We must always remember that we truly know nothing of the Buddha.
The sutras are marketing. Rustling up the right kind of people for this product.
The sutras were all about building faith. The Buddha was gone. Mahākāśyapa who the Buddha entrusted with the sangha was a crusty old man. And the monks even when the Buddha was alive were an unruly mob prone to bickering, arrogance, selfishness and all the human follies.
We have no idea what the Buddha taught first second or thirdly. Even in his final years of life if you read the sutras his teachings are different then when they started.
He ran around teaching all these different people and made it a point to ensure that all these different dharma types had the right teachings – for them.
Always for them.
Always for the benefit of others.
We are lucky that the first council was conveyed and they – seeing the problem of the vast sea of teachings that poured forth from the spot of suchness that we called Shakyamuni gave the second set of teachings for taming beings and this is the dharma we have today.
The Buddha’s teachings emerged as he met people. He taught live dharma. A living tradition. Sure there were core teachings but each person needed some different medicine.
You said, “What struck everyone however, was the Buddha’s serene, compassionate and kind manner and his passion, confidence and conviction.”
Then why would the Buddha entrust a crusty old man, Mahākāśyapa, with the sangha then? Mahākāśyapa was blunt, gruff and on several occasions blatantly refused to do what the Buddha wanted him to do.
Ananda spent his whole life around the Buddha but it was Mahākāśyapa who helped Ananda break-through to awakening.
Do not build up a house of cards.
Hold these teachings lightly. See what works for you. To teach we need the softness and sweetness of a Buddha and the stubbornness and ferocity of a Mahākāśyapa.
But it was Ananda’s soft heart that cared for the Buddha, tended to his every need. It was Ananda’s soft heart that welcomed the women and taught them.
So who’s right? Buddha? Mahākāśyapa? Ananda?
No-Self or Not-Self? The Buddha taught a type of Neti-Neti practice. This is condensed down for us in the heart sutra https://zenawakened.com/the-heart-sutra/
Once we let go of all this stuff you enter into what the Christians would call “The Mystery” and this idea I think is probably the best way to look at things and experience this life.
It is mysterious. We don’t really know what’s going on. We can glean some sort of patterns and processes and we can see when we do this it causes that. When we rest in radiant loving awareness – when we’re bathed in the waters of awakening then words can’t really convey the meaning of the morning star. But truth is understood once you see it.
Then we sit under the tree as the Buddha did for a long time with the question, “How to share this for the benefit of all beings?”
Thanissaro Bhikkhu said that,
“If you develop the path of virtue, concentration, and discernment to a state of calm well-being and use that calm state to look at experience in terms of the Noble Truths, the questions that occur to the mind are not “Is there a self? What is my self?” but rather “Am I suffering stress because I’m holding onto this particular phenomenon? Is it really me, myself, or mine? If it’s stressful but not really me or mine, why hold on?” These last questions merit straightforward answers, as they then help you to comprehend stress and to chip away at the attachment and clinging — the residual sense of self-identification — that cause it, until ultimately all traces of self-identification are gone and all that’s left is limitless freedom.
In this sense, the anatta teaching is not a doctrine of no-self, but a not-self strategy for shedding suffering by letting go of its cause, leading to the highest, undying happiness. At that point, questions of self, no-self, and not-self fall aside. Once there’s the experience of such total freedom, where would there be any concern about what’s experiencing it, or whether or not it’s a self?”
The Buddha also said,
“Luminous, monks, is the mind. And it is defiled by incoming defilements. The uninstructed run-of-the-mill person doesn’t discern that as it actually is present, which is why I tell you that — for the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person — there is no development of the mind.”
“Luminous, monks, is the mind. And it is freed from incoming defilements. The well-instructed disciple of the noble ones discerns that as it actually is present, which is why I tell you that — for the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones — there is development of the mind.”
The Buddha taught differently to different people. This is the problem the Christians face as all the different teachings for different types of people are all lumped together. It’s a hot mess!
Who are these well-instructed disciples? And why did the Buddha give them this teaching?
Look – look into the awareness that is aware of you reading these words right now.
Does it have a beginning or end?
Is that vast aware loving spaciousness a self?
We take on the dharma like a robe that we adorn the radiance with for the benefit of all beings.