The Kalama Sutta and Scepticism

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The Kalama Sutta and Scepticism

Postby clw_uk » Thu Sep 05, 2013 8:51 pm

I would like to share some parallels I have seen between the Kalama Sutta and Philosophical scepticism, specifically Pyrrhonist scepticism.





Pyrrhonist scepticism was (supposedly) founded by Pyrrho, a contemporary of Alexander the Great and who apparently accompanied him in his conquest of India, and conversed with "naked philosophers" of India. This school of scepticism we know mostly from the works of Sextus Empiricus. In this school of thought, a person is said to find peace who "withholds assent to non-evident propositions". That is to say, a sceptic can say "X appears thus" but cannot say that X appears thus to everyone else, neither can he say what X is truly like. He can only say that "X appears thus" to me, in this moment. Therefore they withhold assent to propositions, achieve indifference (equanimity) and achieve Ataraxia, or peace of mind

N.B. Ataraxia (ἀταραξία "tranquility") is a Greek term used by Pyrrho and Epicurus for a lucid state of robust tranquillity, characterized by ongoing freedom from distress and worry.


CHAPTER X. – DO THE SCEPTICS ABOLISH APPEARANCES?

Those who say that "the Sceptics abolish appearances," or phenomena, seem to me to be unacquainted with the statements of our School. For, as we said above, we do not overthrow the affective sense-impressions which induce our assent involuntarily; and these impressions are "the appearances." And when we question whether the underlying object is such as it appears, we grant the fact that it appears, and our doubt does not concern the appearance itself but the account given of that appearance, -- and that is a different thing from questioning the appearance itself.


For example, honey appears to us to be sweet (and this we grant, for we perceive sweetness through the senses), but whether it is also sweet in its essence is for us a matter of doubt, since this is not an appearance but a judgement regarding the appearance. And even if we do actually argue against the appearances, we do not propound such arguments with the intention of abolishing appearances, but by way of pointing out the rashness of the Dogmatists; for if reason is such a trickster as to all but snatch away the appearances from under our very eyes, surely we should view it with suspicion in the case of things non-evident so as not to display rashness by following it.


http://evans-experientialism.freewebspa ... icus02.htm



Now in the Kalama Sutta the Buddha teaches


The criterion for acceptance
10. "Come, Kalamas. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another's seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, 'The monk is our teacher.' Kalamas, when you yourselves know: 'These things are good; these things are not blamable; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,' enter on and abide in them.



http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... el008.html


Now the Buddha is saying something similar, possibly even the same thing, as Sextus. He is saying that one cannot go on "tradition, authority, reasoning" etc and should withhold assent to these non evident propositions.

Only by experiencing that which is apparent to us, can we arrive at peace and leave the philosophical "thicket of views" behind.


When we do this we achieve Ataraxia, or a nibbana, in relation to views and opinions, I.e. in relation to that which is not apparent

However I would say there is a possible difference in the two approaches. Sextus appears to reach this via reasoning, the Buddha via detached observation.


Thoughts?
“ Your mind is likewise blocked. But the right road awaits you still. Cast out your doubts, your fears and your desires, let go of grief and of hope as well, for where these rule , then the mind is their subject." Boetius
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Re: The Kalama Sutta and Scepticism

Postby santa100 » Thu Sep 05, 2013 9:24 pm

Ven. Bodhi's great essay on the Kalama Sutta to distinguish the Dhamma from other sceptics' philosophy can be found here.. http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... ay_09.html
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Re: The Kalama Sutta and Scepticism

Postby clw_uk » Thu Sep 05, 2013 9:27 pm

santa100 wrote:Ven. Bodhi's great essay on the Kalama Sutta to distinguish the Dhamma from other sceptics' philosophy can be found here.. http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... ay_09.html



I'm not sure if Ven. Bodhi is aware of an obscure sceptic school like Pyrrhonism and is thinking more of general scepticism, or the scepticism of Sanjaya Belatthaputta.


However Ven. Bodhi's essay skips over one important statement by the Buddha

"When you yourselves know: 'These things are bad, blamable, censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,' abandon them... When you yourselves know: 'These things are good, blameless, praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,' enter on and abide in them."


Through what is apparent


There is also no denying that the Sutta does contain a sceptical element, a caution against being credulous :meditate:
“ Your mind is likewise blocked. But the right road awaits you still. Cast out your doubts, your fears and your desires, let go of grief and of hope as well, for where these rule , then the mind is their subject." Boetius
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Re: The Kalama Sutta and Scepticism

Postby Jhana4 » Thu Sep 05, 2013 9:44 pm

It has been a year since I read Venerable Bodhi's essay, but if I remember his point was that the parts of the sutta you quoted were the Buddha's advice to the Kalamas for choosing a religion, not the attitude to take once they chose.

I'm not sure I agree with his interpretation, but I think his point was once you were done evaluating your choice of religion to follow, you put the skepticism aside and followed the Buddha on faith.
In reading the scriptures, there are two kinds of mistakes:
One mistake is to cling to the literal text and miss the inner principles.
The second mistake is to recognize the principles but not apply them to your own mind, so that you waste time and just make them into causes of entanglement.
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Re: The Kalama Sutta and Scepticism

Postby santa100 » Thu Sep 05, 2013 11:17 pm

clw_uk wrote:However Ven. Bodhi's essay skips over one important statement by the Buddha

"When you yourselves know: 'These things are bad, blamable, censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,' abandon them... When you yourselves know: 'These things are good, blameless, praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,' enter on and abide in them."


Ven. Bodhi certainly didn't advocate blind faith. On the other hand, to go completely solo without paying attention to the words of the wise is also not the way to go..(also see SN 45.2: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html )
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Re: The Kalama Sutta and Scepticism

Postby Jhana4 » Fri Sep 06, 2013 2:17 am

santa100 wrote:Ven. Bodhi certainly didn't advocate blind faith.


I can agree with you only technically. In that essay he did not write the term "blind faith", but he did write that the kind of questioning the Buddha advocated to the Kalama's for choosing a religion was to be abandoned once and if they decided on Buddhism.
In reading the scriptures, there are two kinds of mistakes:
One mistake is to cling to the literal text and miss the inner principles.
The second mistake is to recognize the principles but not apply them to your own mind, so that you waste time and just make them into causes of entanglement.
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Re: The Kalama Sutta and Scepticism

Postby santa100 » Fri Sep 06, 2013 2:52 am

Jhana4 wrote:I can agree with you only technically. In that essay he did not write the term "blind faith", but he did write that the kind of questioning the Buddha advocated to the Kalama's for choosing a religion was to be abandoned once and if they decided on Buddhism.


I couldn't find anything in the essay about question "to be abandoned" as you mentioned. Ven. Bodhi was quite explicit in his analysis:
We begin with an immediately verifiable teaching whose validity can be attested by anyone with the moral integrity to follow it through to its conclusions, namely, that the defilements cause harm and suffering both personal and social, that their removal brings peace and happiness, and that the practices taught by the Buddha are effective means for achieving their removal. By putting this teaching to a personal test, with only a provisional trust in the Buddha as one's collateral, one eventually arrives at a firmer, experientially grounded confidence in the liberating and purifying power of the Dhamma
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Re: The Kalama Sutta and Scepticism

Postby Spiny Norman » Fri Sep 06, 2013 10:36 am

clw_uk wrote:There is also no denying that the Sutta does contain a sceptical element, a caution against being credulous :meditate:


I think in a nutshell the Kalama Sutta is an encouragement to develop Right Intention, and not to get caught up in views - including one's own.
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Re: The Kalama Sutta and Scepticism

Postby clw_uk » Fri Sep 06, 2013 7:29 pm

Spiny Norman wrote:
clw_uk wrote:There is also no denying that the Sutta does contain a sceptical element, a caution against being credulous :meditate:


I think in a nutshell the Kalama Sutta is an encouragement to develop Right Intention, and not to get caught up in views - including one's own.



But right intention comes to be via right view, right view arising through detached observation of how things appear to be.
“ Your mind is likewise blocked. But the right road awaits you still. Cast out your doubts, your fears and your desires, let go of grief and of hope as well, for where these rule , then the mind is their subject." Boetius
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Re: The Kalama Sutta and Scepticism

Postby clw_uk » Fri Sep 06, 2013 7:33 pm

santa100 wrote:
clw_uk wrote:However Ven. Bodhi's essay skips over one important statement by the Buddha

"When you yourselves know: 'These things are bad, blamable, censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,' abandon them... When you yourselves know: 'These things are good, blameless, praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,' enter on and abide in them."


Ven. Bodhi certainly didn't advocate blind faith. On the other hand, to go completely solo without paying attention to the words of the wise is also not the way to go..(also see SN 45.2: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html )




The words of the wise are to see for yourself and not to blindly follow doctrines, do you agree?
“ Your mind is likewise blocked. But the right road awaits you still. Cast out your doubts, your fears and your desires, let go of grief and of hope as well, for where these rule , then the mind is their subject." Boetius
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Re: The Kalama Sutta and Scepticism

Postby clw_uk » Fri Sep 06, 2013 7:37 pm

To further the thread further, I see scepticism as a part of Buddhadhamma... Maybe not to the pyrrhonist level, but I see it there.


The focus on the here and now, the acknowledgment of only that which is apparent.


However even if I am wrong, I can see a benefit in a mix of pyrrhonism and Buddhadhamma
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Re: The Kalama Sutta and Scepticism

Postby santa100 » Fri Sep 06, 2013 7:54 pm

clw_uk wrote:The words of the wise are to see for yourself and not to blindly follow doctrines, do you agree?


Obviously, as already mentioned in my 2 posts above..
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Re: The Kalama Sutta and Scepticism

Postby clw_uk » Fri Sep 06, 2013 7:58 pm

santa100 wrote:
clw_uk wrote:The words of the wise are to see for yourself and not to blindly follow doctrines, do you agree?


Obviously, as already mentioned in my 2 posts above..



Which is a sceptical argument
“ Your mind is likewise blocked. But the right road awaits you still. Cast out your doubts, your fears and your desires, let go of grief and of hope as well, for where these rule , then the mind is their subject." Boetius
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Re: The Kalama Sutta and Scepticism

Postby santa100 » Fri Sep 06, 2013 8:04 pm

I wouldn't label it like that. For issue like rebirth, which is yet to have "seen it for yourself", do you:

1. Throw away and conclude that it's a false idea? OR
2. Set it aside to wait and see?

Same question for: nibbana, the 6 supernatural powers, the four jhanas, the four immaterial attainments, the mind-made body, the cessation attainment, stream entry, once-return, non-return, and arahant fruit ?
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Re: The Kalama Sutta and Scepticism

Postby Nikaya35 » Fri Sep 06, 2013 8:22 pm

santa100 wrote:I wouldn't label it like that. For issue like rebirth, which is yet to have "seen it for yourself", do you:

1. Throw away and conclude that it's a false idea? OR
2. Set it aside to wait and see?

Same question for: nibbana, the 6 supernatural powers, the four jhanas, the four immaterial attainments, the mind-made body, and the cessation attainment ?

^ This . All the stuff you mentioned above is faith based . That's why Buddhism is a religion .
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Re: The Kalama Sutta and Scepticism

Postby santa100 » Fri Sep 06, 2013 8:25 pm

Which is why Ven. Bodhi mentioned that word "provisional" in his essay. Do skeptics have something like that?
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Re: The Kalama Sutta and Scepticism

Postby clw_uk » Fri Sep 06, 2013 9:08 pm

I wouldn't label it like that. For issue like rebirth, which is yet to have "seen it for yourself", do you:

1. Throw away and conclude that it's a false idea? OR
2. Set it aside to wait and see?


I try to withhold assent to any non-evident propositions and continue on investigating, via my pyrrhonist side, and carry on investigating Buddhadhamma via my Buddhist side. Which, on a side note, is how I see a synthesis of the two. The withhold of assent and the investigation of what is apparent being a tenant of both schools.

So I do not say it is or is not. I do not know, yet I practice regardless and continue on investigating. As per my signature ...


"Some have claimed to have discovered the truth, others have asserted that it cannot be apprehended, while others again go on inquiring"



Same question for: nibbana, the 6 supernatural powers, the four jhanas, the four immaterial attainments, the mind-made body, the cessation attainment, stream entry, once-return, non-return, and arahant fruit ?


I dont know if Nibbana is true or not, its non-evident but yet its likelihood seems more and more the more I practice. The Jhanas are a matter of my personal practice.


The Buddha says "come and see" any yet do not assert as true, the pyrrhonist says withhold assent to any non-evident propositions, any carry on investigating what is apparent (investigate things as they appear to the senses). And both seem to dispense with metaphysics, the Buddha because they are a thicket of craving, the pyrrhonist because of the 5 modes, for example, of Agrippa the Sceptic

[165] According to the mode deriving from dispute, we find that undecidable dissension about the matter proposed has come about both in ordinary life and among philosophers. Because of this we are not able to choose or to rule out anything, and we end up with suspension of judgment. [166]

In the mode deriving from infinite regress, we say that what is brought forward as a source of conviction for the matter proposed itself needs another such source, which itself needs another, and so ad infinitum, so that we have no point from which to begin to establish anything, and suspension of judgment follows. [167]


In the mode deriving from relativity, as we said above, the existing object appears to be such-and-such relative to the subject judging and to the things observed together with it, but we suspend judgment on what it is like in its nature. [168]


We have the mode from hypothesis when the Dogmatists, being thrown back ad infinitum, begin from something which they do not establish but claim to assume simply and without proof in virtue of a concession. [169]


The reciprocal mode occurs when what ought to be confirmatory of the object under investigation needs to be made convincing by the object under investigation; then, being unable to take either in order to establish the other, we suspend judgment about both.[2]
Last edited by clw_uk on Fri Sep 06, 2013 9:18 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: The Kalama Sutta and Scepticism

Postby clw_uk » Fri Sep 06, 2013 9:10 pm

santa100 wrote:Which is why Ven. Bodhi mentioned that word "provisional" in his essay. Do skeptics have something like that?


What do you mean by "provisional"?
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Re: The Kalama Sutta and Scepticism

Postby clw_uk » Fri Sep 06, 2013 9:31 pm

For example I see a similar teaching coming from Ajahn Sumedho that resonates well with Pyrrhonist Scepticism


With awareness practice, however, one is not being asked to believe in anything or to operate from any theory - or even to regard ones own preferences for the afterlife - but to recognize the way it actually is at this moment.


..."So this helps me to recognize that I don't have to know what happens after physical death, because I cant know, and it doesn't really matter. I am not asking for some kind of affirmation to make me feel better"



Taken from his book "Dont take your life personally" Chapter "Knowing not Knowing"


Compare with

CHAPTER X. – DO THE SCEPTICS ABOLISH APPEARANCES?

Those who say that "the Sceptics abolish appearances," or phenomena, seem to me to be unacquainted with the statements of our School. For, as we said above, we do not overthrow the affective sense-impressions which induce our assent involuntarily; and these impressions are "the appearances." And when we question whether the underlying object is such as it appears, we grant the fact that it appears, and our doubt does not concern the appearance itself but the account given of that appearance, -- and that is a different thing from questioning the appearance itself.


For example, honey appears to us to be sweet (and this we grant, for we perceive sweetness through the senses), but whether it is also sweet in its essence is for us a matter of doubt, since this is not an appearance but a judgement regarding the appearance. And even if we do actually argue against the appearances, we do not propound such arguments with the intention of abolishing appearances, but by way of pointing out the rashness of the Dogmatists; for if reason is such a trickster as to all but snatch away the appearances from under our very eyes, surely we should view it with suspicion in the case of things non-evident so as not to display rashness by following it.
Last edited by clw_uk on Fri Sep 06, 2013 9:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Kalama Sutta and Scepticism

Postby santa100 » Fri Sep 06, 2013 9:32 pm

The "provisional trust" in the Buddha and His teaching as opposed to "verified trust" which only happens once you've experienced it for yourself. One cannot be said to have provisional trust if s/he just brush aside all the concepts mentioned above and jump to the conclusion that they're all false..
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