Drop the urge to orthodoxy. Gnosis requires no historical validation. It is a direct experience, not some set of statements about the past or future.
Here is a quick rundown on the basics of Buddhist beginnings:
Soon after Buddha’s death or parinirvana, five hundred monks met at the first council at Rajagrha, under the leadership of Kashyapa. Upali recited the monastic code (Vinaya) as he remembered it. Ananda, Buddha’s cousin, friend, and favorite disciple — and a man of prodigious memory! — recited Buddha’s lessons (the Sutras). The monks debated details and voted on final versions. These were then committed to memory by other monks, to be translated into the many languages of the Indian plains. It should be noted that Buddhism remained an oral tradition for over 200 years [I have read that it remained an oral tradition for > 500 years!]
In the next few centuries, the original unity of Buddhism began to fragment. The most significant split occurred after the second council, held at Vaishali 100 years after the first. After debates between a more liberal group and traditionalists, the liberal group left and labeled themselves the Mahasangha — “the great sangha.” They would eventually evolve into the Mahayana tradition of northern Asia.
The traditionalists, now referred to as Sthaviravada or “way of the elders” (or, in Pali, Theravada), developed a complex set of philosophical ideas beyond those elucidated by Buddha. These were collected into the Abhidharma or “higher teachings.” But they, too, encouraged disagreements, so that one splinter group after another left the fold. Ultimately, 18 schools developed, each with their own interpretations of various issues, and spread all over India and Southeast Asia. Today, only the school stemming from the Sri Lankan Theravadan survives.
- Buddhism remained an oral tradition for over 500 years.
- After the Second Council, we have the Mahasangha and Sthaviravada. [ The first council is most likely legend. ]
- Mahasangha becomes Mahayana.
- Many schools / sects develop.
- Sthaviravada becomes Theravada.
- Theravada fragmented into many schools, only one of which survives today.
The fact that much of the foundations of Buddhist history exist in the form of oral tradition makes it difficult for the western mind to accept that there is any truly ‘authentic’ form of Buddhism. Even Theravada Buddhist doctrine represents an evolution of the earliest teachings.
Having no way to historically validate things, we recognize that historical validation is unnecessary anyways. To seek historical validation for the value of a practice is foolish– instead, we can just try the practice and taste the fruits for ourselves. In the end, it is our own effort that will carry us to the other shore– we must do the sitting, standing, walking, and lying down.
Everywhere you go, until the time of your death, you will have your breath! Give mindfulness of the breath a try.
Behold the breath, as seen through the intellect, from the outside 😉