This well-known extract from the Kalama Sutta quotes a teaching from the Buddha in which he advises his audience – a group called the Kalamas of Kesaputta – about how to know their own spiritual paths, given the noise of the competing philosophies and teachers that would frequently present themselves in their communities. Bombarded by conflicting accounts all purporting to be the truth, the Kalamas were in despair as to how to tell which were genuine, Buddha’s own teachings included. Buddha’s reply to the group addresses knowledge itself and the kind of trust in mind cultivated by contemplation and practice that runs contrary to legends, scriptures, analogies or thought.
So the Kalamas of Kesaputta went to the Blessed One. On arrival, some of them bowed down to him and sat to one side. Some of them exchanged courteous greetings with him and, after an exchange of friendly greetings & courtesies, sat to one side. Some of them sat to one side having saluted him with their hands palm-to-palm over their hearts. Some of them sat to one side having announced their name & clan. Some of them sat to one side in silence.
As they sat there, the Kalamas of Kesaputta said to the Blessed One, “Lord, there are some brahmans and contemplatives who come to Kesaputta. They expound and glorify their own doctrines, but as for the doctrines of others, they deprecate them, revile them, show contempt for them, and disparage them. And then other brahmans and contemplatives come to Kesaputta. They expound and glorify their own doctrines, but as for the doctrines of others, they deprecate them, revile them, show contempt for them, and disparage them. They leave us absolutely uncertain and in doubt: Which of these venerable brahmans & contemplatives are speaking the truth, and which ones are lying?”
“Of course you are uncertain, Kalamas. Of course you are in doubt. When there are reasons for doubt, uncertainty is born. So in this case, Kalamas, don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.’ When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted and carried out, lead to harm and to suffering’ — then you should abandon them.
“When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted and carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness’ — then you should enter and remain in them.”