Imagine a gigantic drum where if someone drums it, it can be heard for miles around, it is so awesome.
But suppose this drum, over time develops little cracks in the drum skin (the drum head) from being hit all the time. So the cracks get repaired but the head of the drum is never the same – it’s like it’s got a scar where the skin has been cracked.
And over time from all the relentless drumming, more and more cracks appear. As the skin gets repaired, more and more scars appear in it. It finally reaches the point where when you bang on the skin of the gigantic drum, rather than a huge reverberation that can be heard miles around, only a dull thud that can barely be heard a few metres away.
This is an analogy of how the Buddha said that his teaching will start disappearing. We are starting to see this happening right now.
People are taking the words of scholars, academics and authors to be what the Buddha said – so they are substituting scars for the real skin of the drum:
- If the scholars, academics and authors are in accord with the Sutras, then there is no problem – because the Dharma remains pure.
- However, if these scholars, academics and authors are not in accord with the Sutras – then they are substituting their own views and opinions for what the Buddha taught.
Then sooner or later, the awesome reverberation of the great drum, the lion’s roar of the Buddha will no longer be heard, but in its place, only a dull thud that can barely be heard behind a curtain.
Hence why, in the Ani Sutta, the Buddha said this:
Staying at Savatthi. “Monks, there once was a time when the Dasarahas had a large drum called ‘Summoner.’ Whenever Summoner was split, the Dasarahas inserted another peg in it, until the time came when Summoner’s original wooden body had disappeared and only a conglomeration of pegs remained. 
“In the same way, in the course of the future there will be monks who won’t listen when discourses that are words of the Tathagata — deep, deep in their meaning, transcendent, connected with emptiness — are being recited. They won’t lend ear, won’t set their hearts on knowing them, won’t regard these teachings as worth grasping or mastering. But they will listen when discourses that are literary works — the works of poets, elegant in sound, elegant in rhetoric, the work of outsiders, words of disciples — are recited. They will lend ear and set their hearts on knowing them. They will regard these teachings as worth grasping & mastering.
“In this way the disappearance of the discourses that are words of the Tathagata — deep, deep in their meaning, transcendent, connected with emptiness — will come about.
“Thus you should train yourselves: ‘We will listen when discourses that are words of the Tathagata — deep, deep in their meaning, transcendent, connected with emptiness — are being recited. We will lend ear, will set our hearts on knowing them, will regard these teachings as worth grasping & mastering.’ That’s how you should train yourselves.“
So what can we do to reverse this decline? Read the Sutras and Suttas for ourselves, apply the knowledge, try and really understand the underlying meaning and principles behind the Sutras, try to gain mastery over the Sutras. When opening a Sutra, this verse appears:
The unsurpassed, deep, profound, subtle, wonderful Dharma
In a hundred thousand million eons is difficult to encounter
Now that I’ve come to receive and hold it within my sight and hearing
I vow to fathom the Thus Come One’s True and Actual Meaning
So that’s the sort of respect that we should be regarding the words of the Buddha himself from the Sutras and Suttas. The key is to study from the Sutras themselves rather than just reading from the thousands of Buddhist authors, academics and scholars – because they may all have differing opinions and you can easily confuse the heck out of yourself and get no where. You can easily go buy and after having read them, still but none the wiser – as you’ll still be confused. So go to the original source – the Master himself – the recorded words of the Buddha in the Sutras and Suttas.
This way, we keep it simple, we keep it pure and we keep it as close to original as possible. If a writer or author says something that contradicts the Sutras, then no matter how well respected they are – we can easily say that the Buddha didn’t teach that, this writer has understood the teaching incorrectly. It’s a very simple and effect way of approaching it.
And when reading the Sutras, try to understand the underlying meaning behind the Sutras and how they can be applied in real life – that’s how we should be trying to learn the Sutras.