In reflecting on our discussion Sunday, I find it interesting how the Buddha’s injunction to approach authority skeptically imposes greater responsibility on the individual than does the traditional injunction to obey the commands. “Know for yourself” is hard; “believe without question” is less hard. Or rather, hard in a different way.
For those who accept the challenge, who choose their way wisely and practice it diligently, the rewards are significant. In the Kalama Sutta, the Buddha presents those rewards in terms of ways of living that were known, in the culture of his time, as Brahma Viharas. The term is usually translated as “Divine Abidings”; as the Buddha used it, it clearly means living as a God might live, living a life imbued with God-like qualities.
Our reading for this week, and for next week as well, is the Kalama Sutta—the Buddha’s teaching to the Kalama people in the village of Kesaputta. In it, the Buddha is as clear and forceful as he ever gets at insisting that the only proper approach to the way that he teaches is with a skeptical attitude and a pragmatic intention.
The discourse, which is widely known and widely translated, has sometimes been called “The Buddha’s charter for free inquiry.” The discourse has two main sections; in the first, the Buddha leads his Kalama questioners toward an understanding of the kinds of tests they might apply to a particular doctrine, to determine whether it presents a way worth following. In the second section, he goes very briefly over the benefits to be realized through choosing a good way and following it diligently. On Sunday, we’ll focus on the first section of the teaching, and we’ll spend some time next week looking at the second section, with particular attention to the four “Divine Abidings”—open friendliness, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity. We’ll also look glancingly at the role and nature of an afterlife in the Buddha’s teachings.
But Sunday evening, I’d like to keep a focus on the qualities of skeptical inquiry that the Buddha recommends in this teaching. Please read the translation I’ve put up on the Dharmacenter.net site, and you might want to follow the links I’ve provided to other translations on the web.
I’d also like to you look at the summary of the values that I hope we’ll bring to our investigation of the Buddha’s way in our Dhamma.now gatherings.
[The following mail message went to the community mail list on 12/12/2012. It’s here for historical purposes; except for the sutta on the dharmastudy.org site that is linked in the email, nothing was posted on the web for this gathering.]
I thought our discussion Sunday evening on the Buddha's first teaching was exceptionally good. I feel that I learned a lot from the insights that you shared regarding how the four undeniable facts the Buddha laid out in that teaching express themselves in your lives. The discussion just felt right: unforced, to the point, emerging from real experience. I hope that discussions at future gatherings can maintain that tone.
Our subject for this coming Sunday is meditation, and the text that will guide our approach to that subject is the Discourse on the Four Bases of Mindfulness, the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta. I've done some relatively minor editing of the version of that sutta on the Dharma Study website, and I would suggest that as the starting point for your investigation of this very important teaching.