The Traditional Buddhist View
The essence of what The Buddha taught is contained in the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. During the remaining forty years of his life, he continued to teach these essential truths though a wide variety of stories, examples, discussions and lectures. Finally written down hundreds of years after his death, the collection of his lifelong teachings are known as the Pali Cannon. They are universally accepted by all Buddhist traditions as the oldest Buddhists texts in existence and, given the circumstances, the closest possible form of the original words of the Buddha. It is a vast body of work consisting of almost sixty volumes and over 16,000 pages.
Over the ensuing centuries, many other Buddhist texts were written, including some claiming to be also the original word of the Buddha which had been hidden due to the special nature of their teachings.
The Secular Buddhist View
Although Secular Buddhism views all Buddhist writings with respect, it recognizes only the Pali Canon as representing what the Buddha taught.
In addition, Secular Buddhism does not hold that the Pali Canon is an unadulterated version of The Buddha’s message but rather that over the past twenty-five centuries it has suffered a large degree of cultural and religious influence and personal influence through translation. It can therefore be studied and its teachings practiced without the requirement that it be accepted or adhered to as a whole.