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Why can't LBTs be Authentic?

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#1

Being later doesn’t mean that it is inauthentic.
Being later doesn’t mean that it is authentic.

Being later doesn’t mean that it is not true.
Being later doesn’t mean that it is true.

Being later means Being later.

- An invitation for a wise reasoning -


#2

Just saying it doesn’t make it so.

I think the more useful question is why is it so important for people to believe that teachings they value come from a man who lived named Siddhartha Gautama?

Surely other people over the course of 2500 years could have had good ideas and good discoveries, even mystical ones.

My own personal opinion is that people are looking for a source of psychological security, for something transcendent beyond this life/world that they can point to.

Yet the work of core Buddhism ( 8 fold path, the four noble truths ) is in loosening and removing attachments. The desire to have a transcendent rock to lean on is an attachment.

Back in the real world of disappointments, deprivation, loss, and death…hard emotions that are hard to take, I think that desire is normal and human.

I haven’t gotten there yet, but maybe along the way we can look at what was said and how helpful it is to us rather than looking at who allegedly said it.


#3

The problem with later is that there is so much of it. Vast amounts of it. Studying the EBTs is really helping me understand the LBTs.


#4

Being later does mean with a pretty high probability that the Buddha didn’t say so. Tell a Bible scholar that a Gospel that showed up around the 5th century AD for the first time and never mentioned or even alluded to before contains authentic teachings by Christ, and he or she will laugh you out of the room.

LBT can be true or untrue, but it borders on absolute certainty they were not taught by the Buddha.


#5

One of things causing discrepancy here is the specificity of the term “gospel” vs the vagueness of the term “text”.

There are plenty of late Christian “texts” that are fully in-accord with early Christianity, much like that there are many late Buddhist texts in-accord with early Buddhism.

What there aren’t are authentic (in the sense of “theoretically spoken by X person”) gospels from 500AD or authentic Buddhist suttāni from 200AD.


#6

Yes, this was exactly my point, thank you for elucidating it :grinning:

For me, whether the LTB are true or untrue is not important. What is important is that it is very, very unlikely they contain the words of the Buddha, which I prefer to base my practice on. If anyone think they can practice using later texts, they are welcome to do it.


#7

It has to be compared to the original dhamma and vinaya to ascertain it is in line with the dhamma. In terms of the ‘words’ and ‘meaning’ the concordance must be within meanings. It shouldn’t matter it is in another language or uses summarising labels which are new.


#8

… and it’s not that any one can even ascertain what’s early and what’s late, it’s mostly sheer speculation and conjecture being confused as what represents the scientific method of text analysis. The very expression “early Buddhist texts” is itself a fallacy, for all the text is late, very late, and with view of those who make whatever conclusions about the historicity of the text and of the ancient events it purports to describe, by relying basically on nothing other than that text itself, I’d say it is embarrassingly late!! Even the Ghandari texts, which are already Mahayana, are late!

And then what difference does it make? The teachings of a great teacher like ajahn Chah are neither authentic nor early (that is, attributed to the ancient Buddha), but if Māra should cunningly infiltrate them into the Canon as if they were authentic, will that really confuse everyone about Dhamma and lead them all astray? And when someone suspects that these teachings are inauthentic, does that make them any less valuable or useful?

You see, if you can’t discern the significance and utility, or insignificance and futility, of the declared teaching itself, and directly, independently from any other considerations or questionable claims about who uttered it or about its authenticity, then you have a far greater problem that might actually prevent you from appreciating a discourse given to you directly by the Buddha himself, and in your own mother tongue!! And it is not like such manifestation of Buddha should be what it takes in order for one to believe in the teaching that he will then utter, from his very mouth and directly into one’s ears; but even then that teaching should be investigated, tried, tested in experience, before one should take it in and carry it along, and pass it to others with any sense of sureness or confidence. For it seems to me that nothing is more unbuddhist than declaring as true or false what one does not understand oneself.


#9

There is a purely scholarly investigation to find out what is old and what is later, merely for the sake of knowledge. And secondly, Buddhists can care about the purity of a teaching.

Many Buddhists would not mind to read suttas ‘in the spirit’ of the Buddha - as you write, to find good teachings by Ajahn Chah for example.

The problem is with all the weird stuff in the suttas: the supernatural material, the gods wearing a robe, the primitive elements of karma-punishment, the polemic attacks against other sects, the doctrinal inconsistencies and blank spaces, etc. which make it so difficult for a careful reader to accept that they all come from a Buddha who was truthful, and peaceful.

That’s why many Buddhists squirm and bend their thinking, just to avoid to see what is in front of them - highly edited material which in good parts is neither from the Buddha, nor from perfectly enlightened truthful followers, but from humans with self-interest and group-interest. Staunch theravadins easily see it in mahayana texts but are too identified with the theravada texts to be equally inquisitive.


#10

I’m fond of Ven. Anālayo’s perspective on how to hold the vast array of Buddhist teachings throughout time, he shares his perspective here:

Particularly for Westerners who encounter different varieties of Buddhism, it’s helpful to have an understanding of EBTs so one can hold LBTs in a way that appreciates the context in which they arose.


#11

You think?! Like the satipatthana, for example?! Is that weird?! And if not, then what’s the point of declaring it an inauthentic teaching, especially given that it has since long been regarded to be effectively helpful and useful to many practitioners, including highly acclaimed ones?! And how well and good is it, to watch a confused beginner, or a self-proclaimed expert, discontinuing its practice and disregarding it as an inauthentic teaching, “according to the findings of such and such research”, as if the only reason he’s been practising it previously was only that it was not yet declared inauthentic!

I am too familiar with the attitude of regarding people as a bunch of intellectual toddlers who need to be fed the Dhamma by an authoritative spoon inserted into their fumbling and mumbling mouths! And it gives me dizziness! The saddest thing is not even that this attitude too may lead them astray (and often does), but rather that it only reinforces their dependency rather than reduces it gradually; and only to the benefit of the “teacher’s” ego, which in turn grows rather than diminishes! And even mundane education regards “independence”, rather than the inculcation of information or consecration of views, as its ultimate purpose, even morally so!

And, I’m sorry, but the examples I see around me of people who are swayed by arguments of authenticity are not of those who are troubled by “the weird stuff in the suttas”, but rather those who are concerned with either an abstract conceptual Dhamma truth, or that which directly relates to training and practice, and whose desperation in the search for an “authoritative source” lends them to trust in yet another authority to do the interpretation of the authenticity, and therewith the worth of the text, on their behalf! Alas!

Doing things …

… should not be an exception or a rarity, especially among those who regard themselves as Buddhists! Those who are regarded as “lost without guidance” are not going to persevere through that kind of guidance, not even in a mundane pursuit will that do good, let alone an utterly transcendental one. Those who regard themselves as Buddhists first, and then go around wondering what the Buddha really said, are only susceptible to bend “true Buddhism” to whatever it is that they already believed before they start their perceived objective inquiry, and that is precisely how they end up disagreeing among themselves! This is not the problem, and this is properly their business - the problem is in thinking that there is any benefit in claiming to have grasped with any certainty what the Buddha “did not” say, and, very much not in the spirit of Buddha, go around after that inculcating others what that is, rather than helping them figure it all out by themselves in their own unique ways. At least, it would be good to begin by saying “I think that …” or “I believe that …”, or even better, “maybe or perhaps or it is possible”, before saying “the Buddha didn’t give this teaching or didn’t say that thing”. And it’s not like this will make much difference, for if a people trust in you just like that, then they will probably follow whatever it is that you believe anyway, and on goes the rolling of the wheel! And that’s precisely why caution and humility are important, not because of some postmodern attitude I have regarding the absence of ultimate truths, or because I personally am not certain of what I believe in, but because I am aware of it as something that is true in so far as my experience is concerned, and in so far as it worked out for me, and in so far as I am only partially capable of giving expression to its very reality, and thereby might only end up confusing others about the truth in the same moment as I intend to help them see it. Friend, had it been otherwise, had it been so easy; everyone would be an arahant by now!


#12

I understand your general criticism, but I don’t understand how that refers to my points specifically. There are reasons to discuss the satipatthana, but it is not among the specific examples I gave, which are much more grave and against the spirit of a truthful and peaceful Buddhism.

A big disadvantage of the suttas (+ vinaya) compared to some other religious texts is that it’s not made of one unit. If you take the corpus of recorded teachings of Ajahn Chah it’s a different matter, and it’s quite easy to reconcile the inevitable contradictions and mismatches.

Texts with a single authorship are much more coherent than the EBT. Take another incoherent text, the Bhagavadgita: it’s obviously such a mix of different ideas, maybe compiled by one hand, but certainly not originated. So what am I suppose to put my faith in - a compiler and their work?

It’s not easy to be a contemporary follower. To be a fundamentalist believer in the Suttas is a closed path for many westeners: the supernatural stands in the way. Christianity is getting the heat from the anti-supernaturalists, so naturally Buddhism does as well. And I think rightly so.

Proper investigation of the Dhamma is necessary for spiritual development. And peeling off layers of gods with robes, speaking in verses, karma-punishment etc. allows me to ask: “what are the essential teachings? what are the aspects which don’t give rise to argument but result in a clear resounding ‘yes!’?”

I don’t say that people will fully agree on these either. There are people who see a lot of meaning in the dependent origination, which for me doesn’t. But I have no problems accepting that as practice.

But when for example people say “You are ugly and handicapped because in your former life you were a bad person” then this argument can be properly made based on the EBT, but it is a horrible teaching nonetheless.

So there are differences and I think each practitioner should make their informed decision about messages that speak of a primitive mindset in the EBT (in today’s standards) or was meant as a literary device and not literally, and sublime teachings on the other hand.


#13

For me it is. I came across the mahayana parinirvana sutra, and it is late. Its words were put “in the mouth of the Buddha”. This is a lie. But how can I get trust - and for spiritual developing I need trust into that what is said - a faked text?
I have no problem if Ajahn Chah, for instance, puts his understanding and experiences into literature. Even for me the interpretation and the stance of the vietnames monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh is much binding.

But putting it in literature as if it were the Buddha’s words, such texts were conflated with lie, wrong speech, wrong deed.
And, as a reader, discovering this: immediately any trustworthyness of the text is gone, because one observes moreover, that the author is ready to do such a fake, such a lie. And again immediately, any respect for anything spiritual this fellow might say, is out-of-inbox now.

Everyone has a limited time to live, limited time to read. And it is a uncorrectable waste of that finite life-time (and mental forces etc) to dabble with such mosaics of “spiritual terms”, which is then not much more than “gibberish”, word-salad just of the ingredients of a “spiritual lexicon”: because they are not on the ground of true spiritual experience and sharing but on a ground of posing-as.

Let me say, that I myself played with forming some idea in the style of a sutra and putting it in the mouth of the Buddha. But this was in context of a satire and in some hard discussion with some poser in a german newsgroup - there is no intent (and no expectation) that this “words of the Buddha” would ever enter some ritual text/ritual reproduction.


#14

They don’t “specifically”, but generally, by stating that “authenticity” should not be what determines the worth or significance or utility of any text, and that such represents a dangerous “fundamentalist” attitude in world’s religions.


#15

What are the contradictions in Ajahn Chah teachings to suttas?


#16

I’m sure one could find several, but this is not what I meant. I meant that there are certainly internal contradictions, that some things he said seem to contradict other things he said. But that is always the case with teachers who are alive, and not speaking like robots but reacting to different situations and audiences differently. That’s why I think that it’s not very difficult to understand these seeming contradictions for what they are, byproducts of a good teacher.


#17

First allow me a disclaimer, but I am a very new Buddhist and often in awe of…and sometimes confused by the wisdom of so many other scholars and monks that spend much time contributing thoughts, ideas, and opinions based on viable research, right view, and knowledge of Buddhism in general. Thus regarding this discussion about the validity or inherent truth contained in the words attributed to Buddha, I follow the very essence of what I think the Buddha intended-and here again I apologize for my inability to cite a passage-but it has been my impression that he said he did not demand blind obedience to his doctrine…the Dhamma. And this is what attracted me to Buddhism, as opposed to the dogma of other religions.

To my simplistic way of thinking-for what it is worth-is that Buddhism is based on cause and effect…Life is the cause of death: attachment causes suffering: Anger results in more suffering.
Simple. Where I do get stuck is the metaphysical assertions which seem to contradict Buddha’s exhortation to test or observe the effect of a specific cause. The metaphysical by its nature resist validation, and beyond that seems an unnecessary aspect of the Dhamma, if it is actually part of it. So I leave the metaphysical to stand on its own merits as I proceed in the most humane way possible.

In closing I am confident that I will receive the necessary corrections to my ignorance. :face_with_hand_over_mouth::zipper_mouth_face::sunglasses:


#18

I reconcile these contradictions in my head by acknowledging that the EBTs were composed in a short timeframe that lent a valuable consistency to the entire body of work. This is exactly the same value that Bhante Sujato provides in translating over 3998 suttas so far. Consistency is priceless.

That very consistency fractures and breaks when we include the LBTs and multiple teachers/authors/translators, simply because different words are used to suit the context of particular times and locations. Including the LBTs introduces cacophony simply at the word level even though the “inner meaning” might be the same.

And if the EBTs wander uncomfortably into devas and demons, then that is our prejudice for not allowing a past outlook on the world. Having myself actually thanked a mountain (I still do), I can understand in a small way what was meant by talking with a deva.

What does cause difficulty to me the most are the attacks on other sects such as the Jain. When listening to DN33, I hear this almost daily as part of the intro. Oddly, as I listen to this intro repeatedly, I do not find myself upset with the Jain. I do find myself agreeing with Sariputta that the “alleged discordance of Jain disciples was not a good thing” (as we might awkwardly put it today) . And I do find the Buddha’s similarly “awkwardly self-promoting” when he declares “For in this world, I am the perfected one”. But we resort to rhetoric here as well, so why should the EBT’s differ in that?

And even as we agree that the EBT’s are “highly edited material which in good parts is neither from the Buddha, nor from perfectly enlightened truthful followers, but from humans with self-interest and group-interest”, one must still acknowledge that the product of that long-ago massive effort has proven perfectly valuable enough to be carried intact through the ages.


#19

If by authentic you mean ‘likely to have been taught by the Buddha’ then there is just a much higher probability that later is inauthentic.

So while you’re technically right (for example, prajñaparamita texts contain teachings on the four satipatthanas), probabilistically its much less likely that a LBT taken at random contains teachings that could likely be that of the historical Buddha. Of course, EBT authenticity is problematic in of itself, but its still the closest we have to the figure of the Buddha, certainly closer than LBTs.

So, I think it is warranted that, if someone is interested in learning what the Buddha is most likely to have taught, they need to focus on EBTs and use that as their standard.

Of course, people could have all sorts of attitudes, they may not care what the historical Buddha is most likely to have taught, they may think that later teachings are better, or work better for them, or they may simply not have such high regard for the Buddha and think that later masters and scholars are just as important. They may also think that they’re just as true. That’s a different issue of course. What is truth? Its something everyone has to investigate and analyze for themselves.

But if you do care about what the founding father of Buddhism is most likely to have taught, then historical early texts matter.

edit: This doesn’t mean that one wouldn’t study later texts, just that one’s approach to them would be grounded in the early teachings, and thus historically informed, instead of being informed by later dogmatic and ahistorical categories and ideas (such as, the panjiao categories of East Asian Buddhism, or the “yana” classification in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism).


#20

I’m finding it a little odd that, and please correct me if I have missed anything, in this entire thread so far no-one has presented the actual meaning of the word “authentic”.

In this context “authentic” means: it is what it says it is. Any text of any period is authentic if it is what it says it is.

The Early Buddhist Texts claim to record the teachings given by the Buddha to his Sangha, and that is, by and large, exactly what they do. It is because the evidence supports this claim that they can be well described as “authentic” (as argued extensively in The Authenticity of the Early Buddhist Texts by myself and Ven Brahmali).

The Visuddhimagga claims to be a commentary written a thousand years after the Buddha, composed from an ancient Sinhalese commentarial tradition. And research supports this claim: that is exactly what it is, no more, no less. Thus it is authentic.

The Abhidhamma texts make no claim in themselves to be the word of the Buddha, hence there is nothing about the texts themselves that can be described as “authentic” or “inauthentic”. However the tradition claims that they are the words of the Buddha, which is incorrect, hence if considered as actual teachings of the Buddha they are inauthentic.

The Mahayana sutras claim to be the teachings of the Buddha, but they are not. Hence they are inauthentic. That does not tell us anything about the worth of the teachings they contain, it only tells us about the historical origins of the texts.

Wisdom is built from understanding, and understanding is built from knowledge, and knowledge is built from facts. If we can’t get basic historical facts right, then how can we pretend to wisdom?