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Does this statement made by Venerable Ananda contradict Buddhism?

"Furthermore, take another teacher who is an oral transmitter, who takes oral transmission to be the truth. He teaches by oral transmission, by the lineage of testament, by canonical authority. But when a teacher takes oral transmission to be the truth, some of that is well learned, some poorly learned, some true, and some otherwise.

A sensible person reflects on this matter in this way: ‘This teacher takes oral transmission to be the truth. He teaches by oral transmission, by the lineage of testament, by canonical authority. But when a teacher takes oral transmission to be the truth, some of that is well learned, some poorly learned, some true, and some otherwise. This spiritual life is unreliable.’ Realizing this, they leave disappointed.

This is the second kind of unreliable spiritual life."
Quote from MN76 Sandakasutta

Doesn’t this statement contradict how the Buddha’s teachings were passed through orally even by Venerable Ananda himself?

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What is contradicted here? The sutta is just stating facts: some people memorize better than others.

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That would be true if oral transmission is all there is to Buddhist practice. The last section of this sutta itself puts the Buddhist Brahmacariya in contrast with the previously mentioned types (i.e., by offering a path for direct realization).

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“Thus have i heard” implies oral transmission, no?

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Yes, but there’s also the highly emphasized “ehipasiko” quality of Buddhism, that we are encouraged to directly investigate the teachings and verify them independently.

The contrast between Buddhism, and, let’s say, Judaism, is that in Judaism there were truths revealed by prophets, and you just have to take their word for it because the door of prophecy is closed. You will never be a prophet, and will never be able to directly verify, for example, the seventh commandment. But in Buddhism, we have an oral transmission of revelation by Ariyas and the door to Ariya is not closed. You can, in this very life, become an Ariya and verify “violating the fourth precept is akusala and upholding it is kusala”. (Commandments and precepts taken at random)

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MN76 is Ananda juxtaposing:

"four ways that negate the spiritual life, and four kinds of unreliable spiritual life. A sensible person would, to the best of their ability, not practice such spiritual paths, and if they did practice them, they wouldn’t succeed in the procedure of the skillful teaching.”

So, the way I see this is that the difference between the first person and the second (sensible) person is that the sensible person concludes:

“This spiritual life is unreliable” Realizing this, they leave disappointed.

The sensible person doesn’t rely exclusively on oral transmission, lineage of testament, canonical authority. Ananda then goes on to describe what is reliable: the Buddha’s path of samadhi.

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Hi,

In this section, the Buddha is critiquing various epistemologies (theories of knowledge), including anussava-, here translated as ‘oral transmission’.

To really get a sense of what the Buddha is arguing, one needs to consider his opponents’ beliefs about what constitutes authority.

I would recommend reading Jayatilleke’s Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge, especially p. 184f, which will hopefully answer your question.

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Adutiya,
I also think this is what Venerable Ananda means here. But it would be good to get the views of some of the monks or nuns on this.

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Yes, I too value their input greatly. I think Vassa might be over soon if not already.

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Maybe the function of orality in Buddhism differs from Abrahamic religions. The emphasis in Buddhism is on the Buddha and the distinction between a Buddha and an Arahant:

“It is impossible, mendicants, it cannot happen for a person accomplished in view to acknowledge another teacher. But it is possible for an ordinary person to acknowledge another teacher.”

“It is impossible, mendicants, it cannot happen for two perfected ones, fully awakened Buddhas to arise in the same solar system at the same time. But it is possible for just one perfected one, a fully awakened Buddha, to arise in one solar system.”

In general, the transition from oral tradition to writing can be indicative of schism and this could not be more evident than in the case of Islam. Using writing as technique of preservation implies doubt and the institutionalization of religion.

Could the same be said about Buddhism?

Something similar can be found in the Vinaya:

But, Ānanda, if women had not obtained the Going-forth from the home life into homelessness in the Dhamma and discipline made known by the Tathāgata, the holy life would have lasted long, the true Dhamma would have lasted 1,000 years. But now that they have gotten to go forth… this holy life will not last long, the true Dhamma will last only 500 years.

As it turns out, the Dhamma was written down approximately 500 years after Buddha spoke these words… coincidence or schism?

I think it’s proof that each Samgha from different regions trusted what was heard by them. And it’s also giving a teaching not to trust that suttas are :100: truth because everything is imperfect in the world. That’s why I have my doubts sometimes with certain suttas and it’s ok

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