…Of course, the fact that the Pali Canon is the oldest (extant) record (of the Buddha’s teachings) is no guarantee that it is accurate. But as the Canon itself says, the true test of a teaching lies not in the claims of tradition, but in the results it gives when put into practice. To be fair, the test must involve four things:
—associating with people of integrity;
—listening to the true Dhamma;
—applying appropriate attention—i.e.. questioning the Dhamma in line with the four noble truths, to see how its explanation of suffering and the end of suffering can be applied in your life; and
—practicing the Dhamma in accordance with the Dhamma—i.e. practicing to give rise to dispassion for suffering and its cause.
The Canon lists eight qualities for judging whether a teaching is true Dhamma or not: If putting it into practice leads to dispassion, to being unfettered, to shedding conceit, to modesty, to contentment, to disentanglement, to persistence, and to being unburden some, then it’s genuine Dhamma. If it leads to the opposite qualities, it’s not.
People are free to take on this test, or not, as they see fit. But the fact of suffering makes the test urgent.
This reflection by Thanissaro Bhikkhu is from the book, The Buddha’s Teachings, An Introduction, p. 29.