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It seems that there are different "versions" of Buddhism today, and many of the teachings from these different versions appear to be at odds with one another.

I'd like a way to tell which teachings are incomplete, corrupted, or flat-out fakes. If Buddhism is really a "science" of the mind, like many teachers say, shouldn't there be ways to test things?

Are there ways to test the authenticity of a teaching?

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  • Which Buddhist teachings are at odds with each other?
    – ruben2020
    Jan 12, 2023 at 13:09
  • The answer below is perfect, though without an answer myself I just want to point out that the Buddha often spoke in means that would allow the sangha to remember the teachings and to pass them on. Like when you see an author has a writing style, a tout. For the Buddha this was enumeration. 4 noble truths, 8 fold path, 12 dependant links etc As well as the advice is straight forward practical advice.
    – Remyla
    Jan 14, 2023 at 7:21
  • If you then look at mahayana teachings, you often see they are not enumerated, are fantastical in nature and are often impractical advice, but instead fantastic religious claims. This may be what you mean with teachings at odds with each other.
    – Remyla
    Jan 14, 2023 at 7:23
  • @Remyla - there is a particular way to discern Mahayana. But I agree; they have the biggest Teddy bears I have ever seen!
    – user17652
    Jan 17, 2023 at 19:11
  • "there is a particular way to discern Mahayana" What do you mean, can you elaborate more please.
    – Remyla
    Jan 18, 2023 at 9:53

3 Answers 3

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If you combine scholarly research with the suttas and practice the directions, you can get a good idea of what the Buddha taught. The suttas are an instruction manual. They are directions for the cessation of suffering. Each sutta is a small piece of the entire teaching. Once you read many suttas you can see how they interconnect and support each other. The vast consistency of suttas with other suttas is evidence towards their legitimacy. There are over 10,000 suttas and the consistency between them is incredible. If someone was inventing suttas they would be inconsistent with other teachings. Don't automatically throw out a teaching because you think it's inauthentic. That's a good time to look at the scholarly research and see what they think.

AN 8:53 lays out the Buddha's standard.

Not Dharma:

“Gotamī, 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 reclusiveness; 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.’

Dharma:

“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 reclusiveness, 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.’”

You may find this commentary by a Buddhist monk help:

The Buddha also said in AN 8.19

The ocean has just one taste, the taste of salt. In the same way, this teaching and training has one taste, the taste of freedom.

In my opinion, the way to recognize the Dharma is to study and build a foundation of knowledge. Don't blindly trust a teacher. As you study, practice. There are suttas/teachings that are simple and ones that are more advanced. Choose what is at your level. By doing this you'll know for yourself if the teachings work.

The suttas are not organized with a recommended reading order. Read them in any order that makes sense. My recommendation is to focus on the Middle Length discourses as they are more "holistic", but read whatever you like. When you are looking for specific topics, this is a good search engine:

Look for the verbs, especially "train". When the Buddha uses verbs he's typically giving instructions.

Lastly, I am not saying that Mahayana or Tibetan are invalid. Hold them up to the standard outlined in AN 8:53.

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  • Nice answer. Thanks for your effort. Jan 13, 2023 at 18:38
  • Great answer...
    – Remyla
    Jan 14, 2023 at 7:19
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Here is what I've found:

It's just as if a man were wounded with an arrow thickly smeared with poison. His friends & companions, kinsmen & relatives would provide him with a surgeon, and the man would say, 'I won't have this arrow removed until I know whether the man who wounded me was a noble warrior, a brahman, a merchant, or a worker.' He would say, 'I won't have this arrow removed until I know the given name & clan name of the man who wounded me... until I know whether he was tall, medium, or... him.
MN 63

I've found this (and below) awhile back and interpreted as we ask questions about things such as whether the world is eternal or not, whether The Dhamma is true or not and so forth. The Buddha said that it's not more so than The Dhamma (it's not a "by the book" practice) but by applying the teachings to your life and seeing how it manifest from there. When we are targeted by an arrow and bleeding we ask questions of why and what but never how to get the arrow out. Also, there was one point where The Buddha says the answer is irrelevant.

Along the above lines, a lot of people go by reports, legends, traditions, scriptures, and so forth to determine the validity of their religious experiences but The Buddha (and other Dhammic traditions) focus on practice:

“Kālāmas, 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 dhammas are unskillful; these dhammas are blameworthy; these dhammas are criticized by the wise; these dhammas, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering’—then you should abandon them.… When you know for yourselves that, ‘These dhammas are skillful; these dhammas are blameless; these dhammas are praised by the wise; these dhammas, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness’—then you should enter & remain in them.”
AN 3.66

What I've done was to answer the four noble truths-what is my suffering (then I list from there). What is the cause of my suffering (my interpretation of it). Then whatever sutta you read rather than ask if it's true or not see if it addresses the sufferings you listed. Also, see if you can find the hatred, delusion, or greed. Use The Sutta as a backbone to solve such sufferings. He also said, as I wrote down, "just as the great ocean slants and doesn't drop abruptly so to gain final knowledge and training is a gradual process" (AN 8.19).

You'll only know if you apply it. Also, things such as rebirth may throw one off like me when those teachings aren't familiar. I'd say with anything keep an open mind. Rebirth is literal, I believe. However, I think a lot of cosmology such as talks with demons etc are metaphorical. Don't let it trip you up though.

Add... Dhammatalks, SuttaCentral, and Accesstoinsight have different numberings for the same suttas. So, you can cross reference.

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Just came across this from Ajahn Jayasāro. Not sure that it adds anything new to what's already been written, but I like how he puts things:

Many of the Buddha's teaching can be put to the test of experience quite easily. It goes not take long to determine for ourselves whether keeping the five precepts does, in fact, increase the level of safety and trust in our family and community, and whether it fosters self-respect and freedom from guilt and remorse. We can observe without difficulty all the various ways that giving without desire for reward brings joy into our lives. We can see clearly how mindfulness practice enhances the quality of our mind and relationships.

But there are many teachings that we are, as yet, unable to prove or disprove. Teachings about rebirth and other realms of existence are obvious examples. In such cases, how should we hold the teachings ? I would suggest that we do so with a deep trust in the great wisdom of the Buddha. The more we observe how his teachings that we are able to test for ourselves are always, without exception, correct, the more confidence we can place in the teachings that we cannot, as yet, verify.

We certainly do not claim something must be true simply because our teacher says it to be so. We do, however, assert confidence in his words based upon all our experience thus far of taking him as our refuge and guide on life's bumpy road.

Ajahn Jayasāro 24/1/23

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