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16 Translations of the Kalama Sutta (AN 3.65)

Introduction

To my knowledge, this is the latest collection of partial translations of the Kalama Sutta (AN 3.65). I have included 15 translations, plus I have done my own. I also have given you the Pali original in Roman script.

This discourse deals with the people in the city of Kalama. They were filled with doubt, for every religious teacher that visited them taught something different. And they contradicted one another. Who were they supposed to believe? And how were they to know what was true? This is the Buddha’s answer.

This sutta is considered one of the most important in showing that the Buddha did not encourage blind faith. Soma Thera called it “The Buddha’s Charter of Free Inquiry.” The Buddha didn’t want people to accept what he said just because he said it. He wanted people to test it and see if his teachings match up with reality. He wanted people to do the experiment and then judge the teaching by the real-world results.

Bhikkhu Bodhi has an article entitled A Look at the Kalama Sutta that is worth reading.

The Pali Original

Mahāsaṅgīti Tipiṭaka Buddhavasse 2500:

Etha tumhe, kālāmā,  anussavena,  paramparāya,  itikirāya,  piṭakasampadānena,  takkahetu,  nayahetu,  ākāraparivitakkena,  diṭṭhinijjhānakkhantiyā,  bhabbarūpatāya,  samaṇo no garūti. Yadā tumhe, kālāmā, attanāva jāneyyātha: ‘ime dhammā akusalā, ime dhammā sāvajjā, ime dhammā viññugarahitā, ime dhammā samattā samādinnā ahitāya dukkhāya saṁvattantī’ti, atha tumhe, kālāmā, pajaheyyātha. [Variant: samādinnā → samādiṇṇā (mr)]

The Sixteen Translations

Bhikkhu Bodhi:

Come, Kālāmas, do not go by oral tradition, by lineage of teaching, by hearsay, by a collection of scriptures, by logical reasoning, by inferential reasoning, by reasoned cogitation, by the acceptance of a view after pondering it, by the seeming competence of a speaker, or because you think: ‘The ascetic is our guru.’ But when, Kālāmas, you know for yourselves: ‘These things are unwholesome; these things are blameworthy; these things are censured by the wise; these things, if accepted and undertaken, lead to harm and suffering,’ then you should abandon them. [1]

Thanissaro Bhikkhu:

So in this case, Kalamas, don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical deduction, 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 & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering’ — then you should abandon them. [2]

Soma Thera:

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 toward a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another’s seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, ‘The monk is our teacher.’ when you yourselves know: ‘These things are bad; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,’ abandon them. [3]

Alfred Bloom:

Do not go by reports (repeated hearing), by legends, by traditions, by rumours, by scriptures, by surmise, conjecture and axioms, by inference and analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by specious reasoning or bias toward a notion because it has been pondered over, by another’s seeming ability, or by the thought, ‘This monk (contemplative) is our teacher.’ “However, Kalamas, when you yourselves know: ‘Such and such things are unskilful (bad); blameworthy; criticized by the wise; and if adopted and carried out lead to harm and ill and suffering,’ you need to abandon them. [4]

Narada Mahathera:

Do not accept anything on mere hearsay. Do not accept anything by mere tradition. Do not accept anything on account of rumours. Do not accept anything just because it accords with your scriptures. Do not accept anything by mere supposition. Do not accept anything by mere inference. Do not accept anything by merely considering the appearances. Do not accept anything merely because it agrees with your preconceived notions. Do not accept anything merely because it seems acceptable. Do not accept anything thinking that the ascetic is respected by us. But when you know for yourselves – these things are immoral, these things are blameworthy, these things are censured by the wise, these things, when performed and undertaken, conduce to ruin and sorrow – then reject them. When you know for yourselves – these things are moral, these things are blameless, these things are praised by the wise, these things, when performed and undertaken, conduce to well-being and happiness – then live and act accordingly. [5]

Walpola Rahula:

Now, look you Kalamas, do not be led by reports, or tradition, or hearsay. Be not led by the authority of religious texts, nor by mere logic or inference, nor by considering appearances, nor by the delight in speculative opinions, nor by seeming possibilities, nor by the idea: ‘this is our teacher.’ But, O Kalamas, when you know for yourselves that certain things are unwholesome, and wrong, and bad, then give them up… And when you know for yourselves that certain things are wholesome and good, then accept them and follow them. [6]

Piya Tan:

Come Kālāmas: Do not go by tradition [aural tradition]. Do not go by lineage [received wisdom]. Do not go by hearsay. Do not go by scriptural authority. Do not go by pure reason [logic]. Do not go by inference (and deduction). Do not go by reasoned thought [by specious reasoning]. Do not go by acceptance of [being convinced of] a view after pondering on it. Do not go by (another‘s) seeming ability.) Do not go by the thought, ― This recluse [holy man] is our teacher [―This recluse is respected by us]. When you know for yourselves, Kālāmas, these things are unwholesome. These things are blamable. These things are censured by the wise. These things, fully undertaken for oneself, bring about harm and suffering.‘ —Then Kālāmas, you should abandon them. [7]

Jayarava:

Here Kalamas: don’t use revelation, don’t use lineage, don’t use quotations, don’t use tradition; don’t use speculation, don’t use inference, don’t use signs, don’t use understanding based on views, don’t uncritically accept what seems likely; don’t use respect for a toiler. When you know for yourselves, these things are unskilful, offensive, criticised by the wise, these things undertaken and accomplished result in harm and misery, then you should abandon them. [8]

Bhikkhu Sujato:

Please, Kālāmas, don’t go by oral transmission, don’t go by lineage, don’t go by testament, don’t go by canonical authority, don’t rely on logic, don’t rely on inference, don’t go by reasoned contemplation, don’t go by the acceptance of a view after consideration, don’t go by the appearance of competence, and don’t think ‘The ascetic is our respected teacher.’ But when you know for yourselves: ‘These things are unskillful, blameworthy, criticized by sensible people, and when you undertake them, they lead to harm and suffering’, then you should give them up. [9]

Suddhāso Bhikkhu:

Kālāmas, do not go by hearsay. Do not go by tradition. Do not go by what seems appropriate. Do not go by scriptural authority. Do not go by thought. Do not go by inference. Do not go by logic. Do not go by personal preference. Do not go by a teacher‘s semblance of competence. Do not go by the thought ‘This contemplative is our teacher.’ Instead, Kālāmas, when you know for yourself, ‘These phenomena are unwholesome, blameworthy, condemned by the wise; when committed to, they lead to harm and suffering,’ then abandon them. [10]

F. L. Woodward:

Now look you, Kalamas. Be ye not misled by report or tradition or hearsay. Be not misled by proficiency in the collections, nor by mere logic or inference, nor after considering reasons, nor after reflection on and approval of some theory, nor because it fits becoming, nor out of respect for a ecluse (who holds it). But, Kalamas, when you know for yourselves: These things are unprofitable, theses things are blameworthy, theses things are censured by the intelligent; these things, when preformed and undertaken, conduce to loss and sorrow, – then indeed do ye reject them, Kalamas. [11]

Rupert Gethin:

Kalamas, you should not go along with something because of what you have been told, because of authority, because of tradition, because of accordance with scripture, on the grounds of reason, on the groubds of logic, because of analytical thought, because of abstract theoretical pondering, because of the appearance of the speaker, or because some ascetic is your teacher. When you know for yourselves that particular qualities are unwholesome, blameworthy, censured by the wise, and lead to harm and suffering when taken on and pursued, then you should give them up, Kalamas. [12]

Anonymous Autodidact:

Do not go, you Kālāmas, by what you have heard said, nor by what has been transmitted [by a tradition], nor by the general consensus, nor by what has been handed down in a collection of texts, nor on the basis of logical reasoning, nor on the basis of inference, nor by reflection on appearances, nor by agreement after pondering views, nor by what seems probable, nor by [the thought:] ‘The samaṇa is our revered teacher’. Whenever, Kālāmas, you know for yourselves: ‘These dhammas are akusala, these dhammas are sāvajja, these dhammas are censured by the wise, these dhammas, when undertaken and carried out, lead to harm and dukkha’, then, Kālāmas, you should abandon them. [13]

Anonymous:

Come, Kalamas. Do not go by revelation; do not go by tradition; do not go by hearsay; do not go on the authority of sacred texts; do not go on the grounds of pure logic; do not go by a view that seems rational; do not go by reflecting on mere appearances; do not go along with a considered view because you agree with it; do not go along on the grounds that the person is competent; do not go along (thinking ) ‘because the recluse is our teacher.’ Kalamas, when you know for yourselves: These are wholesome; these things are not blameworthy; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness, having undertaken them, abide in them.” [14]

David Maurice:

Come, O Kalamas, don’t accept anything from mere hearsay, or from what you have been told, or because it is mentioned in sacred teachings, or because of logic merely, or because of its method, or in consideration of plausible reasoning, or by tolerating views based on speculation, or because of its appearance of possibility and because “our teacher is venerable”. But when you, Kalamas, realize by yourselves that views are unwholesome, faulty, censored by the wise and that they lead yo harm and misery when practiced and observed, then, Kalamas, you should reject them. [15]

Jay N. Forrest:

Come, Kālāmas. Do not go by what you have been told, by tradition, by common opinion, by a collection of scripture, by doubtful reasoning, by a method of reasoning, by consideration of external appearance, by a view one prefers after reflection, by the appearance of competence [of the teacher], and do not think ‘The Śramaṇa is our respected teacher.’ But when you know for yourselves: ‘These things are unwholesome, blameworthy, criticized by the wise, and when you undertake them, they lead to harm and suffering’, then you should give them up. [16]

Note on takkahetu

I find it interesting the way takkahetu is translated. It is the combination of takka meaning “doubt; a doubtful view” and hetu meaning “cause, reason, or condition” (PTS Pali English Dictionary). Did the Buddha really mean that we shouldn’t go “by logical reasoning” (Bodhi)? Isn’t what he is doing in this discourse logical reasoning? Of course it is.

Now it is true that the Buddha is saying that the ultimate judge of a teaching is in its actual results. But we arrive at this conclusion through logical reasoning. This is why I translated it, “Do not go… by doubtful reasoning.” Remember takkahetu is two words, takka meaning “doubtful” and hetu meaning “reason.”

Sources

1. Bhikkhu Bodhi, “Kesaputtiya.” Sutta Central. 2012.
https://suttacentral.net/en/an3.65
2. Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Kalama Sutta. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013
https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an03/an03.065.than.html
3. Soma Thera, “Kalama Sutta.” Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an03/an03.065.soma.html
4. Alfred Bloom, Kalama Sutta. Shin Dharma Net.
https://web.archive.org/web/20150316154558/http://shindharmanet.com/critical/
5. Narada Mahathera. The Buddha and His Teachings. 4th ed. Kuala Lumpur: Buddhist Missionary Society, 1988, 284-85. http://oaks.nvg.org/kalama.html
6. Anguttara-nikaya, ed. Devamitta Thera (Colombo, 1929) as quoted in What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula, 2-3.
7. Piya Tan, Kesaputtiya Sutta. dharmadana.org, 2011.
https://www.themindingcentre.org/dharmafarer/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/35.4a-Kesaputtiya-S-a3.65-piya.pdf
8. Jayarava, Talking to the Kālāmas, Jayarava.org, Feb 2011.
http://www.jayarava.org/texts/talking-to-the-kalamas.pdf
9. Bhikkhu Sujato, With the Kālāmas of Kesamutta. Sutta Central. 2018.
https://suttacentral.net/an3.65/en/sujato
10. Suddhāso Bhikkhu, The Discourse to the People of Kālāma. Sutta Central. 2017.
https://suttacentral.net/an3.65/en/suddhaso
11. F. L. Woodward, The Book of the Gradual Sayings (Anguttara-Nikaya) or More-Numbered Suttas, vol. 1. 171-172.
12. Rupert Gethin. Sayings of the Buddha. Oxford University Press, 2008. Page 252.
13. 3. Anonymous Autodidact. Kesamutti [aka Kālāmā] Sutta. Buddha Vacana.
https://www.buddha-vacana.org/sutta/anguttara/03/an03-066.html
14. Anonymous. The Kalama Sutra. Buddhism.org. Orginal source is unknown.
http://buddhism.org/Sutras/DHARMA/Tripitaka/KalamaSutta.htm
15. David Maurice. The Lion’s Roar. The Citadel Press, 1967. Page 61.
16. Jay N. Forrest. Kalama Sutta, Version 1.0. JayForrest.org. 2022.

Burning (SN 35.28)

At one time the Fortunate One was staying near Gayā on Gayā Head together with a thousand practitioners. There the Fortunate One addressed the practitioners:

“Practitioners, all is burning. And what is the all that is burning?

The eye is burning. Sights are burning. Eye consciousness is burning. Eye contact is burning. The painful, pleasant, or neutral feeling that arises conditioned by eye contact is also burning. Burning with what? Burning with the fires of greed, hate, and delusion. Burning with rebirth, old age, and death, with sorrow, lamentation, pain, sadness, and distress.

The ear … nose … tongue … body …

The mind is burning. Thoughts are burning. Mind consciousness is burning. Mind contact is burning. The painful, pleasant, or neutral feeling that arises conditioned by mind contact is also burning. Burning with what? Burning with the fires of greed, hate, and delusion. Burning with rebirth, old age, and death, with sorrow, lamentation, pain, sadness, and distress, I say.

Seeing this, a learned noble disciple grows disillusioned with the eye, sights, eye consciousness, and eye contact. And they grow disillusioned with the painful, pleasant, or neutral feeling that arises conditioned by eye contact.

They grow disillusioned with the ear … nose … tongue … body … mind … painful, pleasant, or neutral feeling that arises conditioned by mind contact.

Being disillusioned, desire fades away. When desire fades away they’re freed. When they’re freed, they know they’re freed.

They understand: ‘Rebirth is ended, the spiritual journey has been completed, what had to be done has been done, there is no return to any state of existence.’”

That is what the Fortunate One said. Satisfied, the practitioners were happy with what the Fortunate One said. And while this discourse was being spoken, the minds of the thousand practitioners were freed from distortion by not grasping.


Creative Commons License
This work by Bhikkhu Sujato, revised by Jay Forrest is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Based on a public domain work at https://suttacentral.net/. Please reference it as: R-Sujato.

For more information: https://jayforrest.org/r-sujato-translation-explained/

Does Buddha Means Awakened or Enlightened?

The Buddha said:

“Origination, origination”—thus, bhikkhus, in regard to things unheard before there arose in me vision, knowledge, wisdom, true knowledge, and light (SN 12.65 Bodhi).

Before we return to this text, let us understand the issues first.

Bhikkhu Bodhi vs Bhikkhu Analayo

I first heard about this controversy between Bhikkhu Bodhi and Bhikkhu Analayo from Doug Smith on his YouTube channel.  Let me explain it by quoting both of them.

Bhikkhu Bodhi explains:

Translators of Buddhist texts into English have rendered bodhi and its cognates, particularly buddha, in two different ways, each based on an implicit metaphor. Bodhi has been translated as “enlightenment” and “awakening,” buddha as “enlightened one” and “awakened one.” While the former alternative in each pair prevailed among earlier translators, in recent years a swing has taken place to “awakening” and “awakened one.”

In his paper, Bhikkhu Bodhi argues in defense of “enlightenment.” Bhikkhu Analayo disagrees and argues for “the preferability of understanding bodhi to refer indeed to a form of ‘awakening.’” Most modern translators prefer awakening and refer to the Buddha as “the Awakened One.”

Now, these are two of the foremost experts in early Buddhism. It would seem a bit imprudent for me to put my two cents in. But I do think I have something to add.

I should clarify, that I am not going to engage the arguments of these two giants. Rather I am going to offer my own perspective. I am going to suggest that they both are right, at least partly. Then I will end with Bhikkhu Thanissaro, another giant in early Buddhism.

Defining Awakening and Enlightenment

The Oxford English Dictionary defines awakening as “1. an act of waking from sleep. 2. an act or moment of becoming suddenly aware of something.”

The Oxford English Dictionary defines enlightenment is defined as “the action of enlightening or the state of being enlightened.” It says enlighten means to “give (someone) spiritual knowledge or insight.”

Notice the difference. Awakening has to do with “becoming suddenly aware.” It is gaining vision. Although the idea usually associated with awakening is “an act of waking from sleep,” that is not Buddhist awakening. Buddhist awakening is “an act or moment of becoming suddenly aware of” the nature of reality.

Notice enlightenment deals with light, which is a metaphor for knowledge. The European intellectual movement of the late 17th and 18th centuries was called the Enlightenment because it brought lost knowledge to Europe, the knowledge of the Greek and Roman civilization.

The Buddha was the Awakened One

I think that Bhikkhu Analayo is correct, Buddha means “Awakened One.” The Buddha was not given light or knowledge from someone else. He was enlightened because he was first awakened. That is, he suddenly became aware of the nature of reality, and by seeing reality as it is, he gained “spiritual knowledge or insight.”

Notice that vision comes before knowledge, “thus, bhikkhus, in regard to things unheard before there arose in me vision, knowledge, wisdom, true knowledge, and light” (SN 12.65 Bodhi). Awakening is about gaining new eyes, enlightenment is about knowledge.

Aharants are awakened because they are enlightened. They are taught the Dharma (i.e. light), and thereby are awakened. They are not a buddha because they were not awakened on their own but were enlightened by the Buddha’s Dharma. Only self-awakened individuals can be called  buddhas (i.e., paccekabuddha).

This means that Bhikkhu Bodhi is not wrong in saying the Buddha was enlightened; he was. But the significance of the word buddha is in his self-awakening “in regard to things unheard before” (SN 12.65 Bodhi).

Buddha and Dhira

And finally, I think that Bhikkhu Thanissaro clinches my argument by showing that buddha should be translated as “awakened” and the Pali word dhira should be translated as “enlightened.”

In the Glossary to his sutta translations, Handful of Leaves, he writes:

Enlightened one: Throughout these volumes I have rendered buddha as “Awakened,” and dhira as “enlightened.” As Jan Gonda points out in his book, The Vision of the Vedic Poets, the word dhira was used in Vedic and Buddhist poetry to mean a person who has the heightened powers of mental vision needed to perceive the “light” of the underlying principles of the cosmos, together with the expertise to implement those principles in the affairs of life and to reveal them to others. A person enlightened in this sense may also be awakened in the formal Buddhist sense, but is not necessarily so (396-397).

We can conclude that the word Buddha means “the Awakened One.” He had the vision of reality first, and this vision gave him the knowledge and insight unknown in this age.

References

  • Anālayo, Bhikkhu. “Awakening or Enlightenment? On the Significance of bodhi.” Mindfulness (2021) 12:1653–1658. https://www.buddhismuskunde.uni-hamburg.de/pdf/5-personen/analayo/awakeningenlightenment.pdf
  • Bodhi, Bhikkhu with Matthew Abrahams. “In Defense of ‘Enlightenment.’” Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. Summer 2021. https://tricycle.org/magazine/enlightenment-vs-awakening/
  • Bodhi, Bhikkhu. “On Translating ‘Buddha.’” Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, 2020. https://www.academia.edu/44864912/On_Translating_Buddha_
  • Smith, Doug. “What Does “Buddha” Mean? A Recent Article May Change Your Mind.” Doug’s Dharma. YouTube. https://youtu.be/c_R2Y2P1sjI
  • Smith, Doug. “What does ‘Buddha’ Mean: A Live Controversy! Anālayo’s Response.” Doug’s Dharma. YouTube. https://youtu.be/14ghdkSddK8
  • Thanissaro, Bhikkhu. Handful of Leaves: Volume One: An Anthology from the Digha and Majjhima Nikayas. Valley Center, CA: Metta Forest Monastery, 2004.

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