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
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
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.