Editor's Foreword

Kalama Sutta, Help Us!

Two Kinds of Language

Looking Within

Happiness & Hunger

The Dhamma-Truth of Samatha-Vipassana
For The Nuclear Age

About Author

About Translator





Message of Truth from Suan Mokkh #6
6 May 1988
Translated by Dr. Supaphan Na Bangchang and Santikaro Bhikkhu

All people in the world, including the Thai people, are now in the same situation as were the Kalama people of Kesaputtanigama, India, during the time of the Buddha. Their village was in a place through which many religious teachers passed. Each of these teachers taught that his personal doctrine was the only truth, and that all others before and  after him were wrong. The Kalamas could not decide which doctrine they should accept and follow. The Buddha once came to their village and the kalamas brought up this problem with him: that they did not know which teacher to believe. So the Buddha taught them what is now known as the Kalama Sutta, which will examine here.

Nowadays, worldly people can study many different approaches to economic, social, and technological development. The universities teach just about everything. Then, regarding spiritual matters, here in Thailand alone we have so many teachers, so many interpretations of the Buddha's teachings, and so many meditation centers that nobody knows which teaching to accept or which practice to follow. Thus it can be said that we have fallen into the same position as the Kalamas were in.

The Buddha taught them, and us, not to accept or believe anything immediately. He gave ten basic conditions to beware of in order to avoid becoming the intellectual slave of anyone, even of the Buddha himself. This principle enables us to know how to choose the teachings which are truly capable of quenching suffering (dukkha). The ten examples which the Buddha gave in the Kalama Sutta follow.

1. Ma anaussavena:do not accept and believe just because something has been passed along and retold through the years. Such credulity is a characteristic of brainless people, or "sawdust brains," such as those in Bangkok who once believed that there would be disasters for the people born in the "ma years" (those years of the traditional twelve year Thai calendar whose names begin with "ma," namely, years five through eight - small snake, big snake, horse, and goat).

2. Ma paramparaya: do not believe just because some practice has become traditional. People tend to imitate what others do and then pass the habit along, as in the story of the rabbit frightened by the fallen bael fruit. The other animals saw it running at full-strength, and then so frightened and excited each other that they ran after it. Most of them tripped and fell, broke their necks, or tumbled to death off cliffs. Any vipassana practice that is done in limitation of others, as a mere tradition, leads to similar results.

3. Ma itikiraya: do not accept and believe merely because of the reports and news spreading far and wide through one's village, or even throughout the world. Only fools are susceptible to such "rumors," for they refuse to exercise their own intelligence.

4. Ma pitakasampadanena: do not accept and believe just because something is cited in a pitaka. The word "pitaka," which is used for the Buddhist scriptures, means anything written or inscribed upon any suitable writing material. Memorized teachings which are passed on orally should not be confused with pitaka. Pitakas are a certain kind of conditioned thing which are under humanity's control. They can be created, improved, and changed by human hands. So we cannot trust every letter and word in them. We need to use our powers of discrimination to see how those words can be applied to the quenching of suffering. The various schools of Buddhism all have their own cannons, among which there are discrepancies.

5. Ma takkahetu: do not believe just because something fits with the reasoning of logic (takka). This is merely one branch of study used to try to figure out the truth. Takka, what we call "logics," can go wrong if its data or its methods are incorrect.

 6. Ma nayahetu: do not believe just because something is correct on the grounds of naya (deductive and inductive reasoning) alone. These days, naya is called "philosophy." In Thailand, we translate the word "philosophy" as "prajna," which the Indian people cannot accept because "naya" is only one point of view. It is not the highest or absolute wisdom which they call "panna" or "prajna" naya, or nyaya, is merely a branch of thought which reasons on the basis of assumption or hypotheses. It can be incorrect if the reasoning or choice of assumptions is inappropriate.

7. Ma akaraparivitakkena: do not believe or accept just because something appeals to one's common sense, which is merely snap judgements based on one's tendencies of thought. We like using this approach so much that it becomes habitual. Boastful philosophers like to use this method a great deal and consider it to be clever.

8. Ma ditฺtฺhinijjhanakkhantiya: do not believe just because something stands up to or agrees with one's preconceived opinions and theories. Personal views can be wrong, or our methods of experiment and verification might be incorrect, and then will not lead to the truth. Accepting what fits our theories may seem to be a scientific approach, but actually can never be so, since its proofs and experiments are inadequate.

9. Ma bhabbarupataya: do not believe just because the speaker appears believable. Outside appearances and the actual knowledge inside a person can never be identical. We often find that speakers who appear credible on the outside say incorrect and foolish things. Nowadays, we must be wary of computers because the programmers who feed them data and manipulate them may feed in the wrong information or use them incorrectly. Do not worship computers so much, for doing so goes against this principle of the Kalama Sutta.

10. Ma samanฺo no garu ti: do not believe just because the samanฺa or preacher, the speaker, is "our teacher." The Buddha's purpose regarding this important point is that no one should be the intellectual slave of someone else, not even of the Buddha himself. The Buddha emphasized this point often, and there were disciples, such as the venerable Sariputta, who confirmed this practice. They did not believe the Buddha's words immediately upon hearing them, but believed only after adequately considering the advice and putting it to the test of practice. See for yourselves whether there is any other religious teacher in the world who has given this highest freedom to his disciples and audiences! Thus in Buddhism there is no dogmatic system, there is no pressure to believe without the right to examine and decide for oneself. This is the greatest special quality of Buddhism which keeps its practitioners from being the intellectual slaves of anyone, as explained above. We Thais should not volunteer to follow the West as slavishly as we are doing now. Intellectual and spiritual freedom is best.

The ten examples of the Kalama Sutta are a surefire defense against intellectual dependence or not being one's own person: that is, neglecting  one's own intelligence and wisdom in dealing with what one hears and listens to, what is called in Dhamma language paratoghosa ("sound of others")  When listening to anything, one should give it careful attention and full scrutiny. If there is reason to believe what has been heard and it results in the genuine quenching of suffering, then one finally may believe it one-hundred percent.

The principle of the Kalama Sutta is approriate for everyone, everywhere, every era, and every world - even for the world of devas (gods). Nowadays the world has been shrunk by superb communications. Information can be exchanged easily and rapidly. People can receive new knowledge from every direction and corner of the globe. In the process, they don't know what to believe and, therefore, are in the same position as the Kalamas once were. Indeed, it is the Kalama Sutta which will be their refuge. Please give it the good attention and study it deserves. Consider it the greatest good fortune that the Buddha taught the Kalama Sutta. It is a gift for everyone in the world. Only people who are overly stupid will be unable to benefit from this advice of the Buddha.

The Kalama Sutta is to be used by people of all ages. Even children can apply its principles in order  to be children of awakening (bodhi), rather than children of ignorance (avijja). Parents should teach and train their children to know how to understand the words and instructions they receive, to see how reasonable the words are and what kind of results will come from them. When parents teach or tell their children anything, the children should understand and see the benefit of practicing what they are told. For example, when a child it told not to take heroin, that child should believe not merely because of fear. Rather, seeing the results of taking heroin, the child fears them and then willingly refuses the drug on her or his own.

None of the items in the Kalama Sutta state that children should never believe anyone, should never listen to anyone. They all state that children, and everyone else, should listen and believe only after having seen the real meaning of something and the advantages they will receive from such belief and its subsequent practice. When a teacher teaches something, having the children see the reason behind the teaching won't make the children obstinate. For the obstinate ones, gently add a bit of the stick and let them think things over again. Children will understand the principle of the Kalama Sutta more and more as they grow up. They will complete all ten items themselves as they become fully mature adults, if we train children by this standard.

Editor's Forword Kalama Sutta, Help Us! (2)


Extract from "Keys to Natural Truth" - Buddhadasa Bhikkhu ,
translated by Santikaro Bhikkhu, Published and distributed by Mental Health Publishing, 14/349-350 M.10, Rama II Road, Bangmod, Bangkok,Thailand
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