The Buddha’s Warning Against Getting Caught in Doctrines

The following conversation was reported to have taken place between the ascetic Dighanaka and Gautama the Buddha.  This recounting is from the book Old Path White Clouds: Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.

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Dighanakha asked the Buddha, “Gautama, what is your teaching? What are your doctrines? For my part, I dislike all doctrines and theories. I don’t subscribe to any at all.”

The Buddha smiled and asked, “Do you subscribe to your doctrine of not following and doctrines? Do you believe in your doctrine of not-believing?”

Somewhat taken aback, Dighanakha replied, “Gautama whether I believe of don’t believe is no importance.”

The Buddha spoke gently, “Once a person is caught by belief in a doctrine, he loses all his freedom. When on becomes dogmatic, he believes his doctrine is the only truth and that all other doctrines are heresy. Disputes and conflicts all arise from narrow views. They can extend endlessly, wasting precious time and sometimes even leading to war. Attachment to views is the greatest impediment to the spiritual path. Bound to narrow views, one becomes so entangled that it is no longer possible to let the door of truth open.”

[…]

Dighanakha asked, “But what of your own teaching? If someone follows your teaching will he become caught in narrow views?”

“My teaching is not a doctrine or a philosophy. It is not the result of discursive thought or mental conjecture like various philosophies which contend that the fundamental essence of the universe is fire, water, earth, wind, or spirit, or that the universe is either finite or infinite, temporal, or eternal. Mental conjecture and discursive thought about truth are like ants crawling around the rim of the bowl — they never get anywhere. The things I say come from my own experience. You can confirm them all by your own experience.

[…]

My goal is not to explain the universe, but to help guide others to have a direct experience of reality. Words cannot describe reality. Only direct experience enables us to see the true face of reality.”

Dighanakha exclaimed, “Wonderful, wonderful Gautama! But what would happen if a person did perceive your teaching as a dogma?”

[…]

I must state clearly that my teaching is method to experience reality and not reality itself, just as a finger pointing at the moon is not the moon itself. An intelligent person makes use of the finger to see the moon.”

Click here to visit “Metta Refuge Dharma Nuggets” — short Dharma insights for your Daily Practice and Inspiration

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About Steven Goodheart

"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." Spinoza

4 Responses to “The Buddha’s Warning Against Getting Caught in Doctrines”

  1. Old Path White Clouds is perhaps my favorite book on Buddhism. It’s brilliant how Thay was able to weave together complex teachings into an accessible storyline. It’s rare that I find a book that I enjoy as much as I find it thought-provoking.

    • Hey tokenbearcub! I agree that “Old Path, White Clouds” is superlative, and it’s one of the first books I read by my heart teacher, Thich Nhat Hahn. You inspire me to read it again…it’s been a while.

      Thanks for your comments and for stopping by.

      With warm metta,
      Steve

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Buddha’s Warning Against Getting Caught in Doctrines | Standing in an Open Field - 2012/11/08

    […] https://mettarefuge.wordpress.com/2011/12/02/the-buddhas-warning-against-getting-caught-in-doctrines/ […]

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