Kālāma Sutta – Part 10

Continuing from previously,

“What do you think, Kalamas? When greed arises in a person, does it arise for welfare or for harm?”

“For harm, lord.”

“And this greedy person, overcome by greed, his mind possessed by greed, kills living beings, takes what is not given, goes after another person’s wife, tells lies, and induces others to do likewise, all of which is for long-term harm & suffering.”

“Yes, lord.”

Previously, we learned that Buddha taught us not to take any information at face value. Instead, we ought to examine the value of those information, Are they going to benefit us as an individual when put into practice? Are they beneficial for our famil, the society, the country?

Here we start with the 1st reasoning skill as taught by Buddha in the Kalama sutta.

And in the spirit of the Kalama Sutta, we should also use this skill to reflect upon the teachings within Kalama sutta itself. For example, is the advice not to accept information at face value, good or bad? Some people may jump into an extremist conclusion and presume that Buddha was advising his disciples to be cynical, doubtful, etc. Which is not the case. This is because, in other suttas, the Buddha taught the value and importance of faith. I think it is more reasonable to say that we need to have a balanced approach when we examine a piece of information.

In this verse, Buddha points to the motive that is rooted in greed. In Buddhism, greed is one of the 3 major mental afflictions. At this junction, we need to understand whether greed is good or bad? Foremost, we need to understand that this is referring to a mental process.

Some would argue that greed for worthy objectives is good. For example, greed for Enlightenment? Or greed for medical science breakthroughs. I think we need to understand there are various degrees of desire. Greed here, I think refers to an unhealthy dose of “wanting”. So much so that one loses sanity and goes things in extremes. Fundamentally, we acknowledge that desires for “worthy” causes can be encouraged. But in Buddhism, we also advise that it is inappropriate to take things to extremes.

The second accompanying verse from Buddha completes the picture.

“And this greedy person, overcome by greed, his mind possessed by greed, kills living beings, takes what is not given, goes after another person’s wife, tells lies, and induces others to do likewise, all of which is for long-term harm & suffering.”

From the verse above, it becomes clear that the greed mentioned by Buddha is referring to greed that has a sinister objective. It results in causing harm to oneself and society. It is rooted in selfishness and associated with “unworthy” objectives. And again, we need to have a consensus that killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, and telling lies are bad for oneself and others.

Therefore, information that is rooted in greed and encourages us to do evil is bad. More importantly, a teacher overcome by greed is bad. For example, when a Buddhist teacher or preacher who is greedy for fame decided to twist the words of Buddha in order to gain popularity with the population; Teaching people to be intolerant, discriminatory, or violent against minorities. That teacher becomes unworthy.

In the same light, sometimes skillful means are taken out of context and may cause Buddha’s teachings to be twisted? For example, there is/was a Chinese monk who peppered his sermons with racy jokes. While it attracted a younger audience and opened new venues (clubs) for his sermons, is it really beneficial or is it harmful?

At this point, it is good to note that another element being considered here is the person distributing / teaching the information. Remember, the Kalama was complaining about the various teachers visiting them and the confusion caused by those teachers. Who is right and who is wrong? Some of those teachers would quote from holy texts, traditions, reports, or claim to have direct experience and realisations, etc.

Similarly, we are faced with that challenge today. Many people are expounding their views online. (Including me).

When we examine a content provider, we need to analyse if he/she is teaching out of greed for money (including material possession), fame, and relationships (multiple disciples)?

Does the teacher expound doctrines that encourage us to act badly?

Thus, this sutta is very important for beginners in Buddhism. It equips us with the right understanding to examine a teacher before we believe in anything he/she teaches. And not forgetting impermanence. An unenlightened teacher can also turn bad midway through his/her teaching career.

Now, if we look at the spirit in this Kalama sutta, it points to due diligence on our part. That means we cannot be lazy about forming our own conclusion when we receive information from others. Not even when they sit on high Buddhist thrones or occupy high Buddhist pulpits. We need to consider if these teachers are driven by greed. Is their teachings teaching us good or bad? And in the case of Buddhism, are they teaching along the framework of the Noble Eightfold Path and Four Noble Truths?

May all be well and happy.

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