Burma, Constitutional Change and Article 59F


As reported by Lawi Weng in The Irrawaddy no changes are to be made to Burma’s constitution according to the ‘The Constitutional Review Joint Committee’ which would allow Aung San Suu Kyi to be President. The the now infamous Article 59F will not be changed:

‘The committee’s report recommended no change to Article 59F, which says a president may not have a spouse or children who are foreign nationals. Suu Kyi, who chairs the National League for Democracy (NLD), has two sons with British citizenship.’

There would also be no change in the number of seats set aside for the military:

‘There would be no change to an article that reserves 25 percent of seats in Parliament for the military, or to an article that requires approval from more than 75 percent of lawmakers for constitutional amendments.’

Article 59F reads:
‘(f) shall he himself [the President], one of the parents, the spouse, one of the legitimate children or their spouses not owe allegiance to a foreign power, not be subject of foreign power or citizen of a foreign country. They shall not be persons entitled to enjoy the rights and privileges of a subject of a foreign government or citizen of a foreign country.’
The ‘The Constitutional Review Joint Committee’ report states that ‘only 592 people wanted to amend the article that makes Suu Kyi ineligible for the presidency.’
The other article in the constitution which is causing unrest is article 59D. This states that the President:
‘(d) shall be well acquainted with the affairs of the Union such as political, administrative, economic and military.’

This is interpreted as meaning that the President would have had to have served in the Burmese army, the Tatamadaw, something that Aung San Suu Kyi clearly has not done.
This is the full 2008 Burmese constitution and this the English only version. The Irrawaddy article is here.

On Why the Teachings of ‘a buddha’ are Understood to be Superior to Other Religious and Philosophical Teachings


In the modern world religions are often seen as competing against one another. Indeed, historically this has quite naturally been the case given the claims to truth which different religions have preached. We sometimes assume that Buddhism is immune to this in its dialogue with other religions. Whether this assumption is justified is the matter of some debate. Here I would like to address the question of the ways in which the Buddhism of the Pali Canon might argue for its superiority and on what grounds it might do this. Does then Buddhism argue for its superiority? In the Brahmajāla-sutta (D 1-46)  such an argument might be found. The basic premise of the Brahmajāla-sutta is that because the knowledge of a buddha cannot be the object of attachment it is a superior knowledge and surpasses that of other religious teachers.

The Brahmajāla-sutta opens with a long section detailing the reasons why the ‘ordinary person’ (puthujjana) would praise the Buddha. The ordinary person praises the Buddha for his virtuous qualities. The sutta refers to these as ‘trifling and insignificant matters, minor details of mere moral virtue’. The sutta goes on to state that:

‘There are other things (dhammas), deep, difficult to see, difficult to understand, peaceful and sublime, beyond the sphere of reasoning, subtle, comprehensible only to the wise, which the Tathāgata (an epithet of the Buddha), having realised for himself with direct knowledge, propounds to others.’[2]

It is concerning these dhammas, these things, that ‘those who rightly praise the Tathāgata would speak in accordance with the way things are’.[3] The sutta then expounds sixty-two views. These views summarise and sometimes caricature a wide range of possible philosophical and religious arguments. They are meant to represent all possible philosophical and religious opinions possible in the world. After each set of views the sutta states what the dhammas are whereby one would rightly praise the Tathāgata.

The Tathāgata’s understanding

It states that the Tathāgata, the Buddha, understands each group of views. He understands that these ‘bases for views’ (diṭṭhiṭṭhānā),[4] grasped (gahitā) and clung to (parāmaṭṭhā), lead to a certain future rebirth.[5] The Tathāgata also understands what transcends (uttaritara) [6] this, yet he does not cling to even that understanding (ta ca pajānana na parāmasati), and because of not clinging (aparāmasato) he has ‘realised within himself the state of perfect peace’.[7] The sutta then states that:

‘Having understood as they really are the origin and passing away of feelings (all things, all views and opinion, beliefs and philosophical arguments) their satisfaction, unsatisfactoriness, and the escape from them, the Tathāgata […] is emancipated through non-attachment.’[8]

It is these dhammas, or this knowledge, that is deep, difficult to see, etc., concerning which the Tathāgata would rightly be praised.[9] The Buddha is not attached to the ‘highest’, for this knowledge ‘transcends’ (uttaritara) and is free from craving. His is a knowledge beyond attachment.

63rd View?

The Brahmajāla-sutta, we may think, does not explicitly contain a sixty-third view which is the insight and knowledge which gives the correct proposition in opposition to the sixty-two views. This is true as far as it goes, but also misleading. In my understanding, the Brahmajāla-sutta does suggest what correct knowledge is. This is knowledge (or understanding) of rise and fall, the anuloma and pailoma (forward and reverse) knowledge (or understanding) of ‘dependent-origination’ (paicca-samuppāda):

‘Dependent upon ignorance arise volitional formations;

Dependent upon volitional formations arises consciousness;

Dependent upon consciousness arises name and form;

Dependent upon name and form arises the six-fold sense base;

Dependent upon the six-fold sense base arises contact;

Dependent upon contact arises feeling;

Dependent upon feeling arises craving;

Dependent upon craving arises attachment;

Dependent upon attachment arises being;

Dependent upon being arises birth;

Dependent upon birth arises old age and grief, lamentation, suffering and despair.

Thus arises this entire mass of suffering.

However, from the utter fading away of ignorance, there is the ceasing of volitional formations;

From the ceasing of volitional formations there is the ceasing of consciousness;

With the ceasing of consciousness there is the ceasing of name and form;

With the ceasing of name and form there is the ceasing of the six-fold sense base;

With the ceasing of the six-fold sense base there is the ceasing of contact;

With the ceasing of contact there is the ceasing of feeling;

With the ceasing of feeling there is the ceasing of craving;

With the ceasing of craving there is the ceasing of attachment;

With the ceasing of attachment there is the ceasing of being;

With the ceasing of being there is the ceasing of birth;

With the ceasing of birth there is the ceasing of old age and grief, lamentation, suffering and despair.

And thus there is the ceasing of this entire mass of suffering.’

By the nature of these doctrines, this process must be seen and understood without any degree of craving and attachment:

‘When this exists, that comes to be; with the arising of this, that arises.  When this does not exist, that does not come to be; with the cessation of this, that ceases.’ M III 64.

This is the knowledge that makes a buddha, indeed the Buddha, worthy of praise. It is not the fact that a buddha acts in a profoundly ethical manner, that his behaviour is morally pure, but that he ‘sees things as they are’ (yathābhūtadassana) and is not attached to this knowledge. This is what makes the teachings of a buddha, the teachings of Buddhism, in the understanding of the Brahmajāla-sutta, a superior teaching. Therefore, if pushed Buddhism would not state that all religions are of equal value – only Buddhism preaches a doctrine that cannot be an object of attachment and is then beyond suffering.

[1] appamattaka kho pan’ eta bhikkhave oramattaka sīlamattaka, yena puthujjano tathāgatassa vaṇṇa vadamāno vadeyya, D I 3.

[2] atthi bhikkhave aññeva dhammā gambhīrā duddasā duranubodhā santā paṇītā atakkāvacarā nipuṇā paṇḍitavedanīyā, ye tathāgato saya abhiññā sacchikatvā pavedeti, D I 12.

[3] yehi tathāgatassa yathābhucca vaṇṇa sammā vadamānā vadeyyu, D I 12.

[4] Cf. the ‘eight bases’ in the Paisambhidhāmagga.

[5] ime kho diṭṭhi-ṭṭhānā evagahitā evaparāmaṭṭhā evagatikā bhavissanti evaabhisamparāyā, D I 16.

[6] uttaritara, the highest, what transcends, i.e. nibbāna.

[7] aparāmasato c’ assa paccattaññeva nibbuti viditā, D I 16.

[8] vedanāna samudayañ ca atthagamañ ca assādañ ca ādīnavañ ca nissaraañ ca yathābhūta viditvā anupādā vimutto […] tathāgato. Whole passage: tayida bhikkhave tathāgato pajānāti: ime diṭṭhiṭṭhānā eva gahitā eva parāmaṭṭhā evagatikā bhavissanti eva abhisamparāyā ti. tañ ca tathāgato pajānāti, tato ca uttaritara pajānāti. tañ ca pajānana na parāmasati. aparāmasato c’ assa paccattaññeva nibbuti viditā. vedanāna samudayañ ca atthagamañ ca assādañ ca ādīnavañ ca nissaraañ ca yathābhūta viditvā anupādā vimutto bhikkhave tathāgato, D I 16-17, 21-22, 24, 28, 29, 30, 31, 33, 36, 38 (x 2), 39.

[9] ime kho te bhikkhave dhammā gambhīrā duddasā duranubodhā santā paṇītā atakkāvacarā nipuṇā paṇḍita-vedanīyā ye tathāgato saya abhiññā sacchikatvā pavedeti yehi tathāgatassa yathābhucca vaṇṇa sammā vadamānā vadeyyu, D I 17, etc.


More on Buddhist Monks and Protest in Thailand


More reports are emerging of Thai Buddhist monks involved in political protest and the problems this can cause.

Luang Pu Buddha Issara protests against Thaksin and the so-called Red Shirts:

‘The government, which is run by the Shinawatra family – the brother and sister – has no morality or ethics. They are corrupt and they allow corruption to happen. They lie everyday.’

And, in a telling statement:

‘The religious domain has a duty to tell the secular domain what to do – and what not to do’.

However, Nopparat Benjawattantnun, director-general of Office of National Buddhism, disagrees that a monk should be politically active stating that, ‘monks cannot get involved with politics’.

Sathien Wipornmaha, secretary of the Buddhist Association of Thailand goes as far to say that

‘Monks can have personal feelings but political expression is banned according to Sangha regulations,’  and that Buddha Issara is ‘destroys the image of Buddhism.’

Duncan McCargo of the University of Leeds comments:

‘Although in theory monks are apolitical, in practice when you start to really scrutinise what’s going on beneath the surface, you discover there is all kind of politics,..What is unusual here is a prominent monk who is not only playing a supporting role or a legitimising role, but who is actually in the middle of a stage…It’s an unusually overt role for a monk to play.’

The full report can be read here.

See also here.

Something Other than Belief – Rigid Religious Belief and Unwholesome Action in Buddhism


In Buddhist history it has sometimes been noted that a system of orthodox actions have been valued above a system of orthodox beliefs. For example in the history of the Buddhist Sagha, the monastic community, a split in the Sagha (saghabheda) would not be caused by disagreements about doctrines or beliefs but about adapting, adding to and taking away prescribed actions and religious practices. One could live in monastic harmony with others even if one disagreed strongly about matters of doctrine. However, as soon as one disagreed about matters of behaviour, and particularly prescribed behaviour, then a split would not only be inevitable it would be necessary. This is no way unique in religious history but it does appear to be particularly pronounced in Buddhist culture.

The Pāali-sutta

A prominent example of this idea is found in the Pāali-sutta (S IV 340-58) from the Sayutta-nikāya. This sutta is interesting because it does not advocate views that are clearly explained as right-views, or correct beliefs, in other parts of the Nikāyas. I think this points to the correct understanding of right-view and the nature of Buddhist doctrines. They do not entail assent to a proposition, but a way of seeing that goes beyond doubt, calms the mind and leads to wholesome action. Action is placed above belief – indeed rigid, or one could say religious belief can lead to unwholesome action.

The second half of this sutta follows a conversation between Pāṭali and the Buddha. Pāṭali informs the Buddha that he has a rest-house and that on certain occasions, ascetics and brahmins stay there. He recalls one particular occasion when ‘four teachers holding different views, following different systems’[1] came to stay. Pāṭali then recounts how each teacher ‘taught thus, held this view’ (eva-vādi eva-diṭṭhi).


  1. Wrong-view: The first teacher held the view of nihilism (natthika-diṭṭhi, S IV 348), the wrong-view that actions do not have consequences
  2. Right-view: The second teacher the view of affirmation (atthika-diṭṭhi, S IV 348-9), the right-view that actions do have consequences
  3. Wrong-view: The third the view of non-doing (akiriya-diṭṭhi, S IV 349), the wrong-view that if we act in an unwholesome way, for example kills living being, no wrong is done by the performer of these actions
  4. Right-view: And the fourth the view that there is doing (kiriya-diṭṭhi, S IV 349-50), the right-view that if we act in a unwholesome way, for example kill living beings, wrong is done by the performer of these actions

On hearing these different views, Pāṭali explains to the Buddha that he has doubt (kakhā) and uncertainty (vicikicchā) not knowing which recluse and brahmin was speaking truth (sacca) and which was speaking falsehood (musā, S IV 350).[2]

The Buddha’s Reply – the ten unwholesome courses of action

The Buddha replies that though Pāṭali doubts and is uncertain, it is on a doubtful point that uncertainty arose.[3] Pāṭali explains to the Buddha that he has much trust (pasanna) in him and asks for a teaching whereby his ‘doubt will be abandoned’.[4] The Buddha explains that there is a concentration of mind (citta-samādhi) which is attained (pailabbhati) by concentration of the dhamma (dhamma-samādhi, S IV 350). The Buddha explains what dhamma-samādhi is. He explains that the ariya-sāvaka, the noble disciple:

‘Abandoning the killing of living beings, abstaining therefrom; abandoning the taking of what is not given, abstaining therefrom; abandoning misconduct in sensual pleasure […] abandoning false speech […] malicious speech […] harsh speech […] gossip, abstaining therefrom. Abandoning covetousness, he is no more covetous. Abandoning malevolence and hatred, his heart becomes free from ill will. Abandoning wrong-view, he becomes one of right-view.’[5]

These are the abandoning of the ten unwholesome courses of action (dasa akusala-kammapathā), by the ten wholesome courses of action (dasa kusala-kammapathā). The ariya-sāvaka is then said to be freed from covetousness (vigatābhijjha), freed from malevolence (vigatavyāpāda), not bewildered (asammūha), but attentive (sampajāna) and concentrated (patissato), with a mind full of loving-kindness (mettā-sahagatena cetasā).

That person then abides, suffusing the whole world with a mind possessed of loving-kindness.[6]

 Considers the 4 Views:

It is in this state that the person considers each view.

a. Firstly, he considers the view of nihilism (S IV 351),

b. then the view of affirmation (S IV 352),

c. then the view of non-doing (S IV 353),

d. and then the view that there is doing (S IV 354).

The views are given a final four times:

a. firstly considering the view of nihilism with ‘a mind full of compassion’ and ‘a mind full of sympathetic joy’,[7]

b. then the view of affirmation with ‘a mind filled with equanimity’,[8]

c. then the view of non-doing (S IV 356-7)

d. and the view that there is doing (S IV 357-8) with ‘a mind filled with equanimity’.

The noble disciple (ariya-sāvaka) considers that even if any of these views is true (sacca) – and two of them definitely are right-view, therefore ‘true’ – ‘for me it counts as incontrovertible’,[9] that the ariya-sāvaka does not cause harm (vyābādhemi) to anything (kiñci) weak or strong (tasa vā thāvara vā). Thus the ‘state of doubt is overcome’.[10]  The emphasis is on behaviour and action, not on correct propositions.


The ariya-sāvaka is not simply advised to reject wrong-view(s) and adopt right-view, for he doubts both wrong and right-views. He is advised to act in a certain way, ‘abandoning the taking of life, abstaining therefrom’ etc., ‘abandoning wrong-view, he becomes one of right-view’, not by accepting that ‘actions have consequences’ or that ‘actions do not have consequences’, this would be to simply believe in a correct proposition, but by acting in a certain way. Right-view, correct belief, or true doctrines are a practice and not a proposition. Orthopraxy is emphasised, not orthodoxy. Religious belief can lead to unwholesome action.

[1] cattāro satthāro nānādiṭṭhikā nānākhantikā nānārucikā, S IV 348.

[2] Similar to the ‘doubt and uncertainty’ (kakhā [] vicikicchā, A I 189), of the Kālāmas; see chapter one.

[3] alañ hi te […] kakhītu, ala vicikicchitu, kakhanīye ca pana te hāne vicikicchā uppannā ti, S IV 350.

[4] kakhādhamma pajaheyyan ti, S IV 350.

[5] pāṇātipātam pahāya pāṇātipātā paivirato hoti, adinnādānam pahāya adinnādānā paivirato hoti, kāmesu micchācāram pahāya kāmesu micchācārā paivirato hoti, musāvādam pahāya musāvādā paivirato hoti, pisua vācam pahāya pisuṇāya vācāya paivirato hoti, pharusa vācam pahāya pharusāya vācāya paivirato hoti, samphappalāpam pahāya samphappalāpā paivirato hoti, abhijjha pahāya anabhijjhālu hoti, vyāpādapadosa pahāya avyāpannacitto hoti, micchā-diṭṭhi pahāya sammā-diṭṭhiko hoti, S IV 350-1.

[6] eka disa pharitvā viharati, tathā dutiya, tathā tatiya, tathā catuttha; iti uddhamadho tiriya sabbadhi sabbattatāya sabbāvanta loka mettāsahagatena cetasā vipulena mahaggatena appamāena averena avyāpajjena pharitvā viharati, S IV 351.

[7] karuṇā-sahagatena-cetasā, muditā-sahagatena cetasā, S IV 354-5.

[8] upekkhā-sahagatena cetasā, S IV 355-6.

[9] apaṇṇakatāya mayha, S IV 351. Bhikkhu Bodhi cites the Spk: ‘This practice leads to what is incontrovertible for me, to absence of wrongness’ (anaparādhakatāya); Connected Discourses, Vol. II, p. 1453, note 364.

[10]kakhādhamma pajaheyyāsi. The full passage is: tassa pāmojja jāyati, pamuditassa pīti jāyati, pītimanassa kāyo passambhati, passaddhakāyo sukha vedayati, sukhino citta samādhiyati. aya kho so, gāmai, dhammasamādhi. tatra ce tva cittasamādhi pailabheyyāsi, eva tva ima kakhādhamma pajaheyyāsi, S IV 351-2, 353, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58.


Charles Wallace Burma Trust Fellowship for study at Oxford


An excellent scholarship opportunity just announced:

The Charles Wallace Burma Trust will sponsor one scholar or practitioner from Burma as visitor to the Department of Politics and International Relations for one Oxford term in the 2014 -2015academic year
The fellowship will enable a Burmese academic or professional to undertake a short working visit to the University of Oxford’s Department of Politics and International Relations, with the aim of broadening their professional knowledge, skills and contacts.
The content of a fellowship normally takes the form of professional interaction, study and research.’

More details here and here.

U Nu, Protestant Buddhism and the Kālama-sutta


U Nu (1907-1995) was the first Prime Minister of an Independent Burma and the only one democratically elected. He was Prime Minister on three occasions, 1948-56, 1957-58 and 1960-62.

He was in many ways a devout Buddhist but his understanding of Buddhism shows many of the trademark themes of what scholars have termed ‘Protestant Buddhism’. The primary text of Protestant Buddhism is often held to be the Kālama-sutta with its supposed scientific and empirical advice to rely on ‘reason’ and ‘logic’ in the search for truth and salvation.

In a remarkable interview U Nu describes his understanding of Buddhism:

He explains that many practices of the Buddhist such as making offerings to the Buddha, acquiring merit, performing acts to counteract ill-luck are not important parts of what Buddhism is really about. What is Buddhism about according to U Nu? It is about meditation ‘which will deliver one from all suffering’. U Nu states that he only became a ‘true Buddhist’ when he learned that ‘the truths of Buddhism can be tested’. He states that the Buddha said that ‘you must not believe anything that you cannot test yourself’. In this sense, Buddhism is not based upon a set of true doctrines, but a set of theories, comparable to scientific theories that can be empirically tested and accepted or rejected. One is a ‘genuine Buddhist’, for U Nu when one understands Buddhism in this way, and this is what attracts him to Buddhism. Doctrines are tested in meditation.  This meditation need not take place in a monastery but can be practiced at home, if it is a quiet home. One need not be a monk to meditate. Further, U Nu states that anyone can become a Buddha – a version of the  ‘Buddha as an ordinary man’ or ‘the scientific Buddha’ idea explored by Donald Lopez (The Scientific Buddha: His Short and Happy Life; see also Lopez, Buddhism and Science: A Guide for the Perplexed, Lopez, From Stone to Flesh: A Short History of the Buddha).

All this has much in common with what has been termed Protestant Buddhism (originally by Gombrich and Obeyesekere). The defining characteristic of Protestant Buddhism is the importance given to the laity and the subsequent lessening of the importance of the Sangha, the Buddhist monastics. Of course, the prominence of the laity in some religions is often taken for granted. However, in Buddhist history that history is often the history of the Sangha, of the monastics, and the uniqueness of the movement needs to be emphasised. The laity is then given this enhanced importance û this is somewhat different to, arguably, all previous forms of Buddhism. This movement was then lay in leadership.

Another feature of Protestant Buddhism is a suspicion of  hierarchies. Buddhism in this modern manifestation is all about ‘meditation’ – this is the essential practice of the Buddhist. However, traditionally lay Buddhists did not meditate. Those who wished to do so became monks. In Protestant Buddhism meditation is learned from a book, not from a teacher. Buddhism is also egalitarian, there are no elites, no caste distinctions – all have the capacity for spiritual attainment. Buddhism is a rational religion for all.

Protestant Buddhism tends towards:

a. fundamentalism

b. despises tradition

c. holds that Buddhism is ‘scientific’ and in fact not a religion but a philosophy

d. teaches that Nirvana is a this worldly goal – not a distant aspiration, and indeed the aspiration of the religious virtuoso, but of the lay person

e. portrays the Buddha as an ordinary man who achieved release from ‘suffering’

Indeed dukkha is sometimes now translated as ‘stress’, the Buddha overcame ‘stress’ This is not what dukkha is, nor what a Buddha is. A Buddha lives for countless lives as an animal, human or god (but rarely, if ever, a woman), in order to generate a body fit to become a Buddha

The Kālama-sutta

In What the Buddha Taught, Walpola Rahula cites the Kālama-sutta (A I 188-193) as expressing an essential point of the Buddha’s teaching. Stated simply this is the following: those seeking freedom from suffering should know for themselves what is ‘wholesome’ (kusala) and ‘unwholesome’ (akusala) and not rely on other things to achieve the end of dukkha. This simple piece of advice Rahula called ‘unique in the history of religions’.[1]

Clearly, in some instances, like in the thinking of U Nu which I am considering here, this basic idea is expanded upon and exaggerated.

In the sutta the Kālamas explain to the Buddha that the recluses and Brahmins who come to Kesaputta, the setting of the discourse, proclaim their own doctrine (vāda) but abuse the doctrines of others.[2] They go on to say that they have ‘doubt and wavering’ (kakhā [] vicikicchā, A I 189) as to which recluses and Brahmins are speaking truth and which are speaking falsehood (sacca āha, ko musā, ibid.). [3] The Buddha replies that they may well doubt, they may well waver, but it is on a doubtful point that wavering arises.[4] The Buddha explains that they should not be misled by:

1. Report/oral tradition (anussavena);

2. Tradition (paramparāya);

3. Hearsay (itikirāya);

4. Not by proficiency in the collections (piakasampadānena);

5. Logic (takkahetu);

6. Inference (nayahetu);

7. Reasoned cogitation (ākāraparivitakkena);

8. Acceptance of a view as a result of reflection (diṭṭhi-nijjhānakkhantiyā);

9. Not because it fits becoming (bhabbarūpatāya);

10. Out of respect for a recluse (samao no garū).[5]

The Buddha explains what they should understand:

‘When you know for yourselves: These things are unwholesome, these things are blameworthy, these things are censured by the wise; these things, when performed and undertaken, conduce to loss and sorrowùthen reject them.’[6]

This is all very well up to this point and one might consider that U Nu and others who follow a rational and scientific understanding of Buddhism to have some justification in their evaluation. But is the point of the Buddhas advice to the Kālamas really to teach that his teachings should be tested ‘scientifically’ and ‘empirically’ –  that his is a teaching based upon ‘reason’? Is this really the case? Reading through the list of ten means of knowledge that are not to be relied upon, ‘logic’, ‘inference’ and ‘reasoned cogitation’ are also rejected. Is there then something much more essential being taught in the Kālama-sutta?

The Buddha explains that the ten incorrect means of knowledge are rooted in greed, hatred and delusion (lobha, dosa, moha). The reason for this is based on the Kālamas’ earlier statement that the recluses and Brahmins proclaim their own doctrines and abuse the doctrines of others.[7] The aim of the dhamma is to overcome what is unwholesome. As the conduct of the recluses and Brahmins does not suggest that their teachings are achieving this, the Buddha takes them as wrong teachings. The Buddha explains this: with the arising of greed, hatred and delusion there is ‘loss’ (ahitāya) not ‘profit’ (hitāya, A I 189). Losing control of their minds, those overcome by greed, hatred and delusion kill living beings, take what is not given, commit adultery, tell lies, and get others to do the same.[8] All these things are ‘unwholesome’ (akusala) not ‘wholesome’ (kusala), ‘blameworthy’ (sāvajja) not ‘blameless’ (anavajja), ‘censured by the wise’ (viṭṭū-garahita), and when undertaken conduce to ‘loss and sorrow’ (ahitāya dukkhāya, A I 190).

It is for this reason that a person should not be misled by the ten incorrect means of knowledge, for they are unwholesome.[9] They should not be depended upon. They are incorrect means of knowledge precisely because they are unwholesome. The person should know what is wholesome, blameless, praised by the wise, and what, when undertaken, conduces to profit and happiness.[10] Freedom from greed, hatred and delusion produces ‘states’ (dhammā) that are wholesome, blameless, praised by the wise and, when performed, conduce to happiness (A I 190-1).[11] The teachings of the Buddha, the teachings of a Buddha, leads to wholesome action, false teachings leads to unwholesome action.

The conclusion one is tempted to reach is that the Kālama-sutta is not the Buddha’s ‘charter of free inquiry’, nor necessarily ‘unique in religious history’. It does not teach that ‘reason’ and ‘logic’ should be used to test the Buddhas teachings, as one would test a scientific theory. It suggests that any religious doctrine held with attachment and defended in opposition to other doctrines leads to unwholesome action. Any means of knowledge can lead to suffering, and this includes reason, logic, meditation, wisdom, inference and belief. U Nu is in no way wrong in his understanding of Buddhism but we should appreciate that his religious outlook was shaped by certain factors which influenced his interpretation of the essence of Buddhism. They shaped his understanding of what is essential to Buddhism.

Much of what I have said about Protestant Buddhism relies heavily on Richard Gombrich, Theravada Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Banares to Modern Columbo.

As a final note the famous writer and U Nu’s personal assistant and cousin, Khin Hnin Yu reported that at his home in Rangoon U Nu had a very large  traditional shrine room in which he made daily offerings to the Buddha.

[1] Walpola Rahula, What the Buddha Taught (London, 1967), p. 2.

[2] samaabrāhmaṇā kesaputta āgacchanti, te saka yeva vāda dīpenti, jotenti, paravāda pana khusenti, vambhenti, opapakkhi karonti, paribhavanti, A I 188

[3] In identical terms to those that we shall meet in the Pāṭali-sutta which I will consider in chapter five.

[4]Again, in identical terms to the Pāṭali-sutta: ala hi vo kālāmā kakhitu ala vicikicchitu, kakhanīyeva ca pana vo hāne vicikicchā uppannā, A I 189.

[5] A I 189. Three of these occurred in the earlier list of five items (oral tradition, anussavā, reasoned cogitation, ākāraparivitakkā, and acceptance of a view as a result of reflection, diṭṭhi-nijjhānakkhantiyā); see Jayatilleke, Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge, pp. 182-88, 274-6.

[6] yadā tumhe […] attanā’va jāneyyātha:ime dhammā akusalā, ime dhammā sāvajjā, ime dhammā viññūgarahitā, ime dhammā samattā samādinnā ahitāya dukkhāya savattantī ti: atha tumhe […] pajaheyyātha, A I 189.

[7] I am arguing that when the Nikāyas state that the dhamma is superior they hold that it is superior because it does not give rise to craving and attachment.

[8] For greed: luddho panāya kālāmā purisapuggalo lobhena abhibhūto pariyādinnacitto pāṇampi hanti adinnam pi ādiyati, paradāram pi gacchati, musā pi bhaati, param pi tathattāya samādapeti, ya sa hoti dīgharatta ahitāya dukkhāyā ti. eva bhante, A I 189.

[9] iti kho kālāmā ya ta avocumha. etha tumhe kālāmā mā anussavena, mā paramparāya, mā itikirāya, mā piakasampadānena, mā takkahetu, mā nayahetu, mā ākāraparivitakkena, mā diṭṭhinijjhānakkhantiyā, mā bhabbarūpatāya, mā samao no garū ti. yadā tumhe kālāmā attanā va jāneyyātha: ime dhammā akusalā, ime dhammā sāvajjā, ime dhammā viññūgarahitā, ime dhammā samattā samādinnā ahitāya dukkhāya savattantī ti. atha tumhe kālāmā pajaheyyāthā ti iti ya ta vutta idam eta paicca vutta, A I 190.

[10] etha tumhe kālāmā mā anussavena, mā paramparāya, mā itikirāya, mā piakasampadānena, mā takkahetu, mā nayahetu, mā ākāraparivitakkena, mā diṭṭhinijjhānakkhantiyā, mā bhabbarūpatāya, mā samao no garū ti. yadā tumhe kālāmā attanā va jāneyyātha, ime dhammā kusalā, ime dhammā anavajjā, ime dhammā viññuppasatthā, ime dhammā samattā samādinnā hitāya sukhāya savattantī ti. atha tumhe kālāmā upasampajja vihareyyātha, A I 190.

[11] iti kho kālāmā ya ta avocumha: etha tumhe kālāmā mā anussavena, mā paramparāya, mā itikirāya, mā piakasampadānena, mā takkahetu, mā nayahetu, mā ākāraparivitakkena, mā diṭṭhinijjhānakkhantiyā, mā bhabbarūpatāya, mā samao no garū ti. yadā tumhe kālāmā attanā va jāneyyātha: ime dhammā kusalā, ime dhammā anavajjā, ime dhammā viññūppasatthā, ime dhammā samattā samādinnā hitāya sukhāya savattantī ti. atha tumhe kālāmā upasampajja vihareyyāthā ti iti ya ta vutta idam eta paicca vutta, A I 191-92; compare to S IV 138-9.

[12] In the Devadaha-sutta (M II 214-228) at M II 218 it is also stated that the five means of knowledge may turn out in two different ways, they may have two different outcomes. The Buddha cannot find any legitimate defence of the Jain position based upon the five.

[13] api ca bhāradvāja, susaddahita yeva hoti, tañ ca hoti ritta tuccha musā, no cepi susaddahita hoti, bhūta taccha anaññathā. api ca bhāradvāja, surucita yeva hoti. tañ ca hoti ritta tuccha musā, no cepi surucita hoti, bhūta taccha anaññathā. api ca bhāradvāja, svānussuta yeva hoti. tañ ca hoti ritta tuccha musā, no cepi svānussuta hoti, bhūta taccha anaññathā. api ca bhāradvāja suparivitakkita yeva hoti. tañ ca hoti ritta tuccha musā, no cepi suparivitakkita hoti. api ca bhāradvāja sunijjhāyita yeva hoti tañ ca hoti ritta tuccha musā, no cepi sunijjhāyita hoti, bhūta taccha anaññathā, M II 170-71.

[14] eva me diṭṭhi-nijjhānakhantī iti vada saccam anurakkhati, M II 171. ‘[If] a person gains an acceptance of a view as a result of reflection, [or reaches a conclusion based upon any of the other four factors] he preserves truth when he says : ‘My acceptance of a view as a result of reflection is thus’; but he does not come to the definite conclusion : ‘only this is true, anything else is wrong” (diṭṭhinijjhānakhanti ce pi […] purisassa hoti, eva me diṭṭhinjjhānakhantī ti iti vada saccam anurakkhati, na tveva tāva ekasena niṭṭha gacchati : idam eva sacca, mogham aññanti, M II 171).

[15] ajāna vā vadeyya jānāmī ti, apassa vā vadeyya passāmī ti, M II 171.

[16] para vā tadatthāya samādapeyya ya paresa assa dīgharatta ahitāya dukkhāyā ti, M II 172-3.

[17] dhamma deseti, gambhīro so dhammo duddaso duranubodho santo paṇīto atakkāvacaro nipuo paṇḍitavedanīyo, M II 172-3.

[18] na so dhammo sudesiyo luddhenā ti, M II 172; na so dhammo sudesiyo duṭṭhenā ti, M II 172; na so dhammo sudesiyo mūḷhenā ti, M II 173.

[19] Bhikkhu Bodhi, referring to the commentary, interprets this phrase as the investigation of things according to anicca, dukkha and anattā (The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, p. 1300, note 889).

[20] kāyena ceva paramasacca sacchikaroti. paññāya ca na ativijjha passati, M II 174.

[21] Stream-attainment is realised (Bhikkhu Bodhi, The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, p. 1301, note 892).

[22] dhammāna āsevanā bhāvanā bahulīkammā saccānupatti hoti, M II 174. Arahantship realised.

The Roots of Buddhist Political Rhetoric: Knowledge of what is Wholesome and Unwholesome


Before one speaks and before one acts, the Pāli Canon suggests that one should have knowledge of what is wholesome and unwholesome. One begins with the cultivation of a particular mental attitude, a particular ‘right-view’ (sammā-diṭṭhi). This mental attitude entails that one understands the ‘unwholesome’ (akusala) and its ‘root’ (mūla), and the ‘wholesome’ (kusala) and its root. 

This insight, this type of knowledge, entails understanding that the unwholesome is the ‘ten unwholesome courses of action.’[1]  These are those actions of body, speech and mind that lead to a unwholesome course of action. It entails understanding that the roots of these courses of action are greed, hatred and delusion.[2] Greed, hatred and delusion are at the root of unwholesome political rhetoric.

Further, this attitude entails an understanding of what is wholesome, which is the ten wholesome courses of action. These are those actions of body, speech and mind that lead to a wholesome course of action. This beneficial insight, this right-view, entails understanding that the three roots of the wholesome are non-greed, non-hatred and non-delusion.[4] Generosity, compassion and wisdom are the root of positive political rhetoric.

With an understanding of the unwholesome and its roots, and the wholesome and its roots the bhikkhu, the Buddhist monk, is said to have abandoned three ‘underlying tendencies’ (anusayas), those of ‘lust’, ‘aversion’ and the ‘view and conceit “I am”’.[5]  The destruction of the three anusayas is the outcome of the attainment of sammā-diṭṭhi, right-view, the correct mental attitude which precedes correct action.

Right-view has this aim: the abandonment of these tendencies, not the correction of a false view, or the relinquishment of all views.  The aim of right-view is to promote what is wholesome and to abandon what is unwholesome.

A monk debating in a political context and doing so in order to promote Buddhist ideas, has their rhetoric rooted in a thorough knowledge of what is wholesome. In so doing  they, ideally have abandoned ‘lust’, ‘aversion’ and the ‘view and conceit “I am”’. They then act, speak and think free from craving, agitation of ignorance.

[1] pāṇātipāto kho āvuso akusalaṃ, adinnādānaṃ akusalaṃ, kāmesumicchācāro akusalaṃ, musāvādo akusalaṃ, pisuṇāvācā akusalaṃ, pharusāvācā akusalaṃ, samphappalāpo akusalaṃ, abhijjhā akusalaṃ, byāpādo akusalaṃ, micchā-diṭṭhi akusalaṃ, idaṃ vuccatāvuso akusalaṃ, M I 47.

[2] lobho akusalamūlaṃ, doso akusalamūlaṃ, moho akusalamūlaṃ, M I 47

[3] pāṇātipātā veramaṇī kusalaṃ, adinnādānā veramaṇī kusalaṃ, kāmesu micchācārā veramaṇī kusalaṃ, musāvādā veramaṇī kusalaṃ, pisuṇāvācā veramaṇī kusalaṃ, pharusāvācā veramaṇī kusalaṃ, samphappalāpā veramaṇī kusalaṃ, anabhijjhā kusalaṃ, abyāpādo kusalaṃ, sammā-diṭṭhi kusalaṃ, M I 47.

[4] alobho kusalamūlaṃ, adoso kusalamūlaṃ, amoho kusalamūlaṃ, M I 47.

[5] rāgānusayaṃ pahāya paṭighānusayaṃ paṭivinodetvā asmī ti diṭṭhi-mānānusayaṃ, M I 47.