This sutta should be widely studied by beginners in Buddhism and I am glad that many Theravada Buddhist centres do so. It encourages us to examine religions with a logical and rational mind instead of blind faith. This first step is important because it protects us from potential scammers and fake Dharma.
When reflected deeply, it also revealed how Buddha responded to a social condition and how he advised people accordingly. Surprisingly, that condition that was startling 2565 years ago is still troubling the human population today. Let us examine this sutta in detail to catch a glimpse of Buddha’s wisdom.
I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One, on a wandering tour among the Kosalans with a large community of monks, arrived at Kesaputta, a town of the Kalamas. The above picture shows the place where Kālāma Sutta was taught.https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an03/an03.065.than.html
From the above opening of this Sutta, we should appreciate that Buddha was a traveling teacher. Although many lay disciples had voluntarily donated lecture halls and accommodation to Buddha, Buddha did not make a permanent home out of them.
Buddha traveled from place to place because He was spreading the Dharma to anyone who was ready to listen. It could be a prostitute, a beggar, a serial killer, a merchant, or even a King. What they did before meeting Buddha wasn’t important. Their ability to listen and be enlightened was the priority.
When Buddha arrived at a place, he might stay for a short period of time, and during that time groups of curious people might want to meet him. Just like what was being narrated in this sutta.
The Kalamas of Kesaputta heard it said, “Gotama the contemplative — the son of the Sakyans, having gone forth from the Sakyan clan — has arrived at Kesaputta.https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an03/an03.065.than.html
This verse introduced the biological identity of Buddha. Unlike our modern times, ancient people do not have mass media or google. It is commonsensical that they identify someone by his clan, family name, and livelihood; or some great deeds that he did.
If you watched Game of Throne, it is like announcing the Khaleesi.
In the above verse, we can deduce that Prince Siddhartha’s renunciation was huge news back then. Gotama was Buddha’s family name and His first name was Siddhartha. He was from the Sakyan clan, a state that was located in northern India. And of course, we all knew that this handsome young prince gave up his secular life to search for enlightenment.
Did you wonder why the people don’t simply say “The Buddha has arrived?” If you did, congrats! Very sharp observation and here’s why.
At that point in time, many men had started questioning the mainstream explanation of Life. Many were unsatisfied with the doctrines that were taught by their traditional religions. They, therefore embarked on various quests to try to uncover the ultimate secret of the Universe.
Some people prayed to God(s) / Goddess(es) for enlightenment, some sought to experience the reality of existence by engaging in severe penance. Some meditated and contemplated.
From their pursuits, each one of them had their own conclusions; Conclusions that were inspired by visions, dreams, thoughts, philosophical deductions, and various other experiences. They went around expounding their newly formulated “Truths” and some even invented new titles for themselves. When opinions differ, contemplatives would seek each other out to debate.
Buddha was one of these many contemplatives except that Buddha was very successful in his preaching. This was because the enlightenment that was preached by Buddha can be directly experienced. Many men and women had become enlightened just by listening to Buddha’s sermons. When that happened, they experienced a completely irreversible cessation of stress and suffering in their minds. Naturally, the best advertisements are words of a good referral. Imagine, if your friend becomes a completely new person who is free from stress, sorrow, laminations, pains, etc; wouldn’t you be curious about what caused that positive change?
In that manner, more and more people converted to Buddha’s middle path. Sometimes, Buddha would travel with hundreds of monks following him. That huge number of men walking in a single file, all wearing the same coloured robe must be a sight to behold.
Up till here, we have discussed the social background concerning this Sutta. To be continued.
May all be well and happy.