Translating Classical Buddhism to Modern English

The Medium Discourses

16. The Kālāmas

1. Thus I have heard:[1] One time, the Buddha traveled to the country of the Kālāmas accompanied by a large assembly of monks. He went to the town *Keśaputra and stayed in a rosewood grove north of it. [2]

The Doubt of the Kālāmas

2. It was then that the Kālāma people of *Keśaputra heard: “The ascetic Gautama from the Śākya clan renounced the Śākya dynasty, left home, and trained on the path. He has traveled to the country of the Kālāmas and arrived at *Keśaputra with a great assembly of monks. They are staying in the rosewood grove north of the town.

3. “The ascetic Gautama has a great reputation that’s widely heard in the ten directions: ‘The ascetic Gautama is a Tathāgata, Arhat, and Fully Awakened One who is accomplished in knowledge and conduct, well gone, an understander of the world, an unsurpassed man, a trainer in the principles of the path, a teacher to gods and humans, and called the Buddha, the Blessed One. Among the gods Māra and Brahmā and the ascetics and priests of this world, from humans up to the gods, he accomplished and dwells in his own knowledge, perception, and realization. When he teaches the Dharma, it’s good in the beginning, middle, and end, both its meaning and words are complete and pure, and it demonstrates the religious practice. If someone meets the Tathāgata, Arhat, and Fully Awakened One and honors, venerates, makes offerings, and serves him, they will quickly attain good benefits.’”

4. “We should go together to see the ascetic Gautama to venerate and make offerings to him.”

5. After hearing this, Kālāma people of *Keśaputra left town with their peers and attendants, following each other as they went north to the rosewood grove. They wanted to see the Bhagavān and venerate and make offerings to him. When they arrived, some of those Kālāmas bowed their heads at the Buddha’s feet and withdrew to sit at one side. Some of them exchanged greetings with the Buddha and withdrew to sit at one side. Some saluted the Buddha with their palms together and withdrew to sit at one side. Some looked at the Buddha from a distance and quietly sat down.

6. After they each had sat down, the Kālāma people settled as the Buddha taught the Dharma. He encouraged, roused, and made them rejoice, teaching the Dharma for them with measureless methods. After he encouraged, roused, and made them rejoice, he waited quietly.

7. After the Buddha taught Dharma for them and had encouraged, roused, and made them rejoice, each of the Kālāmas rose from their seat, adjusted their robes to bare one shoulder, and saluted the Buddha with their palms together. They then said to the Bhagavān, “Gautama, there was an ascetic or priest who visited us Kālāmas. He just praised his own knowledge and vision and disparaged the knowledge and vision of others. Gautama, there was another ascetic or priest who visited us Kālāmas, and he praised his own knowledge and vision and disparaged the knowledge and vision of others, too. Gautama, after listening to them, we had this doubt, ‘Which of these ascetics or priests is genuine, and which of them is a fraud?’”

8. The Bhagavān told them, “Kālāmas, don’t have this doubt. Why is that? As a result of having doubt, you’ll become hesitant. Kālāmas, it comes from your lack of pure knowledge: ‘Is there an afterlife or no afterlife?’ Kālāmas, you also lack pure knowledge about which actions are blameworthy and which are blameless. Kālāmas, you should know that actions have three pre-existing causes.[3] What are the three?

9. “Kālāmas, greed is a pre-existing cause of actions. Kālāmas, anger and delusion are pre-existing causes of actions. Kālāmas, ‘greedy’ means to be hindered by greed. When the mind is dissatisfied, a person sometimes kills beings, takes what’s not given, commits sexual misconduct, knowingly lies, and drinks alcohol.

10. “Kālāmas, ‘angry’ means to be hindered by anger. When the mind is dissatisfied, a person sometimes kills beings, takes what’s not given, commits sexual misconduct, knowingly lies, and drinks alcohol.

11. “Kālāmas, ‘deluded’ means to be hindered by delusion. When the mind is dissatisfied, a person sometimes kills beings, takes what’s not given, commits sexual misconduct, knowingly lies, and drinks alcohol.

Ten Good Deeds

12. “Kālāmas, the well-versed noble disciple parts with killing, stops killing, and discards weapons. With conscience, modesty, and compassion, they are beneficial to all living things, even insects and worms. They purify their mind and rid it of killing living things.

13. “Kālāmas, the well-versed noble disciple parts with taking what’s not given, stops taking what’s not given, and only takes what is given. They are happy with taking what is given and always like generosity. Rejoicing in having no stinginess, they don’t expect any reward. They purify their mind and rid it of taking what’s not given.

14. “Kālāmas, the well-versed noble disciple parts with what’s not the celibate life, stops what’s not the celibate life, and diligently cultivates the celibate life. Diligent is their wondrous conduct. They are pure and undefiled, parting with desire and stopping lust. They purify their mind and rid it of what’s not the celibate life.

15. “Kālāmas, the well-versed noble disciple parts with false speech, stops false speech, and speaks truly. They enjoy truth, abide in truth, and don’t budge from it. They are believed by all and don’t deceive the world. They purify their mind and rid it of false speech.

16. “Kālāmas, the well-versed noble disciple parts with divisiveness, stops divisiveness, and practices what’s not divisive. They don’t damage others. They don’t hear something here and tell it there with the desire to damage people here. They don’t hear something there and tell it here with the desire to damage people there. They want to bring the estranged together, and they rejoice for those who are united. They don’t act partisan, don’t enjoy partisanship, and don’t commend partisanship. They purify their mind and rid it of divisiveness.

17. “Kālāmas, the well-versed noble disciple parts with coarse speech and stops coarse speech. If what’s said is coarse and mean in expression or feeling, bad sounding, disagreeable to the ear, displeases many, isn’t loved by many, causes others to suffer, or makes samādhi impossible, they stop such speech. If an expression is clear, peaceful, flexible, agrees with the ear, enters the mind, is pleasing and lovely, causes the well-being of others, uses words and sounds that are completely understandable, doesn’t frighten people, and allows others to concentrate, then they speak such words. They purify their mind and rid it of coarse speech.

18. “Kālāmas, the well-versed noble disciple parts with fancy speech and stops fancy speech. Their speech is timely, true, Dharma, purposeful, and calming. They enjoy calming speech, perform tasks in a timely way as appropriate, and they well teach and admonish others. They purify their mind and rid it of fancy speech.

19. “Kālāmas, the well-versed noble disciple is free of longing and stops longing. They don’t harbor disputes in their mind. Seeing the valuables and requisites for living of others, they don’t long for or wish to obtain them for themselves. They purify their mind and rid it of longing.

20. “Kālāmas, the well-versed noble disciple is free of hatred and stops hatred. With conscience, modesty, and compassion, they’re beneficial to all living things, even insects and worms. They purify their mind and rid it of hatred.

21. “Kālāmas, the well-versed noble disciple is free of wrong view and stops wrong view. They conduct themselves in right view and aren’t mistaken. Such is their view, and such is their speech: ‘There’s generosity, purification, and incantations. There’s the results of good and bad actions. There’s the present world and another world. There’s father and mother. The world truly has people who depart and go to good places, good departures, and good headings. In this world and the next, they accomplish and dwell in their own knowledge, perception, and realization.’ They purify their mind and rid it of wrong views.

The Four Immeasurables

22. “Thus, Kālāmas, the well-versed noble disciple achieves pure physical conduct and achieves pure verbal and mental conduct. They’re free of anger, free of dispute, and they get rid of drowsiness. Without agitation or arrogance, they end doubt and free themselves from pride. With right mindfulness and right knowledge, they have no delusions.

23. “They accomplish and dwell in one direction pervaded with mind and kindness. They do this in two, three, and four directions, the four counterpoints, up, and down, pervading everywhere with their mind and kindness. Having no bonds, enmity, anger, or quarrel, they accomplish and dwell in pervading the whole world, [their mind being] broad and vast, measureless, and well cultivated.

24. “So it is with compassion, joy, and equanimity. Having no bonds, enmity, anger, or quarrel, they accomplish and dwell in pervading the whole world, [their mind being] broad and vast, measureless, and well cultivated.

The Four Peaceful Dwellings

25. “Thus, Kālāmas, the well-versed noble disciple’s mind is without bondage, without enmity, without anger, and without dispute. They readily attain four peaceful dwellings. What are the four?

26. “‘“There’s the present world and another world, and there are the results of good and bad actions.” I’ve attained this right view associated with actions, upholding and perfecting it. When my body breaks up and my life ends, I’ll surely go to a good place, being born in the heavens.’ Thus, Kālāmas, the well-versed noble disciple’s mind is without bondage, without enmity, without anger, and without dispute. This is called attaining the first peaceful dwelling.

27. “Furthermore, Kālāmas: ‘“There’s no present world or another world and no results of good and bad actions.” I don’t criticize others for such views here in the present. I just praise those of right knowledge. Those who make effort and those of right view say those things exist.’ Thus, Kālāmas, the well-versed noble disciple’s mind is without bondage, without enmity, without anger, and without dispute. This is called attaining the second peaceful dwelling.

28. “Furthermore, Kālāmas: ‘If I do anything, I mustn’t do evil. I won’t think of evil. Why is that? How will suffering arise if I don’t do evil?’ Thus, Kālāmas, the well-versed noble disciple’s mind is without bondage, without enmity, without anger, and without dispute. This is called the third peaceful dwelling.

29. “Furthermore, Kālāmas: ‘If I do anything, I mustn’t do evil. I won’t transgress what the world fears and doesn’t fear. I’ll always have compassion for the whole world. My thoughts won’t be to fight with sentient beings. They’ll be unsullied and joyous.’ Thus, Kālāmas, the well-versed noble disciple’s mind is without bondage, without enmity, without anger, and without dispute. This is called the fourth peaceful dwelling.

30. “Thus, Kālāmas, the well-versed noble disciple’s mind is without bondage, without enmity, without anger, and without dispute. These are called the four peaceful dwellings.”

Conclusion

31. The Kālāmas said to the Bhagavān, “Thus, Gautama, the well-versed noble disciple’s mind is without bondage, without enmity, without anger, and without dispute and attains four peaceful dwellings. What are the four?

32. “‘“There’s the present world and another world, and there are the results of good and bad actions.” I’ve attained this right view associated with actions, upholding and perfecting it. When my body breaks up and my life ends, I’ll surely go to a good place, being born in the heavens.’ Thus, Gautama, the well-versed noble disciple’s mind is without bondage, without enmity, without anger, and without dispute. This is called attaining the first peaceful dwelling.

33. “Furthermore, Gautama: ‘“There’s no present world or another world and no results of good and bad actions.” I don’t criticize others for such views here in the present. I just praise those of right knowledge. Those who make effort and those of right view say those things exist.’ Thus, Gautama, the well-versed noble disciple’s mind is without bondage, without enmity, without anger, and without dispute. This is called attaining the second peaceful dwelling.

34. “Furthermore, Gautama: ‘If I do anything, I mustn’t do evil. I won’t think of evil. Why is that? How will suffering arise if I don’t do evil?’ Thus, Gautama, the well-versed noble disciple’s mind is without bondage, without enmity, without anger, and without dispute. This is called the third peaceful dwelling.

35. “Furthermore, Gautama: ‘If I do anything, I mustn’t do evil. I won’t transgress what the world fears and doesn’t fear. I’ll always have compassion for the whole world. My thoughts won’t be to fight with sentient beings. They’ll be unsullied and joyous.’ Thus, Gautama, the well-versed noble disciple’s mind is without bondage, without enmity, without anger, and without dispute. This is called the fourth peaceful dwelling.

36. “Thus, Gautama, the well-versed noble disciple’s mind is without bondage, without enmity, without anger, and without dispute. These are called the four peaceful dwellings.

37. “Gautama, we’ve realized it. Sugata, we’ve understood it. Bhagavān, we all take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and the Saṅgha of monks. Please let the Bhagavān accept us as laymen. Starting today, they will be our refuge for the rest of our lives.”

33. Thus did the Buddha speak. All the Kālāmas and the monks who heard what the Buddha taught rejoiced and approved.

Notes

  1. The direct parallel for this sutra is AN 3.65. [back]
  2. country of the Kālāmas. Ch 伽藍, MCh k’ie-lam, P/Skt Kālāma. The Taisho reads 園 (“park”), which seems a copyist error. I’ve adopted the alternate reading of 國 (“country”).
    *Keśaputra. Ch. 羇舍子, MCh. kɪĕ-ʃɪă-putra, P. Kesamutta. The Chinese is a partial transliteration (子 typically translates P. putta, Skt. putra). I’ve not located a Skt. attestation for this place name, so I’ve tentatively reconstructed it given typical Chinese transliterations. [back]
  3. causes that are pre-existent. Ch. 因習本有. I suspect that 因習 translates a verb equivalent to P. uppajjati (“to arise, come into being”), which is found in the parallel passage. 本有 usually means “inherent existence,” but here with the functional meaning of “pre-existing.” The verb 因習 is apparently a particle adjective, making the expression awkward, but I believe it basically means “pre-existing cause.”

Translator: Charles Patton

Last Revised: 19 June 2022