By David Jones
So why is a Christian writing articles for a Buddhist site?
It may not seem intuitive to most folks, but it’s perfectly natural for me. When I joined my first church, I learned to give sermons, and I fell in love with it. But there was one I wanted to give and wasn’t allowed to: I wanted to research and speak about…Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Within a few years, I became a Witness.
I learned more about research, public speaking and persuasive argument and I fell deeper in love with teaching. One day I received an assignment to research and speak about…Buddhism.
Some 10 years later, I’m writing with Buddhists. I’m just following my path.
The experience of being assigned to speak about Buddhism at a Kingdom Hall is especially important here. Witnesses have their own book about world religions called Mankind’s Search For God. There’s a chapter about Buddhism, which was supposed to be my source material. That’s how they did things. Instead, I researched pieces actually written by Buddhists about their beliefs and practices for my talk.
That’s how I did things.
Researching things for myself rather than relying on what others insist is correct, even if I trust and like the teacher, is my way. That’s why I identify with my heroes the ancient Bereans.
Here’s the scene: according to Acts 17, the Apostle Paul was in Thessalonica preaching about Jesus, which made a lot of people very happy and a lot of others very angry. Some became believers, while others were out to get him.
He and some companions ran away at night to the city of Berea. His teaching had similar success, with one difference: while many Thessalonians accepted Paul’s teaching automatically, the Bereans insisted on looking into the things he said for themselves.
Which brings me to the Kalama Sutta.
According to the Aṅguttara Nikaya sutta 3:65, Buddha was traveling and came to the town of Kesaputta. These folks—the Kalamas—were sage magnets, with teachers constantly showing up in town with their musings, telling everyone “my teaching is right, all those other guys are fakers.” People were understandably confused.
The Encyclopedia of Buddhism goes deep into the account, and Buddha’s reply essentially boils down to this: don’t reflexively believe a teaching for any reason. Test it in your heart, in your life, and see if the teaching is really beneficial or if it’s all just cool words. Whether it be holy writings, a disciple or Apostle, even the words of Buddha or Jesus—it doesn’t matter what the source of the teaching is or how you feel about it.
Test it out.
Blind faith in a teacher, scripture, or interpretation may be easy, but it sure ain’t healthy. It leads folks to become dogmatic, inflexible, unwilling to learn or change, and more so if they’re surrounded by people who insist their view is the only correct one.
The takeaway here, from the teaching of Buddha and the example of the Bereans, is that it’s wise to question, to put beliefs and teachings to the test, and to avoid blind acceptance (which is reflexive and completely opposite of mindful acceptance).
The Bible calls the Bereans “noble-minded” for their cautious examination. Granted, they still ended up using a holy writings as the cornerstone of their evaluation, but the point is they were specifically and directly contrasted against the example of the Thessalonians who believed Paul without personal investigation.
Interestingly, the Kalama Sutta also refers to those disciples who question and only accept teachings which promote compassion and love as “noble.” These noble disciples will evaluate teachings and reject those which lead to suffering.
So here I am, a Christian (not a model one, to be sure) who prayerfully investigates what I’m taught and tries the spirit of those teachings. (1 John 4:1) Teachings which bring about harm need to go. The Bible and the Kalama Sutta agree that the teachers and their lessons can be identified by their fruits—good or bad.
May we all seek the true and lasting benefit of others when we consider our teachings and words. And let’s be determined to reject teachings which lead only to suffering and harm to ourselves and others, regardless where the teaching came from.
That would be the noble-minded thing to do.
Editor: Dana Gornall