The Kalama Sutta (P. kālāmasutta; C. Qielan jing; J. Garankyō; K. Karam kyŏng 伽藍經) is a sutta of the Pali Canon that is popular in the West due to its emphasis on free enquiry and rational thought.
A unique aspect of this sutta is that the Buddha addresses a general audience of spiritual seekers. Whereas in most suttas the Buddha speaks directly to his own followers, in this sutta the Buddha addresses a group of people--the Kalamas of Kesamutta--who are not his followers and are not familiar with his teachings. They have sought the Buddha's advice because they have heard that he is wise person.
As described in the sutta, after seeking out the Buddha, the Kalamas explained to him that they have been visited by many different spiritual teachers, each claiming to have the best teachings, and also disparaging the views of other teachers. The Kalamas have been left confused and uncertain. They ask the Buddha whom they should trust.
The Buddha advises these seekers not to follow a tradition simply because it is a tradition, or because the source seems reliable, or because it seems logical or resonates with one's feelings. Rather, the teachings should be tested and validated by one's own experience. If after careful examination, one determines that a teaching or practice is beneficial--if it results in a decrease in unwholesome states of mind such as greed, hatred and confusion, and an increasae in love and compassion and other wholesome states of mind--then it can be accepted as valid.
Contemporary translator Soma Thera has refered to this sutta as the Buddha's "charter of free inquiry," stating that "the spirit of the sutta signifies a teaching that is exempt from fanaticism, bigotry, dogmatism, and intolerance."
In the West, this sutra is commonly known as the Kamala Sutta. In modern Southeast Asian additions of the Pali Canon, the sutra is more commonly titled Kesamutti Sutta or Kesaputti Sutta.
The full title has been translated into English as:
- With the Kālāmas of Kesamutta (Sujato)
- The Instructions to the Kalamas (Soma Thera)
SuttaCentral identifies the Bhaddiya Sutta (AN 4.193) as a parallel text (meaning it contains overlapping content).
The following English-language translations from the Pali are available online:
The following texts include brief commentaries on the Kalama Sutta:
- The Kalama Sutta (Soma Thera), Access to Insight
- Kalama Sutta, To the Kalamas (Thanisarro), Access to Insight
- A Look at the Kalama Sutta (Bodhi), Access to Insight
- The Right to Ask Questions (Larry Rosenberg), Access to Insight
- Help! The Kalama Sutta, Help! (Buddhadasa Bhikkhu)
Translation from SuttaCentral
|This translation of the text With the Kālāmas of Kesamutta is published by SuttaCentral under license CC0 1.0. Translation by Bhikkhu Sujato.|
Identifying genuine spiritual teachings
Within the sutta, the Buddha named ten specific sources whose knowledge should not be immediately viewed as truthful without further investigation to avoid fallacies:
- Oral transmission (anussava)
- Lineage (paramparā)
- Testament (itikirā)
- Canonical authority (scriptures or other official texts) (piṭaka-sampadāna)
- Logic (suppositional reasoning; because something is seeming logical to oneself) (takka-hetu)
- Inference (philosophical dogmatism) (naya-hetu)
- Reasoned contemplation (ākāra-parivitakka)
- Acceptance of a view after consideration (one's own opinion) (diṭṭhi-nijjhān-akkh-antiyā)
- Appearance of competence (experts) (bhabba-rūpatāya)
- Thinking “The ascetic is our respected teacher." (Authorities or one's own teacher.) (samaṇo no garū)
Instead, the Buddha says, only when one personally knows that a certain teaching is skillful, blameless, praiseworthy, and conducive to happiness, and that it is praised by the wise, should one then accept it as true and practice it.
Knowing for yourself (testing your beliefs)
Thannisarro Bhikkhu emphasizes the significance of the Buddha's instruction to test one's beliefs:
Although this discourse is often cited as the Buddha's carte blanche for following one's own sense of right and wrong, it actually says something much more rigorous than that. Traditions are not to be followed simply because they are traditions. Reports (such as historical accounts or news) are not to be followed simply because the source seems reliable. One's own preferences are not to be followed simply because they seem logical or resonate with one's feelings. Instead, any view or belief must be tested by the results it yields when put into practice; and — to guard against the possibility of any bias or limitations in one's understanding of those results — they must further be checked against the experience of people who are wise. The ability to question and test one's beliefs in an appropriate way is called appropriate attention. The ability to recognize and choose wise people as mentors is called having admirable friends. According to Iti 16-17, these are, respectively, the most important internal and external factors for attaining the goal of the practice.
The four assurances
The disciple of the Noble Ones, Kalamas, who has such a hate-free mind, such a malice-free mind, such an undefiled mind, and such a purified mind, is one by whom four solaces are found here and now.
'Suppose there is a hereafter and there is a fruit, result, of deeds done well or ill. Then it is possible that at the dissolution of the body after death, I shall arise in the heavenly world, which is possessed of the state of bliss.' This is the first solace found by him.
'Suppose there is no hereafter and there is no fruit, no result, of deeds done well or ill. Yet in this world, here and now, free from hatred, free from malice, safe and sound, and happy, I keep myself.' This is the second solace found by him.
'Suppose evil (results) befall an evil-doer. I, however, think of doing evil to no one. Then, how can ill (results) affect me who do no evil deed?' This is the third solace found by him.
'Suppose evil (results) do not befall an evil-doer. Then I see myself purified in any case.' This is the fourth solace found by him.
The disciple of the Noble Ones, Kalamas, who has such a hate-free mind, such a malice-free mind, such an undefiled mind, and such a purified mind, is one by whom, here and now, these four solaces are found.
On these four solaces, Soma Thera wrote:
The Kalama Sutta, which sets forth the principles that should be followed by a seeker of truth, and which contains a standard things are judged by, belongs to a framework of the Dhamma; the four solaces taught in the sutta point out the extent to which the Buddha permits suspense of judgment in matters beyond normal cognition. The solaces show that the reason for a virtuous life does not necessarily depend on belief in rebirth or retribution, but on mental well-being acquired through the overcoming of greed, hate, and delusion.
The unique context of a teaching for non-followers of the Buddha
Bhikkhu Bodhi suggests that the Kalama sutra does not deny the value of faith, for instance in teachings on the Four Noble Truths as a path to liberation. He talks about the context, that the Kalamas were not Buddha's disciples. They approached him, confused by the many conflicting instructions they had had from teachers that disputed each others teachings. He was advising them how to deal with this situation.
Thus, because the Kalamas had not yet come to accept the Buddha in terms of his unique mission, as the discloser of the liberating truth, it would not have been in place for him to expound to them the Dhamma unique to his own Dispensation: such teachings as the Four Noble Truths, the three characteristics, and the methods of contemplation based upon them. These teachings are specifically intended for those who have accepted the Buddha as their guide to deliverance, and in the suttas he expounds them only to those who "have gained faith in the Tathagata" and who possess the perspective necessary to grasp them and apply them. The Kalamas, however, at the start of the discourse are not yet fertile soil for him to sow the seeds of his liberating message. Still confused by the conflicting claims to which they have been exposed, they are not yet clear even about the groundwork of morality.
... Nevertheless, after advising the Kalamas not to rely upon established tradition, abstract reasoning, and charismatic gurus, the Buddha proposes to them a teaching that is immediately verifiable and capable of laying a firm foundation for a life of moral discipline and mental purification . He shows that whether or not there be another life after death, a life of moral restraint and of love and compassion for all beings brings its own intrinsic rewards here and now, a happiness and sense of inward security far superior to the fragile pleasures that can be won by violating moral principles and indulging the mind's desires. For those who are not concerned to look further, who are not prepared to adopt any convictions about a future life and worlds beyond the present one, such a teaching will ensure their present welfare and their safe passage to a pleasant rebirth — provided they do not fall into the wrong view of denying an afterlife and kammic causation.
However, for those whose vision is capable of widening to encompass the broader horizons of our existence, this teaching given to the Kalamas points beyond its immediate implications to the very core of the Dhamma. For the three states brought forth for examination by the Buddha — greed, hate and delusion — are not merely grounds of wrong conduct or moral stains upon the mind. Within his teaching's own framework they are the root defilements — the primary causes of all bondage and suffering — and the entire practice of the Dhamma can be viewed as the task of eradicating these evil roots by developing to perfection their antidotes — dispassion, kindness and wisdom.
|This article includes content from Kalama Sutta on Wikipedia (view authors). License under CC BY-SA 3.0.|