follow that some methods would be more appropriate today than they would've been 2500 years ago in India? A master may follow the Dhamma, attain liberation and elaborate the Buddha's teaching for his disciples in his (or her) own way appropriate to the culture and the audience.


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Re: "The Buddha did not teach it..."

Postby James the Giant » Fri Feb 01, 2013 11:01 am

How much do you add though.
How far do you go?

Mahayana and the other modern varieties cater for those who like to add, but I prefer it old school.
saturated with joy,
you will put an end to suffering and stress.

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Re: "The Buddha did not teach it..."

Postby hermitwin » Fri Feb 01, 2013 11:24 am

You have a valid point.
we cant even be sure who said what a few seconds ago,
unless it was recorded on video or audio.
but even audio/video can be manipulated.

yet, the pali canon is the best available record of
buddha;s teachings that we have.
if you discard the pali canon, what are you left with?

ultimately, the proof of the pudding is in the practice
and the results.

but if you ask me, i always trust the pali canon more than
any teacher in this world.

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Re: "The Buddha did not teach it..."

Postby Ben » Fri Feb 01, 2013 11:39 am

Well said, Dan.
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

(Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • •

e: [email protected]..

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Re: "The Buddha did not teach it..."

Postby gendun » Fri Feb 01, 2013 11:55 am

Gendun P. Brownlow.
Karma Kagyu student.

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Re: "The Buddha did not teach it..."

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Fri Feb 01, 2013 12:03 pm

• • • • (Upasampadā: 24th June, 1979)

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Re: "The Buddha did not teach it..."

Postby daverupa » Fri Feb 01, 2013 12:50 pm

The five Nikayas are a Pali Theravada product, with occasional variations in editions. Those five each have Agamas which were translated from related Prakrits into Chinese, Sanskrit, Tibetan, Gandharan, etc. (but in this case, each Theravada Nikaya corresponds to a different scholastic Agama - there is no complete collection for any other school).

The Abhidhammas vary in nearly every particular; the Vinayas compare more favorably but yet contain differences and many additions are unique to each reciter tradition; the Suttas compare most favorably, such that the vast majority of differences can be accounted for as a function of the technology of oral traditions.

So then, the basic shape of the content found in the Nikayas is this commonly transmitted material, and a useful heuristic is to see it as having experienced a diaspora at the hands of Asoka. The texts were probably open to massaging and a bit of editing after this point, but the fact that they do not mention such a key figure in Buddhist history seems to indicate that they were largely closed texts by that time.

So the upper limit is Asoka, and the lower limit is the Buddha's teaching career, a difference between c. 430 BCE and c. 270 BCE, or about 150 years. I can't recall where just now, but I've read that the culture depicted in the Nikayas seems to reflect that of about 300 BCE, which fits this chronology well and suggests a period of Nikaya compilation followed by a period of editorializing before finally being written down.

The widespread and cohesive similarities between these disparate texts strongly indicates a relatively faithful copy of a common base of material was successfully transmitted, a core which was composed over roughly 150 years.

(Beyond this, the base material can be the target of an inductive investigation, bolstered by comparative analyses, though such conclusions can only deal in likelihoods. Nevertheless, in my experience they can be quite revelatory.)

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Re: "The Buddha did not teach it..."

Postby Mr Man » Fri Feb 01, 2013 1:00 pm

Dan74, I would say the input of contemporary teachers in almost essential. I

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Re: "The Buddha did not teach it..."

Postby Nyana » Fri Feb 01, 2013 1:14 pm

In addition to the input of well vetted contemporary teachers, I'd say that some awareness of the commentaries and treatises is also very useful in order to avoid unnecessary sidetracks and bogus interpretations.

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Re: "The Buddha did not teach it..."

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Feb 01, 2013 1:24 pm

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Re: "The Buddha did not teach it..."

Postby plwk » Fri Feb 01, 2013 2:32 pm

But Dan... some people like to belong to the 'Original Buddah' club, why deprive them of membership? :mrgreen:

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Re: "The Buddha did not teach it..."

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Feb 01, 2013 8:55 pm

I would make a distinction between "Dhamma" and "useful techniques".

To take a very simple example, there is no mention of counting breaths, as a method to help establish mindfulness. The same could be said of many other helpful advice from ancient (breath counting is in the commentaries) and modern teachers.

These techniques are not Dhamma, any more than stretching exercises are Dhamma, but they can be extremely helpful. Whether the Buddha specifically taught breath counting is no more relevant than whether or not he taught stretching exercises.


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Re: "The Buddha did not teach it..."

Postby cooran » Fri Feb 01, 2013 9:11 pm

Well said, Mike!
---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---

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Re: "The Buddha did not teach it..."

Postby daverupa » Fri Feb 01, 2013 9:22 pm

My earlier post was in response to the OP's "firstly"; so, with respect to the "secondly":

mikenz66 makes a good point about the difference between the Dhamma and the various tools people employ to get at it - but some practices are off-base enough that I fail to have much confidence in them. For example, the vast majority of metta meditation instructions involve sending that feeling to a summoned image in the mind, which I don't think generates the sort of results that accrue when one does metta as a pervasive practice as described in the Nikayas.

This, it seems to me, matters a very great deal, and is an issue which pertains to anapanasati and jhana as well as the brahmaviharas.

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Re: "The Buddha did not teach it..."

Postby David N. Snyder » Sat Feb 02, 2013 12:08 am


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Re: "The Buddha did not teach it..."

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Feb 02, 2013 12:08 am

Hi Dave,

Don't you think those beginning metta instructions are the same basket as counting breaths, noting, and so on? Just ways to get focussed? As far as I can tell, all that the nikayas say is to radiate metta to all beings. Imagining a flower, a puppy, yourself, etc, is just a way of starting, of bringing up the feeling. I would agree that it shouldn't stop there, as the suttas make very clear.

Similarly, I don't see that the suttas specify whether (or not) one should enter jhana by following a breath nimitta (as the Commentaries, Ajahn Brahm, and others, recommend). Or whether one should do walking meditation slowly or fast, or what exactly to focus on when walking or following the breath. Ultimately, I don't think it matters, since the particular sensations and experiences are not the point.

I like the way you expressed:
"... the difference between the Dhamma and the various tools people employ to get at it".


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Re: "The Buddha did not teach it..."

Postby daverupa » Sat Feb 02, 2013 4:58 pm

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Re: "The Buddha did not teach it..."

Postby cooran » Sat Feb 02, 2013 8:24 pm

Hello Dave,

It appears to me that in the Buddha's teachings in the Metta Sutta that there is some instruction for us to ''radiate'' metta to various categories - omitting none. I dont think this is a ''touchy-feely universalist'' thing - but involves resting the mind temporarily on particular individuals or groups of beings.
What do you reckon?

Sn 1.8 PTS: Sn 143-152
Karaniya Metta Sutta: The Buddha's Words on Loving-Kindness
translated from the Pali by The Amaravati Sangha

''This is what should be done
By one who is skilled in goodness,
And who knows the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech,
Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied,
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.
Peaceful and calm and wise and skillful,
Not proud or demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.
Wishing: In gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.
Whatever living beings there may be;
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born —
May all beings be at ease!

Let none deceive another,
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world:
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down
Free from drowsiness,
One should sustain this recollection.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.
By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again into this world.''

with metta
---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---

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Re: "The Buddha did not teach it..."

Postby retrofuturist » Sun Feb 03, 2013 4:21 am

"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead" - Thomas Paine

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Re: "The Buddha did not teach it..."

Postby zavk » Sun Feb 03, 2013 7:34 am

Hi all

This is an ongoing issue that needs collective attention. My two cents:

It seems to me that the assertion 'The Buddha did not teach it...' is usually made on the basis of textual authority. That is, a certain corpus of texts is regarded as the final arbiter on whether a particular way of thinking-practice is 'authentic' or 'original'. Regardless of how early these texts could be dated, this raises some questions:

- Is this how the Sanghas throughout history have approached textual resources? My general understanding is that historically texts were not simply subject to interpretation and analysis in the way that we are accustomed to and with which such assertions 'The Buddha did not teach it...' are made today. Amongst other activities, scriptural texts were recited collectively in various ceremonial contexts. In other contexts, emphasis was given (and perhaps, still is in certain traditional Buddhist cultures) to the memorisation of texts rather than interpretation and analysis. This is not to say that Buddhists practitioners of the past did not study, analyse, or interpret scriptural texts as we do today. What I'm suggesting is merely that the interpretive approach that appears so natural to us was perhaps not given the priority we give it today - if anything, it was always a part of a broader constellation of practices.

Nor am I suggesting that an interpretive approach is unhelpful or 'wrong' or that we should discard it. My understanding is that such an approach - which really came to the fore in the nineteenth century with the discovery of the dhamma by European scholars - was influenced by the prevailing Biblical scholarly paradigm of the time, a scholarly paradigm that regarded the Word or Logos as the final authority. If so, then, isn't it important to be reflexive about how such an approach is transposed onto the Dhamma, since unlike Christian scriptures, Buddhist texts emerged out of very different circumstances and were composed for very different purposes? In which case, we could ask: is an exclusive textualised approach for ascertaining 'what the Buddha taught?' what the Buddha taught?

- Building on the previous points and connecting with some of the observations made by Mike and Ñāṇa, it would seem that the question of whether a particular way of thinking-practice ought to be followed or not has to be considered not just with reference to a particular corpus of texts, but also in an ongoing life-practice that is to be cultivated with the support of a broader community - which might sometimes develop various approaches that are not necessarily found in canonical texts but are nevertheless inspired by lived experience of engaging with the Dhamma. In other words, the question I wish to raise is: in relying exclusively on one's own capacity to interpet texts to ascertain for oneself 'whether the Buddha taught it or not' - to what extent does such an approach bend the Dhamma to the dictates of individualism? And related to this we could ask: to what extent is such an ethos of individualism native to the Buddhism?

Let me reiterate that I do not deny the usefulness of consulting with canonical texts. Nor am I dismissing the need to clarify whether any particular way of thinking-practice accords with the Dhamma. What I wish to suggest is that in seeking to clarify 'what the Buddha taught', maybe we ought to be mindful of the historical situatedness of our preferred approach today, lest we mire ourselves in self-conceit about our own capacity 'to know' rather than allow the Dhamma to surprise us. Some of the most surprising discoveries I've had about the Dhamma is when I'm amidst other fellow practitioners, such as when I offer dana or simply sit with them to share a meal. Those instances of relationality are when I develop some of the deepest convictions about 'what the Buddha taught'.

With metta,

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