Kalama Sutta

The Kalamas ask the Buddha how to tell which religious doctrine is right.


Discussion Questions

Kalamas ask for guidance

  1. Reflect on the question the Kalamas ask the Buddha (section 3). What do you think about the situation of Kalama 2600 years ago compared to us living today?
  2. What kind of of people are the Kalamas? Do you think they are smart? Why

criterion for rejection

  1. Buddha highlights ten modes; people blindly tend to close their mind into doctrines (section 04). Investigate each of these modes and reflect on how each mode might be problematic when considered as truth on its own base only. Does, Buddha declare each of these point as false?
  2. Note the modes are both external as well as internal sources. How can we exercise skepticism about our own internal reasonings? How does the Buddha suggest we resolve the dilemma?
  3. What is the meaning of "things" here?

greed, hate, and delusion

  1. Buddha probes Kalamas' opinion about Greed, and Kalama's seem to think Greed is for harm to which Buddha agree (section 5). What can we say about this point? Does the Buddha's question seem to require much consideration before providing an answer?
  2. Next, Buddha probes Kalamas' opinion about Hatred, and Kalama's seem to think Hatred is for harm to which Buddha agree (section 6). What can we say about this point? Does the Buddha's question seem to require much consideration before providing an answer?
  3. Next Buddha probes Kalamas' opinion about Delusion and Kalama's seem to think Delusion is for harm to which Buddha agree (section 5). What can we say about this point? Does the Buddha's question seem to require much consideration before providing an answer?
  4. What is the full scope of the meaning of the words greed, hate, and delusion?
  5. In sections 8 and 9, Buddha is setting up a criterion for abandoning practices as unwholesome. What is the basis of this Criterion and do you think this make sense? Can you connect this back to the Buddha's Instructions to Rahula?

criterion for acceptance; absence of greed, hate and delusion

  1. The idea of "absence of (greed, hate, or delusion) arising in a man" might seem strange. What does this situation mean?
  2. In each probing question Buddha states "he prompts another too, to do likewise". How do our attitudes and choices impact the attitudes and choices of those around us? How are we likewise influenced by the attitudes and choices of others?
  3. In sections 11 through 15 Buddha is helping Kalamas to set up a criterion for acceptance. What is the basis of criterion and do you think this is a satisfactory criterion?

The Four Exalted Dwellings

  1. Who is that (in section 16) Buddha refers to as "The disciple of the Noble Ones" and the "Noble Ones"
  2. What are the four exalted dwellings? How else might they be translated and understood? How might they be antidotes for greed, hate, and delusion?

The Four Assurances

  1. In section 17, Buddha signifies the rewards of the noble living by introducing four assurances. Reflect on these four assurances. Do you find these reasonable? Why do you think Buddha is introducing four difference assurances here?
  2. In answering a random and a very general question about religious doctrines, does Buddha give an introduction to Four Noble Truths in this discourse? How do you justify your observation?

Notes from Matt

Kalamas ask for guidance

Let's understand the Buddha's audience. The Kalamas are similar to us in several respects. Because of their location, they are frequented by teachers propounding conflicting views-- that is, they have access to much (potentially conflicting) information. They are unfamiliar with the Dhamma, i.e. they are new to Buddha's teaching. They also pose a thoughtful and skeptical question-- how to tell what doctrine is right. Notice they don't simply ask for the Buddha's doctrine, they ask how to evaluate doctrines in general.

criterion for rejection

The Buddha mentions some potential sources of information, and asserts that none are to be spared from our skepticism. Note the sources are both external and internal. How do we apply skepticism to our own reasonings? The answer points back to the Instructions to Rahula. We are to put these actions into practice and examine their results in terms of cause and effect. Note that here, the word "things" may mean mental qualities or actions.

greed, hate, and delusion

In general, we might consider "greed" to be craving or passion, "hate" to be aversion or ill will, and "delusion" to be misunderstanding reality or failing to see a situation in terms of Four Noble Truths. They are identified as unskillful mental qualities, that is, they tend to lead to suffering. Note they are communicable; they tend to spread from person to person.

criterion for acceptance; absence of greed, hate, and delusion

Absence of greed, hate, and delusion might be thought of as generosity, goodwill, and wisdom. These are considered skillful mental qualities-- that is, they tend to produce good effects. Like their negative counterparts, they can be spread from person to person.

the four exalted dwellings

These attitudes are:
  1. goodwill: a wish for happiness
  2. compassion: a wish for release from suffering
  3. sympathetic joy: delight in the happiness of others
  4. equanimity: mental stability, calmness, evenness of temper
These can be antidotes to negative mental qualities. Those who adopt these attitudes tend to be more happy and less miserable. Those who purify their minds by cultivating these and other good mental qualities are granted four assurances.

the four assurances

The Buddha explains four metaphysical scenarios, the first two related to potential experience after death and the last two related to justice regarding one's actions. He assures that one who has purified the mind will be well off in any of these cases.
  1. If there is ongoing experience after death, and if its quality is determined by the virtue of actions in this life, then those with pure minds will end up in good destinations.
  2. If there is no ongoing experience after death, then at least those with pure minds live with peace and ease in this life now.
  3. If bad results befall those who do evil actions, then those with pure minds are spared from such bad results.
  4. If bad results do not necessarily befall those who do evil actions, then those who purify their minds have done no harm anyway.
In any case, we might as well purify ourselves-- that is, purify the mind and the bodily, verbal, and mental actions. For more details on the purification process, see Instructions to Rahula.
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