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With many traditions and teachers to choose from, how should one go about figuring out what is the true Dhamma?

I prefer answers based on Buddhist scriptute and references to Sutta, ideally to the Buddha himself.

I welcome answers from all traditions just not opinion based.

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    reference-request means you're not asking for opinion or explanation but only asking for references (e.g. to scripture). And I imagine you already know various references in/to the Pali suttas on that topic ... perhaps you'd like to change the question to ask more specifically for Mahayana references? – ChrisW Jun 30 at 12:01
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    I want well referenced answers is what is meant. I know a lot but i am apparently not allowed to share. I might not know them all tho, so i would like to improve my knowledge and therefore i am curious about the answers. – deadmanposting Jun 30 at 12:44
  • Should i remove the tag? – deadmanposting Jun 30 at 13:01
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    Maybe not -- if you're asking "what is the Buddha's advice" it sounds like you're asking for a quote. The oddest thing about the use of tags is that normally theravada means "please no mahayana answers to this question" and vice versa. – ChrisW Jun 30 at 13:05
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And there the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus, saying: "Now, bhikkhus, I shall make known to you the four great references. Listen and pay heed to my words." And those bhikkhus answered, saying:

"So be it, Lord."

Then the Blessed One said: "In this fashion, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu might speak: 'Face to face with the Blessed One, brethren, I have heard and learned thus: This is the Dhamma and the Discipline, the Master's Dispensation'; or: 'In an abode of such and such a name lives a community with elders and a chief. Face to face with that community, I have heard and learned thus: This is the Dhamma and the Discipline, the Master's Dispensation'; or: 'In an abode of such and such a name live several bhikkhus who are elders, who are learned, who have accomplished their course, who are preservers of the Dhamma, the Discipline, and the Summaries. Face to face with those elders, I have heard and learned thus: This is the Dhamma and the Discipline, the Master's Dispensation'; or: 'In an abode of such and such a name lives a single bhikkhu who is an elder, who is learned, who has accomplished his course, who is a preserver of the Dhamma, the Discipline, and the Summaries. Face to face with that elder, I have heard and learned thus: This is the Dhamma and the Discipline, the Master's Dispensation.'

"In such a case, bhikkhus, the declaration of such a bhikkhu is neither to be received with approval nor with scorn. Without approval and without scorn, but carefully studying the sentences word by word, one should trace them in the Discourses and verify them by the Discipline. If they are neither traceable in the Discourses nor verifiable by the Discipline, one must conclude thus: 'Certainly, this is not the Blessed One's utterance; this has been misunderstood by that bhikkhu — or by that community, or by those elders, or by that elder.' In that way, bhikkhus, you should reject it. But if the sentences concerned are traceable in the Discourses and verifiable by the Discipline, then one must conclude thus: 'Certainly, this is the Blessed One's utterance; this has been well understood by that bhikkhu — or by that community, or by those elders, or by that elder.' And in that way, bhikkhus, you may accept it on the first, second, third, or fourth reference. These, bhikkhus, are the four great references for you to preserve."

Footnote: In the earlier edition of this work, mahapadesa was rendered as "great authorities." It is now known that the proper meaning of apadesa is not "authority," but "reference" or "source." Besides, from the passage it is clear that there are only two real "authorities" — the Discourses (Suttas) and the Discipline (Vinaya).

Four Great References (DN 16)


There's a canonical description of the characteristics of the Dhamma:

The Dhamma is well declared by the Bhagavā:
visible here and now, immediate,
inviting to come and see, effective,
to be individually ascertained by the wise.

Dhammānussati

I've seen some people apparently try to use that too to discriminate, using arguments like, "if it isn't sandiṭṭhika then it's not true Dhamma".

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  • I marked this answer due to the last sentence. What is the point of Dhammānussati if it is then ignored. – Dhammadhatu Sep 13 at 11:53
  • I try ti report what the text says. At least in theory it's possible to jump to a wrong conclusion when you start to use logic, especially when combined with negatives. For example the text might say, "The Dhamma is effective immediately." -- then a person might use logic to add, "... therefore what's effective over the long term isn't Dhamma" -- but doing that wouldn't be a safe (justified) way to use logic. So I hesitate to say that or to report it as orthodox. Whether the reader chooses to do that might be "to be individually ascertained by the wise" instead of for me to argue using logic. – ChrisW Sep 15 at 23:06
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With many traditions and teachers to choose from, how should one figure out what is the true Dhamma?

From AN 8.53

"Gotami, the qualities of which you may know, 'These qualities lead to passion, not to dispassion; to being fettered, not to being unfettered; to accumulating, not to shedding; to self-aggrandizement, not to modesty; to discontent, not to contentment; to entanglement, not to seclusion; to laziness, not to aroused persistence; to being burdensome, not to being unburdensome': You may categorically hold, 'This is not the Dhamma, this is not the Vinaya, this is not the Teacher's instruction.'

"As for the qualities of which you may know, 'These qualities lead to dispassion, not to passion; to being unfettered, not to being fettered; to shedding, not to accumulating; to modesty, not to self-aggrandizement; to contentment, not to discontent; to seclusion, not to entanglement; to aroused persistence, not to laziness; to being unburdensome, not to being burdensome': You may categorically hold, 'This is the Dhamma, this is the Vinaya, this is the Teacher's instruction.'"

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3

How do you know that you have arrived at the true Dhamma?

From MN 9:

Ven. Sariputta said, "When a disciple of the noble ones discerns what is unskillful, discerns the root of what is unskillful, discerns what is skillful, and discerns the root of what is skillful, it is to that extent that he is a person of right view, one whose view is made straight, who is endowed with verified confidence in the Dhamma, and who has arrived at this true Dhamma. ...

"There would. When a disciple of the noble ones discerns nutriment, the origination of nutriment, the cessation of nutriment, and the way of practice leading to the cessation of nutriment, then he is a person of right view... who has arrived at this true Dhamma. ...

"There would. When a disciple of the noble ones discerns stress, the origination of stress, the cessation of stress, and the way of practice leading to the cessation of stress, then he is a person of right view... who has arrived at this true Dhamma. (stress = suffering) ...

"There would. When a disciple of the noble ones discerns aging & death, the origination of aging & death, the cessation of aging & death, and the way of practice leading to the cessation of aging & death, then he is a person of right view... who has arrived at this true Dhamma. ...

"There would. When a disciple of the noble ones discerns birth, the origination of birth, the cessation of birth, and the way of practice leading to the cessation of birth, then he is a person of right view... who has arrived at this true Dhamma. ...

"There would. When a disciple of the noble ones discerns becoming, the origination of becoming, the cessation of becoming, and the way of practice leading to the cessation of becoming, then he is a person of right view... who has arrived at this true Dhamma. ...

"There would. When a disciple of the noble ones discerns clinging, the origination of clinging, the cessation of clinging, and the way of practice leading to the cessation of clinging, then he is a person of right view... who has arrived at this true Dhamma. ...

"There would. When a disciple of the noble ones discerns craving, the origination of craving, the cessation of craving, and the way of practice leading to the cessation of craving, then he is a person of right view... who has arrived at this true Dhamma. ...

"There would. When a disciple of the noble ones discerns feeling, the origination of feeling, the cessation of feeling, and the way of practice leading to the cessation of feeling, then he is a person of right view... who has arrived at this true Dhamma. ...

"There would. When a disciple of the noble ones discerns contact, the origination of contact, the cessation of contact, and the way of practice leading to the cessation of contact, then he is a person of right view... who has arrived at this true Dhamma. ...

"There would. When a disciple of the noble ones discerns the six sense media, the origination of the six sense media, the cessation of the six sense media, and the way of practice leading to the cessation of the six sense media, then he is a person of right view... who has arrived at this true Dhamma. ...

"There would. When a disciple of the noble ones discerns name-&-form, the origination of name-&-form, the cessation of name-&-form, and the way of practice leading to the cessation of name-&-form, then he is a person of right view... who has arrived at this true Dhamma. ...

"There would. When a disciple of the noble ones discerns consciousness, the origination of consciousness, the cessation of consciousness, and the way of practice leading to the cessation of consciousness, then he is a person of right view... who has arrived at this true Dhamma. ...

"There would. When a disciple of the noble ones discerns fabrication, the origination of fabrication, the cessation of fabrication, and the way of practice leading to the cessation of fabrication, then he is a person of right view... who has arrived at this true Dhamma. ...

"There would. When a disciple of the noble ones discerns ignorance, the origination of ignorance, the cessation of ignorance, and the way of practice leading to the cessation of ignorance, then he is a person of right view... who has arrived at this true Dhamma. ...

"There would. When a disciple of the noble ones discerns (mental) fermentation, the origination of fermentation, the cessation of fermentation, and the way of practice leading to the cessation of fermentation, then he is a person of right view... who has arrived at this true Dhamma. ...

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"Of course you are uncertain, Kalamas. Of course you are in doubt. When there are reasons for doubt, uncertainty is born. So in this case, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering' — then you should abandon them.

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an03/an03.065.than.html

So he said to the Blessed One, "Master Gotama, with regard to the ancient hymns of the brahmans — passed down through oral transmission & included in their canon — the brahmans have come to the definite conclusion that "Only this is true; anything else is worthless." What does Master Gotama have to say to this?"

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.095x.than.html

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Below is Venerable Guan Cheng's response below on similar question

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Buddhist_Temple

https://youtu.be/LUjqAajuvZk

We have to be careful in choosing the teachers we are listening to. Not all teachers are right in their explanation of Buddhism. The general criteria for judging whether a certain teacher is right or not is using The Four Seals of the Dharmas( 四法印) : • Impermanence (Skt: Anitya): All phenomena are impermanent 諸行無常 • Non-self: (Skt: Anatman): All existence is devoid of inherent nature 諸法無我 • Suffering (Skt: Dhukkha): The world is imperfect and non-satisfactory. We are constantly experiencing changes, attaching to craving (such as lust and greed), which in turn leads to suffering. 諸漏皆苦 • Nirvana (Skt: Nirvana) A transcendent state in which there is neither suffering, desire nor delusion of self. The subject is liberated from the effects of karma and the cycle of death and rebirth. It is the perfect state of bliss, peace and equanimity. 寂靜涅槃.

In other words, if the teacher’s teaching has not departed from the four Dharmas as indicated above, then his teaching should be regarded as within the parameters of Buddhism. Do not be afraid of listening to more than one teacher, as long as you are careful and maintain some queries (or doubts) in your mind about the authenticity of his teaching.

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