Kalama Sutta

Kalama Sutra

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Reference: Book: What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula

The Buddha once visited a small town called Kesaputta in the kingdom of Kosala. The inhabitants of this town were known by the common name Kalama. When they heard that the Buddha was in their town, the Kalamas paid him a visit, and told him:

‘Sir, there are some recluses and brahmanas who visit Kesaputta.  They explain and illumine only their own doctrines, and despise, condemn and spurn others’ doctrines. Then come other recluses and brahmanas, and they, too, in their turn, explain and illumine only their own doctrines, and despise, condemn and spurn others’ doctrines. But, for us, Sir, we have always doubt and perplexity as to who among these venerable recluses and brahmanas spoke the truth, and who spoke falsehood.’

Then the Buddha gave them this advice, unique in the history of religions:

‘Yes, Kalamas, it is proper that you have doubt, that you have perplexity, for a doubt has arisen in a matter which is doubtful.  Now, look you Kalamas, do not be led by reports, or tradition, or hearsay. Be not led by the authority of religious texts, nor by mere logic or inference, nor by considering appearances, nor by the delight in speculative opinions, nor by seeming possibilities, nor by the idea: ‘this is our teacher’. But, O Kalamas, when, you know for yourselves that certain things are unwholesome (akusala), and wrong, and bad, then give them up… And when you know for yourselves that certain things are wholesome (kusala) and good, then accept them and follow them.’

The Buddha went even further. He told the bhikkhus that a disciple should examine even the Tathagata (Buddha) himself, so that he (the disciple) might be fully convinced of the true value of the teacher whom he followed.

According to the Buddha’s teaching, doubt (vicikiccha) is one of the five Hindrances (nivarana) to the clear understanding of Truth and to spiritual progress (or for that matter to any progress). Doubt, however, is not a ‘sin’, because there are no articles of faith in Buddhism. In fact there is no ‘sin’ in Buddhism, as sin is understood in some religions. The root of all evil is ignorance (avijja) and false views (micchd ditthi). It is an undeniable fact that as long as there is doubt, perplexity, wavering, no progress is possible. It is also equally undeniable that there must be doubt as long as one does not understand or see clearly. But in order to progress further it is absolutely necessary to get rid of doubt. To get rid of doubt one has to see clearly.

There is no point in saying that one should not doubt or one should believe. Just to say ‘I believe’ does not mean that you understand and see. When a student works on a mathematical problem, he comes to a stage beyond which he does not know how to proceed, and where he is in doubt and perplexity. As long as he has this doubt, he cannot proceed. If he wants to proceed, he must resolve this doubt. And there are ways of resolving that doubt. Just to say ‘I believe’, or ‘I do not doubt’ will certainly not solve the problem. To force oneself to believe and to accept a thing without understanding is political, and not spiritual or intellectual.

NOTE: This blog refers to ‘doubt’ as ‘inconsistency’.

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