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August 22, 2017


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There are several observations that should be made here.
First is a general comment on the Kalama sutta itself. This sutta is one of the most common teachings used by contemporary Buddhists to justify their skeptical doubt – one of the five hindrances. While Zen categorically rejects dogma, and uses skill in means with the “here and now” to transform spiritual afflictions into Bodhi, the Kalama sutta was never intended to give the disciples of the Buddha a carte blanche to cling to stupidity.

You might notice that the Kalama discourse on the four solaces mentions disciples (sravakas). This is very important. Notice it does NOT refer to arahants, pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas. Clearly this means this sermon was directed toward all those who, in spite of whatever virtues and good fortune they may have, are still trapped by the workings of their birth mind and cannot perceive the truth of karma and rebirth. In fact it is precisely because they cannot yet free themselves from the birth mind, that a logical exposition (in the form of a tetralemma, by the way) on the four solaces is required.

As a second general comment, Buddhism insists upon a special category of knowledge called “abhinna”. This supramundane category of knowledge is found in both Thera and Mahayana teachings. It does not result from logical fermentations or ordinary cognition at all because it is not a “born” or “conditioned” understanding. It is the exclusive fruit of coursing in Samadhi, and it is by this means – and not worldly logic or sense consciousness -- that one discerns the spiritual truths of karma and rebirth. In fact, these doctrines are so fundamental to the Buddha’s teaching, so prevalent in his discourses, and so widely understood in his day, that it is hard to fathom how they have been de-emphasized in contemporary teachings.

Clyde, it makes no sense at all to claim the Buddha taught people to be skeptical about rebirth simply because he allowed for a suspension of judgement when that knowledge was not yet available to them. Quite to the contrary, I think he encouraged people to perceive these truths indirectly (through contemplation of the four solaces) because they were too damned ignorant to see it any other way.

Clyde: This is from the Mahācattārīsaka Sutta:

"And what is wrong view? There is no result of gift, no result of offering, no result of sacrifice; there is no fruit or ripening of deeds well done or ill done; there is not this world, there is not a world beyond; there is no benefit from serving mother or father; there are no beings of spontaneous uprising; there are not in the world recluses and brahmans who are faring rightly, proceeding rightly, and who proclaim the world and the world beyond having realised them by their own super knowledge. This, monks is wrong view."

Here is what the Buddha taught regarding holding or not holding a belief in a hereafter:

17. "The disciple of the Noble Ones, Kalamas, who has such a hate-free mind, such a malice-free mind, such an undefiled mind, and such a purified mind, is one by whom four solaces are found here and now.

"'Suppose there is a hereafter and there is a fruit, result, of deeds done well or ill. Then it is possible that at the dissolution of the body after death, I shall arise in the heavenly world, which is possessed of the state of bliss.' This is the first solace found by him.

"'Suppose there is no hereafter and there is no fruit, no result, of deeds done well or ill. Yet in this world, here and now, free from hatred, free from malice, safe and sound, and happy, I keep myself.' This is the second solace found by him.

"'Suppose evil (results) befall an evil-doer. I, however, think of doing evil to no one. Then, how can ill (results) affect me who do no evil deed?' This is the third solace found by him.

"'Suppose evil (results) do not befall an evil-doer. Then I see myself purified in any case.' This is the fourth solace found by him.

"The disciple of the Noble Ones, Kalamas, who has such a hate-free mind, such a malice-free mind, such an undefiled mind, and such a purified mind, is one by whom, here and now, these four solaces are found."

Of course, there’s more to my story, but I guess I ran out of wits a bit earlier and before I heard of Zen :)

In any case, I’ve had the good fortune to sit with Reb Anderson, Tenshin Roshi of the San Francisco Zen Center (Soto Zen in the lineage of Suzuki Roshi) on a few occasions. I mention him because I just viewed his recent talk on “face-to-face transmission” (talk begins about 8 minutes in):


And if you’re really interested, here is his first talk of six on The Way of Bodhisattvas given during a weekend retreat at my local Buddhist sangha a few years ago. Unfortunately, I missed attending, but I’ve watched the series and it gets better and better.


Clyde: In my 72nd year, looking back, humility has been a great teacher. All my presuppositions (the arrogance) about Zen Buddhism got in the way. Lucky for me, I ran out of my bag of tricks early on. And when I had nothing left, having come to my wits' end, only then did I see the unconditioned. It was this which then led to the light of Mahayana in 1976 which was truly amazing.

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