Four Reliances: How to Discern the Real Thing

by Bob Schwartz

When it comes to teachings and texts, when it comes to our own thoughts and conclusions, how can we tell the authentic from the inauthentic, the worthy from the unworthy?

The Buddha spoke and taught, and many of those discourses were recorded or remembered by those close to him. But over the centuries, as those discourses were passed along, changes were inevitably made. Later others spoke in the Buddha’s name, and still others spoke on their own, with the Buddha as guide and inspiration. The same can be said within other traditions.

How are we determine what is the real thing—not just in Buddhism, not just in religion, but in all facets of our lives?

Buddhism developed the universally useful Four Reliances to help in this quest and questioning. Whether you are reading a scripture from different traditions, or texts of any kind on any subject, or are hearing the news of current events, these are valuable guidelines.

Here is the succinct formulation from Red Pine, found in his translation and commentary on the Heart Sutra.

Rely on the teaching and not the author
Rely on the meaning and not the letter
Rely on the truth and not the convention
Rely on the knowledge and not the information

Advertisements