by Wayne Ren-Cheng
Dipping your toes into the vast river of Buddhist teachings can be frustrating and confusing. The language, the concepts, and the practice can seem alien to curious Westerners.You might want to enter the stream but you’re unsure how to reach the other side. You’re told that the Buddha never wrote anything down, that the Pali Nikayas contain sutras written down from as soon as a year after Siddhartha’s death to hundreds, and in some cases thousands of years later. Throughout those times and for the following couple of thousand years more texts were added. From the Theravada and Mahayana, Tibetan and Japanese, Nicheren and Pure Land, came non-canonical writings and commentaries meant to offer the dharma through the lens of each particular tradition. All of it claims to be the Dharma, and in some sense they are all the dharma if, capital D or lower case d they are experienced as the reality of the world we live in.
Authenticity is wanted, searched for, and has been argued over for thousands of years. In the Tibetan tradition rather than focusing on authenticity of who wrote it, the focus is on the efficacy of each teaching. Efficacy that is realized through action.
Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche is the head of the Shambhala lineage and Shambhala International, a network of urban Buddhist meditation centers, retreat centers, monasteries, a university, and other enterprises, founded by his father, the lat Buddhist Master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. He promotes intent rather than rule, wisdom rather than knowledge as more important in Buddhist practice. In his book, ‘The Sword of Wisdom’ he says, “If you do not have such understanding, Then, like a blind man leaning on his staff, You can rely on fame, mere words or what is easy to understand, And go against the logic of the four reliances.” In a later interview Mipham Rinpoche make this point much clearer. “The question of authorship was an important one for early Buddhists concerned with authenticity. But over the centuries it has become less so. Nowadays Buddhists resolve this issue by considering the teaching contained in the text on its own merits. Accordingly, the principle of the Four Reliances (catuh-pratisarana) has developed to deal with this issue: We are urged to rely on the teaching and not the author, the meaning and not the letter, the truth and not the convention, the knowledge and not the information. Thus, if a teaching accords with the Dharma, then the teacher must have been a buddha or someone empowered by a buddha to speak on his or her behalf.”
The Four Reliances are from the Tibetan tradition and is dharma, dharma that can help bring about real understanding that arises from experiencing the actions connected with the words.
Four Reliances (to learning Buddhist Dharma)
The four standards of Appropriate Dharma which should be relied upon and abided by: