SuttaCentral

The Counterfeit of the True Teaching

The revelation of how Matty Weingast’s original poetry has been published and marketed by Shambhala as a translation of the Therigatha begs the question: well, what’s the problem? Is this actually an issue? After all, lots of people publish lots of things all the time and no-one really cares.

Let’s hear what the Buddha had to say on the matter.

In SN 16.13, Mahākassapa asks why there are now more training rules but fewer enlightened beings.

The true teaching doesn’t disappear as long the counterfeit of the true teaching hasn’t appeared in the world. But when the counterfeit of the true teaching appears in the world then the true teaching disappears. It’s like true gold, which doesn’t disappear as long as counterfeit gold hasn’t appeared in the world. But when counterfeit gold appears in the world then real gold disappears.

It’s a theme the Buddha returned to on multiple occasions. (AN 1.130)

Mendicants, those mendicants who explain what is not the teaching as the teaching are acting for the hurt and unhappiness of the people, for the harm, hurt, and suffering of gods and humans. They make much bad karma and make the true teaching disappear.

Consequently, exposing fraud is an important part of spiritual life. We have to stand up against untruth. (AN 1.140)

Mendicants, those mendicants who explain what is not the teaching as not the teaching are acting for the welfare and happiness of the people, for the benefit, welfare, and happiness of gods and humans. They make much merit and make the true teaching continue.

The Buddha was not woolly-minded or unclear in how he wanted us to proceed. On the contrary, he left clear instructions. (AN 4.180, DN 16)

Take a mendicant who says: ‘Reverend, I have heard and learned this in the presence of the Buddha: this is the teaching, this is the training, this is the Teacher’s instruction.’ You should neither approve nor dismiss that mendicant’s statement. Instead, you should carefully memorize those words and phrases, then check if they’re included in the discourses and found in the texts on monastic training. If they’re not included in the discourses and found in the texts on monastic training, you should draw the conclusion: ‘Clearly this is not the word of the Blessed One, the perfected one, the fully awakened Buddha. It has been incorrectly memorized by that mendicant.’ And so you should reject it.

The teaching will disappear when people stop studying the teachings of the Buddha, but rather pay attention to later disciples who write appealingly poetic texts that dispense with the deeper teachings. (SN 20.7)

Once upon a time, mendicants, the Dasārahas had a clay drum called the Commander. Each time the Commander split they repaired it by inserting another peg. But there came a time when the clay drum Commander’s original wooden rim disappeared and only a mass of pegs remained.

In the same way, in a future time there will be mendicants who won’t want to listen when discourses spoken by the Realized One—deep, profound, transcendent, dealing with emptiness—are being recited. They won’t pay attention or apply their minds to understand them, nor will they think those teachings are worth learning and memorizing.

But when discourses composed by poets—poetry, with fancy words and phrases, composed by outsiders or spoken by disciples—are being recited they will want to listen. They’ll pay attention and apply their minds to understand them, and they’ll think those teachings are worth learning and memorizing. And that is how the discourses spoken by the Realized One—deep, profound, transcendent, dealing with emptiness—will disappear.

If this happens, it will imperil the Dhamma in the future. (AN 5.79)

And that is how corrupt training comes from corrupt teachings, and corrupt teachings come from corrupt training.

In a community where such counterfeits prevail, people forget the training in intelligent and critical inquiry. (AN 2.47)

But when they’ve learned those teachings they don’t question or examine each other, saying: ‘Why does it say this? What does that mean?’ So they don’t clarify what is unclear, or reveal what is obscure, or dispel doubt regarding the many doubtful matters. This is called an assembly educated in fancy talk, not in questioning.

When the discourses are presented falsely, people take them for the real thing. It’s not just a matter of “different opinions” but of closing off the possibility of learning the Dhamma.

Mendicants, by memorizing the discourses incorrectly, taking only a semblance of the phrasing, some mendicants shut out the meaning and the teaching. They act for the hurt and unhappiness of the people, for the harm, hurt, and suffering of many people, of gods and humans.

When someone in the Saṅgha appears to get the text wrong, there’s an obligation to check and correct them. (DN 29)

Now, you might think, ‘This venerable misconstrues the meaning and mistakes the phrasing.’ You should neither approve nor dismiss them, but say, ‘Reverend, if this is the meaning, the phrasing may either be this or that: which is more fitting? And if this is the phrasing, the meaning may be either this or that: which is more fitting?’ Suppose they reply, ‘This phrasing fits the meaning better than that. And this meaning fits the phrasing better than that.’ Without flattering or rebuking them, you should carefully convince them by examining that meaning and that phrasing.

Monastics still follow this in our fortnightly recitation of the monastic code. Usually, one monastic recites from memory, while another expert carefully checks it against the text. If the reciting monk gets even a syllable wrong, they will be corrected. Of course, this depends on the assumption that people are acting in good faith, that they want to preserve the Dhamma.

In the case where there is a disagreement over the text, there is an obligation to try to resolve it by identifying the cause of the problem and the nature of the disagreement. (MN 103)

As you do so, it may happen that two mendicants disagree about the teaching. Now, you might think, ‘These two venerables disagree on both the meaning and the phrasing.’ So you should approach whichever mendicant you think is most amenable and say to them: ‘The venerables disagree on the meaning and the phrasing. But the venerables should know that this is how such disagreement on the meaning and the phrasing comes to be. Please don’t get into a fight about this.’

As always, the Buddha wanted to look into the causes of things. Often a disagreement simply comes from something misremembered or taken out of context. In such a case, it should be simply corrected and move on. If those making the mistake refuse to see it or correct it, it is not easy to resolve.

The Buddha was not a fundamentalist. He recognized that, while we should strive to retain the Dhamma as precisely as possible, minor variations in the letter were of lesser importance.

The phrasing is a minor matter. Please don’t get into a fight about something so minor.

Nor was he opposed to differences of opinion when it comes to matters of interpretation. No text fully defines its meaning, and there is always room for different readings. For example, in AN 6.61 we encounter a group of monks discussing the interpretation of a verse in Metteya’s Questions. (Snp 5.3) The verse alludes to someone who has known both ends and is not stuck in the middle. Each of the monks gives a different interpretation of these, then go to the Buddha for clarification.

“Sir, who has spoken well?”

“Mendicants, you’ve all spoken well in a way. However, this is what I was referring to in ‘The Way to the Beyond’, in ‘The Questions of Metteyya’ when I said: ‘The sage has known both ends, and is not stuck in the middle. He is a great man, I declare, he has escaped the seamstress here.’ Listen and pay close attention, I will speak.”

“Yes, sir,” they replied. The Buddha said this:

“Contact, mendicants, is one end. The origin of contact is the second end. The cessation of contact is the middle. And craving is the seamstress, for craving weaves one to being reborn in one state of existence or another. That’s how a mendicant directly knows what should be directly known and completely understands what should be completely understood. Knowing and understanding thus they make an end of suffering in this very life.”

But that does not mean that just any interpretation is valid. Interpretations have meaning, and the context for that meaning is supplied by the Dhamma, not just by personal whims. There is not necessarily just one right answer, but there are plenty of wrong answers.

Throughout the suttas there is a great concern to not misrepresent the Buddha by falsely attributing sayings to him, or by misreading the things he did say. Students would approach him to clarify that they did not make a mistake. Even Venerable Sāriputta, with his great humility, checks with his teacher to ensure he has not got a single detail wrong.

“And I have also heard and learned this in the presence of the Buddha: ‘It’s impossible for two perfected ones, fully awakened Buddhas to arise in the same solar system at the same time.’ Answering this way, I trust that I repeated what the Buddha has said, and didn’t misrepresent him with an untruth. I trust my explanation was in line with the teaching, and that there are no legitimate grounds for rebuke or criticism.”

“Indeed, Sāriputta, in answering this way you repeat what I’ve said, and don’t misrepresent me with an untruth. Your explanation is in line with the teaching, and there are no legitimate grounds for rebuke or criticism.”

The Buddha was mild and reasonable. He would never take anything on rumor, but always ask and inquire of the person concerned about the facts. Often such things are merely hearsay. But if it did turn out that someone was presenting a serious distortion of the Dhamma, he didn’t hold back. (MN 26)

“Is it really true, Ariṭṭha, that you have such a harmful misconception: ‘As I understand the Buddha’s teachings, the acts that he says are obstructions are not really obstructions for the one who performs them’?”

“Absolutely, sir. As I understand the Buddha’s teachings, the acts that he says are obstructions are not really obstructions for the one who performs them.”

“Silly man, who on earth have you ever known me to teach in that way? Haven’t I said in many ways that obstructive acts are obstructive, and that they really do obstruct the one who performs them?”

All of this reminds us of our duty of right speech, our duty of care to the Dhamma. (AN 2.23)

Mendicants, these two don’t misrepresent the Realized One. What two? One who explains what was spoken by the Realized One as spoken by him. And one who explains what was not spoken by the Realized One as not spoken by him.

Imagine that this was to happen in any other field of study. Say someone wanted to publish a translation of Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, but in doing so removed 90% of the content, replacing it with things that they had simply imagined that Einstein might say. Or imagine that someone was translating a medical textbook into Italian for a university course, and decided to leave out 90% of the content and just make up all the details of anatomy and physiology and treatment. None of us would want to be treated by a graduate of that university!

Surely in spiritual circles we should be at least as careful with our sacred scriptures. For us, the truth is not just incidental, it is fundamental to the path. Our Sangha and traditional communities know this well, and they have treasured these words for 2,500 years, passing them down from hand to hand with immeasurable care and effort. Without this, none of us would have access to the Dhamma at all.

There’s nothing wrong with the Dhamma, and it doesn’t need fixing. As a musician, I know that true creativity begins with the basic discipline of learning scales, fingerings, and arpeggios. Only then can one have the freedom to express oneself. Likewise, a truly creative and meaningful response to the Dhamma starts with a careful understanding of what the Dhamma is and what it isn’t. When we discard our critical faculties and our commitment to the basic factuality of what is real and what is not, we have taken the first step down the broad and well-traveled path of delusion. There’s enough of that in the world already. Don’t let it take over the Dhamma.

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Thank you for this, Bhante. It’s a shame you have to spend time writing essays like this, but it’s a good lesson.

This is one of the most important things we need to explain to people. People often criticize a translation as being “dry” or “too literal” when they are really just criticizing the Dhamma.

It looks like people are starting to express their discomfort with the book on its GoodReads page.

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Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu Bhante! :anjal: :anjal: :anjal:

Thank you for this essay. It is 11/10 and its great that we can point to it now and spread this approach to dhamma, which I also believe is very importaint and totally in line with Buddha’s teachings. Great collection of on point refferences directly from the suttas.

I also feel that we should remain kind, but fully protect the true dhamma against misinterpretation and degeneration, especially in more extreme cases like this translation of Therighata or Ingram’s new idea of “Arahanthood”. I will do my best to share and spread this essay and awareness further. :slight_smile: :anjal:

With Metta and Karuna to all living beings, may all get fruit and benefit of true teaching, of deep and thorough letting go of all samsara as prescribed by the Buddha. :thaibuddha: :anjal:

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Thank you @sujato. I tried to bring this matter up to Matty directly during the Zoom call but he didn’t seem to have any interest. Excellent essay!

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Great essay Bhante and thank you for listing them in a very appropriate way.
But I have a point to make. As you are aware there are various so called scholars who have written books and contributed to the spread of what they treat as the true Dhamma. And they all point an accusing finger at others and present the same points you have listed.

This is because there is no unanimity among them on the most basic teachings such as for example Sati Sampajjana let alone hard-to-understand-teachings, such as Dependent Origination. And the result, unfortunately is division among the followers.

So my question is who should we believe? Or should one simply read the texts and form an independent opinion may be with little inputs from others? But if this approach is taken, how can one be certain that their approach is correct?
With Metta

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I understand your point, but the fact is, every sensible scholar would agree that it applies in this case. Some things are just some outside anything that’s possibly acceptable.

There’s a difference between a difference of opinion among peers and an outright hoax.

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Yes, I think in the case of labeling Matty Weingast’s book as a “translation” has been quite easily and soundly refuted.

Interestingly, on Amazon, in a review of “The First Free Women”, a reviewer posts four different translations of a passage from the Therigatha, on of which is @sujato:

https://www.amazon.com/First-Free-Women-Poems-Buddhist/product-reviews/161180776X/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_paging_btm_next_2?ie=UTF8&reviewerType=all_reviews&pageNumber=2

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Hey, ya gotta sell books. Ya know?

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Interestingly, the one quoted (Bhikkhuni Dantika seeing the Elephant tamer) is one of the few that could reasonably be called a loose translation…

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One way I like to look at it, rather than a literal misrepresentation of the bhagavā’s teaching, is that sadhamma could be any dhamma which is wholesome, with good intention or producing a good result, whereas counterfeit dhamma would be an unskillful or harmful dhamma.

And there is certainly precedent for that. It’s sometimes said that “whatever is well-spoken is the word of the Buddha” (there’s a whole history to that which I won’t go into!). And it’s certainly been a part of the Buddhist tradition to incorporate and adapt sayings from elsewhere. We even find the Buddha doing this on occasion, where he will quote a saying from Brahma or somewhere and endorse the message. The point being, of course, that he’s careful to attribute the source.

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Even a high school student knows the difference between creative writing and translating. If the women who uttered these sacred words were around they will no doubt disagree with Weingasts distorted interpretation of their poems. As far as I understand the first line on a translators job description is to be able to convert the materials from one language into another whilst making sure that the translated version gives the same meaning and the tone of the original. To exploit someone else’s words especially when they are not around to speak for themselves is so rude and careless. This is like bullying, it starts as a harmless little thing, they will say, “oh it was just a little fun you know”, …if it goes unnoticed the perpetrator will get more power and do it again and again. Think about it… how far do we allow them to go?

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in the effort for the exactitude I want to point to the massive presence of the word “transmigration” inside Suttas of suttacentral.net:

Google returns more than 300 results inside Suttacentral.net

I ask to remove this wrong term as soon is possible. As everybody knows, no serious modern translation use that word. According Buddha teaching, nobody transmigrate even in the shortest moment.

Transmigration or Rebirth?

“Theravada Buddhists do not use the terms ‘transmigration’ or ‘reincarnation’ because both of these expressions imply the existence of a permanent soul or self, which is contrary to the Buddha’s teaching of not-self (anatta). We prefer to use the term ‘rebirth.’”

It was something evident even for the first western translators:

Rebirth Is Not Transmigration

  1. Translated from the Milindapañha (7116)
    SAID the king: “Bhante Nagasena, does rebirth take place without anything transmigrating [passing over]?” 1
    “Yes, your majesty. Rebirth takes place without anything transmigrating.”

Buddhist Writings. The Harvard Classics, 1909–14.
Rebirth Is Not Transmigration. II. The Doctrine. 1. Translated from the Milindapañha (7116). 1909-14. Buddhist Writings. The Harvard Classics

I don’t know who is in charge of translations, although the presence of this wrong term in more than 300 pages sounds not an accident, and this can be highly misleading for readers.

thanks!

How else would you translate Samsara? It literally means “wandering”.

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I use it, and I’m a serious modern translator, so. I am following a long line of translators. A quick search for “transmigration” or “transmigrating” on SC shows that others using this word include such translators as Ven Thanissaro, Jonathon Walters, TW Rhys Davids, Khantipalo Mills, Ven. KL Dharmajoti, BC Law, Guang Xinfg, W. Rockhill, Ven Analayo, Samuel Beal, Shwe Zan Aung and C.A.F. Rhys Davids.

This question doesn’t belong on this thread, and it’s framed in an unhelpfully aggressive way. If you are genuinely interested in why I made the choice to use the word transmigrate, then by all means you are welcome to ask in another thread.

This is a misleading quote. In this dialogue (Mil 3.5.5), the contested term translated as “transmigration” is saṅkamati not saṁsāra. Elsewhere TW Rhys Davids uses “transmigrate” for saṁsāra unproblematically, as for example Mil3.6.9.

Thanks, yes. “Transmigrate” is literally “wandering from place to place”, which is exactly what saṁsāra means. The quote by Ven Pesala is missing the point. The Buddhist theory is that there is no self-same entity that wanders, not that there is no wandering.

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According Buddha teaching the wandering in Samsara doesn’t happens by means transmigration. It happens by means rebirth according dependent origination. In dependent origination there is no transmigration This is explained in SN 12.2

even in translations inside Suttacentral, where it seems “transmigration” word is accepted, we can see how here there is no mention of transmigration:

“And what is rebirth? The rebirth, inception, conception, reincarnation, manifestation of the aggregates, and acquisition of the sense fields of the various sentient beings in the various orders of sentient beings. This is called rebirth.”

Why so?. Because it would lack of coherence regarding the Sutta context talking about dependent origination. Then here is absent. However, this logical necessity is forgotten in other hundred pages in where “tranmigration” appears.

Therefore we see here the “reincarnation” word which is also a clumsy choice regarding the dependent origination, and with some theist reminiscences which are very strange for a buddhist text.

Here it sound much better the Bhikkhu Bodhi translation in order to get that missed coherence with dependent origination:

“And what, bhikkhus, is birth? The birth of the various beings into the various orders of beings, their being born, descent [into the womb], production, the manifestation of the aggregates, the obtaining of the sense bases. This is called birth.”

The B.Bodhi translation shows there is no need to use “transmigration”, “reincarnation” or other miselading terms which are more proper of some old jesuit priest translation or freemason teosophist from the past.

Difficulty to understand the wandering without transmigration is a main point of the Buddha teaching. It should be solved by the person. The solution cannot be using contradictory terms (with DO) like “transmigration” to pacify our own perplexity .

no aggressive Bhante. Sorry if I show that impression. I try to keep respect to everybody.

I didn’t know you are the author of that choosing, I believe other people was, perhaps without good knowledge.
Then I’m very surprised because I believe you are a good knower of pali. I’m not. Although “transmigration” to me sounds really incoherent by logics.

Hope to see some day a good elaboration of your choosing.

Sorry for my suppositions about the authorship! :flushed:
** yes please. Another thread to read about this choosing will be good to read. Thank you.

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No worries, I’m always here and happy to help. :pray:

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Thanks so much :slightly_smiling_face::pray:

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Oh, please do! This is a saying of enormous relevance here in China, to the point where I have heard it used in earnest at the university level in discussions on comparative text-critical history. Hearing that pushed me to look into the matter once; and, as I remember, I came across similar statements in EBT discourses, but I believe they were actually more along the lines of: “whatever is the word of the Buddha is well-spoken.” I have not as yet found the origins of this particular saying. Therefore, I hope you are able to find the time to do a short essay on it. Thank you.

Actually the Pali version is one of those that puts the saying the other way round:

Ven. Uttara:
‘Yaṃ kiñci subhāsitaṃ sabbaṃ taṃ tassa bhagavato vacanaṃ arahato sammāsambuddhassa.

“… whatever is well spoken is all the word of the Blessed One, the Arahant, the Perfectly Enlightened One.”

Uttaravipatti Sutta

In contrast with East Asian Buddhism, where quite a big deal has been made, and continues to be made, of this saying, in the Theravada tradition it seems to have fallen completely by the wayside. The commentary and sub-commentary to the sutta are very brief, merely remarking on a point of grammar, but making no attempt to delineate the permissible scope and application of Uttara’s saying. Nor is the saying ever cited in any other commentary. It’s almost as if it didn’t exist.

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