Protecting the Authentic Teaching of the Buddha
Posted on January 31st, 2022

Palitha Mapatuna

Chapter II of the Constitution of Sri Lanka requires the state to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana; this would imply protecting and fostering the assets of the Buddha Sasana.

The Principal Asset of the Sasana: The Authentic Teaching

The principal asset of the Buddha Sasana would be the authentic teaching of the Buddha, introduced to Sri Lanka well over 2000 years ago, and written down therein during the 1st century BCE to protect it.

However, it is evident that, in recent times, attempts are being made in certain quarters to distort and, thereby, corrupt the teaching.

These attempts consist of intentional distortion of the essential elements of the teaching, such as the discourses, including providing false and arbitrary meanings to its technical terms.

Onus of Enabling Checking

These quarters seem to deny distortion, claiming that they are based on original sources which they have had access to; if that is truly the case, the onus of enabling checking the alleged sources falls on them.

It  does not seem possible to conceive of a legitimate reason to hide the alleged original sources or to take the preposterous position that they are available only to ‘special’ people like themselves!

Sincere followers of the Buddha have come to be aware of the aforesaid attempts at distortion and seem to be keen to ensure that these attempts are arrested. 

This letter provides an outline of a suggested procedure to protect the authentic teaching of the Buddha.

Suggested Procedure in Sequence

1. Appointment of an official body of trustees of the Buddha’s teaching, consisting of suitable Bhikkhus from the three Nikayas. 

2. Identification by  this body of the sources of the authentic teaching, and making a list of them(provision may be made for expansion of the list, if necessary).

3. Determining authentic versions of these sources and officially publishing them.

4. Determining the correct meaning of technical terms and officially publishing them.

Having fulfilled this sequence, appropriate measures may be introduced to prevent propagation of any version that contradicts these authentic versions and correct meaning of terms. 

Legal Basis for Measures 

The legal basis for measures for the protection of the authentic teaching of the Buddha, including meaning of it’s technical terms, could be Chapter II, referred to above.

Rights and Perversions

It is possible that the quarters involved in distortion may raise questions against these measures in terms of individual rights.

However, deliberate distortion of whatever teaching, includingit’s technical terms, by any quarter does not appear to fall within the ambit of rights.

Malevolent intent would be implicit in distortion and engaging in it under the cover of alleged rights would constitute a perversion of rights; no one would, therefore, be entitled to it.

Thus, it appears that a clear distinction needs to be made between rights and perversions.

However, the right to engage in honest critical appraisal of any teaching is legitimate and this needs to be distinguished from distortion and protected.

Palitha Mapatuna

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