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Kalama Sutta

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The Kesariya Stupa is believed to be at the place where the Buddha delivered the discourse

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.[1][2]

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 of Kesamutta explained to him that they have been visited by many different spiritual teachers, each claiming to have the best teachings. They have been left confused and uncertain who to believe.

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.[3]

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."[2]

Title

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)

Text

Pali Canon

In the Pali Canon this sutta is found in the Anguttara Nikaya (AN 3.56).

SuttaCentral identifies the Bhaddiya Sutta (AN 4.193) as a parallel text (meaning it contains overlapping content).

Chinese Canon

In the Chinese Canon, a Sarvastivada recension of this text is found in the Madhyama Agama (MA 16).

Translations

The following English-language translations from the Pali are available online:

Commentaries

The following texts include brief commentaries on the Kalama Sutta:

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. SuttaCentral icon square 170px.png


With the Kālāmas of Kesamutta (AN 3.65)

SO I HAVE HEARD. At one time the Buddha was wandering in the land of the Kosalans together with a large Saṅgha of mendicants when he arrived at a town of the Kālāmas named Kesamutta. The Kālāmas of Kesamutta heard:

“It seems the ascetic Gotama—a Sakyan, gone forth from a Sakyan family—has arrived at Kesamutta. He has this good reputation: ‘That Blessed One is perfected, a fully awakened Buddha …’ It’s good to see such perfected ones.”

Then the Kālāmas went up to the Buddha. Before sitting down to one side, some bowed, some exchanged greetings and polite conversation, some held up their joined palms toward the Buddha, some announced their name and clan, while some kept silent. Seated to one side the Kālāmas said to the Buddha:

“There are, sir, some ascetics and brahmins who come to Kesamutta. They explain and promote only their own doctrine, while they attack, badmouth, disparage, and smear the doctrines of others. Then some other ascetics and brahmins come to Kesamutta. They too explain and promote only their own doctrine, while they attack, badmouth, disparage, and smear the doctrines of others. So, sir, we’re doubting and uncertain: ‘I wonder who of these respected ascetics and brahmins speaks the truth, and who speaks falsehood?’”

“It is enough, Kālāmas, for you to be doubting and uncertain. Doubt has come up in you about an uncertain matter.

Please, Kālāmas, don’t go by oral transmission, don’t go by lineage, don’t go by testament, don’t go by canonical authority, don’t rely on logic, don’t rely on inference, don’t go by reasoned contemplation, don’t go by the acceptance of a view after consideration, don’t go by the appearance of competence, and don’t think ‘The ascetic is our respected teacher.’ But when you know for yourselves: ‘These things are unskillful, blameworthy, criticized by sensible people, and when you undertake them, they lead to harm and suffering’, then you should give them up.

What do you think, Kālāmas? Does greed come up in a person for their welfare or harm?”

“Harm, sir.”

“A greedy individual, overcome by greed, kills living creatures, steals, commits adultery, lies, and encourages others to do the same. Is that for their lasting harm and suffering?”

“Yes, sir.”

“What do you think, Kālāmas? Does hate come up in a person for their welfare or harm?”

“Harm, sir.”

“A hateful individual, overcome by hate, kills living creatures, steals, commits adultery, lies, and encourages others to do the same. Is that for their lasting harm and suffering?”

“Yes, sir.”

“What do you think, Kālāmas? Does delusion come up in a person for their welfare or harm?”

“Harm, sir.”

“A deluded individual, overcome by delusion, kills living creatures, steals, commits adultery, lies, and encourages others to do the same. Is that for their lasting harm and suffering?”

“Yes, sir.”

“What do you think, Kālāmas, are these things skillful or unskillful?”

“Unskillful, sir.”

“Blameworthy or blameless?”

“Blameworthy, sir.”

“Criticized or praised by sensible people?”

“Criticized by sensible people, sir.”

“When you undertake them, do they lead to harm and suffering, or not? Or how do you see this?”

“When you undertake them, they lead to harm and suffering. That’s how we see it.”

“So, Kālāmas, when I said: ‘Please, don’t go by oral transmission, don’t go by lineage, don’t go by testament, don’t go by canonical authority, don’t rely on logic, don’t rely on inference, don’t go by reasoned contemplation, don’t go by the acceptance of a view after consideration, don’t go by the appearance of competence, and don’t think “The ascetic is our respected teacher.” But when you know for yourselves: “These things are unskillful, blameworthy, criticized by sensible people, and when you undertake them, they lead to harm and suffering”, then you should give them up.’ That’s what I said, and this is why I said it.

Please, Kālāmas, don’t go by oral transmission, don’t go by lineage, don’t go by testament, don’t go by canonical authority, don’t rely on logic, don’t rely on inference, don’t go by reasoned contemplation, don’t go by the acceptance of a view after consideration, don’t go by the appearance of competence, and don’t think ‘The ascetic is our respected teacher.’ But when you know for yourselves: ‘These things are skillful, blameless, praised by sensible people, and when you undertake them, they lead to welfare and happiness’, then you should acquire them and keep them.

What do you think, Kālāmas? Does contentment come up in a person for their welfare or harm?”

“Welfare, sir.”

“An individual who is content, not overcome by greed, doesn’t kill living creatures, steal, commit adultery, lie, or encourage others to do the same. Is that for their lasting welfare and happiness?”

“Yes, sir.”

“What do you think, Kālāmas? Does love come up in a person for their welfare or harm? … Does understanding come up in a person for their welfare or harm? … Is that for their lasting welfare and happiness?”

“Yes, sir.”

“What do you think, Kālāmas, are these things skillful or unskillful?”

“Skillful, sir.”

“Blameworthy or blameless?”

“Blameless, sir.”

“Criticized or praised by sensible people?”

“Praised by sensible people, sir.”

“When you undertake them, do they lead to welfare and happiness, or not? Or how do you see this?”

“When you undertake them, they lead to welfare and happiness. That’s how we see it.”

“So, Kālāmas, when I said: ‘Please, don’t go by oral transmission, don’t go by lineage, don’t go by testament, don’t go by canonical authority, don’t rely on logic, don’t rely on inference, don’t go by reasoned contemplation, don’t go by the acceptance of a view after consideration, don’t go by the appearance of competence, and don’t think “The ascetic is our respected teacher.” But when you know for yourselves:

“These things are skillful, blameless, praised by sensible people, and when you undertake them, they lead to welfare and happiness”, then you should acquire them and keep them.’ That’s what I said, and this is why I said it.

Then that noble disciple is rid of desire, rid of ill will, unconfused, aware, and mindful. They meditate spreading a heart full of love to one direction, and to the second, and to the third, and to the fourth. In the same way above, below, across, everywhere, all around, they spread a heart full of love to the whole world—abundant, expansive, limitless, free of enmity and ill will.

They meditate spreading a heart full of compassion to one direction, and to the second, and to the third, and to the fourth. In the same way above, below, across, everywhere, all around, they spread a heart full of compassion to the whole world—abundant, expansive, limitless, free of enmity and ill will.

They meditate spreading a heart full of rejoicing to one direction, and to the second, and to the third, and to the fourth. In the same way above, below, across, everywhere, all around, they spread a heart full of rejoicing to the whole world—abundant, expansive, limitless, free of enmity and ill will.

They meditate spreading a heart full of equanimity to one direction, and to the second, and to the third, and to the fourth. In the same way above, below, across, everywhere, all around, they spread a heart full of equanimity to the whole world—abundant, expansive, limitless, free of enmity and ill will.

When that noble disciple has a mind that’s free of enmity and ill will, uncorrupted and purified, they’ve won four consolations in the present life. ‘If it turns out there is another world, and good and bad deeds have a result, then—when the body breaks up, after death—I’ll be reborn in a good place, a heavenly realm.’ This is the first consolation they’ve won.

‘If it turns out there is no other world, and good and bad deeds don’t have a result, then in the present life I’ll keep myself free of enmity and ill will, untroubled and happy.’ This is the second consolation they’ve won.

‘If it turns out that bad things happen to people who do bad things, then since I have no bad intentions, and since I’m not doing anything bad, how can suffering touch me?’ This is the third consolation they’ve won.

‘If it turns out that bad things don’t happen to people who do bad things, then I still see myself pure on both sides.’ This is the fourth consolation they’ve won.

When that noble disciple has a mind that’s free of enmity and ill will, undefiled and purified, they’ve won these four consolations in the present life.”

“That’s so true, Blessed One! That’s so true, Holy One! When that noble disciple has a mind that’s free of enmity and ill will, undefiled and purified, they’ve won these four consolations in the present life. …


Excellent, sir! Excellent! … We go for refuge to Master Gotama, to the teaching, and to the mendicant Saṅgha. From this day forth, may the Buddha remember us as lay followers who have gone for refuge for life.”

  - Translated by Bhikkhu Sujato, SuttaCentral

Analysis

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:

  1. Oral transmission (anussava)
  2. Lineage (paramparā)
  3. Testament (itikirā)
  4. Canonical authority (scriptures or other official texts) (piṭaka-sampadāna)
  5. Logic (suppositional reasoning; because something is seeming logical to oneself) (takka-hetu)
  6. Inference (philosophical dogmatism) (naya-hetu)
  7. Reasoned contemplation (ākāra-parivitakka)
  8. Acceptance of a view after consideration (one's own opinion) (diṭṭhi-nijjhān-akkh-antiyā)
  9. Appearance of competence (experts) (bhabba-rūpatāya)
  10. 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.[3]

The four assurances

In this sutta, the Buddha identifies four assurances, or solaces. The Buddha asserts that a happy and moral life would be correct even if there is no karma and reincarnation.

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.[2]

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.[2]

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.[4]

See also

References

  1. Princeton Dict icon 166px.png Robert E. Buswell Jr., Donald S. Lopez Jr., The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (Princeton: 2014), entry for Kālāmasutta
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Access to insight icon 50px.png The Kalama Sutta (Soma Thera), Access to Insight
  3. 3.0 3.1 Access to insight icon 50px.png Kalama Sutta, To the Kalamas (Thanisarro), Access to Insight
  4. Access to insight icon 50px.png A Look at the Kalama Sutta (Bodhi), Access to Insight
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