Practical Spirituality: The Buddha on Belief from the Kalama Sutta

"Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe simply because it has been handed down for many generations. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is written in Holy Scriptures. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of Teachers, elders or wise men. Believe only after careful observation and analysis, when you find that it agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all. Then accept it and live up to it."

The world is full of opportunities to explore your spirituality, with many religious paths to follow, each with their own traditions, teachings and teachers. In many of them, there is a tendency to accept certain teachings simply because it comes from within that circle. "It is written" has become less a guiding light and more a weapon held over the heads of those who might attempt to think about things before accepting them.

History has shown that there is great wisdom in all the world's sacred texts. And there is just as much fluff-and-nonsense in many of them, if taken to extreme and used as a tool for division, power, and destruction.

The Buddha's exhortation is not that we should necessarily doubt everything, but merely examine things with both eyes open, rationally and carefully, in light of all our previous learning experiences. Many popular beliefs are little more than superstitions built on people's experiences from centuries and millennia ago. They didn't have all the learning and knowledge we have today. Before germs were discovered, sick people were "demon-possessed". Before Galileo tried to explain things, it was "common knowledge" that the sun orbited around the earth, flat as it was!

Bishop Spong has taught that it isn't necessary to believe in a virgin birth, or the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus in order to be a Christian. It is not my place to debate the issue because I'm not a Christian anyway. But in every religion there are now those who are challenging the old teachings -- not to utterly dismiss them but to examine them, find out what they mean in light of today's understanding of the world. And that's what practical spirituality is about -- not dismissing traditional teachings, but making them practical and applicable in today's world.

A living spirituality is a dynamic thing. If you feel guilty touching your favorite sacred cows, that is all the more reason to touch it. Questioning your beliefs is often a hard thing, because we are afraid. We are afraid if we touch the sacred cow it might topple over .... or dissolve to dust. But that's the whole point of touching -- if it collapses or dissolves, what's the point of cherishing it in the first place? A practical spirituality seems to require we actively challenge and test our beliefs regularly. It's the only way to know if what we believe has substance or if it is merely the crusted shell of something once discovered by our ancestors but is no longer there.

By Ray S. Whiting

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