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Lions Roar : September 2017
Did the Buddha say something even vaguely like this? Nope! You might see this quote attributed as being from the Kalama Sutta, but the original sutta says something rather dif- ferent about reason and common sense: Don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logi- cal deduction, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, “This contem- plative is our teacher.” So some of the very things the Buddha says we should not rely on—such as logical deduction and inference—are examples of the “reason” and “common sense” the fake quote says we should rely on! It’s not that we should disregard reason or common sense, but we should remember they are not in themselves a suf- ficient basis for accepting the validity of a teaching or practice. As they say, “Don’t believe everything you think.” So what can we rely on? The (real) Kalama Sutta makes this clear: When you know for yourselves that, “These dhammas [teachings/ beliefs/practices] are unskillful; these dhammas are blameworthy; these dhammas are criticized by the wise; these dhammas, when adopted and carried out, lead to harm and to suffering”—then you should abandon them. The Buddha is suggesting that experience and observation are what we should ultimately rely on for spiritual guidance. Without them, we may end up simply believing what accords with our preconceptions, even if it bears no connection to real- ity. Logic may tell us, for example, that there has to be some unchanging essence within us (a metaphysical “self ”) that defines who we are. But can we find such a self in our direct experience? Is there any part of us that is unchanging? Bud- dhism offers meditative tools that allow us to make that inquiry in an experiential way. On a more workaday level, our reason and common sense might suggest that attending a meditation retreat would be an unpleasant experience in which we would suffer by being deprived of the familiar and enjoyable experiences of daily life. Actual expe- rience, however, might tell us something quite different. Did the Buddha say something even vaguely like this? Definitely not. This is actually a quote from Rev. Charles Caleb Colton, who coined the much better known phrase, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” The main thing that gives this quote away is its polished, lit- erary quality. The Buddhist scriptures come from an oral rather than a written tradition, and tend to be stylistically rather basic, often being highly repetitive and employing lists of synonyms or near-synonyms. Also, the term ennui is strikingly modern. LION’S ROAR | SEPTEMBER 2017 70