Why read sutras?
Interested in exploring the original teachings of the historical Buddha? Then the Pali canon is the place to turn for authoritative advice and support through discourses. These sutras are the primary source of Buddhist teachings. We need not worry whether the exact words in standardized/chanted/memorized discourses were uttered by the historical Buddha. Who can prove such a thing? Keep in mind that the teachings in discourse form have been practiced -- with success -- by countless followers for 2,600 years. If we want to know whether the teachings really work, we study and put the teachings into practice and thereby find out firsthand.
- They present a self-consistent body of teachings.
- The consistency of the canon is characterized by a single taste [Ud 5.5] -- that of freedom. As we wend our way through them, however, from time to time we encounter things to question. Contradiction, apparent or real, presents a need for a nuanced understanding of the Dharma translated into words and symbols. The truth simply is; the Dharma is a systematic attempt by the Sangha to present the message of the Buddha.
- As we reflect deeply on any stumbling blocks, conflicts often dissolve as a new horizon of understanding opens up. It was our understanding that was deficient, not the Dharma's. For example, we might conclude from reading one sutra [Sn 4.1] that Buddhist practice should be to avoid all desires. But upon reading another [SN 51.15], we learn that wholesome-desire itself is a necessary factor of the path.
- Only upon reflection does it become clear that what the Buddha taught is that there are different kinds of desire. Sensual craving is not the same as an aspiration for the goal of ending all suffering.
- Some things are actually worth desiring -- most notably, the extinction of all harmful craving.
- This is not the Dharma changing. It is our understanding that needs expanding into unfamiliar territory to encompass both sutras; the apparent "contradiction" evaporates. Over time we learn to recognize apparent conflicts not as inconsistencies in the discourses themselves but as an indication that we have been carried to the frontier of our understanding. It is up to us to cross beyond the boundaries of ignorance.
- Sutras offer lots of practical advice. We find a wealth of practical information on a host of relevant real-world topics such as:
|The Buddha addresses the Five Ascetics as well as countless devas.|
- how families can live happily together [DN 31],
- how to safeguard material possessions [AN 4.255],
- what sorts of things are worth talking about [AN 10.69],
- how to cope with grief [AN 5.49],
- how to train the mind even on our deathbeds [SN 22.1],
- much, much more.
|Reading is not believing; experience is (Keira Sutra baby/Hansong/flickr.com)|