The Buddha’s advice to the Kalamas


This is what I heard. Once, the richly endowed one (Bhagavā). while wandering by stages in the Kosala country with a large Bhikkhusangha, arrived at a town belonging to the Kalāmās called Kesaputta.

The Kālāmās of Kesaputta heard [it said]: ‘bho (‘Sir’) Gotama, the freelance spiritual teacher (samana), the Shakyan who has gone forth from [that] clan, … has entered Kesaputta. [With] good renown, he is described as:
‘Indeed richly endowed, of highest worth (arahant), fully and perfectly awakened, knower of the worlds, best guide for men training [themselves], teacher of devas and human beings, awakened, richly endowed. He makes known this world and its devas, maras, and brahmas; this generation and its spiritual seekers (samanas), priests (brāhmanas), princes (devas), and [other] people, seeing it all clearly himself with his higher knowledge (abhiññā). He presents a dharma which is goodly (kalyāna) in the beginning, middle, and end [of the spiritual life], with its inner meaning (sāttha) and specific expression (savyañjana), all complete (kevala) and perfect (paripunna(?)); a completely purified and sublime life (brāhmacariya) – that he illuminates. The sight (dassana) of such worthy ones (arahants) is good indeed.’

Then the Kālamas of Kesaputta drew near the Bhagavā. Having drawn near, some prostrated (abhivadetvā) and sat down to one side. Some exchanged joyful greetings (sammodi9su), and after a gladdening and memorable conversation, sat to one side. Some saluted him with raised, joined palms and sat to one side. Some told him their name and clan and sat to one side. Others [just] came in quietly (tunhabhuta) and sat to one side.

The Kālāmās said … ‘Bhante, certain spiritual aspirants and priests (samanas and brāhmanas) visit Kesaputta. They only explain and illuminate their own teachings (vāda), condemning, abusing, and pulling to pieces (opapakkhi9 karonti, literally ‘plucking’) the teachings of others. Then different ones visit [and do the same thing]. We are in doubt (kankhā) and uncertainty (vicikicchā) about them, Bhante. Which of them told us the truth. which spoke falsely?’

‘You are definitely right to be in doubt and uncertainty. Kālāmās – this [matter] is a doubtful one. So, Kālāmās, don’t [rely on] what you hear repeatedly (anussava), nor on what is handed down in a tradition or lineage (parampara, lit. ‘succession’), nor on hearsay (itikirā), nor on a scripture as authority (piṭaka-sampadāna), nor on sophistry or logical inference (takkahetu or nayahetu), nor on prolonged consideration (ākāraparivitakka), nor on getting carried away by a view you identify with (ditthinijjhānakkhanti) [alternatively, ‘nor on indulgence in the pleasure’of speculation’], nor on [someone making a] plausible impression (bhabba-rūpatāya) [alternatively, ‘nor on (something that) looks plausible’], nor on your respect for a spiritual teacher (samaṇo no garū).

‘Kālāmās. When you know of yourselves that these teachings (dhammas) are unskilful, blameable, faulted by sensible people (viññugarahitā); that, followed through and practised, they lead on to harm and dukkha, then give them up.
‘Consider this, Kālāmās. When craving (lobha) …, hatred (dosa) …, [or] delusion (moha) arise in someone, do they lead to benefit or harm?’ ‘Harm, Bhante.’ ‘Someone who is craving …, hating …, [or] deluded, obsessed and mentally overcome by craving …, hatred …., [or] delusion, kills, takes what is not given, goes with someone else’s wife, tells lies; and gets others to do likewise. Will that give rise to his harm and dukkha in the long run?’ ‘Certainly, Bhante.’ ‘So do you think these things are skilful or unskilful?’ ‘Unskilful, Bhante.’ ‘Are they blameable or not?’ ‘Blameable.’ ‘Are they condemned or approved of by sensible people?’ ‘Condemned.’ ‘If you follow them through and practise them, do they lead to harm and dukkha or not, or what do you think?’ ‘ It appears to us that they lead to harm and dukkha’
‘That is why I said that you should not [rely on] … [repeated as above, to:] … give them up.

‘[But], Kālāmās, when you know of yourselves that these teachings are skilful, blameless, recommended by sensible people, and that followed through and practised they lead to welfare and happiness, then practise them and stick to them.

‘Consider this. When non-craving …, non-hatred …, and non-delusion arise in someone …, who, without these [three], not obsessed or overcome by them, refrains from killing, taking the not given, going with someone else’s wife, telling lies, and getting others to do likewise, will that give rise to his welfare and happiness in the long run? ‘ ‘Yes, Bhante.’ ‘So do you think that these things are skilful or unskilful?’ ‘Skilful.’ ‘Blameable or not?’ ‘Blameless.’ ‘Condemned or approved of by sensible people?’ ‘Approved.’ ‘If you follow them through and practise them, do they lead to welfare and happiness, or not, or what do you think?’ ‘It appears to us that they lead to welfare and happiness.’
‘That is why I said that you should not [rely on] … [repeated as above, to:] … give them up.

‘Then a follower of the Āriyas, who is free from this sort of covetousness and ill-will, and is undeluded, with clear comprehension and mindfulness, lives with his heart full of mettā. He extends his mettā to each quarter in turn, and above and below, and in all directions, to all living beings as [to] himself. He lives with his heart filled with abundant, exalted, and limitless mettā, free from hostility, unaffected by ill-will, extending to the whole world.
(The above paragraph repeated for compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity.]

‘So a follower of the Āriyas, with a heart (citta) thus free from hostility, unafflicted by ill-will, undefiled, and unified gains four anticipations (assāsās) here and now. He thinks: “if there is life after death, and if skilful and unskilful actions (kammas) have results, then when my body disintegrates after death, I might be reborn in a blissful realm.” This is the first anticipation.

‘“But if there is no life after death, and actions have no results, then here and now, in this lifetime, I am free from hostility, afflictions, and anxiety, and I shall live happily.” This is the second anticipation.

‘“If one who does evil experiences evil [consequences], then since I never think of doing evil to anyone, how will dukkha ever touch me?” This is the third anticipation.

‘”But if one who does evil experiences no evil consequences, then I know that I am pure on both counts.” [i.e. if so-called evil acts do not result in suffering, they cannot really be regarded as ‘unskilful’. So one is pure in that one performs no so-called evil acts, and in that no acts are really evil anyway’. Probably a tongue-in-cheek remark by the Buddha.] This is the fourth anticipation. …’

‘Indeed it is so, Bhagavā! Indeed it is so, Sugata!…’ [The Kālāmās then repeat the four anticipations, in agreement.]
‘Brilliant, Bhante, brilliant! It’s as though someone had righted something knocked over, revealed the concealed, shown the way to a lost [traveller], or taken a lamp into the darkness so that those with eyes can see everything. just so the Bhagavā has demonstrated the Dharma in various ways. Bhante, to the Bhagavā for refuge we go. To the Dharma for refuge we go. To the Bhikkhusangha for refuge we go. Bhante, please regard us as followers (upāsakas) who have today gone for refuge for life’.


This is a translation I prepared a long time ago, so it lacks input from recent scholaship and wise interpreters. It’s a re-rendering based on explanations given by the Venerable Sangharakshita at a seminar at Padmaloka, July 1980. Prepared using the unedited transcript of the seminar. and translations by Ñanamoli, Soma, and Woodward.

Words in square brackets are additions to make the sense clearer. Three dots (…) means that some repetition has been omitted. The Pali originals, given in italics, have been checked where possible, and are usually given as in the headwords of the Pali Text Society’s (PTS) Pali English Dictionary
The original in romanized Pali is in the Anguttara Nikaya, Vol. I, pp188-193 (ed. R Morris, revised Warder, Luzak for PTS, 1961). Virtually complete translations are available in the PTS’s Numerical Sayings. and as translated by Soma Thera, The Instruction to the Kalamas (Wheel Publications No. 8, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, Ceylon, 1963). Partial translations: Woodward’s Some Savings of the Buddha (Buddhist Society, London), pp189ff; Bhikkhu Ñanamoli’s Life of the Buddha, pp175-8; Walpola Rahula’s What the Buddha Taught, pp2-3 (very selective, significantly omitting ‘faulted by sensible people’); and Alexandra David-Neel’s Buddhism, p123 (very garbled). It is discussed at length in Michael Carrithers’ The Buddha (Oxford University Press ‘Past Masters’ series), pp89-94, with a partial translation.