A charter of free enquiry?

I’ve seen people claim that the Kalama Sutta is a “charter of free enquiry”. But I think it’s actually saying “assess a path of practice by the results it brings”.
Your thoughts?


It seems to me the theme of the Kalama Sutta is ethical conduct, not inquiry in general, and the Buddha is saying “don’t just follow what someone said but use common sense” – common sense being ‘your own moral compass’ + ‘what other sensible people would think’ + ‘whether the outcomes/results of the action are good or bad’.

The Buddha then gives examples of how one can reason about ethics, using greed, hatred and delusion (and their counterparts, contentment, love and understanding) as examples.

He then teaches the four brahmaviharas as a means to purify the mind, and shows how this is beneficial regardless of what you think about an afterlife.

To me, this is the Buddha giving the confused Kalamas a common sense and pragmatic argument for ethical conduct and ethical mental development.

It makes sense to me that Western people coming from Christianity (where faith in spite of evidence, giving up reason, is sometimes seen as a virtue) feel the need to have this charter of free inquiry.

But as far as I can tell, the Buddha never asks us to leave our brain at the door. Irrational faith is not a virtue nor something that is encouraged. For example, in MN 95 faith in a teacher is something that arises after investigating that teacher, and finding that teacher seemingly without greed, hatred or delusion:

…Scrutinizing them they find: ‘This venerable has no such qualities that promote delusion. Rather, that venerable has bodily and verbal behavior like that of someone without delusion. And the principle that they teach is deep, hard to see, hard to understand, peaceful, sublime, beyond the scope of reason, subtle, comprehensible to the astute. It’s not easy for someone with delusion to teach this.’

Scrutinizing them in this way they see that they are purified of qualities that promote delusion. Next, they place faith in them…

IMO, the charter of free inquiry in Buddhism is that you don’t have to place faith in a teacher whose behavior you don’t think is up to standards.


Free inquiry… sure. People can freely inquire. But the Buddha knows what he’s saying is truth. His argument is that free inquiry into the nature of reality will result in an appreciation of his dhamma.

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