What exactly did the Buddha say? What did he really mean?

I guess you’ve decided it. Circular thinking put aside…I have shut up and meditated for about 30 years, had incredible experiences…and came up with the exact same conclusions as found in your second and third paragraphs, concerning the world of spirituality.

I could go on but I’d fall into trying to prove the same platitudes you like to go on about. There are all sorts of wanking. Thinking some people are special is just another version.

Ok, so then what’s the issue?

We are far beyond my original query. You slipped nibanna into this and now we are supposedly on that topic. Instead of addressing the title of this thread you have pushed into making statements of belief.

Yes…and Jesus saves! What you say about ‘‘munching Cheetos and screwing’’ can just as well be said of philosophers as of history’s endless line of spiritual ‘‘Masters.’’ There is no end to the examples that could be provided.
Is the world any different? Is it going to a better place? Hell, no, we are doomed. So instead of simply accepting that suffering exists, helping each other deal with that as best we can, let’s find a way out of suffering altogether. Is that any really different than offering pie in the sky through some sort of God? It all boils down to metaphysical (so-called) truths…which it seems some believe are of greater importance and more special than the world’s usual platitudes.

Ok, I guess I really don’t understand any more what questions you wanted to talk about in the first place, or the motivations for those questions.

I thought you were the one who brought nibbana into the discussion with your comments on the samsara=nibbana business, and the Amaravati monks’ views on the unconditioned realm.

On the epistemological question, “Can we know for sure what the Buddha said and what he meant when he said it?”, you can surmise from the above my proposed answer is “No, but we can know from direct experience that the practice is liberating, even if we do not know where it leads.”


You’re probably come to the right place for a question like that! :slight_smile: Your quoted article does say that a comparison between the Chinese Agamas and the Pali canon would probably be the best way to get an idea of the earliest teachings:

All scholars agree that the Pali Nikayas and the Chinese Agamas can be traced back to the earliest record of the Buddha’s teachings, although they would disagree on which part of the scriptures are the earliest. In fact, if one is able to compare the sutras in the Pali Canon and the sutras in the Chinese Agamas, one should have a better grasp of what the earliest record (thus less susceptible to later corruption and mis-translation) of the Buddha’s teaching is. Unfortunately, it would require scholars to be knowlegeable in both Pali and ancient Chinese and these people must be very few in number. It is noteworthy that some work is now being done to translate parts of the Pali Canon into modern Chinese (Note 12) .

One of the core goals of this site is to host the various suttas (in Pali, Chinese etc.) and map their parallels. Ajahn Brahmali and Sujato in their book “The Authenticity of the Early Buddhist Texts” argue against the type of pessimism embodied in your quoted article. Anyway there are lots of people far far more knowledgeable that a relative newbie like me on this site! :slight_smile:

The article, from nearly 8 years back, sounds way too pessimistic to me. A lot of work has been done in this area. For example there are versions of the Samyutta Nikaya (SN) from the Sarvāstivādin, Kāśyapīya (partial), and Theravadin schools. There seems to be remarkable consistency of content and a large overlap in even specific suttas. That means we probably have a very good idea of the content of the SN of the original root Sthavira school. And that’s getting quite early. Sthavira was the conservative part of the original split (so it’s unlikely they would have changed the original doctrine). And the Samyutta Nikaya really specializes in the doctrinal core of the teaching. So IMO I think we can get a fairly accurate picture of what the original doctrine was. In general, if we have teachings repeated multiple times in both Pali and the Agamas, it’s very likely these are original.

There’s a lot of material comparing the Nikayas and the Agamas out there now. For example, I’ve been working through some of Analayo’s (2011) 2-volume “A Comparative Study of the Majjhima-nikāya”, freely downloadable here, which for every sutta in the Majjhima-nikāya gives an account of similarities and differences with the Agama parallels. Analayo has also been busy translating some of the Agamas into English. I found “The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism” (2000) by Choong Mun-keat very interesting when reading the SN. It gives accounts of the similarities and differences between the Pali and Chinese versions for a big part of the SN (the differences really are fairly minor). It gives one a good idea of the likely core doctrine of the early Sthavira school

There seems to be lots of comparison and translation work out there now (and much ongoing).


Duplicate post!

Some of the questions you guys raised will always be relevant. There will never be the final word spoken about what the Buddha said and what he meant. (Hopefully we’ll have time machines at some point though!)

That a question cannot be solved does not mean on the other hand that it’s pointless or that we can take a short-cut and refer to older discussions, as if everything is already said. It’s in the nature of language that it continues endlessly. When we change, our reference of meaning changes. Then we make new experiences and need new words. Or old words loose their meanings or get a new one.

With all the philological and comparative work we won’t find out what the Buddha exactly said. And even if we miraculously did, we will never know what it exactly meant in the system of references that his language was in.

But why should this frustrate us? Life goes on, and our questions continue to bother us and demand a solution. So we tackle it again, approach from a new angle, sharpen our ditthi, apply what we understand in meditation, and if we don’t come to the point of “what had to be done has been done” we continue to do our best.

Our path is right as long as it’s an upward spiral, and if it’s stuck or goes down, we have to start over again. Ferruccio Busoni was one of the world’s best pianists when he realized that in order to really play Liszt well he had to learn playing all over again. He had the honesty and drive to do it and I think it’s an admirable attitude.

Sorry for the abstraction, but more concretely I would agree with some others, one simply has to dive into the comparative research.


If after following the teachings one’ craving, aversion and delusions are decreasing the interpretation of the teachings maybe accurate, or at least acceptable. This is applicable for any meditation that one might do as well.

With metta

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These are just my opinions, but I hope it assists in this discussion.
One of the things that has eradicated doubt in me is the remarkable similarity of the experiences in the practice of Buddhists. In my experience, even though very different words may be used when trying to describe certain things (context playing a huge role), the incredible similarity makes me confident that one is seeing things as they truly are. It is precisely because of this that semantic differences and inconsistencies found across texts end up not being important. It has very little to do with intellectual proofs, but is unique that it requires a certain set of conditions. I imagine that this is the reason the Buddha didn’t want to teach in the first place - thinking that only few people would be ready.

My personal view is that the central core is really the 4 noble truths. This, on its own, is technically enough to set things in progress and lead to enlightenment. Following the Noble 8-fold path facilitates progression, and the extensive other texts are like a ‘smorgasboard’ of techniques/methods/descriptions etc that assist different individuals at different stages of their journey. So my approach is one of back to basics, which can be found in all the traditions. The intellectual faculties and a logical analysis comes into play when testing the congruence of any part of the taught Dhamma. This is the confidence the Buddha expressed, by exhorting individuals to test out and explore the truth of things each for themselves, ie not ‘knowing’ in a learned way, but understood.


I’d just like to further emphasise why Buddhism (theory and practice) are in a category of their own when it comes to the importance of teachings, and discerning what is important. One could never come up with any other belief system/religion through independent investigation alone. IMO to be a Bhuddhist is all about the 4 Noble truths, these exist with or without the ‘religion’ of Buddhism. One can reach the understanding and follow the path to its conclusion, simply by questioning everything, ie Kalama Sutta.

It would be impossible to come up with Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism etc etc simply by investigating the truth of our existence - these need to be taught

This I came across on suttacentral’s quotes just now.

Vacchagotta said to the Lord: “I have heard it said that you, good Gotama, teach that charity should only be given to you, not to others, to your followers, not to the followers of other teachers. Are those who say this representing your opinion without distorting it? Do they speak according to your teaching? For indeed, good Gotama, I am anxious not to misrepresent you.”

The Lord replied: “Vaccha, those who say this are not of my opinion, they misrepresent me and say what is not true. Truly, whoever discourages another from giving charity hinders them in three ways. What three? He hinders the giver from acquiring good, he hinders the receiver from receiving the charity, and he has already ruined himself through his meanness.”
-Vacchagotta, Aṅguttara Nikāya 3.57

From this, what I got was the important part is the intent on The Buddha’s charity for giving the teachings rather than judging what authentic and bypassing why the teaching is good despite misinterpretations.

Aka no “sola suttura”

In your link, what caught me was the reference to The Lotus Sutra. I read most of it when I had practiced Nichiren Buddhism. In relation to the burning house and The Buddha’s forth precept, that is hard. The intent or message is that an enlighten one is that who helps sentient beings in the manner they understand. The analogy (which The Buddha says it was) wasn’t intended to teach about the father lying. He would be contradicting himself if that were his message.

The sutras are about the message.

In sola scriptura, its based on authenticity by literal content to describe the context.

In The Suttas, the dialogue is meant for the disciples and readers to understand the intent behind the message. One popular quoted sutta I about The Buddha dodging the question about the afterlife. If The Buddha knew all, and he taught wisdom not divinity, he probably would have said he knew but didn’t want to say. He didn’t know.

But the Message was not to question if its real. From what I gather The Buddha didn’t write his dialogues. It was “did you get my point?” So, I’d read it with that in mind.

“Yes. I said there is a real bad guy Mara. Sure, I said the kids can stay in a burning house long enough to wait for the father to decide how to save his children without burning up in the time he pondered”


Did you get my point?

As with the practice part, that can only get you so far. If you thought The Buddha wanted you to lie because that’s what the father did, you’d be practicing under false assumptions (in my opinion). If you thought Mara will punish you, again false. I think thats also where the need for a teacher comes in.

But in general The Buddha in both suttas and sutras used analogies to show his messages intent. A few themes in all I read so far is the noble truths, eight fold, hindrances, and meditation (etc).

Bounce all other suttas and sutras you read off the basics. If you question, look into it and ask yourself,

What was his point?

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