Testing Teachings

by Bob Schwartz

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 you know for yourselves:
‘These things are wholesome;
these things are blameless;
these things are praised by the wise;
these things, if accepted and undertaken, lead to welfare and happiness,’
then you should live in accordance with them.

Kesamuttisutta (Kalama Sutra)
Translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi

Testing Teachings

Don’t accept what you hear by report, and don’t accept mere tradition. Don’t jump to conclusions based on assumptions. Don’t accept a statement just because it is found in scriptures, or on the basis of general acceptance, or because it is what your teacher says. After examination, only believe and act upon what you yourself have tested and found reasonable.
—attributed to Buddha, Kalama Sutta

The historical Buddha went through a great deal of personal testing and proving and disproving—of himself, of the traditional culture he inherited, of the experimenters of his time, and of the mystic lore he acquired in his search. After his public recognition as an illuminate, the Buddha was honest enough to say that no one should accept his or any teaching or doctrine just because he said so, or just because anybody said so, even be it the elders and ancestors and experts and voices of tradition—because a teaching has to be proven by the test of first hand experience. The test of a teaching and practice is how it affects the individual and whether there is any benefit in that.

Thomas Cleary, Zen in the Pure Land