Surprise: Kalama Sutta & Skepsis

Kalama Sutta aka the Buddha's Charter of Free InquiryNot every Buddhist retreat or teacher Westerners may come into contact with will mention this sutta/sutra found in Tripitaka. However, it may put the whole take of Buddhism on various philosophical or religous “truths”, claims or dogmas in a rather unexpected light for them. A surprisingly reasonable one, for heavy skeptics and empirically oriented minds.

This is one of those rare core texts of Buddhism almost too well suited to be quoted side by side with the ideas of Scientific Materialism. It calls upon reasonable skepticism. The Kesamuttisuttaṃ/Kālāma Sutta (AN 3.65; PTS: A.i.188; Thai 3.66) (aka “the Buddha’s Charter of Free Inquiry), in a stylized/prosed form goes like this:

Don’t blindly believe what I say. Don’t believe me because others convince you of my words. Don’t believe anything you see, read, or hear from others, whether of authority, religious teachers or texts. Don’t rely on logic alone, nor speculation. Don’t infer or be deceived by appearances.

Do not give up your authority and follow blindly the will of others. This way will lead to only delusion.

Find out for yourself what is truth, what is real. Discover that there are virtuous things and there are non-virtuous things. Once you have discovered for yourself give up the bad and embrace the good.

It urges one verify any claims for oneself and believe nothing based on hearsay, dogma/axiom, tradition, authority or lineage. Some core aspects of it have been summarised also here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalama_Sutta

Two different translations can for example be found at

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/soma/wheel008.html and
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an03/an03.065.than.html

The relevant part of the sutta in one of those translations goes like this:

The Kalamas of Kesaputta ask for guidance from the Buddha

3. The Kalamas who were inhabitants of Kesaputta sitting on one side said to the Blessed One: “There are some monks and brahmans, venerable sir, who visit Kesaputta. They expound and explain only their own doctrines; the doctrines of others they despise, revile, and pull to pieces. Some other monks and brahmans too, venerable sir, come to Kesaputta. They also expound and explain only their own doctrines; the doctrines of others they despise, revile, and pull to pieces. Venerable sir, there is doubt, there is uncertainty in us concerning them. Which of these reverend monks and brahmans spoke the truth and which falsehood?”

The criterion for rejection

4. “It is proper for you, Kalamas, to doubt, to be uncertain; uncertainty has arisen in you about what is doubtful. Come, Kalamas. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another’s seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, ‘The monk is our teacher.’ Kalamas, when you yourselves know: ‘These things are bad; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,’ abandon them.

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One response to “Surprise: Kalama Sutta & Skepsis

  1. Pingback: Mindfulness Visualized | Exploring the Boundaries of Secular Buddhism and Humanism·

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