Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Five Precepts Blues; #4.5 - It Ain't Necessarily So/Kalam Sutta

Cab Calloway ~ It Ain't Necessarily So

It is proper for you, Kalamas, to doubt, to be uncertain; uncertainty has arisen in you about what is doubtful. Come, Kalamas. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another's seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, 'The monk is our teacher.' Kalamas, when you yourselves know: 'These things are bad; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,' abandon them.

-from the Kalama Sutta

As far as I know, this Sutta from the Buddha is unique among religion in that it asks the disciples to question their teaching and not accept his words on faith alone. Of course, on inspection, there is very little in the Buddha's Dharma that I have trouble accepting. I've been told there are a few sort of strange Sutta about the Buddha conversing with Brahma or similar things, but I haven't personally come across those yet. And over 2500 years later, there's reasonable questionability as to exactly what the Buddha did or didn't say.

Ironically, as I'm sitting writing this, my Korea mother-in-law is on the phone telling my wife that early tomorrow morning we have to put a bowl of sea-weed soup over our daughter's head (it's her second birthday tomorrow) so that the Mountain Grandmother will watch over her for another year. I'm still really not sure how to take these things. My doubt is exactly described in the Buddha's words, but who am I to say what it, or that my wife shouldn't follow her customs, if she chooses? 


  1. Sometimes it's better not to question and just do it!

  2. That's usually the result!

    Actually, I really enjoy these little things that make Korea interesting, but then i read this sutra, and...

    The way I usually rationalize it is that it probably does result in some sort of protective energy. If I can bow to Avalokiteshvara, why not offer soup to the Mountain Grandmother! ^_^

  3. Conscious intention holds and directs energy, Joseph, and I believe it can have a real influence, be it protective or whatever. When engaged mindfully, observing cultural traditions like this opens us to the possibility of transformation--and they are usually fun, as you acknowledge.
    Perhaps the Sutta admonitions were intended to remind practitioners that things should not be accepted at a superficial level, simply because they emanate from a revered and important teacher. To be true, teachings must be integrated over time at the deepest level of the heart and spirit so they become part of the practitioner's being. Then their repetition will not be by rote, but by inspired sharing.