The Pali Canon

Textual analysis and comparative discussion on early Buddhist sects and texts.
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fragrant herbs
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The Pali Canon

Post by fragrant herbs » Sun May 15, 2011 10:05 pm

Could someone explain to me how the suttas in the Pali Canon were chosen as the only teachings of Buddha? I hope I am asking this correctly?

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Re: The Pali Canon

Post by plwk » Mon May 16, 2011 1:20 am

If these are of any help...
If that question was meant as fixing the Tipitaka's collection of Sutta Pitaka, then one may refer to the First Buddhist Council where the Elder Ananda was chosen to recite the Teachings as he had heard from the Buddha. Then there are the Discourses that are also taught by the other Elders like Sariputta and even himself to various audiences that also included. See this: ... .hekh.html" onclick=";return false;
82,000 Teachings from the Buddha
I have received;
2,000 more from His disciples;
Now, 84,000 are familiar to me.

If that question was meant to refer to the 'supremacist attitude' on the Pali Canon, then read below...
From the Pali Canon...
Mahaparinibbana Sutta
The Lion's Roar
And the Blessed One spoke, saying:
"In whatsoever Dhamma and Discipline, Subhadda, there is not found the Noble Eightfold Path, neither is there found a true ascetic of the first, second, third, or fourth degree of saintliness. But in whatsoever Dhamma and Discipline there is found the Noble Eightfold Path, there is found a true ascetic of the first, second, third, and fourth degrees of saintliness.
Now in this Dhamma and Discipline, Subhadda, is found the Noble Eightfold Path; and in it alone are also found true ascetics of the first, second, third, and fourth degrees of saintliness. Devoid of true ascetics are the systems of other teachers.
But if, Subhadda, the Bhikkhus live righteously, the world will not be destitute of Arahats.
Ajivaka Sutta
Then a certain householder, a disciple of the Fatalists (Ajivakas), went to him and, on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. As he was sitting there he said to Ven. Ananda,
"Among us, sir, whose Dhamma is well-taught? Who has practiced well in this world? Who in the world is well-gone?"

"In that case, householder, I will question you in return. Answer as you see fit.
Now, what do you think: those who teach a Dhamma for the abandoning of passion, for the abandoning of aversion, for the abandoning of delusion — is their Dhamma well-taught or not? Or how does this strike you?"
"Sir, those who teach a Dhamma for the abandoning of passion, for the abandoning of aversion, for the abandoning of delusion — their Dhamma is well-taught. That's how it strikes me."

"In this way, householder, you have answered yourself:
'Those who teach a Dhamma for the abandoning of passion, for the abandoning of aversion, for the abandoning of delusion — their Dhamma is well-taught.
Those who have practiced for the abandoning of passion, for the abandoning of aversion, for the abandoning of delusion — they have practiced well in this world.
Those whose passion... aversion... delusion is abandoned, its root destroyed, made like a palmyra stump, deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising: they, in this world, are well-gone.'"

"How amazing, sir. How astounding, that there is neither extolling of one's own Dhamma nor deprecation of another's, but just the teaching of the Dhamma in its proper sphere, speaking to the point without mentioning oneself.
Haliddakani Sutta
"And how does one not engage with people in quarrelsome debate?
There is the case where a certain person is not a fomenter of this kind of debate:
'You understand this doctrine & discipline? I'm the one who understands this doctrine & discipline.
How could you understand this doctrine & discipline? You're practicing wrongly. I'm practicing rightly.
What should be said first you said last. What should be said last you said first. I'm being consistent. You're not.
What you took so long to think out has been refuted. Your doctrine has been overthrown. You're defeated.
Go and try to salvage your doctrine, or extricate yourself if you can!'
This is how one does not engage with people in quarrelsome debate.
I also would consider what these learned Venerables have said on this topic... from Link
“The appearance of a variety of schools of Buddhism marked the entrance of dogmatism into Buddhism and dependence on authoritative interpretations. Today, different schools of thought have arisen in Buddhism due to the unquestioning acceptance of “authoritative” interpretations of the scripture. This new dogmatism goes against the non-dogmatic spirit of early Buddhism, and is therefore the beginning of degeneration. It is important to emphasize that this dependence on authorities and belief rather than on understanding for oneself, is to be regarded as a degeneration of Buddhist practice rather than progress. It is a natural human weakness to depend on others rather than to rely on oneself. But the aim of Buddhism is to overcome this weakness through the practice of Buddhism. Dependence on authority is inconsistent with Buddhist scripture.”
“Use your own judgment. Scripture is only an aid to thinking.”
“The Suttas need to be studied, reflected on, and practiced in order to realize their true meaning. They are not meant to be ‘sacred scriptures’ which tell us what to believe. One should read them, listen to them, think about them, contemplate them, and investigate the present reality, the present experience with them. Then, and only then, can one insightfully know the Truth beyond words.”
“One potential danger in the use of the scriptures was clearly pointed out by the Buddha in the Discourse on the Simile of the Snake (Majjhima Nikaya 22). He speaks of those who learn the suttas but instead of practicing the teaching use their knowledge to criticize others and prove their skill in debates. The Buddha compares this to grasping a water snake by the tail: the snake will turn around and bite one's arm, causing death or critical pain. I have seen numerous Westerners, myself too at times, fall into this trap. Though one starts with the best intentions, one grasps the teaching with a dogmatic mind, uses one's knowledge to dispute with others, and then becomes locked in a "battle of interpretation" with those who interpret the texts in different ways. Another danger is to let one's capacity for critical thought fly out the window and buy into everything the suttas say.”
“The Pali Nikāyas have been one of my formative influences, right from my first days as a Buddhist. The Dhamma they embody is clear, rational, balanced, gentle, and profound – everything one could hope for.

But it is easy to fall into a kind of ‘Pali fundamentalism’. The texts and language are so pure and precise that many of us who fall in love with the Nikāyas end up believing that they constitute the be-all and end-all of Buddhism. We religiously adhere to the finest distinction, the most subtle interpretation, based on a single word or phrase. We take for granted that here we have the original teaching, without considering the process by which these teachings have passed down to us. In our fervour, we neglect to wonder whether there might be another perspective on these Dhammas.

Perhaps most important of all, we forget – if we ever knew – the reasons why we are justified in considering the Nikāyas authentic in the first place. While it is good enough for most faith-based Buddhists to believe that their own scriptures are the only real ones, this will not suffice for a disinterested seeker. Any religious tradition will try to validate itself by such claims, and they can’t all be right. These conflicting claims led the early researchers in the modern era to examine the evidence more objectively.

I started out this essay by criticizing ‘Pali fundamentalism’; but we must also beware of becoming ‘pre-sectarian’ fundamentalists! The teachings of the various schools are not just a sheer mass of error and meaningless corruption, any more than they are iron-clad formulations of ‘ultimate truth’. They are the answers given by teachers of old to the question: ‘What does Buddhism mean for us?’ Each succeeding generation must undertake the delicate task of hermeneutics, the re-acculturation of the Dhamma in time and place. And in our times, so different from those of any Buddhist era or culture of the past, we must find our own answers. Looked at from this perspective, the teachings of the schools offer us invaluable lessons, a wealth of precedent bequeathed us by our ancestors in faith. Just as the great Theravādin commentator Buddhaghosa employed an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Nikāyas, many of the greatest ‘Mahāyāna’ scholars, such as Nāgārjuna, Vasubandhu, and Asaṅga, based themselves securely on the Āgamas. By following their example and making the effort to thoroughly learn these Teachings we can understand, practice, and propagate the living Dhamma for the sake of all sentient beings.”
“It is important to experience and not to believe. In order to do that, we have to pay attention. In the famous and often quoted Kalama Sutta, the Buddha gives ten points which are not suitable as criteria to follow a teacher or a spiritual path. All of them have to do with a belief system because of traditional lineage or because of sacred books. Not to believe but to find out for ourselves is the often repeated injunction of the Buddha. Unless we do that, we cannot have an inner vision, which is the first step that takes us on to the noble path.”
“Buddhists do not consider the Tipitaka to be a divine infallible revelation from a god, every word of which they must believe. Rather, it is a record of the teaching of a great man that offers explanations, advice, guidance and encouragement and which should read thoughtfully and respectfully. Our aim should be to understand what the Tipitaka teaches, not just believe it and thus what the Buddha says should always be checked against our experience. You might say that the informed Buddhists' attitude to the scriptures is similar to a scientist's attitude to research papers in a scientific journal. A scientist conducts an experiment and then publishes his or her findings and conclusions in a journal. Other scientists will read the paper and treat it with respect but they will not consider it valid and authoritative until they have conducted the same experiment and got the same results.”
From Bodom's signature quote...
The real Buddhism is not books, not manuals, not word for word repetition from the Tipitaka, nor is it rites and rituals. These are not the real Buddhism. The real Buddhism is the practice, by way of body, speech and mind that will destroy the defilements, in part or completely...Though a person may never have seen or even heard of the Tipitaka, if he carries out detailed investigation every time suffering arises and scorches his mind he can be said to be studying the Tipitaka directly, and far more correctly than people actually in the process of reading it. - Buddhadasa Bhikkhu
"We don't use the Pali Canon as a basis for orthodoxy, we use the Pali Canon to investigate our experience." -- Ajahn Sumedho

fragrant herbs
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Re: The Pali Canon

Post by fragrant herbs » Mon May 16, 2011 1:47 am

thank you so much. it was the first answer you gave. i will come back and read it tomorrow. it is getting late here.
Last edited by fragrant herbs on Tue May 17, 2011 6:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.

fragrant herbs
Posts: 85
Joined: Sat Nov 28, 2009 2:32 pm

Re: The Pali Canon

Post by fragrant herbs » Mon May 16, 2011 4:04 pm

Thanks for the additional information as it was very good.

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Re: The Pali Canon

Post by gavesako » Mon May 16, 2011 5:10 pm

This article is related to this topic:

Whose Buddhism is Truest?" onclick=";return false;

Just read the article and while it is quite well written, I think she over-emphasises her point (basically "cultural relativism") and fails to stress the internal coherence of the material we have in the Pali Canon which presents a very uni...fied view of man's existential situation and the way the solve it. Even if we don't have ancient manuscripts to prove it, we can identify this collection of texts as the early corpus of Sutta material that was passed down from Ananda and other disciples of the Buddha after his parinibbana. The particular arrangement of passages in each Sutta and how the Suttas were grouped into nikayas for recitation purposes by the bhanakas (reciters) may have varied with each geographically separate group, so that is why we find some differences among them. But this early Canon can be clearly distinguished from later Abhidhamma and Mahayana developments which are built upon this foundation and could not exist without it.
I am afraid that it's going to be used by some people in order to put down serious study of the early Buddhist teachings in favour of their own brand of modern designer-Buddhism. Some good scholars whose lives are dedicated to Buddhism know... well how much correspondence and virtual agreement there is among the various early Buddhist canons, so all they are trying to establish is how exactly the divergences came about through the oral transmission of the canon. It means being less adamant that "This is the true word of the Buddha straight from his mouth" as regards every single Pali Sutta reported to be so, but realizing that this has been the accepted Theravada transmission of the Buddhavacana for a long time and that its internal consistency has a lot to say for its spiritual value.
Bhikkhu Gavesako
Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)

Access to Insight - Theravada texts
Ancient Buddhist Texts - Translations and history of Pali texts - Sutta translations

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