I realized that often, individuals provide insight which differs from typical Buddhist philosophy. For example, people either allude to a self in some way, or deny the dissatisfactory nature of phenomena. They might, in this last case, advise spiritual achievements leading to joy, but not equanimity and detachment.

My question is : what is the best way to recognize such non-Buddhist teachings?

I mean this especially in regards to (1) obviously non-Buddhist teachings (e.g. a person putting forwards an existing self) and (2) seemingly Buddhist teachings (e.g. deviating views on emptiness, compassion).

So: What is the best way to recognize authentic Buddhism?

I think this question is complex, and study and contemplation might be involved, but I am curious as to your answers.

Thank you.


6 Answers 6


Any teaching that has one or more of the following elements is not the authentic Dhamma:

  • eternalism (god or self or soul or world is eternal)
  • annihilationism (there is no self and nothing after death)
  • an independent, standalone and eternal entity or agent at the core of all experience (the self or the soul)
  • extreme asceticism
  • extreme sensual indulgence
  • does not contain the four noble truths
  • does not contain the noble eightfold path
  • promotes non-virtue (killing other beings, lying, stealing, sexual misconduct, intoxication, hurtful speech etc. - typical example is "waging holy war")
  • promotes wrong livelihood (trade in prostitution, slavery, meat, weapons, poisons, intoxicants etc.)

The authentic Dhamma is the opposite of the above.


I guess there are various forms of Dhamma, for example:

  • Suttas
  • Abhidhamma (and other books like the Visuddhimagga)
  • Mahayana teachings
  • Contemporary books and Dhamma talks

It was that I had read only contemporary books, i.e. modern authors writing about Buddhism; or, paraphrasing (retelling) doctrine such as the story of the Buddha's life.

Thankfully I found and have been able to read some more-or-less accurate translations of the suttas (see here and here).

After that (having read some translations of various suttas, from various translators on sites such as accesstoinsight, suttacentral, and dharmafarer), it seems to me that I may recognise what sounds like true dhamma. The literature is lengthy (i.e. there are many suttas) but maybe it's fairly coherent, with maybe a dozen or so major topics, and maybe some underlying/unifying theme[s].

I also like to read essays about suttas, or which quote suttas.

  • One way to recognise adhamma is that it seems to contradict what you'd recognize as dhamma. One example might be, if it makes an assertion like,

    This is a war between righteousness and unrighteousness (dharma and adharma) and it is your duty to slay anyone who supports the cause of unrighteousness, or sin.

    ... then I'd think that's maybe not Dhamma because it seems to contradict the first precept.

  • Another way, in my own experience, is based on the literary style. For example here is a list of about two hundred Fake Buddha Quotes -- the author commented on each one, so maybe that's a good introduction/explanation as to how to recognise them.

    Maybe don't read them all, but scan or skim the list, and read any that seem interesting or borderline: for example if there are any where you ask yourself, "What's fake about that?"

This answer is incomplete in that I won't try to explain how to recognise dhamma (or adhamma) other than the suttas -- so it doesn't do justice to the rest of the tripitaka or to later (e.g. Mahayana) authors, which are unlike the suttas both in content and in style, so beware of that.

I recommend the answers to What should you do when someone teaches false Dharma? which help to answer this question.

You mentioned examples of "obviously non-Buddhist" and "seemingly Buddhist" teachings. I like to end this answer with a reference to AN 11.12:

"Furthermore, there is the case where you recollect the Dhamma: 'The Dhamma is well-expounded by the Blessed One, to be seen here & now, timeless, inviting verification, pertinent, to be realized by the wise for themselves.' At any time when a disciple of the noble ones is recollecting the Dhamma, his mind is not overcome with passion, not overcome with aversion, not overcome with delusion. His mind heads straight, based on the Dhamma. And when the mind is headed straight, the disciple of the noble ones gains a sense of the goal, gains a sense of the Dhamma, gains joy connected with the Dhamma. In one who is joyful, rapture arises. In one who is rapturous, the body grows calm. One whose body is calmed experiences ease. In one at ease, the mind becomes concentrated.

"Of one who does this, Mahanama, it is said: 'Among those who are out of tune, the disciple of the noble ones dwells in tune; among those who are malicious, he dwells without malice; having attained the stream of Dhamma, he develops the recollection of the Dhamma.'

I expect there are Dhamma-talks on this subject, but it's another way to distinguish true and false Dhamma; this is summarized again here:

The Six qualities of the Dhamma:

  1. Svakkhato: The Dhamma is not a speculative philosophy, but is the Universal Law found through enlightenment and is preached precisely. Therefore it is Excellent in the beginning (Sila: Moral principles), Excellent in the middle (Samadhi: Concentration) and Excellent in the end (Panna: Wisdom),

  2. Sanditthiko: The Dhamma is testable by practice and known by direct experience,

  3. Akaliko: The Dhamma is able to bestow timeless and immediate results here and now, for which there is no need to wait until the future or next existence.

  4. Ehipassiko: The Dhamma welcomes all beings to put it to the test and to experience it for themselves.

  5. Opaneyiko: The Dhamma is capable of being entered upon and therefore it is worthy to be followed as a part of one's life.

  6. Paccattam veditabbo vinnunhi: The Dhamma may be perfectly realized only by the noble disciples who have matured and enlightened enough in supreme wisdom.

I think there are some ("false") teaching which sound kind of baffling, aren't really actionable, don't seem to point in any specific direction.

I suspect there's something else important about any statement (dhamma or adhamma) you're considering i.e. the effect it has on you and how it may tend to affect interpersonal relationships.

Some point in a wrong direction: perhaps they are flattery for example, leading to conceit; or perhaps they're meant to make you dependent, by making you doubt any wisdom you have; etc.


Not in any way to be a trick answer, but in the Pali Cannon, Shakyamuni told followers not to take what he said on his word, or any teacher’s reputation, but to investigate oneself. I treat my Buddhism practice as a big experiment, on myself, testing, trying this or that, this teaching or that, this meditation and find what seems to work. But I don’t settle evers than I have any final answer, but follow what seems to work for me. And, my experience is that the Buddhism path is very personal.


Obviously, at the time of the Buddha, there was an authentic Buddhist teaching that was provided over a 40-year period, although I wonder how much his students would have been able to agree exactly on what that authentic teaching was. Since then, the interpretation of the Buddha’s teaching has long since diversified, rendering different schools of Buddhism incompatible in profound ways. Even within these schools there is disagreement among their experts. The original authentic Buddhist teachings are therefore not recoverable. And there is no way to recognize authentic Buddhism except for the simple and obvious beliefs or dogma. But there is another problem that runs much deeper. Even when an original text, such as the Satipatthana Sutta, is complete, meditation instructions are briefly described without explanation. This presents a serious problem for any modern meditation teacher or Buddhist monk when it comes to teaching modern, well-educated students who want to understand how or why a meditation works. The reality is that the teacher of the Dharma can only provide inspiring success stories. Providing an explanation of any meditation that makes sense has turned out to be extremely difficult. Monks with 10, 20, 30, 40, or even 50 years of meditation experience (such as myself) provide very different explanations. The answer to your question? Even when you find an authentic Buddhist text, you do not find what you need to know, if you are an intelligent and knowledgeable student.

  • I seek some refuge in science to support the views I follow. This helps me separate the wheat from the chaff behind many ancient explanations found in some suttas and the Dhammapada. The psychology/biology behind sensory deprivation and psilocybin studies offers an interesting examination of the benefits in focus exercises.
    – Kauvasara
    Nov 5, 2017 at 8:12

"Gotamī, the qualities of which you may know, 'These qualities lead to dispassion, not to passion; to being unfettered and not to being fettered; to shedding and not to accumulating; to modesty and not to self-aggrandizement; to contentment and not to discontent; to seclusion and not to entanglement; to aroused energy and not to LAZINESS; to being unburdensome and not to being burdensome': You may definitely hold, 'This is the Dhamma, this is the Vinaya, this is the Teacher's instruction.'" — Cv.X.5

And again, just by association with people of right view from one can be expected to gain right view by himself: How to address wrong view?

[Note: This is a gift of Dhamma and not meant for commercial purpose or other low wordily gains by means of trade and exchange.]


All teachings are false teachings. All holy scriptures bullshit.
You cannot know the truth - You can only experience it
After 30 years of study and practice with the best Gurus India could offer, Sidhratrra only got disappointment and disillusionment

Buddha is a state of mind, not a state of knowledge.

  • See also Should this 'zen type' answer be deleted?
    – ChrisW
    Nov 2, 2017 at 18:41
  • Chris - You may delete the comment but you will never delete the truth Nov 2, 2017 at 18:51
  • See also Answers vs Advice however -- if the question is "how to recognise non-Buddhist dhamma?" then "there is no (true) Buddhist dhamma" isn't exactly an answer to that question, IMO.
    – ChrisW
    Nov 2, 2017 at 18:52
  • Is like asking "how to recognize a flying elephant" because you saw Dumbo in a movie once. Buddha acknowledged the perils of dhamma and consequently never wrote anything down (same as Jesus) being afraid is going to turn into dogma. Those are the facts and Buddha was right Ego will corrupt even the purest of teachings.- and please allow compassion for my trespassings I'm still not where I aim to be Nov 3, 2017 at 4:45

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