After having visited Taiwan, I need little console now to know that I am on the right path; even if Theravada is not 100% "original" (however that may be defined), but it seems to me to be the most balanced. The focus on the suttas and a keeping things as original as possible has gifted this tradition, imho, as a viable and effective means to realization.
As I like to say it has little "bull shit" added. . . .
I do not question the seriousness of any practitioner regardless of tradition. I still enjoy reading some Tibetan writings and other Mayahanna teachings. I haven't fallen into a "bible thumpin" Buddhist
My commentary regarded the evolution of Buddhism and how it can (not always) has wandered away from the dhamma teachings and into superstitious religion
Your impressions and intuition seem to have thus far served you well with regard to your observations about Buddhism in traditionally "Buddhist" countries. As others have said, you will find the authentic and the less authentic just about anywhere you look within this range of Buddhist homelands.
Might I suggest something to you which may save you both time and grief in your search for the authentic teaching, something which you have already alluded to in your opening post. I ended up having to wait nearly thirty years before I could avail myself of this suggestion, yet once accepted and carried out, it has made all the difference in the world in my understanding and appreciation for what Gotama had to teach. I'm not the only one who has had this impression; there are others here who have also had similar experiences with their pursuit of what they consider the authentic teaching.
That suggestion has to do with reading the translated Pali canon (translated, that is, if you prefer not
to have to learn Pali in order to read the discourses in their original form). Wisdom Publication has put out an outstanding set of volumes of the four main Nikayas. In order to save time, I suggest you obtain them one by one (or all together) and begin reading and pondering them. There are important discourses in each one of them if you are interested in studying them from the standpoint of finding out what Gotama said about this or that aspect as it relates to not only meditation practice and the teaching in general, but also other areas which he expounded upon (like, for example, the sixty-two types of wrong view as taught in the Brahmajala Sutta in the Digha Nikaya
, which may help answer questions you may have about clarifying his thoughts on ontological issues). There are other suttas which touch on soteriology and the importance (or non-importance) of metaphysics in his way of training the mind, and how he viewed these issues.
If you are interested in viewing what is considered the oldest suttas (and therefore those closest to what he actually might have said) then you will want to start with reading either the Samyutta Nikaya
or the Anguttara Nikaya
. These two volumes focus mostly upon the teaching and the various ways in which he attempted to get his points across to students. Don't be turned off by all the repetition you may find in these suttas; often times it serves to give the pondering mind a chance to consider a teaching from different standpoints such that a realization may occur just in the reading and pondering them.
If you are interested in learning about the practice of meditation and the intricacies involved there, I would suggest beginning with the Majjhima Nikaya
, as there are many well thought-out discourses there dealing with this very important aspect of the practice.
For learning about the man himself and the integrity he displayed in carrying out his mission there is nothing better than both the Kalama Sutta (AN 3.65) and the Mahaparinibbana Sutta (DN 16). Of course you will learn something about the man in any of the suttas you read, but particularly in these two that I have highlighted. I have found in my own study and practice that the effort that one makes to view this man as a human being whose personality may be similar to actual human beings you have known in your life often pays off in amazing realizations which can help with the integration of knowledge and realizations of his intended message.
It will become important to study and make the effort to understand the definitions of certain key words and concepts that will be discussed over and over again. Words like nibbana
(nirvana) and satipattana
and their etymological derivation may well assist you in deepening your understanding and appreciation of the ideas being attempted to be conveyed. There are literally dozens of these words whose definitions need to be well defined in the mind before any significant understanding takes place. Do not be afraid to spend the time looking into the definitions of these words in order to help clarify their intended meaning as it will pay off in huge dividends in the end. For example, understanding that the word kamma
(karma), as Gotama used it, was meant to refer to not only "action" but the "intention" to act, as explained in a famous passage in the Anguttara Nikaya
at (AN 6.63): "It is volition, bhikkhus, that I declare to be kamma
. Having willed, one performs an action by body, speech, or mind."
If what you are seeking is as pure and unadulterated a view of what Gotama had to teach, there is no better place to find it than by reading and pondering the recorded discourses themselves and receiving the teaching directly (or almost so, as these are as close as we can get to his actual words) from the horse's mouth. This way, any discrepancies you may perceive to be, you can go back and see to verify if they actually exist.
Of course, you will probably want to supplement your reading by reading essays and books by respected monastic interpreters of the teaching, people like Bhikkhu Bodhi, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Nyanaponika Thera, Ven. Analayo, Narada Thera, Bhikkhu Nanananda, and many more. Of the academic writers, I would recommend looking into Richard Gombrich (especially his two books How Buddhism Began
and What the Buddha Thought
). There are others that you may also wish to look into for clarification on various issues (Sue Hamilton's book on the five aggregates, Identity and Experience, The Constitution of the Human being According to early Buddhism,
is one that comes to mind along with Steven Collins' book on the concept of anatta
, Selfless Persons, Imagery and thought in Theravada Buddhism
Hopefully, this has provided you with some food for thought and consideration in your quest. As well as the requested "confirmation."
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV