Thursday, February 14, 2013

Practise Freely or Practise in Accordance 
with the Dhamma


THE KĀLĀMA SUTTA is often adduced to illustrate the spirit of free-inquiry in the Buddha’s teaching and its non-dependence on blind dogmatic belief in order to command the faith of its followers. In this Sutta, the Buddha cautioned against the use of indiscriminate faith and belief when approaching a spiritual teaching. He also seems to encourage one to employ personal consideration in deciding if a particular teaching is acceptable. This has led many to think that the Buddha encourages an absolutely free and unrestricted approach to the practise of the Dhamma, an approach unrestricted even by the fundamental doctrine and philosophy of the Buddha’s Dhamma.

What often goes unnoticed or even ignored, however, is that the message of this Sutta also cautioned against improper or misguided use of intellect in one’s approach to a spiritual teaching, which is often the case if one were to approach the Dhamma freely without regard for its basic doctrine and philosophy. One would then indulge freely in personal ideas and opinions as to what one feels should be the correct interpretation of the Buddha’s teaching.

This essay attempts to show that what the message of the Kālāma Sutta actually entails for one who is practising the Dhamma is the cultivation an attitude of balance between faith on the one hand and wisdom on the other. A degree of healthy doubt is also, no doubt, encouraged by the Buddha and is preferable to vacillating-doubt (vicikicchā). But any excess on the side of either faith or wisdom can also throw the practise off balance, off the right track. In making this point, the importance of right view as a basis for the practise of the Dhamma is emphasised, and an approach to the practise that is in accordance with the Dhamma is also described which demonstrate how this fine balance between faith and wisdom is maintained. As a related topic the essay also discusses the difference between the practise of the Dhamma and the method of scientific inquiry.