The Buddha on Fake Buddha Quotes (9)

The discourse I’m going to quote here is a kind of companion to another one that I’ve already dealt with, where the Buddha talks about how people will end up listening to teachings that are poetic and sound nice, but that aren’t the genuine teachings.

In that teaching, the Ani Sutta, the Buddha says that there are spiritual practitioners who “will listen to the utterance of such discourses which are literary compositions made by poets, witty words, witty letters, by people from outside, or the words of disciples” rather than the words of the Buddha, which are “profound, profound in meaning, leading beyond the world, dealing with emptiness.”

In this teaching, which is number 47 in the Section on Assemblies in the Numbered Discourses (Aṅguttara Nikāya) we have more of the same. The Buddha contrasts two different kinds of assemblies of monks. Some of them will gravitate to more poetic “fancy talk” which they will accept unquestioningly without analyzing the texts they’re hearing (remember this was an oral culture, and sacred texts were not written down), while others will recognize the fake teachings as fake and have no interest in them. And so they will instead turn toward the teachings of the Buddha, “deep, profound, transcendent, dealing with emptiness,” and analyze the meaning closely.

Here is the passage in question:

There are, mendicants, these two assemblies. What two? An assembly educated in fancy talk, not in questioning, and an assembly educated in questioning, not in fancy talk.

And what is an assembly educated in fancy talk, not in questioning?

It is an assembly where, when discourses spoken by the Realized One—deep, profound, transcendent, dealing with emptiness—are being recited the mendicants do not want to listen. They don’t pay attention or apply their minds to understand them, nor do they think those teachings are worth learning and memorizing.

But when discourses composed by poets—poetry, with fancy words and phrases, composed by outsiders or spoken by disciples—are being recited the mendicants do want to listen. They pay attention and apply their minds to understand them, and they think those teachings are worth learning and memorizing.

But when they’ve learned those teachings they don’t question or examine each other, saying: ‘Why does it say this? What does that mean?’ So they don’t clarify what is unclear, or reveal what is obscure, or dispel doubt regarding the many doubtful matters. This is called an assembly educated in fancy talk, not in questioning.

And what is an assembly educated in questioning, not in fancy talk?

It is an assembly where, when discourses composed by poets—poetry, with fancy words and phrases, composed by outsiders or spoken by disciples—are being recited the mendicants do not want to listen. They don’t pay attention or apply their minds to understand them, nor do they think those teachings are worth learning and memorizing.

But when discourses spoken by the Realized One—deep, profound, transcendent, dealing with emptiness—are being recited the mendicants do want to listen. They pay attention and apply their minds to understand them, and they think those teachings are worth learning and memorizing.

And when they’ve learned those teachings they question and examine each other, saying: ‘Why does it say this? What does that mean?’ So they clarify what is unclear, reveal what is obscure, and dispel doubt regarding the many doubtful matters. This is called an assembly educated in questioning, not in fancy talk. These are the two assemblies. The better of these two assemblies is the assembly educated in questioning, not in fancy talk.

Now I’m told over and over by people who seem not to have read much — or any — of the Buddhist scriptures that the Buddha was “too spiritual” to worry about being misquoted, but he seems to have been very aware of the problem of people preferring to listen to “inspiring” “feel-good” substitutes for teachings that are of more genuine worth. And he seems to have been very aware that people will listen to sugar-coated pablum without reflecting on it, much in the way that people see a quote on Facebook, say, “Aw, isn’t it inspiring!” and then scroll rapidly on to the cute kitten video that follows. And he was evidently very concerned about these developments.

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