When I read my version of the Kalama Sutra to the children in Dharma School, they responded to it really well.
I said, “This is my favorite sutra. This is a teaching that, as far as I know, has never been given to children before.”
The children took great meaning from it very easily.
“When you yourselves can tell, ‘These things are not helpful. These things seem harmful,’ abandon them. Don’t accept teachings that don’t agree with your common sense.”
This is pretty straightforward and kids had no trouble understanding it. The Buddha is telling us to avoid spiritual teachings that seem to go against our reasonable logic. The truth is that we know the difference between right and wrong intuitively. Our moral compass doesn’t come from our spiritual path, if anything the opposite is true.
“Therefore, we know this. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing, tradition, rumor, scripture, or another’s seeming ability.”
This is equally straightforward. Question authority, don’t blindly follow it. It can be easy to put spiritual leaders on pedestals, to worship them as gods or think they’re better than us. The Buddha tells us that Buddha nature is within us, that we don’t need to worship our spiritual leaders. Elevating our spiritual leaders can be counterproductive on the path.
The Buddha’s message, that we should challenge authority, is unique. The other spiritual leaders that the Kalamas encountered had very different messages.