Sunday, January 31, 2010

What About Scripture?

One thing that has caught my attention about Western Buddhism is that there doesn't seem to be much emphasis on learning scripture, outside of passages like the Heart Sutra. However I could definitely be wrong in this statement, because I have only experienced Western Buddhism through groups based at universities.

But based on my experience, there at least seems to be less emphasis on scripture than in Christian tradition. And if this is really true and I am not mistaken, there is nothing positive or negative about this. I just have always been intrigued by the Buddhist 'back to basics' approach, which always seems to bring readers and laypeople back to the Four Noble Truths, Noble Eightfold Path, and Five Moral Precepts. And very directly so.

This thought/opinion is supported by the following quote from BodhiDharma:
"Even if you can explain thousands of sutras and shastras, unless you see your own nature yours is the teaching of a mortal, not a Buddha. The true Way is sublime. It can't be expressed in language."

Personally, I would like to learn more about scripture in the future, but also feel that I already have a lot to learn about basic Buddhism for the time being!

May all beings be happy!


  1. Scriptures can be beneficial, but they can also be harmful if we don't have a teacher to set us right (and in the West, most of us do not!). We tend to twist the teachings to support our own presuppositions about the nature of reality, and can cling to these wrong views for a very long time without knowing it. The only real antidote is the Noble Eightfold Path, a meditative practice (or even chanting) that allows us to experience the true nature of all phenomena directly to bring it close to home. When we've experienced the empty nature of phenomena, the teachings then fall into place and are correctly understood.

    Reason and scientific investigation have become strong influences in the West, and so the most reasonable thing for many teacher-less Buddhists to do is get a clear grasp of the basics (Four Noble Truths w/Noble Eightfold Path, the Precepts, Impermanence, Not-Self, Karma, etc.) and proceed to take up a meditative practice so as not to fall into wrong views. There's a movement in thought that's very anti-dogma, anti blind religious belief, and this is the resultant care with which some people undertake Buddhist practice.

    1. Thank you Karmicloud, for your detailed and insightful comment. I am sorry it has taken me this long to respond to it.

      But I do agree with what you say, and think that what you have written here basically echos what I was not able to articulate when I wrote this post almost three years ago.

      Studying the scriptures without any guidance can cause harm, especially when the ideas therein are extrapolated beyond their intended purpose. That being said, I don't think that READING the scriptures in an academic sense would in itself do any harm, but questions should be directed to a trusted person who has deep understanding of them. As a western practitioner, I am still focusing on the basic Buddhist concepts such as the Four Noble Truths, Noble Eightfold Path, and Five Moral Precepts, because that is what I am most comfortable with- and those things, practiced and explored deeply, are a handful in themselves!

      Thanks again for your comment, may you be well!


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