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Buddha Wisdom

Buddha's personal name was Siddhartha. His clan name was Gautama. Buddha is his epiteth, and means "awakened one". There are variants of spelling. These are in Sanskrit. Further, the earliest accounts of the life of Buddha are perhaps in the collected discourses attributed to him; they were put down in writing during his lifetime: there are sources of errors right there.

On this page you get the very best of three translations from the Pali language of the groundbreaking Kalama Sutta, which is a portion of the Kesaputti Sutra in Anguttara Nikaya 3.65. There is a parallell from the Chinese (Bingenheimer 2013, 89–95) to go into along with the Kalama Sutta from the Pali language also.

Doubt and don't is not too hard

Can Buddha's "doubt and investigate" in the Kalama Sutta be reconciled with "You can't do it well enough," as he is credited with saying in the Madhyama-agama parallel? Yes. The gentle Middle Path shows that there is room for thinking (which includes skilled doubting) along the Middle Way, and also for meditating and (also rising beyond doubts,) getting awakened. Thus, by some balanced, solid scheme of levels, thinking (including doubting) and meditation may both do us good. So both doubting and not-doubting may help a lot, each in its way. Much depends on how skilled we get. Development of sound skills is a valued part of Buddha's teaching. [The Middle Path]

In the Kalama Sutta, Buddha says you may doubt and investigate teachings yourself, while in a parallel that is translated from the Chinese, he says, "Do not doubt!" for "When there is doubt, hesitation arises," and that investigating teachings well enough for oneself, is hardly doable for all and sundry. There may be sound hesitation and unsound hesitation. Sound hesitation makes you avoid trying to climb a rotten ladder, because of signs of rot you detect. Granted that, it seems not bad to doubt where doubts are due and fit enough.

How to resolve the two views ascribed to Buddha, if possible? Bodhi Bhikkhu says there is "little to fall back on to support one reading as against the other (2012: 74)." However, what we are facing is hardly an either-or case: both-and works in a scheme that allows for it - the Middle Way. We may harmonise the two texts to our benefit.

Steps in seeking to resolving variant teachings

1. There is doubt because of confounding teachings. If you cannot keep at bey such doubts - and other thoughts well worth doubts - to the degree that they interfere with your silent meditations, you could benefit from working on them a little - or more. Three types of such work stands out: (a) Use the doubt-sensation to penetrate; (b) Learn rational investigation methods (compare Buddha's guidelines in Kalama Sutta); (c) See what guidelines those who are said to be awakened beings have to offer; (4) Attunement is fair too.

2. To use doubts for meditation and going beyond in meditation, exists in Chan (Zen) Buddhism. We press on and "abort" teachings by developing the "doubt sensation" itself, in meditation. It allows for much progress according to Zen schools that use koans and the like. (Cf. Chang, The Practice of Zen, p. 75-79) [Get the edge of doubt]

3. For initial inquiries, the tentative Kalama Sutta approach (below) could be fit and benefit a people. "Keep some free space in your mind for alternatives" is what basic research evolves from, by use alternative hypotheses. We may remain whole-hearted if we manage to search like the best researchers.

4. For further advances, one seeks the advise and guidelines of proficient ones, learning to avoid those who are not fit, even though their disciples call them avatars or proficient. Buddha offers some marks of enlightened ones. Some are not unfit. Analaya Bikkhu (2010) has translated and compared a sutra about such signs and works. — In essence, "You don't have to be a know-all in order to study others who say they are, and their main teachings."

5. For still further advances, one learns to put doubts at rest and advance into deep meditation, which also includes transcending. There is a knack to it. (Cf. Bingenheimer 2013, 89–95). How long it may take you to get enlightened is not for me to say - it probably depends in part on being prepared or ready for the experience; on getting accepted by a wise and benevolent teacher or guru; and getting into a fit method that works well - preferably all three. At any rate, "a journey 500 kilometres long, begins at one's feet," claims the Tao Te Ching. Or maybe it started with months and years of preparations beforehand. At any rate, to meditate and get awakened by it, includes first learning to meditate by a suitable method. It cannot be overstressed. Buddha says it plainly in the Bhumija Sutta. According to several research findings, Transcendental Meditation, TM, works best for many. It may be wise to save time for daily, adequate efforts in calm meditation and see what accrues. You don't know how it works until you try.

Among claims are many bad, inferior claims, and translations vary

From the above scheme it stands out that "It is not good enough just to be well-meaning; what is taught also ought to be true" - confirmed by relevant facts and so on. What is taught ought to be valid and relevant too, one may add, for there are some who think or claim they speak divine truths without doing so at all. To confirm a teaching, look for intrinsic signs like cogency, and outward signs as to its possible value, by linking it to plausible points or estimates at least, and preferably to known facts , and by prolonged study too.

Bodhi Bhikkhu has translated the Kalama Sutta from the Pali language. He informs that there is a Chinese parallel to the Kalama Sutta (2012, 74), and that in the Chinese text, Buddha does not ask the Kalamas to resolve their doubts by judging matters for themselves. Instead he tells them: "You yourselves do not have pure wisdom with which to know whether there is an afterlife or not. You yourselves do not have pure wisdom to know which deeds are transgressions and which are not transgressions." (Bodhi 2012, 74)

Another translation: "You yourselves do not have clear knowledge about whether there is a next life or whether there is no next life. Kalamas, you yourselves also do not have clear knowledge about what action is an offense and what action is not an offense (Bingenheimer 2012, 91)."

One could tentatively seek to combine the Pali text and the Chinese text, as told above. By combining helpful thoughts (study time) and meditation (meditation times) one might develop, make progress, while those who are stuck with "the wrong ideas and the wrong methods, they will not get any [good] fruit from their meditation," says Buddha [Bhumija Sutta].

The way of combining Transcendental Meditation amd apt thoughts has been shown to help many, many. [◦Statistics (Lynch Foundation).


The Kalama Sutta - Version 1


The good repute of the Blessed One [Buddha] spread far. Once when he was wandering in the Kosala country with a large community of bhikkhus, he entered a town of the Kalama people called Kesaputta. Kesaputta Kamalas heard he was worthy in deeds and words, a teacher of human and divine beings through direct knowledge gained, greatly awakened, and telling others of proper things to do (dharma). It might be good to see such a worthy one (have darshan with him). Hence, many of them came and paid homage to him, saying:

"Reverend Gotama, who by yourself have understood clearly through direct knowledge, there are some monks and brahmans who visit Kesaputta. They expound, explain and glorify their own doctrines; the doctrines of others they deprecate, revile, show contempt for, and disparage. As a result we are in doubt about the teachings of all of them. Which spoke the truth and which falsehood?"

Buddha said, "Of course, under such circumstances it is only natural to be uncertain and in doubt, Kalamas. When there are reasons for doubt, uncertainty is born. This is how to live:

Do not go by reports (repeated hearing), by legends, by traditions, by rumours, by scriptures, by surmise, conjecture and axioms, by inference and analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by specious reasoning or bias toward a notion because it has been pondered over, by another's seeming ability, or by the thought, 'This monk (contemplative) is our teacher."

However, Kalamas, when you yourselves know: "Such and such things are unskilful (bad); blameworthy; criticized by the wise; and if adopted and carried out lead to harm and ill and suffering," you need to abandon them.

Overcome and possessed by greed a man takes life, steals or takes what is not given, goes after another person's wife, and tells lies and induces others to do likewise, all of which for long-term harm and suffering. It is likewise with hate and delusion.

So what do you think, Kalamas? Are these things skilful or unskilful (good or bad)? Blameworthy or not? Criticized or praised by the wise? And if undertaken and observed, do these things lead to suffering, harm and ill or not?"

"When adopted and carried out, such things lead to harm and suffering, it appears to us."

"On the other hand, when you know for yourselves that, "These and these things are skillful; blameless; even praised by the wise; and lead ot welfare and happiness when taken up and carried out, then you should enter and remain in them.

Great proficiency in living leads to benefit and happiness - equanimity that is free of hate or malice, a hate-free, malice-free, and purified mind. Even in this world, here and now, you should keep yourself free from hatred, free from malice, safe, sound, and happy."

"So it is, Sublime One."

"Think of doing evil to none. Abundant awareness is pervading, rests on equanimity, is expansive, may not be measured in every respect, and is linked to inner purity. Hostility goes against it, and vice versa," said Buddha like a lantern in the dark. "To look after oneself with ease here in this life is a good ideal."

Anguttara Nikaya 3.65: Kalama Sutta. The Instruction to the Kalamas, rendered from one translation from the Pali by Soma Thera and another by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Both translations are available at ◦Access to Insight.

And since many old text may allow for different nuances and variances of meaning, below are the Pali words Buddha is recorded to have spoken, and three more takes at translating them, so that you can compare versions.


Kalama Sutta 2

Many who believe these majestic words are actually told not to.

The people of the small town Kalama complained that they were confused by contradictions they discovered in what they heard from various teachers who praised their own doctrines. They asked Buddha, who was staying in the town then, who to believe out of all who, like himself, passed through their town:

"Venerable Sir, some recluses and brahmins visited this town and praised only their own doctrines, but condemned and despised those of others. And it is common that they do so. Sir, who among them told the truth and who told falsehood?"

Buddha advised them, saying, "Kalama people, it is proper for you to doubt and to have perplexity [under such circumstances,] when [great] doubt has arisen in a doubtful matter."

He went on to instruct that it is wise to make a proper examination before committing. He said this was to be applied to his own teachings as well. The benefit is: not being too bound by unverifiable propositions, hopefully.

In Pali, Buddha's reply is recorded thus:

Ma anussavena.
  Do not believe something just because it has been passed along and retold for many generations. [Simpler: Do not be led by what you are told.]

Ma paramparaya.
  Do not believe something merely because it has become a traditional practice. [Do not be led by whatever has been handed down from past generations.]

Ma itikiraya.
  Do not believe something simply because it is well-known everywhere. [Do not be led by hearsay or common opinion.]

Ma Pitakasampadanena.
  Do not believe something just because it is cited in a text. [Do not be led by what the scriptures say]

Ma takkahetu.
  Do not believe something solely on the grounds of logical reasoning. [Do not be led by mere logic.]

Ma nayahetu.
  Do not believe something merely because it accords with your philosophy. [Do not be led by mere deduction or inference.]

Ma akaraparivitakkena.
  Do not believe something because it appeals to "common sense". [Do not be led by considering only outward appearance.]

Ma ditthinijjhanakkhantiya.
  Do not believe something just because you like the idea. [Do not be led by preconceived notions (and the theory reflected as an approval)]

Ma bhabbarupataya.
  Do not believe something because the speaker seems trustworthy. [Do not be led by what seems acceptable; do not be led by what some seeming believable one says.]

Ma samano no garu ti.
  Do not believe something thinking, "This is what our teacher says". [Do not be led by what your teacher tells you is so.]

Kalamas, when you yourselves directly know, "This is [these things are] unwholesome, this is blameworthy, this is condemned or censured by the wise, these things when accepted and practised lead to poverty and harm and suffering," then you should give them up.

Kalamas, when you yourselves directly know, "These things are wholesome, blameless, praised by the wise; when adopted and carried out they lead to well-being, prosperity and happiness," then you should accept and practise them."

Gautama Buddha, Kesaputti Sutta, 5th sutta (sutra) in the Book of Threes (Mahavagga) in the Gradual Sayings (Tika Nipata).

The Pali text runs like this:
"Etha tumhe Kalama. Ma anussavena, ma paramparaya, ma itikiraya, ma pitasampadanena, ma takkahetu, ma nayahetu, ma akaraparivitakkena, nid ditthinijjhanakkhantiya, ma bhabbarupataya, ma samanro no garu ti." (Narada 1988:284)


Kalama Sutta 3


The essential teachings:

  • Do not accept anything on mere hearsay (ie, thinking that thus have we heard it for a long time).
  • Do not accept anything by mere tradition (ie, thinking that it has been handed down thus through many generations).
  • Do not accept anything on account of rumours (ie, by believing what others say without any investigation).
  • Do not accept anything just because it accords with your scriptures.
  • Do not accept anything by mere supposition.
  • Do not accept anything by mere inference.
  • Do not accept anything by merely considering the appearances.
  • Do not accept anything merely because it agrees with your preconceived notions.
  • Do not accept anything merely because it seems acceptable (ie, should be accepted).
  • Do not accept anything thinking that the ascetic is respected by us (and that therefore it is right to accept his word.)

But when you know for yourselves - these things are immoral, these things are blameworthy, these things are censured by the wise, these things, when performed and undertaken, conduce to ruin and sorrow - then reject them.

When you know for yourselves - these things are moral, these things are blameless, these things are praised by the wise, these things, when performed and undertaken, conduce to well-being and happiness - then live and act accordingly." [This section: Bht 284-85]

The bracketed explanations above accord with the interpretations of the commentary and subcommentary. (Narada 1988:284)

A comment

A teachings that leads to well-being and happiness, is it for all? Maybe. It depends on the "all". If the folks addressed are good - fine. But if they are evil, that is another matter. Wellbeing for evil ones may counteract wellbeing for good ones. You may need to discern too. How are evil ones recognised? They murder and tempt others, but do not satisfy. (Mara's qualities applied)



To really accept teachings is to adjust oneself well to them

The discourse (sutra) has been described as "Buddha's Charter of Free Inquiry". In order to understand Buddha's sayings properly it may be necessary to take account of his intentions and the context (setting and situation), and the people he talked to about these things. From how the sutra develops, it shows up that the issues that perplexed the Kalamas were rebirth and karmic retributions of deeds.

Buddha did not ask the Kalamas to accept anything he said out of trust in him. They did not come to him as a Truth-finder or unraveller of finest truth either. They had not yet accepted him as their guide to deliverance. We may say he adjusted in part to the occasion.

An interesting problem that has been raised by some, is whether all followers are entitled to the freedom of independent inquiry [as shown above], or just his bystanders. Buddha says on the brink of his death that the highest way of honouring him, is to live his teachings. In a part of those handed-over teachings he says it is all right to doubt and proceed cautiously. It is fit and skilled practice that matters to him, he often shows.

Some who put faith in him personally, openly disregard he said he was only showing the Way by his teachings, and that followers were to walk it by themselves, being lights to themselves. And that is just what sceptics have to be. So I for my part think it is fit to use his various statements as working hypotheses. One should end up in Nirvanaland by skilful practice - that is part of what he tells.

Buddha proposed to them a teaching that may be verified by trial and error over a long time. For those who are not concerned to look further, perhaps that little will do.

Live attuned to great Joy and "assonant" derivations of it too

The question arises, what are Buddha's teachings for followers and others? Sceptical undertakings are not all he offers. The Blessed One came up with a groundwork or plan for attaining astoundingly great joy and bliss (nirvana), and practices aiming at a well balanced life toward such an end. There should be no doubt what he stands for, thus. He also teaches the often helpful, purifying power of Dharma (Right conduct, Great Law, Buddha's teachings) as well. Buddha's Kalama teachings supplement his more known Noble Path of teachings about right views to hold, right activity, and much else. A question is whether or how far a follower is allowed the same freedom of thought and practice as to his teachings as the Kalamas.

Faith in Buddha's teaching is not forbidden, nor is it to be regarded as an end in itself, but as a starting point of an evolving process, a waking-up process. It has its turns too.

Blind faith is esteemed, and sceptical inquiry and investigations - are they only for outsiders? or may the follower actually try out his teachings on a provisional basis because they are freely available, fit for all, and his call is for self-effort? If we take a look in the most authentic texts and teachings that are attributed to him, we seem to get to:

A Buddhist [does not] sacrifice his freedom of thought by becoming a follower of the Buddha. He is at full liberty to exercise his own freewill and develop his knowledge even to the extent of attaining Buddhahood himself. (Narada 1988:283)

Rational inquiry and understanding is welcome

Buddhism allows for rational understanding. Compare: "As the wise test gold by burning, cutting and rubbing it (on a piece of touchstone), so are you to accept my words after examining them and not merely out of regard for me," says Buddha in Jnanasara-samuccaya (Narada 1988:285).

Further: "Meditation is the essence of Buddhism," says Narada. (Narada 1988:288])

In the long text of Buddha's Parinibbana there is an ascetic, Subhadda, who wonders whether all who claim they have understood the Truth, really have. Buddha answers, "Do not trouble yourself as to whether all or some have realized it [the Truth] or not." And to his aide-in-camps Ananda Buddha says, "Devote yourself to your own welfare . . . be intent on your own good." His last words are "strive diligently". From this it stands out that the proper faith is one that leads to devoting oneself to the good for oneself, as specified by Buddha. (Narada 1988:260, 264, 268).

Truths have been imparted to us by Buddha out of his comprehension of the godly sides of existence. His teachings may be considered and lived provisionally to develop from being unwitting and with no wisdom, into one's true nature to find Astounding Happiness [Nirvanaland].

The foundations of Buddhism include the four Noble Truth about suffering and a way out of it, into the highest conceivable happiness. It is not fit to brood constantly on the ills of life and thus make one's life unhappy. Instead one is to cultivate joy (piti), being attuned to the Great Joy. Note also that "No blind faith is necessary to understand these four Noble Truths." It is Right Practice that he emphasizes the most in his teachings. His advice is free for all, he formed no inner circle of secret teachings either. Fanaticism plays no part in Buddhism either, nor does caste. Your standing is largely determined by your moral and efforts. Buddha goes against slavery, and Buddhism is open to all, also slave girls, without any distinction. (Cf. Narada 1988:298-305, 308, 310)

Buddhism and women

And as for women, Buddha is recorded to have said once, "A woman child . . . may prove even a better offspring than a male." Gautama had women disciples, and in Buddhism women are not unwelcome and cumbersome. Born of a woman himself, Buddha raised the social status and esteem of women. A wife is considered the "best friend" (parama sakha) of the husband. Buddha also founded the first society for women, the Order of Bhikkhinis (Nuns). Women played a great part in the "teacher career" of Buddha. [Cf. Narada 1988:311-17)

Also, Buddha delineates life roles of men and women, and encourages education and learning for women in the Vaddha Sutta.

To our parents we are first of all indebted for being, although some parents ill-treat and deform the minds of their offspring in various base ways. (Narada 1988:340-42)

Karma and good deeds

Fatalistic views of karma are not welcome; the long-run value of self-effort is throught to be greater. Taking care and heeding warnings in time is good too. You may and should prevent evil from happening and take over, all in all. (Narada 1988:344)

Various evils have different consequences in time. For example, harsh speech over and over gives rise to a harsh voice (maybe in a future life), it is held. (Narada 1988:376)

Good deeds and works may need time for their effects (fruits) to ripen in some realm or other, as with evil doings. "Who knows what good Kamma (Karma) he has in store . . . Who knows his potential goodness?" asks Narada. What is needed to to is to destroy or limit bad and encourage and foster good all along. That is in the teachings of Buddha too. (Narada 1988:382)

Mangalam (greeting)

Reasonable counsel may be confirmed by the absence of hard-won, scarring, maiming and killing life experiences (!)

We have now looked into the key section of the Kalama sutra (discourse), often rendered in abbreviated form as the Kalama Sutta. It is implied from what Buddha says that it is not wise and good enough merely to hold fast to one's own opinions without evidence while failing to investigate things further. What he is into is that it is wise to make a proper examination before accepting teachings as true and good. Hence, it should pay to examine things rationally and carefully.

In conclusion the sutta says that the one with this kind of rational and sympathetic equanimity may enjoy bliss and the favoured self-assurance.

May this be added: "Master this in time: let what is spontaneous give good fortune."


Just before his passing Buddha praised a monk who did not come to see him and pay his respect to him as others expected he would do. Buddha summoned him and was told: "I thought the best way to honour you was by becoming an Arhant ["a worthy one" etc., through deep meditation] before you departed."

Buddha said, "Excellent! He honours me best who practises my teaching best." (Narada 1988:287)

In the Last Days of the Buddha there is more detail:

Buddhic Whatever bhikkhu or bhikkhuni, layman or laywoman, abides by the Dhamma, lives uprightly in the Dhamma, walks in the way of the Dhamma, it is by such a one that the Tathagata is respected, venerated, esteemed, worshipped, and honored in the highest degree. Therefore, Ananda, thus should you train yourselves: 'We shall abide by the Dhamma, live uprightly in the Dhamma, walk in the way of the Dhamma.'" (Maha-parinibbana Sutta: Last Days of the Buddha. tr. Sister Vajira and Francis Story, 1998, Part 5, verse 6)


Kalama Sutta, Buddha teachings, a Buddhist work of Buddhism, Literature  

Analayo, Bhikkhu. The Scope of Free Inquiry – According to the Vimamsaka-sutta and its Madhyama-agama Parallel. Rivista Italiana di Studie Sudasiatici, 2010: 4:7–20. Study and translation of T. 26, sutra no. 186.

Bingenheimer, Marcus, main ed. Middle-Length Discourses. Vol 1. (Taisho Volume 1, Number 26). Moraga, CA: Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai America, 2013, 89-96

Bodhi Bhikkhu, tr. The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha. The Anguttara Nikaya. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2012: 74, 279-81.

Chang, Garma C. C. The Practice of Zen Perennial ed. New York: Harper and Row, 1970.

Lie, Kåre A. Buddhas samtaler - De lange tekstene - Digha Nikaya, Bind 2: Oslo: Solum, 2005:116.

Narada Thera. The Buddha and His Teachings. 4th ed. Kuala Lumpur: Buddhist Missionary Society, 1988. ⍽▢⍽ "Buddha's Last Days" is are also in Buddhist Suttas, tr, T. W. Rhys Davids (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1881).

Vajira, Sister, and Francis Story, trs. Maha-parinibbana Sutta: Last Days of the Buddha. Access to Insight, 1998. Online. ⍽▢⍽ Less demanding.

Pali Canon collections:

AN - Anguttara Nikaya (Collection of Discourses arranged according to numbers)

DN - Digha Nikaya (Collection of Long Discourses)

MN - Majjhima Nikaya (Collection of Middle-Length Discourses)

SN - Samyutta Nikaya (Collection of Kindred Sayings)


Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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