So, as I said, 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,“Kalama Sutta: To the Kalamas” (AN 3.65), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an03/an03.065.than.html .
Buddhism has a vast literature of teachings that are supposedly from Buddha. Unlike some religions, Buddhism has more than one holy book and the 45 years of teachings by Shakyamuni Buddha is contained in the Tripitaka. (An encyclopedia of various teachings given by Buddha)
One of the trap that practitioners fall into, is to mistakenly believe that all the printed scriptures is Dharma. However, ancient Mahayana masters had reminded us many times that all these scriptures are just the finger pointing to the moon. In another word, these scriptures are just sign post that guides our mind towards enlightenment. (Dharma) We shouldn’t blindly believe any printed material as Dharma because its appearance looks Buddhist or because its title stated so.
We will end up looking in the opposite direction if we rely on the wrong signpost.
The Buddha said “Those who see Dharma, see the Buddha” The seeing must definitely be more than reading and understanding Buddhist literature. Dharma must also be more than just printed scriptures. Otherwise, learned librarian in a Buddhist library would be the most enlightened of all?
As pointed out by Buddha in the Kalama Sutta, we shouldn’t have blind faith in a teaching simply because it is part of a scripture. Instead, we ought to examine the content and determine if the teachings is beneficial.
When we put all the above together, we realized that Buddhist practitioners cannot afford to be lazy and must always be diligent in thinking, contemplating and analyzing a teaching before we believe it and adopt it into our mind. We do not simply believe something just because our religious elders or leaders say so. Nor do we believe in something because it comes in ornate covers with Buddhist design and motifs.
Why is this important?
It is important because fake Dharma can lead us away from enlightenment and fake Dharma scriptures had been created throughout the history of Buddhism. (Gasp!)
Even during the time of Buddha, Devadatta had promoted his own brand of Dharma and created a schism in the monastic order. For example, he proposed vegetarianism as the true path since Buddha taught about non-killing. Although Devadatta’s proposal was rejected by Buddha, he nevertheless managed to convince many people that his path is truer than Buddha because he insisted on being vegan. Some people actually believed him and left the Buddha’s community!
If it had already happened while Buddha was physically present, what about after his Parinirvana?
I was once asked to comment about a Mahayana sutra titled “Buddha speaks the Sutra of Filial Piety.” The sutra referenced famous disciples during the Buddha’s time and even quoted the place where the teaching originated. In that scripture, the story tell of Buddha walking along a road one day and chancing upon a pile of human bones. Buddha knelt and prostrate to the skeletal remains and upon being queried, Buddha replied that he prostrated to the bone because it could be his parents in his previous life!????
Ding! Ding! Ding! the alarm bell in my mind was ringing ferociously. Why?
If we read the biographies of Buddha from the Theravada tradition, we would have come across a few stories that directly conflict with its contents.
After enlightenment, the Buddha never ever prostrate to anyone (not even the gods). In fact, one of the Brahmins saw that, as a good opportunity to accuse Buddha of being arrogant or proud, and having no social regards or respect towards elderly. Buddha replied that He is Buddha and no one else deserves his homage/respect.
Secondly, the Buddha never teach pretentiously. He would never put up an act or a show (prostrating to skeletons) just to catch the attention of his disciple, so that he may give a teaching.
Although, there are many more inconsistencies in this scripture; many unknowing Buddhist believed that it is true and circulated such sutra widely. Why so?
Simply because if you read it, it sound like a real sutra. Big words like Thus Have I heard. Ananda. Jeta grove etc. are all found within. In short, it was a good counterfeit.
Furthermore, Buddha must surely have encouraged filial piety right?
Research by scholars revealed this sutra to be a fictional work created in ancient China. Probably an effort to counteract criticism brought forth by Confucius scholars in China. To the Chinese, filial piety is the most important virtue in life. Some Chinese monks therefore try to defend their position by bending to popular opinion about filial piety and thus they created this fake sutra.
If Devadatta did it and the ancient Chinese did it, could other scholars in ancient India, also produce fake sutra or sutta to promote non Buddhist ideologies? Especially when such works were being sponsored by royalties or influential people. In short, could rich people pay scholars to create fake sutra/sutta so that they may push certain ideologies or agenda?
I think it is probable.
So what do we do now? How do we know what is real and what is fake? Not to worry. We simply need to put on our thinking cap!
In our Buddhist world, everybody from India, Thailand, Sri Lanka, China, Japan, Tibet and etc. All the Buddhist leaders had unanimously agreed that enlightenment is the removal of Craving and Hatred and Ignorance.
Therefore, sutra/sutta that does not help us remove or reduce these three afflictions, are probably questionable?
Next, we should refer to the first teaching of Buddha. Again there is no arguments on that. That teaching was given to the 5 most qualified men at that time. Buddha traveled to them and gave them this teachings. They listened and gained enlightenment on the spot!
That teaching is the Four Noble Truths. It is said that all subsequent teachings are just trying to prepare unready disciples to see these truths. When we examine any teachings, it should be guiding disciples towards the Four Noble truths.
May all be well and happy.