“It is proper for you, Kalamas, to doubt, to be uncertain; uncertainty has arisen in you about what is doubtful. Come, Kalamas. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias toward a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another’s seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, ‘The monk is our teacher.’ Kalamas, when you yourselves know: ‘These things are bad; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,’ abandon them.”
(From the Kalama Sutta)
When the Buddha visited a community, the Kalamas. He explained his method and it was all written in a text called The Kalama Sutta. During the conversations, the Kalamas asked him various questions, among which was one about questioning.
What is the way of Inquiry?
It all begins with questions. It’s really rare to hear that someone bumped into Buddhism or any other philosophy by accident. It usually starts with questions. Those questions represent the awakening of consciousness, they come from a desire to go beyond what has been fed to us for so long. Questions create doubt about dogmas and break apart stereotypes. And the thing is, once the questions start coming, they won’t stop any time soon.
Buddhism brings concepts that can be counter-intuitive or unknown to some of us. Unlike other religions, accepting these concepts as absolute truth goes against the teachings of the Buddha. Buddhism is a way of life that has to be experienced, it is not a truth that has to be memorized and perpetuated through repetition.
It all starts with why
There’s a phase when toddlers show up with the “why”, and parents almost go crazy during it. The way of inquiry brings alive the toddler inside you so you can keep questioning one thing after another. This is part of the concept of developing the right mind, which is a major component of the eightfold path.
I’ll make a suggestion from personal experience. Buddhism names 8 main sources of suffering. For this example, we will pick “Aging”. Why is it a necessary part of life? Why does it happen usually when we have the time to enjoy life? Why does the body respond in such harsh ways?
Each answer will lead to more questions. Why is it a necessary part of life? Because the body is perishable. What happens then? Why does it have to be a perishable vessel to fit the being under construction inside myself. See? Don’t rush. Baby steps. Each answer has to make sense. Picture yourself explaining that to your inner toddler.
The journey within
We have to make the way of inquiry something smooth and pleasant because it’s going to be with us on the whole journey of life. You’ll remain ignorant and won’t find any meaning in life, except surviving till the day you die just because you have to. Or you can take the way of inquiry.
The way is represented by a vivid and constant process of learning. The more you understand, the more you’ll realize how much you have yet to learn. It cannot be a frustrating exercise, but it has to be a challenging one. It will become one of the reasons for why you wake up every morning. It certainly is one of mine and the nice thing is that by watching me, my kids, my relatives, my friends I am then granted with a path of constant learning and loving.