This is an ongoing issue that needs collective attention. My two cents:
It seems to me that the assertion 'The Buddha did not teach it...' is usually made on the basis of textual authority. That is, a certain corpus of texts is regarded as the final arbiter on whether a particular way of thinking-practice is 'authentic' or 'original'. Regardless of how early these texts could be dated, this raises some questions:
- Is this how the Sanghas throughout history have approached textual resources? My general understanding is that historically texts were not simply subject to interpretation and analysis in the way that we are accustomed to and with which such assertions 'The Buddha did not teach it...' are made today. Amongst other activities, scriptural texts were recited collectively in various ceremonial contexts. In other contexts, emphasis was given (and perhaps, still is in certain traditional Buddhist cultures) to the memorisation of texts rather than interpretation and analysis. This is not to say that Buddhists practitioners of the past did not study, analyse, or interpret scriptural texts as we do today. What I'm suggesting is merely that the interpretive approach that appears so natural to us was perhaps not given the priority we give it today - if anything, it was always a part of a broader constellation of practices.
Nor am I suggesting that an interpretive approach is unhelpful or 'wrong' or that we should discard it. My understanding is that such an approach - which really came to the fore in the nineteenth century with the discovery of the dhamma by European scholars - was influenced by the prevailing Biblical scholarly paradigm of the time, a scholarly paradigm that regarded the Word or Logos as the final authority. If so, then, isn't it important to be reflexive about how such an approach is transposed onto the Dhamma, since unlike Christian scriptures, Buddhist texts emerged out of very different circumstances and were composed for very different purposes? In which case, we could ask: is an exclusive textualised approach for ascertaining 'what the Buddha taught?' what the Buddha taught?
- Building on the previous points and connecting with some of the observations made by Mike and Ñāṇa, it would seem that the question of whether a particular way of thinking-practice ought to be followed or not has to be considered not just with reference to a particular corpus of texts, but also in an ongoing life-practice that is to be cultivated with the support of a broader community - which might sometimes develop various approaches that are not necessarily found in canonical texts but are nevertheless inspired by lived experience of engaging with the Dhamma. In other words, the question I wish to raise is: in relying exclusively on one's own capacity to interpet texts to ascertain for oneself 'whether the Buddha taught it or not' - to what extent does such an approach bend the Dhamma to the dictates of individualism? And related to this we could ask: to what extent is such an ethos of individualism native to the Buddhism?
Let me reiterate that I do not deny the usefulness of consulting with canonical texts. Nor am I dismissing the need to clarify whether any particular way of thinking-practice accords with the Dhamma. What I wish to suggest is that in seeking to clarify 'what the Buddha taught', maybe we ought to be mindful of the historical situatedness of our preferred approach today, lest we mire ourselves in self-conceit about our own capacity 'to know' rather than allow the Dhamma to surprise us. Some of the most surprising discoveries I've had about the Dhamma is when I'm amidst other fellow practitioners, such as when I offer dana or simply sit with them to share a meal. Those instances of relationality
are when I develop some of the deepest convictions about 'what the Buddha taught'.