If the Buddha said that we shouldn't take his teachings as dogma, but rather try to experience for ourselves what realization is--why should we study the scriptures?

  • Why / why do you study Buddhism?
    – user8619
    Sep 18, 2016 at 20:56
  • Is that a question or an edit suggestion? Sep 19, 2016 at 13:12
  • It's appended by a "?", does that help you?
    – user8619
    Sep 20, 2016 at 1:15
  • 1
    It's still not clear to me. Is that just a question or an edit suggestion?
    – Lowbrow
    Sep 20, 2016 at 6:40
  • My guess was that @avatarKorra asked the question to get more insight into Javier's motives and reasons, and/or their history and their current relationship with Buddhism: perhaps avatarKorra is thinking that if the question were longer, if it explained more about "why do you study Buddhism", then we'd be better able to give a personal/specific answer your question which was "why study the suttas". All we've been told about Javier at the moment is that they're a Soto Zen meditator, and even that's not explicit in the question.
    – ChrisW
    Sep 20, 2016 at 8:55

6 Answers 6


If the Buddha said that we shouldn't take his teachings as dogma, but rather try to experience for ourselves what realization is--why should we study the scriptures?

First, one should study the scriptures so one is not caught on hearsay of what the Buddha might have taught. Moreover, how can one expect to learn the teachings of the Buddha while at the same time ignoring the teachings of the Buddha?

Having said that, besides being understood as a religion or carrying a philosophy, Buddhism carries a pedagogy and much of what the Buddha taught is a training, and like all training, it is intimately associated with technique (pretty much anything that requires repetitive practice is an exercise on technique).

By comparison, take anything else that requires training and technique, like martial arts, for example. With the dedication to study and practice guided by a master, one can expect you to become a master yourself, perfectly fluent in the craft, in this life time. But turn your eyes away and ignore those who came before you, and the likelihood is that you might not develop yourself at all, much less, become a master yourself -- possibly, will hurt yourself before there's any significant progress.

In another analogy, take calculus. It's not so hard to learn what Newton created by studying his work. However, it's very hard to come up with and invent calculus yourself.

Now note, it's not impossible to progress alone in any path -- some of them did have someone to pave the way after all. It just requires a certain commitment, a high endurance to failures and skills that is really rare. On that vein, some people may entertain the idea of trying alone anyway -- but then, the goal is not something like achieving nirvana (or understand calculus) but something else (like being recognized as someone who did it all by oneself -- a strange devotion to the very ego one is trying to destroy, one could say).

Now, to explain why a teacher would say to avoid taking the lessons as dogma, imagine for example a martial arts student copying and memorizing the lessons and boasting others by how well he has memorized -- but who could not perform a single move of what has been taught. Such student would likely have the teacher telling him "hey, don't take what I say as a dogma, but experience [the movements in order to learn]".

  • "Moreover, how can one expect to learn the teachings of the Buddha while at the same time ignoring the teachings of the Buddha?" Good point but It could be helpful for some types of students to learn , at least in the very beginning, from a good teacher without studying a word. All the strong wrong view a student can develop even with a teacher explaining can profoundly retard progress. There is nothing like directly experiencing the teachings. Then again not everyone can have that kind of faith in a teacher.
    – Lowbrow
    Dec 10, 2016 at 17:37
  • Indeed! if one is studying Buddhism with someone who teaches what the buddha taught, one is certainly not ignoring the teachings of the Buddha.
    – user382
    Dec 10, 2016 at 19:27
  • 1
    Yes of course. I was just making a comment that I thought was worth mentioning, I certainly wasn't disagreeing with you :)
    – Lowbrow
    Dec 11, 2016 at 3:31

The suttas say to realise the Buddha's teachings. If we do not read any teachings that provide a guide to what is to be realised then doing it all by ourselves will be very difficult; maybe impossible.

Even if we master meditation and have strong realisations of 'emptiness' ('sunnata'), there remains important knowledge (both mundane & transcendent) necessary for mature realisation found in the suttas.

Many individuals in various esoteric traditions have realisations of 'emptiness' ('selflessness') but lack the maturity of vision as the Buddha, including within what is currently known as 'Buddhism'.


The term that the Buddha used to describe his disciples was ‘savakas’, that is to say, listeners or hearers. The importance of listening to Dhamma is clear from this, [and THIS ]. Today we are unable to hear his teachings directly from the Buddha. The next best thing is the Suttas that contain a close record of the Buddha’s own words. Meditation without the Dhamma is not sufficient. The Suttas describe five conditions through which we can become Ariya, a Noble One. They are: Listening to the Dhamma, Teaching the Dhamma, Repeating the Dhamma, Reflecting on the Dhamma, Meditating. This shows that only one of the four factors are within meditation, the other four are out of meditation, ie. listening, teaching, repeating and reflecting on the Dhamma. For this we have to refer to the Buddha’s original discourses found in the Anguttara, Samyutta, Digha and Majjhima Nikayas.


"If the Buddha said that we shouldn't take his teachings as dogma, but rather try to experience for ourselves what realization is--why should we study the scriptures?"

The Buddha isn't saying his teachings aren't true. He wants his students to be objective, be impartial and not just believe the teachings because he is saying words.

He want's his students to put the eightfold path into practice and see for themselves. Most people can't just spontaniously become enlightened. Everyone can't be as lucky as Krishnamurti.

Have you heard of J Krishnamurti? If not, maybe you would like him. He is supposed to have had some kind of spontaneous enlightenment and after that he gave many speeches were he always strongly advocated no method, no path, no scriptures and no teacher.

What Krishnamurti talks about is very similar to the Buddha's teaching but in in my opinion, Krishnamurti misunderstood what the Buddha's teaching is about, ironically.


I would like you to explain a little about dogmatism in degree.

There are three containers-

  • One is opened, you can put anything what you like. It is like a general container in garage. You do not limit/categorize what you are going to put inside the container. There no specific rule or guide that what can store in it or/and how to. You just put things just like that.
  • Second container is open too, but you cannot put anything you like. It is like labeled container in kitchen. You can only put certain things related to kitchen.
  • Third and last container is closed, sealed. You can put nothing inside. Extreme of disapproval, no standing ground.

Here, people who study Buddha's Dhamma is like second container. They read Suttas as guide, or manual book to understand how to choose good ingredients to store them in it.
When "Buddha said that we shouldn't take his teachings as dogma", it means you should not follow the guide/manual book blindly. (Let's say if the pickle are not safe to be consumed, you will not put it in container and store for later use.) In Buddhism, you have your right to criticize Buddha's teachings. You can discuss, consult with anyone here/anywhere about what you seem not in the right way in Buddha's teachings. But you have first yet to know what Buddha teachings are. That is where you should read Suttas in where you can find the teachings. If you don't listen to someone when he/she is saying, you will not know his/her saying is good or bad.


One factor of the Noble Eightfold Path is Right view (sammaditthi).

Without Right view as taught by the Buddha whatever you practise is not Buddhadhamma.

Suttas study allows one to find out what actually goes into the Right view.

Besides this suttas contain a lot of advice with regard to the practice and explain many finer points of the Dhamma.

I'm not sure that the Buddha said verbatim that we shouldn't take his teachings as dogma. However what I know he did say is that the Dhamma is a raft, when one needs to cross over the stream (samsara) to the other shore (nibbana) this raft is indispensable, but it can be discarded when the other shore has been reached.

So without the Dhamma as it has been taught by the Buddha the prospects of realizing nibbana are extremely faint, practically non-existent.

And if one adheres to the idea that the Buddha's teaching shouldn't be taken as a dogma, how then one is to verify that what they practises and follows is the genuine Buddhadhamma and not their own diluted makeshift version of that?

The Dhamma is not only hard and fast rules, but also principles by which to be guided in life so it's skillful, conducive to personal development and leads to good kammic results. It's not about dogma, it's about what's beneficial. One either accepts these principles, seeing their benefit, or one doesn't, and the latter case means that a person doesn't accept the Dhamma in its entirety, which indicates deficiency of the Right view.

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