I am interested in opinions on the issue, as Prof. Rita Gross has presented so well over the years, on how to manage the possible conflicts between what we have understood from the earliest suttas and Vinaya as to the Buddha's actual teachings, and what teachings developed later, particularly in the Mahayana. One of the elephants in the room that I feel is that some of Mahayana is patently a fabrication, and while we are earnestly as Buddhists using our knowledge, wisdom and Right Speech, the elephant of history seems to loom large in the room. As Prof. Gross has pointed out in a number of articles (she being from the Tibetan Vajrayana lineage herself), when history collides with traditions, people get uncomfortable, even angry.
"That is to say, Buddhist understandings of cause and effect could be employed to explain that a movement such as Mahayana Buddhism developed because of social, cultural, and historical events. Most Mahayanists ignore such explanations, preferring a story whose empirical validity is highly questionable. According to legend, in the presence of the historical Buddha, Avalokiteshvara instructs Shariputra on emptiness. If the story is taken literally, Mahayana Buddhism originated during the lifetime of Shakyamuni Buddha, a claim that historians find unconvincing. Furthermore, Shariputra is a historical character, but Avalokiteshvara is not, and so they did not coexist in historical time and space, that is, in India in the fifth century B.C.E. Many students become intensely upset when the story they have usually been told about the origins of Mahayana Buddhism is critically evaluated.
It is very difficult for them to understand that I am not asking them to question the validity of these stories, only their historicity." Buddhist History for Buddhist Practitioners
Prof. Rita Gross, Tricycle, 2010
I have recently become interested in what a Theravada sangha in Japan has been doing...essentially bringing the teachings of the Buddhadhamma to the people of Japan, with some success. http://www.j-theravada.net/
Does it seem obnoxious, or offensive, to make efforts to correct the misunderstandings that may be present in some of the later ("Great Vehicle") traditions, or is it Right Speech to stay silent and let people practice a form of Buddhism that is valuable, sincere, but historically and textually incorrect? Should scholars and interested practitioners make some effort to bring the Pali Texts to western Mahayana? If the Dhamma is medicine for a sick society, are people being harmed by ingesting a placebo?
I truly applaud what Prof. Gross is presenting, but at the end of the day, will her words just bring anger or confusion?