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Buddhadharma : Spring 2019
56 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER'S QUARTERLY very beginning; after all, one of the Buddha’s special qualities was said to be his intuitive ability to adapt his teachings to the capabili- ties and needs of the person or persons to whom he was speaking. On a linguistic level, the Buddha in the vinaya urged his followers to spread his message “in one’s own dialect.” India, from antiquity to this day, has always been a land of vast linguistic diversity. We should not assume, then, that the Buddha himself, or his contempo- rary followers, restricted themselves to a single language or dialect. The linguistic and textual diversity that characterizes Buddhism existed from the very beginning. Thus, any search for the exact, true, original words of the Buddha is not only doomed to disappoint but misconceived from the start. It would make more sense to think in terms of multiple Buddhisms existing virtually from the very begin- ning, perhaps even during the lifetime of the Buddha. This is not, of course, how the various sectarian, regional, and linguistic traditions present themselves. Inevitably, they portray themselves as the sole (or at least the most authentic) keepers of the dharma. After all, in Buddhism, as in other realms, history is written by the victors, or at least by the survivors. The Buddhisms that have existed over the centuries loom large simply because they survived and flourished. They seem to embody the history of Buddhism, but from a wider perspective, they are each only one part out of many. The Pali canon of the Theravada school looms especially large. In the popular conception, it is considered the true and original Buddhist canon, due to a confluence of favorable circumstances. The Theravada Pali canon is the only complete surviving Buddhist canon in an Indian language; it is the canon of one of the most vital surviving schools of Buddhism over a wide geographical area; and it was the canon and form of Buddhism that first became known to European scholars. But in the time since awareness of Buddhism One of the clear messages for contemporary practitioners is that it’s not helpful to think of Buddhism in terms of a contrast between a single original source and the implicitly inferior derivatives of that primal source.