I was reflecting on a craving I had for something addictive tonight while going to bed, and realized, "My notion of having 'just a little bit' of this addiction is just my relying on common sense... but common sense is no more common than horseradish is full of horses. Just because most people think, 'just a little' is always OK doesn't necessarily mean it's truly a sober, beneficial, or wise thing to do."

In any case, this reminded me of the Kalama Sutta, and I wondered what my version of relying falsely on common sense would be:

  1. "Therefore, did we say, Kalamas, what was said thus, '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 towards 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 good; these things are not blamable; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness," enter on and abide in them.

My guess is that common sense is a tempting thing to automatically defer to because it can combine every one of the unhelpful methods of inquiry into one. So then if people rely solely on common sense they basically just do whatever they want. Yet, it can sometimes also be the correct way of inquiry listed at the end of the Sutta. Am I correct?

3 Answers 3


I wondered what my version of relying falsely on common sense would be

I don't think I have enough clues about what "your version" is.

The only clue you gave was that it was related to "just a little" -- and related to that, one thing about addiction is that maybe experience isn't common/universal -- for example, some people can and do drink alcohol "just a little" and some people cannot. I've seen someone say, "I'm an alcoholic. That means, I can choose whether to have the first drink, but if I do it's the drink that decides to have the second." Someone who isn't an addict might not understand that, so "conventional wisdom" might not apply in that case.

My guess is that common sense is a tempting thing to automatically defer to because it can combine every one of the unhelpful methods of inquiry into one.

There's also the possibility that if something else is "tempting" -- e.g. the addictive experience -- then you might take any excuse to do that.

So then people basically just do whatever they want.

I see the sutta as recommending several criteria:

But when you know for yourselves: “These things are skillful, blameless, praised by sensible people, and when you undertake them, they lead to welfare and happiness”, then you should acquire them and keep them.’ AN 3.65

  • What you know for yourselves
  • Skillful
  • Blameless
  • Praised by the wise
  • Leading to welfare and sukha

The subtitle of the version you quoted -- "The Buddha's Charter of Free Inquiry" -- could perhaps be misinterpreted as "basically just do whatever they want".

But "praised by the wise" ... I suppose that common sense isn't common to different populations, for example for a group of addicts their "common sense" might be to continue/pursue their substance abuse.

Asking yourself also, "Is this praised by the wise?", presupposes that you know what "the wise" is or who some of them are -- which may be begging the question! -- but even so, "developing wisdom", and maybe "counting on the input from wise (spiritual) friends", is fairly integral to Buddhism, and so maybe don't be too surprised to find it here too.

  • Good answer, though I should clarify my argument that I wasn't saying that the Buddha's version of proper inquiry was doing whatever you want, but rather, if "common sense" is vaguely applied as a "panacea" as someone else's answer recommended against, one may end up just picking whatever behavior it is that they feel like doing in the moment. Mar 3 at 13:46
  • Edited my question according to my last comment. As far as more clues to how I define common sense, "common sense" I have seen as a pithy statement to shorten the vows and precepts, much like Christ's, "Love they neighbor" shortened the commandments, but common senses definition also changes according to what's convenient in trying times. "This isn't a serious drug..." "It helps me sleep to engage in this..." "Pleasure is normal. Enjoy life." So it can be either healthy conscience or in it's nefarious form, a deeply flawed rationalization. Mar 3 at 14:54
  • 2
    I found that if I'm addicted to something, if I allow any reason to tell myself that "one is okay", then the same reason holds again shortly afterwards for "another is okay -- one is okay, two is just another one", and so on. So to free of it I have to be "not one, not ever".
    – ChrisW
    Mar 3 at 15:07
  • Now that you mention it, I actually took the pithy statement out of context anyway. It wasn't just, "use common sense," but rather, "common sense and respect." Those two notions in tandem actually do sound a lot like Buddha's tenets of inquiry. Respecting oneself could be construed as not engaging in what you know will perpetuate problems for everyone. But also, specifically, those slogans about recovery do help. Mar 3 at 15:49

Human beings are makers and users of tools. Being creatures of habits, we will always use those tools we are more familiar, comfortable and experienced in. Common sense would be one of them; so are repeated hearing, tradition, rumours, relying on scriptures, surmise, axioms, specious or logical or illogical (i.e. superstitious) reasonings, biasness, deferring to others’ knowledge, authorities and so on. All these are merely tools.

But as a Buddhist, I think we do not believe that any tool is a panacea. That would be like a solution searching for a problem. Instead, I believe the first thing a Buddhist employ to any situation is awareness. Awareness if there is a problem and what is its nature whether obvious or hidden, internal or external, benign or insidious and so forth. Heightened awareness helps us to know a problem’s origins and its root causes and seeing what others tend to overlook.

The best example of this approach is the way the Buddha went about being aware of the problems with his life and those of others i.e. old age, illness and death. This is an approach for solving really stubborn issues that failed to yield to numerous attempts in the past until everyone more or less accept the situation as status quo. An example would be an awareness that the way to solve America’s traffic congestion is not to build more roads and highways but to commit to developing the infrastructure necessary for high speed rails. Another example would be an awareness that there is something psychologically comforting about our addictions i.e. they help us to bear with the unbearable. This will not end our addictions but point us towards acknowledging, accepting and dealing with that which is unbearable in our lives...perhaps, eventually an end to our addictions.

There is an appropriate time and place for any tool. If used in the wrong context, with the wrong target(s) or at the wrong time, it becomes a problem in itself. Similarly, awareness is a tool that needs to be utilized appropriately. Being constantly aware of the wrongs that another did to us in the past only create animosity and hatred within. Being aware of unskillful actions by others that are creating problems but not being able to correct them will only cause frustrations and anger. At such times, it might be more appropriate to be aware of the equanimous quality within our minds.

I believe failure to utilize our awareness appropriately can backfire on ourselves. One such situation is when we deliberately dial down our awareness i.e. ignore what is happening or indulge ourselves in order to distract and forget. This dulls our mind and gives rise to a state of ignorance.

Thus, I believe that mindfulness should be used to guide our awareness. A desire not to repeat past mistakes should drive our mindfulness. Finally, the desire not to suffer....for ourselves and our loved ones should be the motivation why we don't want to repeat our mistakes.


My guess is that common sense is a tempting thing to automatically defer to because it can combine every one of the unhelpful methods of inquiry into one.

From the Kalama Sutta we have the Buddha asking the Kalamas in common:

AN3.65:5.1: What do you think, Kālāmas?
AN3.65:5.2: Does greed come up in a person for their welfare or harm?”

And they answer in common:

AN3.65:6.1: “Harm, sir.”

Not all that is spoken in common makes sense. What the Buddha does here is teach skillful common sense:

AN3.65:17.1: “What do you think, Kālāmas, are these things skillful or unskillful?”

In this way "just a little" can be understood as "just a little skillful" or "just a little unskillful". The inquiry here is therefore an inquiry about alignment with what the Buddha teaches as skillful. Some common things are skillful, and some are not. Does that make common sense?

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    True, common sense can be skillful or unskillful. Similarly, greed can be skillful or unskillful. Indeed, the Buddha credit this ability to discern qualities into either skillful or unskillful (MN19) for helping him on the right path.
    – Desmon
    Mar 3 at 14:23

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