The Buddha's Charter For Inquiry:

Analysis of The Kalama Sutta


Buddha to the Kalama People of north India constitute one of the most profound statements ever uttered in the history of humanity. 

It deserves to be examined and reflected upon by one and all, especially those with authority, whether religious, social, educational, scientific or political. 

The Kalama Sutta (Discourse) requires our fullest attention so that we truly comprehend the significance of this ‘charter for inquiry.’ 

If we thoroughly understand this profound teaching, we will liberate ourselves from grasping onto second hand knowledge, unexamined views and from naïve transference onto an authority figure. 

The Buddha’s talk to the Kalamas people in the town of Kesaputta encourages all of us to not only question authority but to acknowledge how easily we give sanction to authority through being impressionable.




Numerical Discourses Of The Buddha.

To The Kalamas. Book Of Threes 6.5

From The Sacred Literature Series

Rowan And Littlefield Publishers, London And New York

Translated By Nyanaponika There And Bhikkhu Bodhi

The Kalamas came to the Buddha and said that some priests, well-educated people, religious teachers and yogis elucidate their teachings and views and disparage and vilify the teachings of others. Then others come and do the same about those teachers. As a result, the Kalamas said they ‘experience perplexity and doubt about who speaks the truth and who speaks falsehood.’



“It is fitting for you to be perplexed. Doubt has arisen in you about a perplexing matter. 
Do not accept anything because:

1. Of repeated oral transmission
2. Of lineage or tradition
3. It has been widely stated
4. It has been written in books, such as scriptures
5. It is logical and reasonable
6. Of inferring and drawing conclusions
7. It has been thought out
8. Of acceptance and conviction through a theory
9. The speaker appears competent
10. Of respect for the teacher

The Buddha went on: “When you know for yourselves ‘these things are unwholesome, these things are blamable, these things are censured by the wise, these things, if undertaken and practiced, lead to harm and suffering,’ then you should abandon them.’

He explained to the Kalamas that a person whose thoughts are controlled by greed, hate and delusion would destroy life, take what is not given, engage in sexual abuse and lie. This will be conducive to his or her harm and suffering for a long time.

The Buddha then repeated his charter for inquiry. ‘It was for this reason that we said do not accept anything because of oral transmission….or out of respect for the teacher. 

For those without greed, hate and delusion, his thoughts are not controlled by 
them, he will abstain from causing suffering.. Undertaken and practiced this leads to one’s welfare and happiness.

The Buddha repeated himself yet again: ‘It was for this reason that we said do not accept anything because of oral transmission…..or out of respect for the teacher.

He continued: ‘Devoid of envy, ill will, unconfused, clear and mindful, one imbues all the directions and the entire world with loving kindness, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity vast exalted and measureless.’

Taking a provisional view about the possibility of rebirth, the Buddha then gives four assurances to the Kalamas if they follow these teachings:

1. ‘If there is another world, and if good and bad deeds bear fruit and yield results, it is possible with the breakup of the body after death, I shall arise in a heavenly world.

2. If there is no other world, no ripening or fruit or rightly or wrongly done actions, then here and now (ditthe dhamme), one remains happy, free of negativity and ill will.

3. If evil happens to the doer (of it) then since one does not intend evil towards anyone, from where will suffering touch one who does no evil action.

4. But if evil does not happen to the doer (of it) then in any case, one can regard oneself as pure.

He concluded: ‘A noble person is free of negativity, ill will, uncorrupted and pure.’



Jenny Wilks


The following list of the terms in Pali and comparison of translations was compiled by Jenny Wilks from the Dharma Facilitators Programme.

She has listed below the literal translation for each of the criteria showing that the first four belong to the category of received or second hand knowledge, then four examples of misguided thinking and the final two show examples of inappropriate reliance on authority figures. 

Jenny then gives different examples of major translations in various texts of the 10 Criteria.

The Ten Criteria in Pali and Translations:

1. Literal translation:


anussava                                     ‘repeated hearing’

parampara                                 ‘after another’ (or ‘from other to other’) = series or succession

iti-kira                                        ‘so it is reported’

pitaka-sampadana                     ‘agreement with (or on the authority of) scriptures’

takka-hetu                                  ‘because of logic’

naya-hetu                                   ‘because of inference’

akara-parivitakka                     ‘careful examination of reasons’

ditthi-nijjhana-kkhanti             ‘forbearance with reflection (or speculation) on views’

bhabba-rupata                          ‘appearance of being capable’ (or of being possible)

samano no garu-ti                     ‘thinking “the recluse is our teacher”’

1-4 = examples of received or second-hand knowledge
5-8 = examples of misguided thinking and reasoning
9-10 = examples of inappropriate reliance on authority


Comparison of Four Translations:


1. Thanissaro Bhikkhu – from website
2. Soma Thera – ‘The Buddha’s Charter for Free Inquiry’ BPS, Kandy (also on website)
3. University of Rangoon Pali Department – found at
4. Woodward – ‘Book of Gradual Sayings’, Pali Text Society.



1. reports 

2. repeated hearing
3. hearsay
4. report



1. legends
2. tradition
3. what you have been told
4. tradition



1 traditions
2. rumour
3. – 
4. hearsay



1. scripture
2. what’s in a scripture
3. because it’s mentioned in scripture
4. proficiency in the collections



1. logical conjecture
2. surmise
3. by reason of logic
4. mere logic 



1. inference
2. an axiom
3. because of its method
4. inference



1. analogies
2. specious reasoning
3. in consideration of the reasoning (being plausible)
4. after considering reasons



1. agreement through pondering views
2. a bias toward a notion that has been pondered over
3. by tolerating the views based on speculation
4. after reflection on and approval of some theory



1. probability
2. another’s seeming ability
3. because of its appearance of possibility
4. because it fits becoming


samano no garu-ti

1. the thought ‘this contemplative is our teacher’
2. the consideration ‘the monk is our teacher’
3. because ‘our monk is venerable’
4. out of respect for a recluse (who holds it)


* Cf Canki Sutta, MN95 includes 1,7 and 8 of the Kalamas criteria (along with faith and preference) in a list of five things that may turn out two ways, i.e. they may lead to true or false conclusions.


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