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Interfaith and Discerning Truth | Antelope Valley Interfaith Council

Michele Chavez, Nichiren Shu Buddhism

I love interfaith because when I listen to others speak about their faith traditions, there is always something beautiful that I find within each of them. I know that many people like to believe that they have the one and only way, the Truth, and that nothing else is worth listening to or learning from.

How do we decide what religious teachings have value and which do not?

Back in the time of the Buddha, there were many ascetics and roving preachers who declared they had the Truth. In the area of Kesaputta, the native Kalamas found this plethora of different philosophies and doctrines to be quite confusing. Having heard something about the Buddha, when he arrived in Kesaputta, the Kalamas decided to ask him how they could tell what was true and who to follow:

“There are, Lord, some ascetics and brahmins who come to Kesaputta. They explain and elucidate their own doctrines, but disparage, debunk, revile and vilify the doctrines of others. But then some other ascetics and brahmins come to Kesaputta, and they too explain and elucidate their own doctrines, but disparage, debunk, revile and vilify the doctrines of others. For us, Lord, there is perplexity and doubt as to which of these good ascetics speak truth and which speak falsehood?”

“It is fitting for you to be perplexed, O Kalamas, it is fitting for you to be in doubt. Doubt has arisen in you about a perplexing matter. Come, Kalamas. Do not go by oral tradition, by lineage of teaching, by hearsay, by a collection of scriptures, by logical reasoning, by inferential reasoning, by a reflection on reasons, by the acceptance of a view after pondering it, by the seeming competence of a speaker, or because you think: ‘The ascetic is our teacher.’ But when you know for yourselves, ‘These things are unwholesome, these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; these things if undertaken and practiced lead to harm and suffering’, then you should abandon them.”

“What do you think, Kalamas? When greed, hatred and delusion rise in a person, is it for his welfare or harm?” – “For his harm, Lord.” – “Kalamas, a person who is greedy, hating and deluded, overpowered by greed, hatred, and delusion, his thoughts controlled by them, will destroy life, take what is not given, engage in sexual misconduct and tell lies; he will also prompt others to do likewise. Will that conduce to his harm and suffering for a long time?” – “Yes, Lord.”

What do you think, Kalamas? Are these things wholesome or unwholesome?” – “Unwholesome, Lord” – “Blamable or blameless?” – “Blamable, Lord.” – “Censured or praised by the wise?” – “Censured, Lord.” – “Undertaken and practiced, do they lead to harm and suffering or not, or how is it in this case?” – “Undertaken and practiced, these things lead to harm and suffering. So it appears to us in this case.”

“What do you think, Kalamas? When non-greed, non-hatred and non-delusion arise in a person, is it for his welfare or harm?” – “For his welfare, Lord.” – “Kalamas, a person who is without greed, without hatred, without delusion, not overpowered by greed, hatred and delusion, his thoughts not controlled by them, will abstain from the destruction of life, from taking what is not given, from sexual misconduct and from false speech; he will also prompt others to do likewise. Will that conduce to his welfare and happiness for a long time?” – “Yes, Lord.”

“What do you think, Kalamas? Are these things wholesome or unwholesome?” – “Wholesome, Lord.” – “Blamable or blameless?” – “Blameless, Lord.” – “Censured or praised by the wise?” – “Praised, Lord.” – “Undertaken and practiced, do they lead to welfare and happiness or not, or how is it in this case?” – “Undertaken and practiced, these things lead to welfare and happiness. So it appears to us in this case.”

“It was for this reason, Kalamas, that we said: Do not go by oral tradition, by lineage of teaching, by hearsay, by a collection of scriptures, by logical reasoning, by inferential reasoning, by a reflection on reasons, by the acceptance of a view after pondering it, by the seeming competence of a speaker, or because you think: ‘The ascetic is our teacher.’ But when you know for yourselves, ‘These things are wholesome, these things are blameless; hese things are praised by the wise; these things, if undertaken and practiced lead to welfare and happiness’, then you should engage in them.” (Numerical Discourses of the Buddha, p. 65-66)

Instead of relying upon the credentials of the teacher, long lineages, supposedly logical reasoning, holy books, or the like, the Buddha recommended knowing for oneself based on direct observation and common sense using the criteria of wholesomeness, welfare, and happiness.

When I attend interfaith services, I find elements of all of the above expressed by the members who share their faith traditions. Rather than sway me from my own inner sense of what is true and wholesome, I have been struck by the beauty and truth in other faiths, which has strengthened my own faith.

How we discern truth without experience and knowledge of the myriad faiths and philosophies that abound within our valley? We cannot. We must learn from one another to discern what is wholesome, what is blameless, and what leads to welfare and happiness.

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