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Question: Why do some Buddhist texts (sutras and treatises) seem vague, ‘saying something’ yet as if ‘saying nothing’?

Answer: If you feel that their words are ambiguous, it simply means you have yet to grasp the teachings’ true essence. One or all of the following kinds of misunderstanding might be happening – [1] They might be overly simplified in comprehension – e.g. missing the actual profound implications of the teachings, in terms of principle and practice. This can lead to a sense of lack of fulfilment. Some words we take for granted in everyday life might be loaded with other multiple meanings in the Buddhist context.

[2] They might be overly complicated in comprehension – e.g. thinking too much and thus missing the straightforward teachings. This can lead to a sense of confusion. [3] Poor translations might be read, thus leading to understandable confusion and lack of fulfilment. [4] Alternating between [1], [2] and [3].

It is thus essential to study Buddhism using good qualified texts as further explained by good qualified teachers, so as to realise the actual worth of the teachings. It can be very humbling and inspiring when the teachings are learnt correctly. And that is the way the teachings are supposed to be learnt!

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2 Responses to “Why Do Some Buddhist Texts Seem ‘Vague’?”

  1. Shi’an,
    Your answers are good and perfect. Buddha’s teaching is clear and straight forward and rightly so, in our present time seek the help of good qualified teachers. There should not be any doubt in the Teaching.
    Sadhu x 3
    With Metta,
    Heng

  2. VictorOrVincentNg-1Answered January 28, 2016

    Re: Without unbroken lineage teachings from enlightened masters passing down generation after generation, one will never be able to grasp the Buddha’s underlying teaching. It is just like the key to the safe box.

    Reply: This is not 100% true, as there are some who are sharp enough, though they are few in our time, who are able to realise that the Buddha teach from the sutras directly. If it is 100% true that every generation’s teachers must be enlightened for the Buddha’s teachings to be passed down, it would be as if to say there are Buddhas in each generation passing the torch to the next, and this is clearly not so, at least not explicitly in terms of Buddhas in person. (Manifestations are not counted here, if they cannot be verified.) We have to make do with the sutras and time-tested commentaries on them to help us understand the Buddha’s teachings, as taught by qualified teachers. Whether they are enlightened or not is not the main issue (since their statuses are not verified by Buddhas). The main issue is they should teach accordingly for us to learn accordingly.

    Re: Sutras are written records as a proof that Buddha had given the teachings is existence that had been passed down but the oral instructions are the essence of teachings contained with Buddha’s blessing that can truly authenticate the sutra meaning and thus practicing towards enlightenment or supra-mundane achievements are possible.

    Reply: The sutras ARE records of oral instructions too. Time-tested sutras already contain the Buddha’s DIRECT blessings.

    Re: Relying on sutra alone and guessing its meaning and practice, one will never find any supra-mundane achievements.

    Reply: As above, ‘We have to make do with the sutras and time-tested commentaries on them to help us understand the Buddha’s teachings, as taught by qualified teachers. Whether they are enlightened or not is not the main issue (since their statuses are not verified by Buddhas). The main issue is they should teach accordingly for us to learn accordingly.’

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