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Book: Buddhism in Five Minutes

Chapter: 15. Can we Know what the Historical Buddha Taught?

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.40752


To ask this question is to ask how the teachings of the Buddha presented in ancient Buddhist texts relate to what the historical Buddha taught. It is clear that the collections of texts regarded by Buddhists today as “the word of the Buddha” are very diverse and date from various periods. If we assume that the oldest texts—those closest in time to the historical Buddha (c. fifth century bce)—are the texts most likely to contain what the historical Buddha taught, then we must ask whether we can reliably identify a set of texts relatively close in time to the historical Buddha. The answer to this question is, in broad terms, yes, we can do this, by paying attention to ancient disputes about the authenticity of the texts, and by considering their contents.

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