The Buddha and the Kalamas

There is an old story called the Kalama Sutra. It is one of the oldest sutras and one of my favorites.

It goes something like this. The Buddha was travelling the world spreading the Dharma, teaching people that wanted to listen. He came upon a group of people known as the Kalamas and started explaining the Dharma to them. Their response was unusual.

They said, “We have had numerous spiritual teachers come here. Every new teacher comes and tells us to ignore the teachings we have heard before and to follow their doctrine only. This has made us doubtful and uncertain. What makes your teaching different? Why should we follow your authority and not the authority of the other teachers?”

The Buddha’s reply was unique.

He said, “It’s good to be skeptical, to doubt, to be uncertain; uncertainty has arisen in you about what is doubtful. Don’t believe things just because you’ve heard them from rumors or from authority figures or scriptures. Even if something has been repeated for generations, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t challenge it. We should challenge everything. You should even challenge what I tell you. But challenge your own preconceptions too.

You didn’t need a religious teacher to come tell you that greed, hatred and delusion are bad. Your common sense agrees with that. You didn’t need a religious teacher to come and tell you that compassion and mindfulness are good. Your common sense agrees with that too.

I have only really come to teach skillful means, methods to deal with the suffering that pervades our lives. If my teachings are right, then the truth is within you already. Other teachings may be dogmatic and strict. Mine is not. I only teach suggestions for dealing with suffering.”

This is an important message in my opinion. I have a natural inclination to both be skeptical and to challenge authority. Unlike many other religious teachers, that is actually what the Buddha suggests to us.

 

Advertisements

About Daniel Scharpenburg

Daniel Scharpenburg is an independent dharma teacher living in Kansas City. He gives online teachings through the Open Heart Project, the largest virtual mindfulness community in the world. His writing has appeared in Lion's Roar, Patheos, Tattooed Buddha, and Elephant Journal.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s