We might be more familiar with this sutta name called “Kālāma Sutta”, but not the Kesaputtiya Sutta (Chinese: 伽藍經), found in AN 3.65. Both names refer to the same sutta, with the former being more popularly known. Kālāmas refer to the group of people who reside in a town called Kesaputta, hence come the name of the sutta. Be it Kālāma Sutta or Kesaputtiya Sutta, what matters most is the remarkable spirit behind it.
Here in this sutta, the Buddha talks about 'doubt', an affirmative acknowledment of doubt which have arisen in the Kālāmas by saying thus: “It is fitting that you are uncertain, that you doubt, Kālāmas. Doubt has arisen in you over what is doubtful.” This is unlike what have been expounded in the Revata Sutta; U 5.7/60 (a discourse on how the monk Revata who sits in meditation, “reviewing his own purification by overcoming doubt”), and Rathavinīta Sutta; M24, where the nature of doubts become a hindrance to the path of liberation. The Buddha finds that the uncertainty and doubt which has taken hold on the Kālāmas could serve as a wonderful science of the mind that cultivate spiritual investigation and wisdom leading to rational faith. (ākāravati saddhā).
Ten Grounds based on Moral Context
The famous Ten Grounds of doubts as enumerated by the Buddha to the Kālāmas:
i) Do not go by oral tradition;
ii) Do not go by lineage (of teaching);
iii) Do not go by hearsay;
iv) Do not go by scriptural authority;
v) Do not go by logical reasoning;
vi) Do not go by inferential reasoning;
vii) Do not go by reflection on reasoning;
viii) Do not go by acceptance of a view after pondering on it;
ix) Do not go by another’s seeming competence;
x) Do not go by your own thinking, “This recluse is our teacher”.
if you notice it closely enough in the sutta, they are always based on whether they could lead to wholesome or unwholesome states, not blamable or blamable, praised or not by the wise, and when undertaken and practised, bring good and happiness. In other words, if these Ten Grounds, being investigated, tested and eventually practised, do not lead to moral virtue, we should not accept them. But the Buddha does not end up ‘injecting’ the ideology of mere acceptance based on the doctrinal moral virtue. He brings in the three established fundamental roots of human suffering, namely GREED, HATRED and DELUSION, and presents it as a ‘controlled subject’ in verifying the moral virtue that he is talking about. Interestingly, there we find the Five Precepts in each of the Three Roots, further validating their moral grounds. Acting as a 'controlled subject', these three roots, if avoided, will lead to the same moral consequences as in the Ten Grounds! This is indeed a wonderful skillful way of the Buddha in presenting his doctrine cultivating ākāravati saddhā (rational faith) by not blindly subscribing to the way of amulika saddhā (blind faith).
“Do not believe in anything!”: Is it true?
Many, as I could see so, think that Kālāma Sutta tells us “not to believe in anything at all”! Is that so? Well, I don’t think that this is what the Buddha intends to deliver in this sermon. If we revisit the Ten Grounds again, we can see that it is dealing with the question of epistemology (theory of knowledge, asking the question of “How do we know what we know?”). But the Buddha is not interested in validation of knowledge via knowledge-based investigation, but rather on the ethical-based knowledge. Hence, if we do not believe in any moral faculty in things that we should and should not do, then it is better off for not believing in anything at all… However, this is not the Buddha’s intention in delivering this sermon. There should be an ethical system which could be validated via direct experiences, that serves as the torch for deciding what is true and what is doubtful.
You Can Doubt Over “Karma & Rebirth”, Not a Problem!
Towards the last portion of the sutta, the Buddha exhibits how one could cultivate positive emotions by the way of the divine abodes (Brāhma Vihāras). So to speak, for one who continues to purify his mind by voiding it of enmity, ill will and free from corruption through the practice of the four divine abodes, he or she is guaranteed the benefits of Four Self-Assurances, irregardless of whether one believes in karma and rebirth:
Article inspired by the Dhamma sharing by bro Piya Tan at The Minding Centre, Singapore.