Kalamasutta

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
User avatar
tiltbillings
Posts: 23046
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2008 9:25 am

Kalamasutta

Post by tiltbillings »

This is from H-Buddhism, a scholarly e-list. It might be of interest.
. . . my impression is that the Kalamasutta has only become
prominent relatively recently in Theravada. The actual name
Kalamasutta is not used in the modern South East Asian editions of
the canonical texts and commentaries. They refer to it as the
Kesamuttisutta or the Kesaputtisutta. The PTS (and I think the
Sinhalese) editions do not give any name at all. But the title
Kalamasutta does occur in a Burmese commentary to the Dighanikaya
composed around 1800 (Sv-pá¹­).


A passage from this Sutta is frequently cited by commentaries to
illustrate one of the meanings of the word evam. Otherwise it is
hardly ever referred to in ancient sources.


Lance Cousins,
Wolfson College, Oxford
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723
User avatar
retrofuturist
Site Admin
Posts: 26207
Joined: Tue Dec 30, 2008 9:52 pm
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Contact:

Re: Kalamasutta

Post by retrofuturist »

Greetings Tilt,

What implications or consequences do you see of Lance's comments?

Metta,
Retro. :)
"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"Why now do you assume 'a being'? Mara, have you grasped a view?" (SN 5.10)

"Overcome the liar by truth." (Dhp 223)
User avatar
tiltbillings
Posts: 23046
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2008 9:25 am

Re: Kalamasutta

Post by tiltbillings »

Here is another comment from the same e-list, and this sort of makes the point that I think is worth considering:
Lance Cousins' impression of the relative importance of the
"Kaalaamasutta" in the Theravada tradition is also my own. The
commentary on this sutta is minimal and it is hardly mentioned
elsewhere before around 1900. It seems to have been siezed upon by the
British in their project of interpreting Buddhism as a modern-rational
religion fully compatible with the ideals of the European
enlightenment (The Buddha as the Bertrand Russell of Benares). That
project, in my opinion, was misguided and has led to a century of
misreading Theravada that forms a formidable barrier to comprehension.
Buddhist scholars in traditionally Buddhist countries, esp. Sri Lanka,
have largely jumped on the British bandwagon, seduced, it would seem,
by the possibility that their tradition is more modern than modern,
more western than the west. However, these representations of Buddhism
have little or no resemblance to Buddhism as actually practiced (often
by those same scholars).


Moreover, on my reading, the usual interpretation of the Kaalaamasutta
is profoundly mistaken: the Kaalaama's do not ask //what// is true,
but //who// is telling the truth. They want to know to which holy man
they should give their devotion and their gifts. In the end they
choose the Buddha. I published a paper to this effect in BSR a couple
of years ago, which I will provide if you like. Also one last year in
MJBS on the Paayaasisutta, arguing that scientific method is not an
acceptable approach to ultimate concerns within the Theravada
tradition.


Cheers,
Stephen Evans
Bangkok
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723
User avatar
mikenz66
Posts: 19272
Joined: Sat Jan 10, 2009 7:37 am
Location: Aotearoa, New Zealand

Re: Kalamasutta

Post by mikenz66 »

This article that Ven Gavesako mentioned in another thread:

Buddhism for the Next Century
Toward Renewing a Moral Thai Society
by Phra Phaisan Visalo
http://www.bpf.org/tsangha/phaisan.htm" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Makes some similar points - That King Mongkut and his offspring were interested in modernising and westernising Buddhism, along with other Thai institutions.

Mike
User avatar
zavk
Posts: 1161
Joined: Tue Jan 20, 2009 12:04 pm
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: Kalamasutta

Post by zavk »

Thanks for these interesting and challenging posts, Tilt. I certainly think that they raise important points for consideration.

The Kalama Sutta is often used to support arguments that Buddhism is 'really' rationalistic, pragmatic, and even scientific in nature. But IMO, whilst I appreciate how contemporary Buddhism dovetails with Western rationalistic, pragmatic, and scientific values, I always feel that we ought to exercise some critical reflexivity towards such values that we attribute to Buddhism.

The tendency amongst many contemporary Buddhists is to assert that this is how Buddhism is 'meant to be', that this is the 'true essence' of Buddhism. I can't comment on the accuracy of the authors' research but their work do remind us that any such assertion (of how Buddhism 'really is' or 'is meant to be') is always contextual and conditioned. This rationalistic, pragmatic and scientific version of Buddhism that we have in contemporary times arose out of certain contexts and are conditioned by various factors. So when we argue that Buddhism is in essence 'rationalistic', 'pragmatic', and 'scientific', we are really speaking out of conditioning. This is not to suggest that this version of Buddhism we have in our present time is 'wrong'. But because our understanding of Buddhism is always already conditioned, it would be worth our while to be sensitive to this conditioning. Otherwise we might foreclose or marginalise other aspects and possibilities of Buddhism that might be of great importance but are overlooked because they do not fit easily into what we have been conditioned to accept as 'true' and 'natural'.

If we follow the authors' comments, maybe the Kalama Sutta wasn't as important in the history of Buddhism as we have made it out to be. Maybe the 'importance' that we give it says more about our conditioning than it does about Buddhism. And if Stephen Evans research is valid, maybe there is a certain devotional aspect of Buddhism that we have marginalised in our eagerness to reconcile Buddhism with our Western rationalistic and scientific outlook--an outlook that is thoroughly conditioned. This, I think, would cast a different light on debates about belief, faith, rebirth, and so forth--debates which often end up in various impasses. Perhaps the way out of these impasses is to reconsider (and perhaps recognise the limitations of) the terms upon which such debates have been carried out.

Best wishes,
zavk
With metta,
zavk
User avatar
cooran
Posts: 8503
Joined: Tue Jan 06, 2009 11:32 pm
Location: Queensland, Australia

Re: Kalamasutta

Post by cooran »

And, of course, there is the brief article by Bhikkhu Bodhi from 1998:

"A Look at the Kalama Sutta"
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... ay_09.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

metta
Chris
---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---
User avatar
Rui Sousa
Posts: 366
Joined: Thu Jan 22, 2009 4:01 pm
Location: London, UK

Re: Kalamasutta

Post by Rui Sousa »

I recall a few threads at e-sangha were the Kalama Sutta was analysed, as well as a couple here at dhamma wheel, my opinion is that the Buddha is not encouraging "free inquiring" as we understand it in the west.

In my non-scholastic POV, western rationality has many deep and ancient roots, going back to Greece and Rome. But pointing out two philosophers that mark our way of thinking, we have Descartes, who presented the methodical doubt approach, and Karl Popper with his PS1-TT-EE-PS2 flow.

PS1 -Problem Solution 1
TT - Tentative Theories
EE - Eliminating Errors
PS2 - Problem Solution 2

See:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Poppe ... of_Science

This is extremely useful when we have no idea where to go, everything is unknown to all of us, and a few are leading the way into knowledge. Since we are all following the lead scouts (the scientists) we don't really have an option but to accept what they tells us, and turn back when told "Sorry, this is a dead end, we were wrong, but please trust us again as we go that way.". Just a bunch of blind men going around until someone hits something, like Fleming leaving is window opened and discovering that fungus kill bacteria ...
See:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_ ... _discovery

While in the case of the Dhamma there a fully enlightened being, the Buddha, who says "There is a path. This is the path. You must open your eyes to see the path, and trust those who see better than you to help you in the path.". As I see it In the Kalama Sutta the Buddha exhorts the Kalamas to investigate reality (open your eyes to see the path), and to submit their findings for validation from those wiser (who already see the path). And who are the wise the Buddha spoke about? I believe he meant the Noble Ones, specially Arahants. So there is one path, one destination, that is known by the wise.

Not comparable, in my opinion.
With Metta
User avatar
zavk
Posts: 1161
Joined: Tue Jan 20, 2009 12:04 pm
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: Kalamasutta

Post by zavk »

Chris wrote:And, of course, there is the brief article by Bhikkhu Bodhi from 1998:

"A Look at the Kalama Sutta"
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... ay_09.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

metta
Chris
I wasn't aware of this essay--it's great! Thanks Chris.
With metta,
zavk
User avatar
DNS
Site Admin
Posts: 15233
Joined: Tue Dec 30, 2008 4:15 am
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada, Estados Unidos de América
Contact:

Re: Kalamasutta

Post by DNS »

Image

What happens between TT and EE ? There most likely would be investigation and observation.

Popper's theories and scientific theories are not going to fit in exactly with the Kalama Sutta, but the emphasis in all of them is the use of validation, testing, and observation.
User avatar
Ceisiwr
Posts: 17643
Joined: Sun Jan 11, 2009 2:36 am

Re: Kalamasutta

Post by Ceisiwr »

Moreover, on my reading, the usual interpretation of the Kaalaamasutta
is profoundly mistaken: the Kaalaama's do not ask //what// is true,
but //who// is telling the truth. They want to know to which holy man
they should give their devotion and their gifts

I think there is a very good point made here

The sutta is about who they should place there trust in and how to investigate said person/group. Its not necceseraly about investigating what is true once accepting a teacher



Metta
“In the same way, great king, when a bhikkhu sees that these five hindrances are unabandoned within himself, he regards that as a debt, as a sickness, as confinement in prison, as slavery, as a desert road.”

Sāmaññaphala sutta
User avatar
DNS
Site Admin
Posts: 15233
Joined: Tue Dec 30, 2008 4:15 am
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada, Estados Unidos de América
Contact:

Re: Kalamasutta

Post by DNS »

clw_uk wrote:
Moreover, on my reading, the usual interpretation of the Kaalaamasutta
is profoundly mistaken: the Kaalaama's do not ask //what// is true,
but //who// is telling the truth. They want to know to which holy man
they should give their devotion and their gifts
I think there is a very good point made here
The sutta is about who they should place there trust in and how to investigate said person/group. Its not necceseraly about investigating what is true once accepting a teacher
The Kalamas may have been looking for a teacher, but after that the Buddha in his superior wisdom went on to discuss / teach that a teacher is not to be blindly trusted, not to go by tradition, culture, etc.
User avatar
retrofuturist
Site Admin
Posts: 26207
Joined: Tue Dec 30, 2008 9:52 pm
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Contact:

Re: Kalamasutta

Post by retrofuturist »

Greetings,

On the flipside, couldn't this research just as easily point towards the Kalama Sutta being underestimated by the commentarial tradition?

There are certain topics and themes in the commentarial literature which are perhaps overstated (kasinas come to mind) with respect to their importance to the Dhamma. I don't think it's accurate to judge a topic, theme or concept by how much attention the ancient commentators decided to afford it. Repetition of themes through the suttas (and the baskets of suttas) is a much more important critera in my book.

:reading:

Metta,
Retro. :)
"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"Why now do you assume 'a being'? Mara, have you grasped a view?" (SN 5.10)

"Overcome the liar by truth." (Dhp 223)
User avatar
Rui Sousa
Posts: 366
Joined: Thu Jan 22, 2009 4:01 pm
Location: London, UK

Re: Kalamasutta

Post by Rui Sousa »

TheDhamma wrote:Image

What happens between TT and EE ? There most likely would be investigation and observation.

Popper's theories and scientific theories are not going to fit in exactly with the Kalama Sutta, but the emphasis in all of them is the use of validation, testing, and observation.
EE is the process of actively looking for errors, that is achieved by testing the Tentative Theory in different situations. If an error is found then you need a new Theory. If no errors are found within a certain time period, a new problem solution is presented, until the next error is found and a new theory has to be formulated.

This is, for example, the methodology used in software development, and it's no good... Only 30% of software development projects are successful... But its the best we have when exploring uncharted areas of knowledge.
With Metta
User avatar
zavk
Posts: 1161
Joined: Tue Jan 20, 2009 12:04 pm
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: Kalamasutta

Post by zavk »

retrofuturist wrote:On the flipside, couldn't this research just as easily point towards the Kalama Sutta being underestimated by the commentarial tradition?
Good point Retro. Which leads me to wonder.....

If the the Kalama Sutta was indeed underestimated by the commentarial tradition, then, might we not reason that the ideas expressed in the Kalama Sutta didn't speak to the circumstances of the time? If the authors of the commentaries did underestimate the Kalama Sutta, maybe it wasn't because they didn't appreciate the importance of free inquiry and 'scientific inquiry', but because such notions (if they were articulated at all) were not issues that had to be reiterated, emphasised, and defended back in those societies in those days. Without giving special emphasis to the ideas expressed in the Kalama Sutta, the dhamma was nevertheless able to affect the Sangha and communities of the time in deep and profound ways. Buddhism was what it was to them, under those circumstances, without the attributes that we now ascribe to it.

So inthis regard, it is an underestimation only from our historical position, not theirs.

Metta,
zavk
With metta,
zavk
DarkDream
Posts: 62
Joined: Tue Feb 17, 2009 6:25 am

Re: Kalamasutta

Post by DarkDream »

mikenz66 wrote:This article that Ven Gavesako mentioned in another thread:

Buddhism for the Next Century
Toward Renewing a Moral Thai Society
by Phra Phaisan Visalo
http://www.bpf.org/tsangha/phaisan.htm" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Mike, that was an interesting read. I love this part of the article:
At the same time, other forms of the sacred should be allowed a role in Buddhism. Deities, miracles, amulets, and others from the realm of superstition, if used skillfully, can be instrumental in leading people to higher levels of Dhamma.
Very interesting opinion. So praying to deities for good fortunate, attaching to amulets and so on is a good thing. This to me has absolutely nothing to do with Buddhism. The Buddha taught a person to rely on themselves and not look to gods, rituals and things to make there life better.

I did not really understand the point of the article. It almost appears that in order restore a Thai "moral society" a piece of the puzzle is to allow these superstitions but they "should be guided by Buddhism, and not the other way around."

--DarkDream
Post Reply