Tuesday, 24 January 2017


Meditation in Buddhism is not about experiencing the ‘present moment’ as some people claim but rather it is the gateway to enlightenment and other mystical experiences. This can be demonstrated by looking the descriptions given by the Buddha and his disciples of meditative states including mindfulness and the claims of the masters regarding the power of meditation and its mystical fruits.
Contrary to the secular idea that mediation is solely about being 'present in the moment' we find in the scriptures meditation is an otherworldly experience (cf, A.IV.430) constituting another world in both the psychological and cosmological sense (cf, D.III.215 and S.V.56). It is a 'superbly extraordinary state' (cf, M.I.159; M.I.147) beyond reflection and conceptual though.

It might be objected that the jhana’s are about concentration whereas in mindfulness mediation we are aware of the ‘present moment’ but Buddha warned us not to reify the present saying “let go of the past, and future” but also "let go of the present” (see appendix one). We must further recognize that the present moment is an illusion since all phenomenal appearances are not ultimate but rather dreamlike illusions and persistent projections of one's own mind. Furthermore, the Buddha did not declare any sharp distinctions between mindfulness [sati] and concentration (Thanissaro, 2010).
In fact, the Buddha explained that mindfulness (Sati) includes a process of retrospective observing or both retrospection and observation. In the words of the Buddha (SN 48:10):
 And which is the faculty of sati [mindfulness]? There is the case where a disciple of the noble ones has sati, is endowed with excellent proficiency in sati, remembering and recollecting what was done and said a long time ago. He remains focused on the body in and of itself—ardent, alert, and having sati— subduing greed and distress with reference to the world. He remains focused on feelings in and of themselves... the mind in and of itself... mental qualities in and of themselves—ardent, alert, and having sati—subduing greed and distress with reference to the world. This is called the faculty of sati.”
Furthermore, it is possible to be mindful of things that will occur in the future such as death. From the Pali-cannon (AN 6.19):
The Blessed One said, "Mindfulness of death, when developed and pursued, is of great fruit and great benefit. It gains a footing in the deathless, has the deathless as its final end. Therefore you should develop mindfulness of death."
The reason one can be mindful of future events is because sati is best described as remembering and thus bringing to mind in remembrance inevitable future events is a legitimate mindfulness [sati] practice. In the Satipațțhāna-sutta the term sati means to remember the dharmas, whereby the true nature of phenomena can be seen (Sharf, 2014, p 942) and is what causes the practitioner to "remember" that any feeling she experiences exists in relation to a whole variety of feelings that may be skillful or unskillful, with faults or faultlessness, inferior or refined, dark or pure (Sharf, 2014, p 942) (Gethin, 1992). In other words mindfulness (Sati) has almost nothing to do with ‘bare awareness’ or ‘living in the moment’ and many have bemoaned the dangers of conflating of ‘bare attention’ with sati (Thanissaro, 2010) (Garfield, n.d.).
It can not even be argued that living in the present is a distinctly Zen teaching since the masters also teach that we should reject the phenomena before us. In the words of Changhwa kunsunim (Changhwa, 2003, p187) :
[It is] truly deplorable that [we] only see the external appearance of things, only [see] the phenomena, not the ultimate reality or essence” (Changhwa, 2003, p186) and that “Meditation practice is the realization of the truth that mind itself is the Buddha, the Buddha, the mind.” 
In fact it’s not unusual for Zen masters to sound quite mystical about awakening such as Changhwa kunsunim insisting that “the true-thusness, the Vairocana Buddha is itself the universe” (Changhwa, 2003, p191) and that the universe is literally the mind of the Buddha and that rocks and clouds are literally alive with the mysterious Buddha-mind. Dogen likewise argued for the universality of Buddha-nature and claimed that "fences, walls, tiles, and pebbles" are also "mind" (,shin). Dogen also argued that "insentient beings expound the teachings" and that the words of the eternal Buddha “are engraved on trees and on rocks . . . in fields and in villages(Parks [1], 2009) (Parks [2], 2009) (Parks [3], 2009) ( Heisig, 2010) (OUP, 2013) (OUP, 2005)
And it might be tempting to write this mysticism off as a metaphor but other contemporary masters talk in ways that leave no doubt that the meaning is mystical (DaeHaeng, 2007, p26):
The speed of light is considered to be the fastest thing in the universe, but it is not faster than mind. The ability of mind is such that if you awaken there is nothing you cannot know, and there is no place you cannot reach. The Buddha knew that displaying this ability tends to confuse people, without helping them, so he was careful about doing so. If you sincerely believe in the power of mind and awaken, then, while continuing to practice, you will be able to clearly see all the things that are invisible to ordinary people. The ability of our fundamental mind is the most profound and mysterious thing in the entire universe.”

It is extremely hard to take this kind of talk as a metaphor and the Zen master continues on talking about life on other planets and it's clear she is talking about spiritual beings rather than beings made with carbon atoms. Many of the seemingly impossible promises that are found in Buddhism such as saving all beings seem literally possible from the enlightened perspective. As DaeHaeng kunsunim put it (DaeHaeng, 2007, p64):
Through the mysterious and profound truth that is the Buddha-Dharma, you can hear the needs of all unenlightened beings and you can save all unenlightened beings. You can do all this with hands that are not hands and feet that are not feet. All of this is possible because through the power of the Buddha-Dharma anything can be done, even in the material world. The great meaning of the Buddha-Dharma is so vast and complete that it is almost beyond comprehension.” 
It is clear from the words and the contexts above that these contemporary Zen masters are not using metaphors and do not think they are exaggerating. And furthermore, on close inspection it is even impossible to take as metaphors the celestial Buddha and Bodhisattva when enlightened contemporary masters write in English their experiences of meeting Cosmic Beings (Jongil,1990):

In Daein Cave on the side of Mt. Youngchook, the Vairocana Himself prophesied that I would be a Buddha in the near future (in this life or the next). He touched me on the forehead, saying, “Buddhist Nun, you are a student of mine forever” and “for three months he taught me how to get Buddhahood.” ”
The simplification of meditation to a secular cult of the 'present moment' is rather to miss the point. Meditation requires 'right aspiration' (Samma sankappa), 'right views' (Samma ditthi), 'right livelihood' (Samma Ajiva) and the rest of the path. Buddhism is about mind-training that is deep and difficult and does lead to otherworldly and mystical experiences which illuminate the commonly unseen. Meditation is about the great matter of life and death - a bit more than a walk in the park to listen to the birds! Although, I do love a walk in the park and the birds are very pretty...
DaeHaeng, kunsunim, (2007), Trusting the Enlightenment That’s Always There, Wisdom Publications
Garfield, Jay L., n.d., Mindfulness and Ethics: Attention, Virtue and Perfection, http://info-buddhism.com/Mindfulness-and-Morality-J-Garfield.html, accessed 24/01.2017
Gethin, Rupert M.L. (1992), The Buddhist Path to Awakening: A Study of the Bodhi-Pakkhiȳa Dhammā. BRILL's Indological Library, 7. Leiden and New York:
Heisig, JW; Raud, R (2010) 'Body-min' and Buddha-Nature: Dōgen's Deeper Ecology' In: Frontiers of Japanese Philosophy: Classical Japanese Philosophy. Nagoya, Japan: Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture
Jongil, (1990), Vairocana, isbn 978-89-5746-310-9
OUP (2005). Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy. Oxford: OUP.
OUP. (2013). Dogen Kigen. Available: http://oxfordindex.oup.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803095724851. Last accessed 13 Sept 2013.
Parkes [2], Graham (2009) 'Dōgen's `Mountains and Waters as Sūtras'' In: William Edelglass and Jay L. Garfield (eds).Buddhist Philosophy: Essential Readings. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press
Parkes [3], Graham (2009) 'The Awareness of Rock: East-Asian Understandings and Implications' In: David Skrbina (eds).mind that Abides: Panpsychism in the New Millenium. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins
Parks [1] , Graham (2009). The awareness of rocks. Skrbina David, Ed. mind that Abides.' Chapter 17, pg 326.
Sharf, Robert (October 2014). "Mindfulness and Mindlessness in Early Chan" (PDF). Philosophy East and West. 64 (4): 943. ISSN 0031-8221.
Thanissaro Bhikkhu, 2010, Mindfulness Defined, http://www.katinkahesselink.net/tibet/mindfulness-thanissaro.html, accessed 24/01.2017
APPENDIX ONE (Dhammapada 348)
Munca pure munca pacchato
majjhe munca bhavassa paragu
sabbattha vimuttamanaso
na punam jatijaram upehisi.
Bodhipaksa’s translation:
Let go of the past, let go of the future.
Let go of the present. Having gone beyond becoming,
with mind completely freed,
you will never again come to birth and aging.
Buddharakkhita’s translation:
Let go of the past, let go of the future,
let go of the present, and cross over to the farther shore of existence.
With mind wholly liberated,
you shall come no more to birth and death.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017


A common intuition among Buddhists is that there is no-self (anattā), that things are empty (sunyata) and that real things are in some way an illusion.  What is not usually recognised is that this same idea has resurfaced time and time again in western philosophy since the time of Plato.  Another unrecognised aspect of no-self is that it potentially causes some problems for some teachings related to Nirvana.

In order to understand the problem of emptiness (sunyata) and nirvana, it is instructive to briefly (we'll do it very briefly -in a single paragraph) look at the historical debate in the West.  Plato was a realist and taught that abstract things such as numbers were actually real.  He taught that somewhere in the realm of forms (εἶδος or eidos) abstract forms, such as numbers exist in a state more real than the particular things we can see.  Plato thought that forms are the purest of all things being transcendent to our world and super-ordinate to matter and true knowledge is the ability to grasp the world of forms by one's mind.  Plato’s forms were, he taught, a blueprint of perfection, a perfect non-material realm that really exists somewhere.  The rejection of these Platonic forms became known as the ‘problem of universals’ and the rejection of ‘universals’ and ‘forms’ became known as ‘nominalism’ meaning ‘name’ in Latin.

No-self (anattā) is a type of nominalism because ‘self’ has no independent existence except as a name. Emptiness (sunyata) is an example of Buddhist nominalism because both reject abstract concepts, general terms or universals insisting they have no independent existence but exist only as names. Therefore, various objects labelled by the same term have nothing in common but their name. This whole thing will sound very familiar to anyone who has ever looked at Buddhist teachings.

William of Ockham
There are different types of western nominalism such as 'conceptualism' which explains things as conceptualized frameworks situated within the thinking mind (Strawson, 2006). The conceptualist view approaches the metaphysical concept of universals from a perspective that denies their presence in particulars outside the mind's perception of them which again will be very familiar to Buddhists.  They argue that universals exist only because the human mind observes the natural world and creates categories (names) for the many individual objects it sees. None of these ideas, concepts, categories, or “names” exist apart from the specific objects to which they are attached.

These particulars are not a separate reality but only a creation of the human mind. Thus, when we observe fire we ignore the differences such as size, shape, colour, fuel, heat, or smokiness, and concentrate on what we believe are the similarities. We create the phenomena “fire” which helps us bring order to our world. There is no separate “fireness” in which the variety of individual objects we label “fire” participate.

Nominalists claim that values such as 'true' and 'false' are abstract objects as well which are rejected.  The same goes for 'good,' 'evil,' 'right' and 'wrong' and all other universals.  Related to this nominalistic insight is the realisation that things are on analysis ineffable for in order that things be readily describable we need some kind of realist theory of universals (not going to go into why here, but trust me on this one – ask me or do research if that intrigues you).  That things are conceptualist and thus particulars are ineffable will be found explicitly amongst Buddhist philosophers and implicitly among Buddhist teachers.  

From the earliest times Buddhist philosophers were nomanilists and we find it taught in the Abhidharma (Siderifts, 2007, p 213) but it was not until Dignāga (c. 480 – c. 540 CE) that Buddhist philosophy became consistent on this point (Siderifts, 2007, p 213).  In this respect, some Buddhist concepts can sometimes betray the intuition of nominalism such as some understandings of Nirvana as 'unconditioned' and 'eternal'. 

Nirvana is sometimes described as being a 'pure' thing in itself much like Plato’s forms.  Nirvana is often said to be “unconditioned” (asamskrta),  “devoid of cause and effect" (visankhara/asankhata), “the unconditioned element” (asankhata-dhatu), “the unborn” (ajāta) or “the unarisen” (abhūta), “uncreated” (anutpattika) and so on.  This description of Nirvana certainly doesn’t sound like it has been created by the thinking mind due to a matrix of 'cause and effect' as standard Buddhist philosophy would suggest.

As such Buddhists potentially have their own version of the ‘problem of universals’ since they have to explain what on earth the unconditioned (asankhata) means when describing Nirvana and Buddha-nature.  There are however nominilistic explanations of Nirvana such as the Lankavatara sutra describing four types of teaching of Nirvana which were meant for different types of people on the path (Suzuki, 1932, p 169):

1) people who are suffering, or who are afraid of suffering, and who think of Nirvana;
2) there are the philosophers who try to discriminate Nirvana;
3) there are the class of disciples who think of Nirvana in relation to themselves;
4) the Nirvana of the Buddhas.

The Nirvana of the Buddha’s is to recognise “that there is nothing but what is seen of the mind itself; ...recognising the nature of the self-mind, one no longer cherishes the dualisms of discrimination; is where there is no more thirst nor grasping; is where there is no more attachment to external things. Nirvana is where the thinking-mind with all its discriminations, attachments, aversions and egoism is forever put away; is where logical measures, as they are seen to be inert, are no longer seized upon; is where even the notion of truth is treated with indifference because of its causing bewilderment...”

The Lankavatara sutra recognises that there are many different ways in which the ‘unconditionedness’ of Nirvana can be understood but teaches that the Nirvana of the Buddha’s is one of ‘conceptualist nomonilism’ and thus Bankei kununim (1622-93) advised us to “abide as the Unborn” or in other words don’t start making conceptual universals such as “me,” “Buddhism,” “enlightened,” “unenlightened,” “young,” “old,” "good," "evil,"  and so on.

The upshot of this is that nominalism applies even to 'emptiness' (ie, emptiness is empty) and to claim that 'enlightenment' or 'Buddhism' can be defined and said to be 'X, Y or Z' runs contrary to the core insights of the Buddhist tradition.

Mark Siderits, 2007, Buddhism as Philosophy, Ashgate Publishing Ltd

Strawson, 2006, "Conceptualism. Universals, concepts and qualities: new essays on the meaning of predicates." Ashgate Publishing, 2006

Suzuki, 1932, Lankavatara,  George Routledge & Son, London

Wednesday, 11 January 2017


Zen is not anti-interlectual or anti-learning and those that claim so have got confused by the Zen's message, context, history and teachings.  This paper starts of by considering where the claim that Zen is anti-learning originated and then goes on to explain how that could not possibly be the case since Zen has a great intellectual and literary history spanning centuries and continuing on today. The essay then considers the educational activities and backgrounds of several modern Buddhist leaders to show that they are highly educated and how they have never stopped learning and teaching about Buddhism.

Throughout the whole of the Buddhist tradition there is the notion that we should not get lost in
D.T. Suzuki
metaphysical views and the Pali-cannon has Buddha saying that 'no-view is supermundane right-view'.  This idea is completly legitimate and is the meaning behind the comments of Zen teachers when they say things like this from D.T. Suzuki:
     “Zen has nothing to teach us in the way of intellectual analysis,” and that the sutras are “mere waste paper whose utility consist in wiping off the dirt of the intellect and nothing more”. The goal is “absolute peace of mind,” and this is only attained by eliminating the “reasoning faculty,” which only “hinders the mind from coming into the directest communication with itself”
It is in this light that Western Buddhist anti-intellectualism is best understood, however, this can lead to a much misunderstanding of the tradition.

The claim that Zen is anti-learning doesn't stand up to scrutiny as it is
impossible to reconcile the profound impact Zen philosophy has had on the intellectual world of East Asia where even its intellectual enemies were forced to answer to its perspectives and views. In fact, so strong were its arguments and so persuasive were its proponents that Zen’s opponents always found themselves unwittingly drawn into its intellectual terrain. Without learning, teaching and propagating it would have been impossible for Zen's philosophy and ideas have to have influenced East Asian philosophy, aesthetics, culture and literature in the ways that it has. Furthermore, this scholarly and cultural heritage continues to be taught worldwide by scholar monks such as HH Dali-Lama, Reverend Park, Reverend Thich Nhat Han and Reverend D.T Suzuki all of whose scholarly achievements will be outlined below.

Furthermore, contrary to the popular image, Zen literature has played and continues to play a fundamental role in training novice monks and laymen alike and monks are expected to become familiar with the classics of the Zen canon. Zen has a rich textual tradition and a review of the early historical documents and literature of Zen masters clearly reveals that they were well versed in numerous Mahāyāna Buddhist sūtras and this tradition continues up to the present time.

Furthermore, Buddhist countries have established Buddhist Universities where monks have to study to gain a qualification in Buddhism before becoming ordained. For example, the Soto and Rinzai schools their own Universities in Japan, (Komazawa University and Hanazono University respectively) as do the Jogye Order in Korea (Dongguk University). For more information on Buddhist Universities read ‘further reading’ below.
The Tripitaka Koreana, Haeinsa temple in Korea
Furthermore, the Zen tradition has placed a high regard on its sutras which were carefully stored, preserved and studied. For example, the Haeinsa temple in Korea has a complete collection of almost all Buddhist texts (the Tripitaka Koreana) which are engraved on 80,000 woodblocks. The great regard the Zen tradition has for the sutras and commentaries is completely incompatible with the idea that learning is to be abandoned in Zen.

As has been pointed out by Seizen (2009),  
“Chan does not reject the scriptures of the Buddhist canon, but simply warns of the futility of relying on them for the attainment of emancipating insight. The sacred texts — and much more so the huge exegetical apparatus that had grown up around them in the older scholastic schools — were regarded as no more than signposts pointing the way to liberation. Valuable though they were as guides, they needed to be transcended in order for one to awaken to the true intent of Śākyamuni’s teachings.” 
Therefore, it is a mistake to underestimate the role of learning in Zen. It must be recognised that although final enlightenment is outside of the scriptures, the scriptures themselves are an indispensable signpost along the way. As it would be a mistake to confuse the finger pointing to the moon for the moon itself, it would be just as mistaken to ignore the finger in the first place. And as much as “Zen has nothing to teach us in the way of intellectual analysis” it does not follow that one can reach the endpoint of Zen without first knowing the way.

How then can we reconcile the claim that we must remove all “obstacles of knowledge and affliction,” and then “experience” reality directly as a “state of being refreshed” with the idea that we must ground ourselves in Buddhist philosophy? The answer lies in the dialectical process (the Middle Way of the Twofold Truth) which is essentially the way of emptiness. It is a path of eliminating extreme views so that one may be "empty" of attachments. This is a dialectical process of purifying the mind by eliminating attachment to things and views. In other words, "Emptiness" means "absolutely non-abiding" - but what is non-abiding?

The Sutra of Hui-neng says,
"Learned audience, to what are meditation and wisdom analogous? They are analogous to a lamp and its light. With the lamp, there is light. Without it, it would be dark. The lamp is the quintessence of the light and the light is the expression of the lamp. In name they are two things, but in substance they are the same. It is the same case with meditation and wisdom."
 This tells us that to have meditation is to obtain wisdom, and to have wisdom is to refute erroneous views. So meditation and wisdom are not two separate things but one. People therefore should not emphasize the importance of meditation at the expense of wisdom. Nor should they stress the importance of wisdom at the expense of meditation. In other words, not attaching to any views is a meditation technique and not a call to do nothing else and is not a call to throw away the sutras or not to learn about them.

Park Kunsunim with Pope Benedict XVI
Despite the quotes above that saying that learning will not help one achieve enlightenment it must be  noted that this is an expression of the Buddhist concept of ‘TwoFold Truth’ and that those same authors Suzuki and Thich Nhat Hanh are scholar monks who never stopped learning before or after enlightenment and are themselves very well educated they have written extensively on Buddhism and have established their own universities in order to teach Buddhism. And furthermore, throughout history there have been great scholar monks who have developed and propagated Zen teachings and philosophy to a wide audience indicating that while meditation requires stopping ‘intellectual analysis’ it is neither anti-intellectual or anti-learning. Although there are many enlightened scholar monks four high profile monks are given below as an example (listed in alphabetical order):

H.H. Dali-Lama, (Monk and spiritual leader)
Education: Ph.D (Buddhist metaphysics)
Publications: 34 books

Reverend Park, (Monk and Patriarch of the International Taego Order)
Education: Ph.D (on the Avatamsaka Sutra)
Writings: Published six scholarly books on Buddhism
Spreading Dharma: teaches Buddhism at University; created his own Buddhist University

Reverend D.T Suzuki (Monk and teacher)
Education: Professor of Buddhist Philosophies and scholar of Chinese, Japanese, and Sanskrit literature
Writings: Many (several dozens), although I could not find a definitive list
Spreading Dharma: Professor of Buddhist Philosophies

Reverend Thich Nhat Han (Monk and spiritual leader)
Education: Graduated from Bao Quoc Buddhist Academy, Vietnam
Writings: Editor for the Unified Vietnam Buddhist Association (Giáo Hội Phật Giáo Việt Nam Thống Nhất), and has written 40 books
Teaching: Founded Lá Bối Press, the Van Hanh Buddhist University, Saigon, Vietnam

The idea that Zen means one should be anti-intellectual and anti-learning does not stand up to analysis on several grounds. The enormously varied Zen tradition, which is rich in philosophy, culture, prose, and literature could not have flourished and sustained itself without learning, propagating and teaching. It is also clear that ancient and modern Zen monks both were and are scholars who are well educated and who didn’t give up learning and teaching even after enlightenment. Therefore, the idea that Zen teaches anti-intellectualism or is anti-learning is to take the teachings out of context. That is not to say that meditation does not require one to relinquish attachment to one's views, but it does not follow that one does not therein after have views, and indeed Buddhism has always taught right-views and these are subtle but important differences

Chi-tsang, The Meaning of the Twofold Truth; Taisho 1854, pp. 90-91.
Nhât Hanh, T. (2006) Understanding Our Mind. Berkeley: Parallax Press.
Suzuki, D.T. (1964) An Introduction to Zen Buddhism. New York: Grove Press, Inc.
Yanagida, Seizan (2009), Historical Introduction to The Record of Linji. In: The record of Linji, translated by Ruth Fuller Sasakia e.a., University of Hawaii Press

List of Buddhist Universities - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Buddhist_universities_and_colleges

Sunday, 8 January 2017


There is no real-Buddhism but rather a gigantic tradition, a great Dharma Mountain with many meandering footpaths, refuges, and activities on its slopes. This 'Great Dharma Mountain' includes everything and also its opposite and yet remains one single Mountain. In fact, there were 84,000 paths taught by the Buddha 2,500 years ago and many more discovered since – many paths, one Mountain.

Celestial Buddha, Amitabul, in the Pure Land Heaven
Almost every Buddhist will tell you what Buddhism is 'really' but this tells more about the likes and dislikes of the author than Buddhism. Buddhists will often insist on which beliefs and practices should be accepted and which ones disguarded and not surprisingly their favourite bits are the parts they emphasise while the others aspects, they maintain, should be discarded (how fortunate it's not the other way round). The truth, however, is that there is a huge variety of practices and beliefs that are included in Buddhism just like there are many ways to skin a cat or many paths to climb a mountain.

There are certain strands that one can identify within the tradition but none are quintessentially Buddhist. Even the famous 'no-self' (anattā) which despite being a constant strand and sometimes said to be the defining feature of Buddhism it has still caused heated debate down the centuries and some sutras such as the Nirvana sutra go as far as saying:
“in truth there is the Self [ātman] in all dharmas [phenomena]” and “The Self (ātman) is reality (tattva), the Self is permanent (nitya), ...the Self is eternal (śāśvatā), the Self is stable (dhruva), the Self is peace (siva).”

Furthermore, other parts of the tradition argue that 'no-self' is to be understood as a sceptical teaching where one frees oneself from attachment to all metaphysical views and both 'self' and 'no-self' are views one must overcome.  

Within the Buddhist tradition you find every kind of idea presented and also its opposite. As already mentioned you find diverse ideas such as 'no-self', its opposite 'eternal-self' and its counterpart 'no-views'. You find atomic realism (eg, Sarvastivada) and all kind of opposites such all reality being the creation of Mind (eg, Yogacara) or an illusion (eg, Avatamsaka) and many other teachings besides.

Some believe that Buddhism denies gods (eg, much of the Western school) while others
Emptiness (sunyata)
pray daily to celestial Buddha's and Bodhisattvas (eg, Pure Land Buddhists) and even talk of God (eg, some Zennists) [1]. Some strains will teach that Buddhism has been revealed by Buddha and passed on in its almost perfect form (eg, Southern Buddhists) while others think that the teachings are not to be taken literally but discovered for oneself (eg, Zen). Others insist Buddha was a political liberal who was interested in reforming society while rivals claim he renounced society and politics altogether. In the Mahayana ‘emptiness’ (sunyata) is sometimes claimed to be fundamental but that would mean that nobody understood ‘real’ Buddhism until hundreds of years after the death of the Buddha including the Buddha’s own disciples.

In fact, the Venerable Ananda said in the Pali-cannon that there were 84,000 teachings he knew of (Theragatha 17.3 (vv. 1024-29)) which indicates the shear magnitude of teachings given while the historical Buddha was still alive which have magnified beyond measure through the teachings of enlightened masters since then.

It is safe therefore to conclude then that when anyone tells you that Buddhism is X,Y and Z or Buddha was ‘like this’ or ‘like that’ then they are talking about a single strand (or several strands) of the Buddhist tradition and are excluding the rest based on their own preferences. No presentation of Buddhism or the Buddha can possibly encapsulate the whole variety of ideas, stories and practices. Alarm bells should ring whenever anyone claims that they have discovered the correct strand of this huge tradition whilst the rest is an unnecessary add-on or mistake. Claims of this type are reflections of the mental state of the author and tells you little about what Buddhism is actually like. There is not one ‘true Buddhist tradition’ any-more than there is one ‘true-tree’ on a mountain. To deny the other beliefs and practices is committing the ‘no-true-Scotsman fallacy’.

The only strands that run undisputed through the whole tradition is a certain ethical code
Buddha in meditation
and the practice of mediation but even here different schools highlight some methods and practices and downplay or deny others. And even in mediation there are different understandings about the same practices leading to endless confusion and debate. There is not even agreement about the goal of meditation and different schools, teachers and sutras give a variety of ideas and interpretations about 'enlightenment' such as overcoming life and death (eg, Southern school), realising Buddhahood (eg, Eastern schools) or seeing the world as it really is (eg, many Western Buddhists).

To conclude then: there is no one ‘true-Buddhism’ to be separated from a ‘wrong-way’ but rather a Great Dharma Mountain of endless teachings. So let us enjoy the journey up the Mountain and I'll race you to the top by whatever way you choose to travel. 

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wL1V1eURgDI