The True Worth of a Tradition
Some people have questioned the historical reliability of the Canon’s accounts—usually on subjective grounds—but we have yet to encounter any solid evidence that the canonical sources we have cited are not trustworthy. There is no archeological or textual evidence to contradict any of the Canon’s accounts.
And as for objections to the Canon’s frequent reference to psychic powers or to beings on other levels of the cosmos, on the grounds that such things are inconsistent with a modern deterministic and materialist view of reality: That view of reality has never been proven—and it never will be—despite the many false claims that it is “scientific.”
The Canon itself shows that there is nothing especially modern about it [that view of reality]. It existed in the time of the Buddha, and the Buddha explicitly rejected it both because it didn’t lead to skillful behavior and because it offered no possibility for a path to the end of suffering (MN 60; AN 3:62), which was the whole point of his life and teaching.
Fortunately, the ability to benefit from the Buddha’s teaching does not depend on accepting everything reported in the Canon. As it itself says, legends and traditions can be mistaken, and the true worth of a tradition is measured by the actions its teachings inspire.
This means that the essence of the Dhamma reported in the Canon lies in the teachings it presents—both directly, in instructions, and indirectly, through narratives—that can actually be put into practice to see if they lead to skillful results.
This is an area where the Canon excels. The useful and honorable values it conveys, both in the Buddha’s teachings and through the stories of his accomplishments, deserve to be kept alive so that they can be put to the test.
This reflection by Ajaan Geoff is from the book, Noble Warrior : A Life of the Buddha Compiled from the Pāli Canon, “Introduction.”