The Buddha gave the much loved Kalama Sutta that questions authority. Here is the Totnes Sutta with the same principle.
The Kalama Sutta
(Sutta means discourse)
The Kalama people told the Buddha they were perplexed by the different spiritual/religious views. He replied: “It is fitting for you to be perplexed. Doubt has arisen in you about a perplexing matter.”
Then the Buddha gave to the Kalama people of north India a discourse. This discourse constitutes one of his most loved statements endorsing our capacity to question authority.
His list of 10 Questionable views.
He said “Do not accept anything because:
Of repeated oral transmission
Of lineage or tradition
It has been widely stated
It has been written in books, such as scriptures
It is logical and reasonable
Of inferring and drawing conclusions
It has been thought out
Of acceptance and conviction through a theory
The speaker appears competent
Of respect for the teacher”
The Totnes Sutta
12 Questionable Views
Forgive me but I have called this the Totnes Sutta since our beloved Totnes is an epi-centre for a variety of spiritual views from teachers from the Advaita, Buddhist and Yoga traditions who come to speak in Totnes, Devon, England and elsewhere. Readers who have a wealth of spiritual experiences may find themselves wondering about the names of the spiritual teachers referred to in this list of questionable views. You may think this wallah refers to certain teachers from Burma, California, Canada, continental Europe, England, India, Thailand or Tibet. You are probably right. The thought did cross my mind to refer by name to some of those who offer such teachings below. I have adopted an impersonal view. The Buddha may or may not have approved since he frequently named those teachers whose views he questioned. You may know some or most of those who I am writing about. So do I.
In alphabetical order:
1. All paths lead to the goal. Spirituality suffers from those who cling to the view that all paths lead to the goal. This is the ego of broadmindedness. The identification with this broad view might generate warm, pleasing feelings but has nothing to do with insight and wisdom. The ego of broadmindedness is irrelevant. There is no collective agreement about the different paths. There is no collective agreement about the goal. There is no collective agreement that there is a path and goal. To claim all paths lead to the goal shows just another view without a scrap of evidence.
2. Everything is One. People become understandably tired of separation, distances and gaps between one and another, this and that. A deep experience of oneness is important. This spiritual ideology of oneness or wholeness has an appeal as an answer to twoness or separation. A temporary escape into oneness does not resolve twoness, the issue of problematic separation. The absence of inquiry into causes and conditions generate conclusions about separation and oneness, division and wholeness. Neither conclusion is worth taking up as if the conclusion had any absolute existence. At times, we welcome separation. We wish to be alone. The clinging to the experience of oneness, of wholeness, can put us firmly out of touch with the truth of suffering and its causes and conditions.
3. Gurus and views. A sign of the guru shows when he (mostly) becomes the subject of conversation rather than the teaching. A discussion can consistently focus on what he said or his presence rather than any exploration itself and its application into daily life. Whether heavy or light, serious or playful, certain gurus feed on the attention given to themselves while offering very little in the way of the practical. Questionable gurus range from those who engage in the foolish eye staring technique (sometimes referred to as eye fu.king), to those who lean towards heaping verbal violence on devotees in the name of tough love. There are those gurus who always come across as positive and pleasing that gains them popularity at the expense of the Deep. There are those who behave, dress and sit in such a way to encourage a devotional attitude. These types of gurus rarely establish new gurus as it might take attention away from themselves. Wise and skilful gurus do not fit into the above categories.
4. Instant enlightenment. There are those who offer a quick fix to the human condition. You are Consciousness. You are Pure Being. You are what you have been searching for. You are That. Hundreds of Western teachers make claims to enlightenment through a particular experience. Ethics, power, money, personal and global issues go unexamined. There is as much freedom in this instant enlightenment as a beautiful canary in a cage. The grasp onto a specific experience as enlightenment will then become the block to fresh insights, realisations and vision. It is the way of life, the way of wisdom that matters not claims to what happened to “me” in the past or what confirmed “no me” in the past.
5. Repetition of the same method and technique. Under the persuasive powers of their spiritual teacher, practitioners can spend years repeating the same old method and technique. In time, the practitioner develops a resistance to change. They sincerely believe that repetition of a spiritual habit is the way to the Goal. The continuity of habit only leads to the continuity of habit. Method and technique emerge from mental constructs. Those who cling to the so called pristine purity of their technique will often make unprovable claims to its history and origins. Any holding onto a single method acts as a shadow over the full range of exploration including livelihood, attitudes, communication, lifestyle, varieties of meditation and much more. How can the constructed technique, even though it brings certain benefits, lead to profound wisdom in life issues? How can the constructed lead to the Unconstructed?
6. The Now. Human beings have the capacity for a vision and exploration that goes deep into the past and can explore causes and conditions for outcomes in the future, both personal and global. Those who live in the Now can show irresponsibility, naivety and an incapacity for inquiry as well as a neglect of compassion. Some gurus hold to the view that Being in the Now is enlightenment. You can get stuck in Being and stuck in Now. The view that we always dwell in the Now, all of the time, has very little significance. It is a spiritual oneliner. Our direct experience tells us that at times we abide grounded in the present moment. At times, we consciously move our attention to the past for learning and for insight. Due to desire, clinging and habit, we find ourselves pulled into the past against our deeper wishes. The same principle applies to the future. It is not worthwhile to give Being or the Now a transcendent status. These two concepts are mere labels obscuring the dynamics of the present while the dynamics lack any essence, any being. Grasping to Being or to Now can become an avoidance mechanism from seeing the emptiness of such concepts.
7. The Only Way. Spirituality suffers from those who cling to the mental construct of the only way. This is the ego of narrow-mindedness. Those who cling to their teacher, method, guru, tradition, belief or enlightenment will find themselves in dispute with others. Clinging to view corrupts the inner life, communication and functions as the primary condition for divisions, sectarianism and cults. A practitioner may have a preference for a particular way of practice but to elevate a trust into a view that this is the only way reveals a blind spot. No way is worth clinging to.
8. The seeker is a belief in a separate entity. Such teachers claim the seeker is simply just another manifestation of wholeness. If a person grasps onto this view, it leaves him or her in a state of inner paralysis. You cannot do anything. You cannot seek. You cannot question. The gurus employ this specious argument against seeking while submissive devotees nod their head in approval. An hour after satsang (meeting with the guru) the guru might go online seeking for information or go the supermarket seeking for a food item or seek information from someone on the street for the nearby toilet. Why rubbish the spiritual seeker and preserve every other kind of seeker? We can tell ourselves until the holy cows come home that the seeker is a belief in a separate entity but that won’t stop seeking. We may even experience the seeker as wholeness. So? Separation and wholeness constitute labels. The exploration of the seeker, the seeking and the sought deserves wise attention without denial of their function in the vast scheme of things.
9. The Single Experience. Some offer the tantalising prospect of a defining single experience. If everybody had such an experience, the teacher thinks that the world would be full of enlightened beings like himself or herself. Such an experience may transform the inner life but may not provide any insight whatsoever into the suffering on the Earth, nor clear comprehension on matters on application of ethics, values, resources, a moderate lifestyle or the skilful love movement of love and compassion into social, corporate or political institutions. The single experience is not worth clinging to. Those who think they have arrived have set a limit to the limitless. Those who think they haven’t arrived have set a limit to the limitless.
10. The Spiritual Ego. If we lock ourselves into a framework of spiritual language, we become so thick skinned that we cannot listen to others. Our spiritual ego becomes a fixation refusing to get into any kind of discourse with those of a different view or rejecting another kind of language or approach. We then cling onto certain experiences that we think confirm our enlightenment. It is easy to fall into the spiritual pit of self-deception and that leads to the deception of others. We need to be mindful of whether we feed the spiritual ego without realising it. We can also pick up the spiritual ego in another, especially teachers, even if teachers claim they are not “teachers.” This claim can also express a form of spiritual ego.
11. There is no person to achieve anything. The clinging to a view of no person or no self tends to generate confusion and perplexity. If there is no person, no self, then this becomes a cold, reductionist argument. For example, the Buddha commented that a person could take a huge sword and cleave another’s head in half. Since there is no person, it would mean that the killer only splits the elements of the head since you can only kill a person. At times, it is wise to acknowledge another as a human being with the ethics, love and kindness that can come from such acknowledgement. At times, it is wise to see the unfolding process in an impersonal light. There is no hierarchy in the capacity to see the person or the capacity to see the process. Love and wisdom are the guidelines.
12. There is nothing you can do to realise enlightenment or You can only reach the goal through constant effort and striving. If the spiritual teacher honestly believes the first view, then he (mostly) has the duty to tell all those who come to listen to their teachings that they should not return to listen again. If one believes the second view it will generate for the practitioner tension, will power and he or she could end up with a mental breakdown. To leave one’s home to attend a public talk on non-doing, non-action, is to do something. The person is doing something namely making a journey from A to B int in the name of spiritual interest. If there is nothing to do, then that view must apply across the board to everything, not just spiritual matters. If there is nothing we can do, we will be pushed and pulled around by our tendencies. Those who push themselves could be building up a spiritual ego to impress themselves or impress others. Those who are against any kind spiritual activity or engagement remain untrue to their belief. Such teachers are doing something. They talk with others who they encourage to do something for him or her – namely organise a public talk or whatever. Such teachers, themselves, are doing a lot as they travel from one city to another. There is also plenty that we cannot do. We cannot perform miracles that defy the laws of nature. You cannot always get what you want. (This must be true. Mick Jagger said so). Some who cling to the ideology of abundance will claim: “The Universe always provides. The Universe will provide.” Oh such self delusion. Ask one billion hungry people on the Earth what they think of this view that the Universe always provides. There is also plenty we can do in the name of spirituality. We can look deep into ourselves. We can explore fresh perspectives on every important daily issue for a start. There is a middle way between ‘nothing you can do” and “you have always to strive hard to reach enlightenment.”
Be mindful and clearly comprehend what contributes to suffering,
past, present or future
Be mindful and clearly comprehend the limits due to holding onto views.
Know the wisdom of liberation and limitless love through non-clinging.