In Kosala, where the intelligent Kalamas lived
Living in a predominantly Buddhist country gives you a chance to see and learn things about a Buddhist culture in operation. An aspect of Thai civic life that I like very much and wish very much that we had in India is that they don’t jostle or push but give another person space to pass, they dip their heads slightly in ‘Excuse me, please’ when going mindfully past seated people and speak very softly. In fact, they seem to appreciate and apply the old Asian precept, ‘who loses his temper first, loses the argument.’
It is hardest of all perhaps for exuberant, freely-expressive, happily expansive-in-gesture modern Indians to realise just where this civic grace may have originated! It’s a given that the behaviour code that Thailand follows is Buddhist in origin, an approach to life found in precepts like those in the Anguttara Nikaya, I.188.
It is told there that in the forty-five long years that the Buddha roamed and preached all over the Gangetic Plain (except for the four monsoon months where he stayed at one place), he came once to a certain place in the kingdom of Kosala.
This was the place where “the intelligent Kalama people lived.” They came to the Buddha in great numbers to sit at his feet and told him that many religious preachers came to them, each saying that others were wrong and they alone were right, so how were the Kalamas to know who spoke the truth (Morgan, 1956, ‘The Path of the Buddha’).
The Buddha’s answer is truly one for the ages, for he tells them to use their own minds, that certain things are obviously a bad idea, like greed, hatred, malice, ignorance and delusion. That some things are obviously more conducive to profit and happiness like being liberal, kindly and wise.
As a personal touchstone with which to assess beliefs, he says, “Do not accept a thing because of mere scriptural sanction, nor by mere logic or inference, nor by superficial knowledge, nor yet because of your fondness for some theory, nor because it seems to be suitable, nor again just out of respect for a certain religious teacher. But, Kalamas, when you know for yourself that certain things are unprofitable, blameworthy, censured by the wise, and when performed or undertaken conduce to loss and suffering, then you should reject them.”
A legacy of rational thought and thereby, appropriate behaviour to inherit?
Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture