If a ‘truth’ and goodness
are not one,
what good is that ‘truth’?
The very intelligent Kalamas once asked the Buddha (as paraphrased), ‘As there are various teachers who come to expound their teachings, while reviling others’ teachings, how do we know which teachings are true or false?’ The Buddha famously replied that one should not accept anything by  reported hearsay (or repeated hearing),  tradition (passed through many generations),  rumour (without investigation),  accordance with scriptures (without reflection),  supposition (or logical assumption),  inference (or philosophical reasoning),  consideration of appearances (or common sense),  agreement with preconceived notions (or preferences),  thinking it seems acceptable (due to authorities’ influence) or  respect for a teacher (without question). When something is seen as ‘bad, blamable, censured by the wise and harmful when undertaken’, they should be abandoned. The above became known as the criterion for rejection.
Often neglected are the following teachings, where the Buddha got the Kalamas to agree that greed, hate and delusion (Three Poisons) are harmful, leading to evil such as killing, stealing, adultery and lying, which is ‘bad, blamable, censured by the wise and harmful when undertaken’. Conversely, the criterion for acceptance is that of using the criterion for rejection to realise what is instead ‘good, not blamable, praised by the wise and beneficial (to happiness) when undertaken’. The Kalamas also agreed that the absence of greed, hate and delusion is beneficial, not leading to evil such as killing, stealing, adultery and lying, which is ‘good, not blamable, praised by the wise and beneficial when undertaken’. These teachings are easily forgotten when fellow Buddhists are satisfied with the criterion of rejection alone. Well, it is perhaps easier to reject known non-truths than to accept unknown truths! It takes effort to examine and question for the worth of any teaching.
When Buddhists rigidly abide by the criterion for rejection while not practising the criterion for acceptance, their Dharma understanding ironically becomes more dogmatic and narrow-minded – which is what the Kalama Sutta is actually against, as it teaches how to graciously accept even apparently ‘non-Buddhist’ teachings, as long as they are in line with the Dharma, in the spirit of eradicating greed, hate and delusion, while increasing generosity, loving-kindness and wisdom. The sutta is not wholly about the criterion for rejection, which might be wrongly clung to as the ‘Ten Commandments’ of ‘Thou shalt nots…’ These guidelines given by the Buddha are for skilful application with the criterion for acceptance. Though already powerful and universally practical, the sutta also teaches beyond the twin criteria. It also advocates the Four Sublime States of Mind (Immeasurables) and the Four Assurances (Solaces). It’s time to revisit the sutta if you didn’t know this!
We take true refuge in the Dharma
when we align with truth and goodness,
from which arises wisdom and compassion.