1-4-The Kalama Sutta

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The Kālāma Sutta

There must come a time when you stop repeating the words of others, and stop practicing questionable methods without doing some open and honest investigation into the original teachings of the Buddha.

You must not depend on hearsay, or blind belief in what any teacher says, simply because he is the authority.

In the Aṅguttara Nikāya, sutta AN-3.65, the Kālāma Sutta, the Buddha gives some very wise advice:

  • It is unwise to simply believe what you hear because it has been said over and over again for a long time.
  • It is unwise to follow tradition blindly just because it has been practiced in that way for a long time.
  • It is unwise to listen to and spread rumors and gossip.
  • It is unwise to take anything as being the absolute truth just because it agrees with your scriptures (this especially means commentaries and sub-commentaries).
  • It is unwise to foolishly make assumptions, without investigation.
  • It is unwise to abruptly draw a conclusion by what you see and hear without further investigation.
  • It is unwise to go by mere outward appearances or to hold too tightly to any view or idea simply because you are comfortable with it.
  • It is unwise to be convinced of anything out of respect and deference to your spiritual teacher without honest investigation into what is being taught.

We must go beyond opinions, beliefs, and dogmatic thinking. In this way, we can rightly reject anything, which, when accepted, practiced and perfected, leads to more anger, criticism, conceit, pride, greed, and delusion. These unwholesome states of mind are universally condemned and are certainly not beneficial to ourselves or to others. They are to be avoided whenever possible.

On the other hand, we can rightly accept anything, which, when practiced and perfected, leads to unconditional love, contentment, and gentle wisdom. These things allow us to develop a happy, tranquil, and peaceful mind. Thus, the wise praise all kinds of unconditional love (loving acceptance of the present moment), tranquility, contentment, and gentle wisdom, and encourage everyone to practice these good qualities as much as possible.

In the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta, the Buddha’s advice to the monks is very plain and precise. We are to practice according to the scriptural texts and observe whether the practice is done correctly. Only after close examination and practice, along with personal experience, can you be sure that the scriptures are correct. Thus, the Buddha’s advice to the monks is not only to use the suttas, but also to check whether the suttas are correct according to the Dhamma and the Discipline (Vinaya).

This is how you make sure that the information is true and can then be practiced correctly. This is taken from the Dīgha Nikāya, sutta DN-16:4.7 to 4.11, the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta. This translation comes from the book “Thus Have I Heard” by Maurice Walsh. It says:

4.7] At Bhogangagara the Lord stayed at the Ānanda Shrine. And here he said to the monks: ‘Monks, I will teach you four criteria. Listen, pay close attention, and I will speak.’ – ‘Yes sir’ replied the monks.

4.8] “Suppose a monk were to say: ‘Friends, I heard and received this from the Lord’s own lips: this is the Dhamma, this is the Discipline, this is the Master’s teaching’, then, Monks, you should neither approve nor disapprove his words. Then, without approving or disapproving his words and expressions, this should be carefully noted and compared with the Suttas and reviewed in the light of the Discipline.

“If they, on such comparison and review, are found not to conform to the Suttas and the Discipline, the conclusion must be: ‘Assuredly this is not the word of the Buddha, it has been wrongly understood by this monk’, and the matter is to be rejected. But if they, on such comparison and review, are found to conform to the Suttas and the Discipline, the conclusion must be: ‘Assuredly this is the word of the Buddha, it has been rightly understood by this monk.’ This is the first criterion.

4.9] “Suppose a monk were to say: ‘In such and such a place there is a community with elders and distinguished teachers. I have heard and received this from that community’, then, Monks, you should neither approve nor disapprove his words. Then, without approving or disapproving his words and expressions, this should be carefully noted and compared with the Suttas and reviewed in the light of the Discipline.

“If they, on such comparison and review, are found not to conform to the Suttas and the Discipline, the conclusion must be: ‘Assuredly this is not the word of the Buddha, it has been wrongly understood by this monk’, and the matter is to be rejected. But if they, on such comparison and review, are found to conform to the Suttas and the Discipline, the conclusion must be: ‘Assuredly this is the word of the Buddha, it has been rightly understood by this monk.’ This is the second criterion.

4.10] “Suppose a monk were to say: ‘In such and such a place there are many elders who are learned, bearers of the tradition, who know the Dhamma, the Discipline, the code of rules: I have heard and received this from those monks, … this is the Dhamma, this is the Discipline, this is the Master’s teaching’, then, Monks, you should neither approve nor disapprove his words. Then, without approving or disapproving his words and expressions, this should be carefully noted and compared with the Suttas and reviewed in the light of the Discipline.

“If they, on such comparison and review, are found not to conform to the Suttas and the Discipline, the conclusion must be: ‘Assuredly this is not the word of the Buddha, it has been wrongly understood by this monk’, and the matter is to be rejected. But if they, on such comparison and review, are found to conform to the Suttas and the Discipline, the conclusion must be: ‘Assuredly this is the word of the Buddha, it has been rightly understood by the monk.’ This is the third criterion.

4.11] “Suppose a monk were to say: ‘In such and such a place there is one elder who is learned … I have heard and received this from that elder … this is the Dhamma, this is the Discipline, this is the Master’s teaching’, then, Monks, you should neither approve nor disapprove his words. Then, without approving or disapproving his words and expressions, this should be carefully noted and compared with the Suttas and be reviewed in the light of the Discipline.

“If they, on such comparison and review, are found not to conform to the Suttas and the Discipline, the conclusion must be: ‘Assuredly this is not the word of the Buddha, it has been wrongly understood by this monk’, and the matter is to be rejected. But if they, on such comparison and review, are found to conform to the Suttas and the Discipline, the conclusion must be: ‘Assuredly this is the word of the Buddha, it has been rightly understood by the monk.’ This is the fourth criterion.

The spirit of open investigation and exploration into the ways and means of the Buddha’s Middle Path is open to all who have an inquiring mind. This means a mind which is not stuck in looking at things through pride and attachment at what they “think” is right without first checking with the suttas. [8] Occasionally, some meditators become so much attached to their opinions and teachers such that they think their method is the “only way”, without checking the true teachings from the suttas.

As this book is taken directly from the suttas, you can observe how things can be confused and misrepresented by some commentaries. If you have the courage to investigate and practice, you will be pleasantly surprised at the simplicity and clarity of the Buddha’s teaching, especially when commentaries like the Visuddhi Magga are left alone. Although the suttas appear dry and repetitive, they are quite illuminating and can be fun to read, especially when you practice the meditation and gain intellectual knowledge at the same time.

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