retrofuturist wrote:I disagree that it's a guide for finding a teacher... rather, it's a guide for finding an effective doctrine and discipline, not dissimilar to that given in the Kalama Sutta to an equally non-Buddhist audience.
There is a difference?
Ah.... again I find myself agreeing to a certain extent with both perspectives. This actually coincides with something I've been looking into recently. So if I may play devil's advocate, I'd like to attempt to expand on Peter's suggestion that the search for a teacher and the search for effective doctrine and discipline are interrelated....
I have recently read and re-read Pali/Theravada scholar Stephen Evan's essay, '‘Doubting the Kalama Sutta: Epistemology, Ethics, and the ‘Sacred’’. This essay was mentioned in a earlier thread somewhere around here about the Kalama Sutta. Tilt was kind enough to send me a copy of the essay. I find it very engaging and it is definitely worth a read if you are interested. Anyway, in this essay Evans questions the usual epistemological reading of the Kalama Sutta that interprets the Buddha's advice solely
as a treatise on rational-empirical inquiry. Let me copy and paste what I have written elsewhere:
Evans begins by re-examining existing translations of key terms in the sutta to argue that the uncertainty experienced by the Kalamas is a kind of 'indecisiveness' rather than what is usually interpreted as 'doubt'. Accordingly, he argues that the Kalamas were not really asking 'What teaching is true?' but 'Whose teaching is true?' In other words, the Kalamas were not merely seeking an effective doctrine but also an effective teacher. Evans further notes that pre-existing cosmological assumptions about religious practices were condensed into ‘Who?’ such that through this simple question the Kalamas were seeking advice on the right conduct that would bring spiritual wellbeing to themselves and others (Evans 2007: 96-97). So, through the question of ‘Who?’ the Kalamas were not only asking about objective knowledge but also addressing ethical concerns.
Evans then goes on to examine the criteria given by the Buddha for accepting/rejecting a teaching (i.e.: ‘... when you yourself know: “These things are bad/good ... blameable/not blameable ... are censured/praised by the wise ...’). The Pali word that is translated as 'things' here is dhamma. The word dhamma can mean 'doctrine', 'fundamental aspects of existence', and so forth. Evans argues that in this instance it is unlikely that dhamma or 'things' refers to 'doctrine' because another word vada had already been used at the start of the sutta to refer to the doctrines of other wandering holy men. 'Things' in this instance refers to 'fundamental mindstates and actions'.
This means that an epistemological reading of the passage would be overly narrow, for ‘it is not clear what it would mean to blame or censure statements. Neither is it clear how blame or censure would bear on their truth’ (Evans 2007: 103). He further adds that the Buddha does not in fact say that one should know whether the fundamental mindstates and actions are true or false, but whether they are wholesome or unwholesome. Evans (2007: 101) thus argues, ‘We would seem rather to be in the realm of ethics than of epistemology, and the Sutta would seem to offer a model of ethical reasoning, a method rather of determining the good than the true.’
Evans also notes how later in the sutta the Buddha admits, if only tacitly, that the doctrines of kamma and rebirth can never fully be known until one attains some level of enlightenment. The Buddha appears to be saying that epistemological inquiry can only go so far and that even if we cannot prove kamma and rebirth we could nevertheless experience a virtuous life as its own reward--again we see a movement from epistemology to ethics.
What Evans essay reminds us is that Buddhism emerged in a context in which what is true (epistemology) and what is good (ethics) were not sharply distinguished. When the Kalama Sutta is interpreted narrowly only in epistemological terms we are overlooking the interrelationships between ethics, epistemology and possibly other categories. Similarly, we might be overlooking this interrelationship when we try to separate 'effective doctrine/discipline' and 'effective teachers' into two distinctive spheres.
In light of Evans' arguments about the interrelationships between ethics and epistemology, I would suggest that when individuals choose to place their trust in a teacher, it does not necessarily mean that they are blindly following authority. For as Evans mentions, when deciding which teacher to follow we need to observe if their teachings lead us to wholesome or unwholesome mindstates and actions. To the extent that their teachings lead us to wholesome mindstates and actions, we might then conclude that the teacher and/or the doctrine and discipline are effective. Such a mode of evaluation does not require us to give up evaluation and critical analysis (study). However, it does recognise the limits of epistemological inquiry into doctrine and discipline and shift our attention instead to ethical grounds for evaluating doctrine and discipline.
(EDIT: Oh.... hi PT, good timing!