How do we know that the teachings of the Buddha that we come across are indeed what He had taught? Do we take into consideration the credibility of the messengers? Do we simply assess the teachings according to our own experience and views?
In this day and age, there are a growing number of misquotes of the Buddha found in social media. Content publishers ascribe quotes to “The Buddha”, to draw unknowing readers to ‘like’ their content. This inevitably leads to distorted views on Buddhism. It is pertinent that Buddhists learn to distinguish real Buddhist quotes from fake ones.
The Buddha spent 45 years conveying Dhamma to His Disciples, both monastic and lay, with skills unsurpassed by any other teacher. On many occasions, the ardent listener was able to realise the truth and gain insight. If we want to learn what the Buddha really said and taught, we must refer to the ‘Tipitakā’ (translated as the ‘Three Collections’) and seek the counsel of wise teachers. So, what is the Tipitakā?
Just two months after the Buddha passed away in 543 BCE, His teachings were rehearsed and memorised by 500 of His enlightened disciples in the First Rehearsal held in Rajagaha. The disciples amassed the entire corpus of Buddha’s teachings as ‘Dhamma-Vinaya’ (the discourses and discipline respectively).
In subsequent Rehearsals, further commentaries were added by the monastic community. These included extracts and systematic elucidations of the earlier Rehearsals which provided a more structured resource for practitioners’ ease of learning. In the Third Rehearsal held around 232 BCE in Pataliputta, the ‘Dhamma-Vinaya’ compendium was expanded and restructured into three major parts: ‘Vinaya’ , ‘Sutta’ and ‘Abhidhamma’ Pitakā (collections); thus was the inception of the Tipitakā (the ‘Three Collections’).
In the 1st Century BCE, the Fourth Rehearsal was held in Sri Lanka where the Tipitakā was committed to writing, initially inscribed onto Ola (palm) leaves. Today, the Tipitakā has been translated to dozens of languages and is available in many websites for the convenience of learners. It is worthwhile mentioning that we should check one source with another to ensure that we are not misguided at any point, and that we do not misrepresent what the Buddha taught.
For more information on the origins of the Tipitakā, you may refer to Introducing the Pali Tipitaka.