SN 16.13 Counterfeit Dhamma, EBT & Herd Immunity

In SN 16.13, “The Counterfeit of the True Dhamma”, the Buddha explained to Ven Mahakassapa how true Dhamma could survive the onslaught of counterfeit Dhamma. It requires Buddhists, both monastics and lay followers, to dwell with reverence and deference to the Teacher (Satthar), the Dhamma, the Sangha, the training (Sikkhā), and concentration (Samādhi).

A program promoting study of Early Buddhist Texts (EBT), based on the Nikayas (Pali) & the Agamas (Chinese), will supplement the Buddha’s advice and inoculate modern day Buddhists from counterfeit Dhamma.

Luckily today we still have reliable written records of the Buddha’s sayings. Getting a basic awareness of the Buddha’s teachings through the study of EBT is a reliable way to cultivate Right View and acquire the ability to detect Wrong View.

To be effective the percentage of Buddhists with basic knowledge of EBT must reach a critical mass. It works like public vaccination programs against infectious diseases. It needs to reach what some Public Health Officials call Herd Immunity (aka, Herd Effect, Population Immunity or Social Immunity).

When virus and bacteria attack a community, they find hospitable hosts who are weaken or not vaccinated. Once infected, the host becomes a walking petri-dish of the viral-bacterial culture, infecting those around them, spreading the disease into the whole population. Sickness and suffering multiply. But when a sufficient percentage of the population is vaccinated, they act as a firewall, a barrier to fight and prevent the infectious bugs from multiplying and spreading further.

Counterfeit Dhamma is the virus of the mind. People brainwashed by wrong views will spread them, intentionally or not. Dubious ideas such as “Buddha Nature”, “Original Mind”, “True Essence” and “Salvation through Devotion” are some examples of fake Dhamma infecting Buddhism. Fake Buddhism that advocates “A teaching devoid of written records, pointing directly to the Mind” or “Mere Chanting of a Deity’s name, a Mantra or the title of a sutta is all there is to Buddhism” are no different to Anti-Vaxxer advising people not to get vaccination.

Unless herd immunity is attained, over time people can’t tell the counterfeit from the real teaching. Watch the fanatic supporters of morally bankrupt politicians who are compulsive liars and egomaniacs at political rallies. Like cult followers, they are so brainwashed they can’t tell “true fake news” from “facts and evidence” anymore. They are easy prey to conspiracy theory and hoax. Black is white, white is black. That’s Perversion (Vipallasa), AN 4.49.

Perhaps it’s not a bad idea to copy the brainwashing program of Jews, Christians and Muslims. In Talmud Torah, Sunday Schools and Islamic madrasas, kids are taught to learn and recite their holy text. If there is such a thing as Buddhist Sunday School, kids (and adults too) would study the EBT. They will learn critical thinking based on Causality (Conditioned Origination), observation and respect of facts. They will acquire the power of discernment and ability to fend off Counterfeit Dhamma.


You lost me when you get to the “brainwashing” part. I can’t speak for Christians and Muslims, but when it comes to the Jewish tradition I can say with some authority that with regards to Talmud and Torah studies, these are the exact opposite of rote recitation. Talmudic scholars devote their lives to studying voluminous texts that delve deeply into ancient texts. Even Torah studies for children involves far more than recitation. As a child I experienced Torah study that was as intellectually engaging as was the secular education I received in the public schools. In fact, what you advocate for in terms of critical thinking and EBT study is precisely what is involved in Jewish Torah and Talmud studies. Or perhaps I misunderstand what is meant by “brainwashing.”


Having studied both Zen and the Pali canon, I actually find no contradictions on core teachings. “Buddha Nature” and “Original Mind” are both synonymous with nibbana as I read the suttas. I do see divergence from Vinaya with married priests, etc. However, I am truly grateful to all my Zen teachers who prepared me with training, wisdom and insight that has all helped me study the Pali canon.


In my book “brainwashing” is a somewhat neutral word. It just meant “conditioning”, “educating”, “under the influence” etc. It can be good or bad.

Every kid is brought up eating what their parents like or prefer. It is a form of conditioning or brainwashing too. Vietnamese grew up eating fish-sauce, some Europeans grew up eating aged pungent cheese, some Chinese cooking use fermented shrimp paste. These food are remembered with nostalgic fondness as people grow old, even when they moved to another part of the world with very different diet. To people unaccustomed to these “delicacies” they can’t understand why anyone would go near them.

In Dhammapada, Chapter 14 The Buddha, verse 183:

To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one’s mind—this is the teaching of the Buddhas.

Self-help brain-washing or mind-cleansing to get rid of defilement was prescribed by ALL the Buddhas.


Practice of the Noble eightfold path, means the ‘world will not be empty of arahanths’ and faith of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha and samadhi (meditation progression) all play a part. I’ve noticed when people get a taste of samadhi not only does their faith increase but they come back for more, as well as the likelihood of getting caught up with strange cultish theories (wrong views) which are devoid of meditative development (bojjhanga) are likely to be lessened.


Dubious ideas such as “Buddha Nature”, “Original Mind”, “True Essence” and “Salvation through Devotion” are some examples of fake Dhamma infecting Buddhism. Fake Buddhism that advocates “A teaching devoid of written records, pointing directly to the Mind” or “Mere Chanting of a Deity’s name, a Mantra or the title of a sutta is all there is to Buddhism” are no different to Anti-Vaxxer advising people not to get vaccination.

I’ve found that as I spend more time studying the EBTs that more and more I see the type of things that you describe as ‘fake Buddhism’ simply as logical consequences of the metaphysics, cosmology, and community presented by the EBTs. The EBTs also present only a selection of what historical early Buddhism was, particularly if you’re only considering a particular body of texts.

To compare other Buddhist traditions to Anti-Vaxers implies that we have scientific evidence that the methods of the early Buddhist texts work, and scientific proof that other techniques or traditions don’t and are harmful in a way that they are not. I don’t see any reason to believe that is the case. Early texts are a snapshot of a process at a specific point in time. I think to declare that anything outside of that snapshot is ‘false’ makes a lot of assumptions, particularly given how little we know concretely about the development of the early communities and how the early traditions were consolidated.

In my book “brainwashing” is a somewhat neutral word. It just meant “conditioning”, “educating”, “under the influence” etc. It can be good or bad.

Brain washing is conditioning people to accept a certain authority and reject ideas that challenge it. There is no such thing as ‘neutral brain washing,’ and it has little to do with eating familiar food. Brain washing implies that you are conditioning someone to experience an aversive reaction to something that challenges their conditioning- it’s really the exact opposite of an informed inquiry, and completely at odds with the Buddha’s teachings. I think a lot of the Buddha’s teaching is about recognizing where conditioning or conventional thinking is putting limits on our own perception, or producing reactions that are mal-adaptive and protecting ignorance or delusion.

There are Buddhist Sunday schools in Sri Lanka, the USA, and elsewhere that teach kids to recite sutras and other basic facts of Buddhism. Kids can be made to do anything they are told to, but it doesn’t mean that they are engaging in the kind of active, skeptical, and committed inquiry that benefitting from the Buddha’s teachings really requires. It’s easy to produce people who can chant or sing and recite rote answers- religious traditions have been doing it for thousands of years- but much harder to educate people to be critical thinkers, which is actually what is needed.

Self-help brain-washing or mind-cleansing to get rid of defilement was prescribed by ALL the Buddhas.

‘Brain washing’ and ‘mind cleansing’ are what’s called ‘false friends’ in English, like ‘priceless’ and ‘worthless’. One implies that an external authority is conditioning me to accept a point of view and reject any other. The other implies that I am using self-restraint to guide myself away from things that are bad for me and towards things that are beneficial. It’s like the difference between cleaning your fingernails and having ice picks shoved under them.


I think a distinction has to be made between “counterfeit” dhamma and other kinds of non-standard or non-fundamentalist dhamma. If someone says, “the Buddha taught A, B, C and D”, but the Buddha can actually be shown to have taught A, B, C and not-D, then the person saying otherwise is presenting a counterfeit.

But if someone says, “I don’t care whether the Buddha taught not-D, because I think not-D is false and unwholesome, and D is true and wholesome”, then they are not presenting a counterfeit to the Buddha’s dhamma that misrepresents him… They are instead presenting what they think is a new and improved dhamma.


Equally the ‘meditation only’ ‘direct awareness only’ path would be strengthened with Right view (‘Samma ditti’), [Proper view might be better].

Buddhadharma has adapted to many different cultures over the centuries, and has merged with other religions like Bon and Taoism. It would be nice to think that you could separate out some essence of “true Dharma” from all the cultural baggage, but I’m not sure it’s that easy.


I’m sure that’s what the early Mahayanists thought.

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Remember discussion is best addressed to the ideas expressed, and not about inferred personal information


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Fair enough. I’ll re-write the post:

Don’t you think it is ironic that your name is “Madhyamika” and this is your view? Why did you choose the name Madhyamika? Ven Nāgārjuna’s corpus is full of things like:

Through meditatively cultivating the wisdom of reality which is the same for all phenomena and is moistened with compassion for the sake of liberating all sentient beings, you will become a Conqueror endowed with all supreme aspects.
(Ratnāvalī 289.23)

I totally expected that. Thanks.
Will let the ideas stew for a while before answering all at once.


There are a lot of things that feed in to how people interpret the dhamma, and also, misinterpret/re-spin the teachings for certain ends. I think in theravada, we mainly encounter people trying to translate the canon in a way with certain ends in mind, or emphasize some parts over others, or disputing certain sections as “later additions” or “inauthentic”. There are also many more lay “dharma/vipassana teachers” who simply take whatever they want from the canon and present it in a way which is palatable to the sensitive market forces in the meditation center industrial complex/circuit. In mahayana, you find situations where the practitioners seem very aware that the practice has no basis in the historical Buddha. But then there are also Vajrayana practitioners who have told me that at night, after the Buddha gave his usual teachings, he brought his best students together to teach them the “highest” teachings which were tantric practices that have been handed down to them (secretly) directly to this day. So, we all have ways of deluding ourselves I suppose.


Believing that there is no karma and rebirth is also a counterfeit dharma. Some Buddhists think that the 31 realms of existence is metaphorical. They have an annihilationist view. Conviction or faith is needed in Buddhism.

Though, there are also a whole host of wrong views which samādhi can lead to, so… :rofl:


Perfect! Thanks for the recommendation. I’ve now acquired a new hour of listening: