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Jan 14, 2003 09:35 AM
by Nick Weeks

The Kalama Sutta is not quite as anti-authority as many would like. But if one
ignores a few lines here and there it can appear that way.

First, the Kalamas approach Buddha for advice. If He really intended to foster
their total self-reliance He would have sent them away with "Don't ask me, go
within yourselves." But He did not do so.

4. "It is proper for you, Kalamas, to doubt, to be uncertain; uncertainty has
arisen in you about what is doubtful. Come, Kalamas. Do not go upon what has
been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor
upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon
specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered
over; nor upon another's seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, 'The
monk is our teacher.' "

At this point comes the blurring of the teaching. Actually Buddha suggested
three criteria for rejecting (or accepting) a teaching.

"Kalamas, when you yourselves know:

1) 'These things are bad; these things are blamable;

2) these things are censured by the wise;

3) undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,' abandon

Number 1 says when you know for yourself that something is bad -- drop it.
Number 3 says when you know for yourself that something will eventually lead
to badness -- drop it. However, number 2 says take into account what wise
authorities say. Can this be? Pay attention to someone other than ME?
Evidently Buddha thought total self-reliance was not a good idea.

Later on the sutta gives the 3 criteria that should be applied to accepting a
teaching. He repeats the same threefold advice, including paying attention to
whether wise authorities praise something. If they do, then follow their

One can study a couple of translations and a commentary by Bhikku Bodhi at the
Access to Insight webpage.

Considering the volumes of Buddhist works praising spiritual authorities and
requiring their guidance for the aspirant, it is ridiculous to keep harping on
this one out-of-context misquote as an authority (what an irony, eh?) for
ignoring all but ones own views.

Fare Thee Well,


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