Are any texts truly Buddhist?

david lazar

Hindu texts offer a good reference point to understand Buddhist scriptures. Thus, by referring to them this article aims to understand the legitimacy of Buddhist texts.

What’s the difference between the Vedas and the Manusmriti? These two Hindu texts are often assumed to be under the same umbrella. However there are two type of texts under which they find home- Shruti and Smriti. Shruti signifies texts that are given by a heavenly creator, whereas Smriti signifies that which is written by followers. Therefore, Shrutis are called ‘revealed’ texts, and Smritis are called ‘realised’ texts. Simple put, Shruti is a text written by God, and Smriti is a text written by humans. To understand any philosophy Shruti always provides a true image, as projected by the creator of ideas. They possess higher credibility. However, Buddhism has not one single Shruti. So how do we understand the true philosophy of the Buddha?

To understand Buddhist texts we must absorb that the Buddha himself gave very little importance to texts and tradition. For him anyone having read or not read the Pali Canon, could yet possess a true soul, and needed to be a practitioner of mindfulness first. Thus, the Buddha never wrote.

Even if he had written, it’s debatable if you could call it Shuti. Was/is Buddha a God? He never claimed to be one and this conversation is for another article. However, under the assumption of him as a supreme creator, a text written by him would be Shruti, and that written by his disciples would be a Smriti. All the compilations of Buddhist scriptures known today were written years after his death. All the ideas transported through various schools of Buddhist thought (Mahayana, Hinayana, Vajrayana) are all strung together with the same philosophy of – impermanence, intent, and the right path.

All Buddhist texts written by his disciples, and followers have been transcribed stories passed down from many centuries. But what happened in between the period that these words were first uttered by the Buddha, to the point that they were penned down? The answer is, they were passed by word of mouth.

Like many scriptures in the early days, Buddhist teachings too were passed from a generation to the next, by memory. Bhutan, a country with one of the oldest continuous Buddhist history has a joke – if you want to keep a secret, write it down, because no one is going to read it. The joke may not be funny, but represents how all the important stories were known, rather than written. They were imbibed, and not merely preached.

People were not sure if memory would remain strong, in the face of the printing press. Many assumed that writing everything down would not require anything to remembered any more. Honestly, there are too many texts (given below).

tipitaka_chart

To answer the previously asked question- the Vedas are Shruti (i.e. revealed), and the Manusmriti is Smriti (i.e. realised). Many Shruti all over the world, represent the word of God. But since Buddhism does not present any word of the Buddha, the truest colour of mindful impermanence shines through each one of them. Even books written by the Dalai Lama can be considered highly holy, since he embodies the spirit of the Avalokiteshvara i.e. a bodhisattva spirit with compassion of all Buddhas. These can be understood as the philosophy of the Buddha- where mindfulness surpasses the need for scriptures.

Photo Credits: David Lazar

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