How Do We Recognise The Wise?

We take refuge in the Triple Gem,
when we discern nothing more precious,
that embodies complete goodness and truth.


Called the criterion for rejection and acceptance in the Kalama Sutta, the Buddha famously taught how to discern the truth (wisdom): ‘Do not go upon that acquired by [1] repeated hearing; nor upon [2] tradition; nor upon [3] rumour; nor upon [4] what is in a scripture; nor upon [5] surmise [baseless assumption]; nor upon [6] an axiom [unsound inference]; nor upon [7] specious [superficially plausible] reasoning; nor upon [8] bias towards a notion  pondered over; nor upon [9] another’s seeming ability; nor upon [10] the consideration, “The monk is our teacher.” Kalamas, when you yourselves know: “These things are bad; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,” abandon them… Kalamas, when you yourselves know: “These things are good; these things are not blamable; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,” enter and abide in them.’

The Buddha also reasoned that anything arising from greed, hatred and delusion (Three Poisons) are considered ‘bad’, ‘blamable’, ‘censured by the wise’ and ‘lead to harm and ill’ when ‘undertaken and observed’, while their absence (and ideally the presence of their opposites; the ‘Three Antidotes’ of generosity, compassion and wisdom) is considered ‘good’, ‘not blamable’, ‘praised by the wise’ and ‘lead to benefit and happiness’ when ‘undertaken and observed’. Who exactly are ‘the wise’? As above, they refer to those who see the Three Poisons to be unworthy, and their absence to be worthy. Also in the context of the sutta, those who abide by the criteria for rejection and acceptance are also considered wise, be they teachers and/or students. To the extent that we avoid the Three Poisons and abide by the criteria, we too are wise. Buddhists see the ultimately wise to be the Buddhas, who have eradicated the Three Poisons and cultivated the ‘Three Antidotes’ completely, having realised perfect wisdom via the criteria too.

It is our onus to use our wisdom to decide if what the Buddha taught is indeed wise, and if the Buddha is truly perfect in wisdom. Other than staying clear of the Three Poisons, the Buddha also advised to abide with mindful understanding in loving-kindness, compassion, rejoice and equanimity (Four Exalted Dwellings; Immeasurable; Sublime Minds), to pervade the world with these qualities, which lead to the Four Solaces: [1] In the afterlife, one will arise in a blissful rebirth. [2] If there is no afterlife, one’s freedom from hatred and malice brings happiness here and now. [3] If suffering befalls evil-doers, one will not suffer as one does not think of doing evil. [4] If suffering does not befall evil-doers, one will be doubly free from it, as one does not think of doing evil anyway. The Kalama Sutta thus offered remarkable ‘preliminary’ lessons for the Kalamas (and all intelligent free-thinkers and doubters), who were so impressed by the Buddha’s wisdom that they took refuge in the Triple Gem (the Buddhas, Dharma and Sangha)!

Virtue does not depend
on belief in rebirth or retribution,
but on seeing the value of goodness
and the harm of defilements.

– Nowanden

Related Articles:

The Twin Criteria for Rejection & Acceptance
The Four Solaces
Kalama Sutta

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

error: Alert: Content is protected !!