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Are users allowed to criticize other schools of Buddhism, and/or other views? When they do, are there rules or guidelines? What does it take to make 'right speech': what's OK and what's not OK?

For example:

  • In this answer, Robin111 said she was uncomfortable with some (unspecified) criticisms:

    This is an important issue. Lack of any timely moderator action back in January, when I was struggling with a particular highly opinionated user who was leaving comments criticizing certain schools of Buddhism around the site, was troubling enough to me that I pulled way back on participating in the site at all. I believe some of the comments I flagged were eventually removed; but it was clear that, at that time, no one was actively moderating on a regular basis and the site was beginning to feel like the "wild west" where anything goes.

  • I flagged one of the comments to this answer as "rude or offensive": and my flag was declined (by a moderator) i.e. the comment allowed to stay. Perhaps I have a lower tolerance for conflict. As things turned out, I think that Methexis replied to the comments well; and the net result, of allowing the comment to remain and be replied to, was that his description of Shin Buddhism was even clearer than before.

  • In this answer, MatthewMartin said "no one is helped by being reminded that one branch of Buddhism disagrees with the very premise of your question" and that therefore a specialist forum might be preferable to a "general Buddhist forum" like this one:

    After you pick a form of Buddhism you like, (or not), you'd want to pick a specialist forum (e.g. specifically Zen or Dzochen or what have you). I often felt like I got into unproductive discussions on general Buddhist forums because they were giving an answer from, say a Vajrayana viewpoint, when I was looking for an answer from the Chinese or Secular viewpoint. Learning about all the branches is great, but no one is helped by being reminded that one branch of Buddhism thinks the very premise of your question is, oh I don't know, either superstition or contemptible scientism.

In summary:

  • Argument or hostility might be perceived as unpleasant and drive away other users
  • But, discussions may be helpful (i.e. help to clarify a view or an explanation)

Currently, people's expectations/tolerance presumably varies, from person to person; and maybe even from country to country (for example, the USA has a unusually robust "free speech" ethos).

Are there specific 'lines' or rules that the phrasing of a discussion mustn't cross? When should a moderator delete a critical comment, for example? Is it even possible to have defined 'rules', or must it be subjective/arbitrary (decided by the moderator's discretion on a case-by-case basis)? Are people allowed to express strong opposition to a view or practice which they disagree with?

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I have three suggestions.

'I' messages

Some people (relationship counsellors) recommend using so-called "I-messages" for conflict resolution: when there's potential conflict, talk about "I" instead of about "You". For example, "I don't understand what you're saying" is less hostile than "You are not talking sense" or "You are stupid".

Offer your experience

This essay is long and a bit dreamy (and written in 1986) but I like it. It claims there's a language (or dialect) of science and objectivity, politics ... and another of feeling, caring sharing, interpersonal relationships.

Educated people might state their opinion as if it's fact:

Buddhism is this! Buddhism is that! Nothing else makes sense! Other people are wrong!

There's this paragraph from that essay,

Early this spring I met a musician, the composer Pauline Oliveros, a beautiful woman like a grey rock in a streambed; and to a group of us, women, who were beginning to quarrel over theories in abstract, objective language - and I with my splendid Eastern-women's-college training in the father tongue was in the thick of the fight and going for the kill - to us, Pauline, who is sparing with words, said after clearing her throat, "Offer your experience as your truth." There was a short silence. When we started talking again, we didn't talk objectively, and we didn't fight. We went back to feeling our way into ideas, using the whole intellect not half of it, talking with one another, which involves listening. We tried to offer our experience to one another. Not claiming something: offering something.

That more-or-less fits in with this answer which says that subjective answers require evidence.

Also there's a difference between "offering" someone something and requiring/expecting them to accept it.

And "your truth" and "my truth", "your experience" and "my experience": maybe we can share them.

Ask questions

I think it sounds less aggressive to assume that disagreement is because of some temporary/fixable ignorance or misunderstanding, and to phrase that misunderstanding of yours as a question. Phrases like "I don't understand X." or "What about Y? How does Y work, assuming that Z is true?" are more likely to be constructive.

Also this is a Q+A site. Right speech is about being timely. People who post on this site might expect Q+A: Q+A (asking questions) is timely and appropriate and expected.

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Thank you for bringing up this issue. The thread you linked is similar to the one that I found troubling; though as you noted, Methexis quite skillfully navigated the criticisms to his practices in that thread. But should he have had to?

This was the thread I found troubling here. Here's an excerpt:

@Ahmed, you are welcome to study and practice the tradition of Buddhism that appeals to you; but it's divisive and not proper on this site to proclaim someone else's tradition as a scam or religious hijacks. Requesting moderator to remove your comment. – Robin111 Jan 12 at 12:59

@Robin111 The religion the we all practice, Shakyamuni's Buddhism has as its basic tenet self-experiment and the Four Noble Truths. Any sect, which goes against those foundational rules saying they are not necessary, is no longer defineable as Buddhism. Similarly, there are extremist sects within Islam and Christianity, which have veered far off the basic agenda that the founders established. Thus, the original religion gets blamed for the sect's idiosyncrosies, ignorance, and even pathological actions (e.g. terrorist actions). Do you see the principle? Do you see the parallel? – Ahmed Jan 12 at 17:57

That's quite a leap. You are entitled to your opinion. However this site has not defined particular schools of Buddhism as valid and others as invalid. This is a Q & A site. Not an opinion based forum. – Robin111 Jan 12 at 18:01

This was during a time when our moderators were not active and only two of us regular members seemed to be concerned about the tone these comments (which were being left on multiple posts) were setting.

My view is that we need to treat all members of our community with dignity and respect and that includes not attacking their schools as scams or their practices and beliefs as invalid.

It's fine to ask a question as long as it's done respectfully. It's not fine to opine negatively about other peoples practices and beliefs. That's a slippery slope. Buddhism has a wide variety of traditions. As strongly as we all may privately feel about our own traditions being the best; publicly putting others traditions down is rude.

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  • Yes, "It's fine to ask a question" matches Thiago's answer. – ChrisW Apr 19 '15 at 23:21
  • @ChrisW, yes there is some good stuff in Thiago's answer and in yours. The main thing is that people treat one another respectfully. In an atmosphere of respect even disagreement needn't be disagreeable. :) The problem arises when people feel comfortable being demeaning and rude to others. That's rare on this site, but it can't be tolerated when it does occur. – Robin111 Apr 19 '15 at 23:55
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I really, really like the "let's chat" feature. It just drives the tension elsewhere, far from the spotlights, something not possible in the traditional forums.

but I seem to be digressing...

I think it would be very difficult to have a higher bar for cordiality. We can spot keywords like "stupid" and "ignorant" which clearly denounce rudeness. And even in such situations, asking for politeness might be better than deleting.

Moreover, in the Shin thread mentioned, I think I would hesitate to delete the comment. I'd feel more inclined to comment in an attempt to direct the critic to transform his perplexity into a question about Shin doctrine.

[additionally]

Are people allowed to express strong opposition to a view or practice which they disagree with?

I think it depends on "strong", or how this opposition is expressed. I suspect we can all agree it is possible to be cordial on the things we disagree, even if these are very at the heart of a tradition.

In this sense, I think question that brings to light oppositions can be presented respectfully, eg "how is this doctrine to be understood in light of this sutta? Doesn't it contradict it? Why/Why not?"

I also think we can comment our oppositions cordially, like "I hesitate to accept doctrine X, as I have trouble conciliating it with doctrine Y".

These are expressions of oppositions, and I find them not only harmless, but educated and inspiring.

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  • "Let's chat" doesn't usually happen automatically. On other sites I've seen, a moderator will sometimes make people take it chat: the moderator creates a chat room, moves existing comments to the room, deletes comments from the question or answer, and leaves a comment saying "Let us continue this discussion in chat." Chat's OK but not a cure-all. It solves the problem of long discussions (leaving the site looking clean for new readers) but doesn't especially solve hostility/tension. – ChrisW Apr 19 '15 at 22:31
  • Yeah, that's right. I've given some extra thought on the hostility subject... – Thiago Apr 19 '15 at 22:52
  • Yes, I think that asking an actual question keeps an open mind and an open conversation. – ChrisW Apr 19 '15 at 23:44
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My tuppence:

One principle of Buddhism that is difficult to convey is that there is no superiority of any one thing over another, except in situational circumstances. We each want the best, but the truth is that everything is situational at best.

We can't simply accept that there are differences and delight in the differences because of competition. This principle of competition is actually encouraged in some branches of Christianity (notably, Catholicism, Mormonism, and most Protestant faiths) who all want to demonstrate that they have "more truth" than the others. But really, "more truth" is a matter of perspective and personal experience.

In Buddhism, even among learned monks, I have observed that there is a competition of "I have more truth than you," or "I'm more enlightened than you are" if we want to be more direct. We all have the same truth; yet we all are bound by our own experiences to interpret that truth. Such competition is merely a means of furthering egocentrism, and is the hidden self (which we now call 'ego'), seeking to further our individual survival in a situation where survival is not at stake.

Competition is specifically one of the first things I learned about in my Buddhist studies. I observe it everywhere, because it's built into human nature. When we haven't overcome it, we look down on other perspectives and points of view. When we have overcome it, we embrace and take positive joy in the different way of looking at things.

So it's okay that these people look down on other viewpoints. It simply means that they themselves have not overcome their need to compete, and does not really fairly reflect on the whole of any particular path. All paths are good, but each must apply situationally to the needs of the practitioner, or it's not the right one for them.

Hope this gives a new perspective. :)

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