Attempts at Distortion of the Buddha’s Teaching
Posted on February 13th, 2019

Palitha Mapatuna

It appears that attempts are being made by some individuals to distort the Buddha’s teaching through arbitrary interpretation of certain of its crucial technical terms. One such term is anicca, impermanence, an experiential characteristic, and directly related to two other characteristics of existence: dukkha, suffering, and anatta, not-self. This term anicca is correctly and consistently translated as impermanence by knowledgeable individuals such as the venerable Katukurundhe Ñānananda Thera and Bhikku Bodhi.

Examples of contents of discourses of the Buddha which doubtlessly indicate the meaning of anicca as impermanence are as follows:

  • In the four noble truths, the main components of suffering – ageing, sickness, and death – are clear manifestations of impermanence (Samyutta Nikāya 56, 11)
  • The term anicca impermanence is often found together with Pali equivalents for unstable, evanescent, changing, and becoming otherwise (all related to impermanence), thereby fortifying and guarding the meaning of anicca as impermanence (Samyutta Nikaya 35, 93)
  • In explaining assāda gratification, ādinava danger, and nissarana escape in regard to the elements of experience (form, feeling, perception, determinants, and consciousness), their danger includes anicca impermanence and viparināma changeability, indicating relatedness of meaning in these two terms (Samyutta Nikaya 22, 26)
  • In illustrating gratification and danger in form, the Buddha makes use of an illustration of a beautiful young woman, who ends up aged, crooked, frail, with broken teeth, grey hair, afflicted and gravely ill and finally as bones reduced to dust, saying that the former beauty has vanished. This clearly shows that gratification is accompanied by danger, because of impermanence (Majjima Nikāya 13)
  • Aniccatā impermanence is often explained by the help of the phrase viparināmaññathābhāva changing and becoming otherwise (Majjima Nikaya 87)
  • The Buddha has said that there are three kinds of feeling: pleasant, unpleasant and neither. He had also said that whatever is felt counts as suffering, because of the impermanence of the determinant of any kind of feeling, which is contact (Samyutta Nikāya 36, 11)
  • Each of the elements of experience is indicated as possessing  the sign of impermanence in being subject to arising, dissolution, and change while enduring (Anguttara Nikāya 3, 47)

Thus, the fundamental problem is anicca: impermanence. No state of affairs – aggregable or otherwise – can be relied upon to continue. This basic sense of insecurity is oppressive and makes suffering, at least, potential. Suffering – first of the four noble truths – is primarily a derivative of impermanence.

The Importance of Vigilance against Distortion

The Buddha has stated: ‘…when a counterfeit of the true Dhamma arises in the world, the true Dhamma disappears… (just as) when counterfeit gold arises, true gold disappears…’ (Samyutta Nikāya 16, 13).

Thus, vigilance is needed against distortion of the teaching by giving arbitrary meanings to key terms.

Distinguishing Genuine Teaching from what is not

The Buddha has stated that, irrespective of who makes the claim that something is the teaching, one should, without accepting or rejecting, check the claim against the discourses (suttas) and discipline (vinaya), and accept it only if it agrees with them and reject it if it does not (Dīgha Nikāya 16).

One Response to “Attempts at Distortion of the Buddha’s Teaching”

  1. Hiranthe Says:

    I totally agree with the writer. It is sad that some people are trying to interpret Pali words in Sinhala structure, which is dangerous and detrimental to the value of Dhamma. We have to remember that Lord Buddha strictly instructed not to translate the Pali texts to other languages, specially Sangskrit because the words can give different meanings and the true power of Dhamma will get dertroyed.

    Some sector in SL argue that Anicca in pali is Ani+Ichcha in Sinhala and go ahead and say ani-ichcha means not fulfilling what was expected (Ichcha Bhanga). This gives a different meaning to impermanence meant by Lord Buddha.

    Sadly, there are people believe these and follow them. One day they will realise the truth and will look back to see how much damage they have done to themselves and to others.

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