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:
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
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’.
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. They go on to say that they have ‘doubt and wavering’ (kaṅkhā […] vicikicchā, A I 189) as to which recluses and Brahmins are speaking truth and which are speaking falsehood (saccaṃ āha, ko musā, ibid.).  The Buddha replies that they may well doubt, they may well waver, but it is on a doubtful point that wavering arises. 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 (piṭakasampadānena);
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 (samaṇo no garū).
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.’
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. 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. 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. 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. 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). 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.
 Walpola Rahula, What the Buddha Taught (London, 1967), p. 2.
 samaṇabrāhmaṇā kesaputtaṃ āgacchanti, te sakaṃ yeva vādaṃ dīpenti, jotenti, paravādaṃ pana khuṃsenti, vambhenti, opapakkhiṃ karonti, paribhavanti, A I 188
 In identical terms to those that we shall meet in the Pāṭali-sutta which I will consider in chapter five.
Again, in identical terms to the Pāṭali-sutta: alaṃ hi vo kālāmā kaṅkhituṃ alaṃ vicikicchituṃ, kaṅkhanīyeva ca pana vo ṭhāne vicikicchā uppannā, A I 189.
 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.
 yadā tumhe […] attanā’va jāneyyātha:ime dhammā akusalā, ime dhammā sāvajjā, ime dhammā viññūgarahitā, ime dhammā samattā samādinnā ahitāya dukkhāya saṃvattantī ti: atha tumhe […] pajaheyyātha, A I 189.
 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.
 For greed: luddho panāyaṃ kālāmā purisapuggalo lobhena abhibhūto pariyādinnacitto pāṇampi hanti adinnam pi ādiyati, paradāram pi gacchati, musā pi bhaṇati, param pi tathattāya samādapeti, yaṃ sa hoti dīgharattaṃ ahitāya dukkhāyā ti. evaṃ bhante, A I 189.
 iti kho kālāmā yaṃ taṃ avocumha. etha tumhe kālāmā mā anussavena, mā paramparāya, mā itikirāya, mā piṭakasampadānena, mā takkahetu, mā nayahetu, mā ākāraparivitakkena, mā diṭṭhinijjhānakkhantiyā, mā bhabbarūpatāya, mā samaṇo no garū ti. yadā tumhe kālāmā attanā va jāneyyātha: ime dhammā akusalā, ime dhammā sāvajjā, ime dhammā viññūgarahitā, ime dhammā samattā samādinnā ahitāya dukkhāya saṃvattantī ti. atha tumhe kālāmā pajaheyyāthā ti iti yaṃ taṃ vuttaṃ idam etaṃ paṭicca vuttaṃ, A I 190.
 etha tumhe kālāmā mā anussavena, mā paramparāya, mā itikirāya, mā piṭakasampadānena, mā takkahetu, mā nayahetu, mā ākāraparivitakkena, mā diṭṭhinijjhānakkhantiyā, mā bhabbarūpatāya, mā samaṇo no garū ti. yadā tumhe kālāmā attanā va jāneyyātha, ime dhammā kusalā, ime dhammā anavajjā, ime dhammā viññuppasatthā, ime dhammā samattā samādinnā hitāya sukhāya saṃvattantī ti. atha tumhe kālāmā upasampajja vihareyyātha, A I 190.
 iti kho kālāmā yaṃ taṃ avocumha: etha tumhe kālāmā mā anussavena, mā paramparāya, mā itikirāya, mā piṭakasampadānena, mā takkahetu, mā nayahetu, mā ākāraparivitakkena, mā diṭṭhinijjhānakkhantiyā, mā bhabbarūpatāya, mā samaṇo no garū ti. yadā tumhe kālāmā attanā va jāneyyātha: ime dhammā kusalā, ime dhammā anavajjā, ime dhammā viññūppasatthā, ime dhammā samattā samādinnā hitāya sukhāya saṃvattantī ti. atha tumhe kālāmā upasampajja vihareyyāthā ti iti yaṃ taṃ vuttaṃ idam etaṃ paṭicca vuttaṃ, A I 191-92; compare to S IV 138-9.
 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.
 api ca bhāradvāja, susaddahitaṃ yeva hoti, tañ ca hoti rittaṃ tucchaṃ musā, no cepi susaddahitaṃ hoti, bhūtaṃ tacchaṃ anaññathā. api ca bhāradvāja, surucitaṃ yeva hoti. tañ ca hoti rittaṃ tucchaṃ musā, no cepi surucitaṃ hoti, bhūtaṃ tacchaṃ anaññathā. api ca bhāradvāja, svānussutaṃ yeva hoti. tañ ca hoti rittaṃ tucchaṃ musā, no cepi svānussutaṃ hoti, bhūtaṃ tacchaṃ anaññathā. api ca bhāradvāja suparivitakkitaṃ yeva hoti. tañ ca hoti rittaṃ tucchaṃ musā, no cepi suparivitakkitaṃ hoti. api ca bhāradvāja sunijjhāyitaṃ yeva hoti tañ ca hoti rittaṃ tucchaṃ musā, no cepi sunijjhāyitaṃ hoti, bhūtaṃ tacchaṃ anaññathā, M II 170-71.
 evaṃ me diṭṭhi-nijjhānakhantī iti vadaṃ 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, evaṃ me diṭṭhinjjhānakhantī ti iti vadaṃ saccam anurakkhati, na tveva tāva ekaṃsena niṭṭhaṃ gacchati : idam eva saccaṃ, mogham aññanti, M II 171).
 ajānaṃ vā vadeyya jānāmī ti, apassaṃ vā vadeyya passāmī ti, M II 171.
 paraṃ vā tadatthāya samādapeyya yaṃ paresaṃ assa dīgharattaṃ ahitāya dukkhāyā ti, M II 172-3.
 dhammaṃ deseti, gambhīro so dhammo duddaso duranubodho santo paṇīto atakkāvacaro nipuṇo paṇḍitavedanīyo, M II 172-3.
 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.
 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).
 kāyena ceva paramasaccaṃ sacchikaroti. paññāya ca naṃ ativijjha passati, M II 174.
 Stream-attainment is realised (Bhikkhu Bodhi, The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, p. 1301, note 892).
 dhammānaṃ āsevanā bhāvanā bahulīkammā saccānupatti hoti, M II 174. Arahantship realised.