The Buddha’s Two Authorities Within Four Great References For All

For that which I have proclaimed
and made known
as the Dharma and the Discipline,
that shall be your Master when I am gone.

– Śākyamuni Buddha
(Mahāparinibbāṇa Sutta)

What if you encounter a so-called famous ‘master’, who claims to teach Buddhism, who sprouts ideas that somewhat seem to contradict the Dharma? How do you decide if that taught is genuine, to be embraced, or false, to be renounced? Bearing in mind that there is no Dharma Master as great, authentic, pure and renowned than the historical Śākyamuni Buddha himself, the following is how he suggested us to resolve such dilemmas.

According to the Mahāparinibbāṇa Sutta, when the Buddha was at Bhoganagara with many monastics, he taught them these Four Great References. Should a monk say he heard that taught by [1] the Buddha, of the Dharma (i.e. as teachings later recorded in Sūtras, which stand for truth), and the Discipline (i.e the monastic code of conduct later recorded in the Vinaya, which stands for goodness), by [2] a monastic community with elders and a chief, by [3] several learned and accomplished elders who preserve the Sūtras and Vinaya, or by [4] a monastic who is a learned and accomplished elder who preserve the Sūtras and Vinaya…

… That declared should be received with neither approval nor scorn, but with mindful (and objective) study of the sentences, word by word, to trace and verify them with the Sūtras and Vinaya (communally acknowledged as accurate records). If it cannot be traced or verified, one must conclude that the declared was not taught by the Buddha, but misunderstood, (misrepresented or speculated), and should be rejected. If it can be traced and verified, one must conclude that the declared was taught by the Buddha, and was well understood, and should be accepted.

These References are to be preserved [with the Sūtras and Vinaya being the two actual authorities in word]. Of course, these guidelines should be applied by lay Buddhists upon other lay Buddhists too. It should be noted, however, that the Buddha also taught in the Kālāma Sutta, to not simply accept what is in scriptures, which would apply to all Buddhist texts too, in terms of the Sūtras and the Vinaya.

In that Sutta, the Buddha taught that only what good, blameless, praised by the wise, that leads to benefit and happiness should be practised. And what does not give in to the Three Poisons of greed, hatred and delusion, which lead to killing, stealing, sexual misconduct and lying, (which break the first four precepts and lead to suffering), is what meets the requirements. Such universal sense and reason are further expounded at length.

In an ultimately summarised sense, as the Buddha taught in the Anuraadho Sutta, ‘I proclaim just suffering and the ceasing of suffering.’ The cause and effect of suffering are pointed out (in the Second and First Noble Truths), so that we can appreciate the cause and effect of the ceasing of suffering (in the Fourth and Third Noble Truths), to attain benefit and happiness. The rest of the Buddha’s teachings are the finer details.

Just as the great ocean has one taste, 
the taste of salt, 
so also this Dharma and Discipline has one taste, 
the taste of liberation.

– Śākyamuni Buddha
(Uposatha Sutta)

Related Articles: 

Maha-parinibbana Sutta
Kalama Sutta
Anuraadho Sutta

The Twin Criteria for Rejection & Acceptance
How Do We Recognise The Wise?
The Double Insurance Of The Buddha’s Teachings

Doubt The Doubtful To Realise The Truthful
Who Should We Learn The Dharma From?
Was That Truly A Buddhist Teaching?

How Should We Learn Buddhism Properly?
Should We Follow Only One Teacher’s Teachings?
Some Truths Revealed On Revealed ‘Truths’

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