Epistemes wrote:The Buddha taught that a person should examine the teachings and judge them for merit and then if they are found useful to follow them. What if we found his teachings not to be useful? Are we relegated to an eternity of bad karma?
If the Buddha did teach that his followers should believe what they see as true/applicable and not what he himself has said (or because he said it), then what is the value of Buddhism?
1. The Buddha taught a lot of stuff over some 40 years, and not every part of it will be useful to every person all the time. When I began to study it there were things that made no sense to me, or that I wasn't concerned with (and that is still true). It is because of all the karma that brings a person right up to this very second that determines what will be useful or not. It has nothing to do with the teachings. Consider as an analogy, a fire extinguisher. It is there when you are ready for it.
2. What the Buddha explained is the truth about the way things are. For example, that all composite things are impermanent. This is true and was true even before the Buddha explained it, and would have been true even if it had never been explained by anybody.
There are people who say that only the actual words (believed to be) spoken by the Buddha are valid Buddhist teachings. This is often argued by some who only follow the Pali (Theravadan) teachings and reject Mahayana and Vajrayana teachings. This position may be valid from the viewpoint of a historian, but the implication is that The historical Buddha is the only one who ever attained realization, otherwise the teachings of later Buddhist masters would also be equally valid, because the truth about the way things really are is an objective truth. As mentioned above, impermanence is impermanence, perceived or not.
There are others who assert that teachings given by someone (other than Shakyamuni Buddha) who has attained realization of the true nature of things is also valid dharma. This position suggests that essentially anyone can become "enlightened" because "attaining enlightenment" results from understanding the way things really are, and does not rely on the fact that a particular Indian prince happened to be the one who became famous for teaching it.
Consider a an analogy, making fire by rubbing sticks together. Somebody (probably a lot of somebodies) did this for the very first time, thousands of years ago, way, way, way before the historical Buddha appeared. Nobody today knows who first discovered this method, but it is an objective fact, and for that reason even today if you rub two sticks together properly it will produce a spark and you can make a fire.
Now you need that fire extinguisher.