What questions can and/or shouldn't we ask about other or different traditions of Buddhism? For example, what about the question, From the perspective of Theravada is SGI considered a cult?

  • SGI is an organization, not a school... Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 4:06
  • @yuttadhammo I'm confused about which word to use generally: school, tradition, lineage, sect, branch, doctrine, teaching, group, vehicle. I called it a "school" because it maybe it's teaching something. Should I use a term "organization" for SGI even if that's not a generally appropriate word (i.e. would I use "organization" for Theravada)? Is "tradition" a word I could always use?
    – ChrisW Mod
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 4:17
  • Eh, maybe you're right... I'm thinking of the corporation that spreads the religion. I guess they use them interchangeably. Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 4:19
  • fwiw their 'About Us' says, "lay Buddhist movement" and "network".
    – ChrisW Mod
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 7:40

4 Answers 4


Oh, I just wrote a few words in another thread. I guess I'll just copy it here:

I'd like to elaborate on a specific question: From the perspective of Theravada is SGI considered a cult? .

I'll leave aside what was my initial concern: that the literal question is putting a sect against another. To this end, I'll just re-interpret it as asking if "SGI is a cult".

I'm not sure what is the general feeling of the word "cult" in a different language than english and different countries. But, in english, I fail to see this word being put to use and do any better than scream for flame wars or blur even more a blurry topic (with the added feature called "strong emotions").

Yes, it's a foggy word with a foggy meaning. This alone is already something to personally judge the value of a question (and off we go with our up and down votes), but it's game. As far as lack of strong definitions go, we are only dealing with a foggy question whose possible answers may or may not be foggy as well, and we have instruments to work these out (comments, edits, etc).

But that's just not the case here. "cult" is not just a subjective term. And when put into context (that is, in light of how this word is socially perceived), the question comes as a simplistic ad hominem. What comes next should be hardly a surprise to anyone. After all, at this point, we don't have a harmless foggy question that may or may not harvest much value. What we have is terrain for discord, for an endless debate trying to fit in the miniature spaces of comments. I meant the endless part: someone is bound to visit it years from now, and write rants against either side.

Just to make myself clear, I have no problems with making or welcoming unconfortable questions -- quite the contrary, actually. I'm all support for those types of questions here. I also don't have any specific alergies reacting to long discussions on a question or answer -- many might be quite interesting, even if S.E. discourages this kind of use.

I have two main points to bring to attention to justify this kind of question as inappropriate (in the "flag" sense, to be closed).

  1. The question is of divisive nature (as pointed out by @Robin111 in comments). I understand that's not good either from the buddhist perspective or S.E. perspective, very basic thing, respect...
  2. Because of (1), its actual and potential values are undermined. At the end, what have/can we learned about SGI in this thread (other than from the singular efforts of @ChrisW, at least...)?

If one is concerned about the feel of the community around this site one might as well add to the list of reasons (after all, Buddhism S.E. have been compared to Soviet Union once...).

Probably unnecessary to bring up but, naturally, if we abandon the re-interpretation above and bring back the fact that the question is asking for a sect to judge if the other sect is bananas, I believe there is a third reason to not accept such questions.


The question From the perspective of Theravada is SGI considered a cult? is 'primarily opinion-based', and not a good question (not a question which encourages helpful answers)

It's opinion-based for two reasons:

  • By asking for, it justifies opinion-based answers: the "Theravada perspective" is expert about the Theravada tradition, and less likely to be knowledgeable on the practices of SGI.

  • It explicitly excludes more expert answers: because an expert answer about SGI, from an SGI perspective and by an SGI practitioner, would be off-topic.

Ask about their perspective

If you wanted to know more about SGI then you could ask, instead, "what is the SGI perspective"? Conversely if you have already decided, that you already know enough about SGI to make up your mind, then don't ask: you needn't disguise a statement as a question!

Assuming you're biased towards (or more knowledgeable about) any particular tradition to begin with, even so if you ask about another tradition you might prefer to phrase that question as if you were a student of (i.e. trying to learn more about or clear your misunderstandings of) that other tradition.

There are maybe, for example several other questions which could have been asked instead:

  • Ask what 'a true Buddha' means: in the Lotus Sutra; from the perspective of Nichiren's own writings; from the perspective of Nichiren's disciples; and from the perspective of SGI.

    Ask for an explanation of any specific, genuine direct quote that interests you; for example the following sentence appears in the SGI dictionary:

    Nichiren is regarded as the teacher of the true cause, and Shakyamuni as the teacher of the true effect

    Questions could include: What's meant by 'true cause' instead of 'true effect'? What's the doctrinal/literary basis for saying this? Do we understand why its original author wrote this? Does that affect the reasons for which and/or the ways in which Buddhism is practised?

    Asking about a direct quote is better than asking about a misquote, a misunderstanding, or asking about some angry paraphrase of whatever they have and/or haven't taught you.

  • Ask about a practice: what explanation does SGI give for chanting? What effect is it meant to have? Is asking about an "effect" even the right question to ask?

  • Ask about a similar practice from the perspective of another tradition: does Theravada practice chanting? For what reason / intention / effect?

C vs Pascal type discussions are banned

I recommend what Andrei said in reply to another question, Which type of Buddhism is for me?

I'm afraid this will be like comparative-religion questions, answers coming from limited perspectives of mostly being familiar with "my" school and assuming it to be better ("truer") than others. If we assume that what type of Buddhism is better for you depends on you, then we could ask this as [etc.]


But you know that C vs Pascal type discussions are banned on all forums since 90s? :) The fact that question can be answered well, does not mean it will be answered well. A good question has an incline, so its answers naturally turn out good. A bad question is inclined toward flamewars, and takes extra effort and wisdom to answer well. Like that question about faith in B vs. C which I had to save.

In summary we should beware of asking questions which ask for direct comparisons of different traditions. We should especially beware of questions which ask for one tradition's "perspective" on another.

Part of what may have caused this question was the OP's reacting to some alleged claim by SGI that SGI's tradition is better than other traditions. I think that claim too is difficult to ask about well: and if you want to ask about you could ask for example, "What is good about SGI's doctrine?" or at least something more tactful than "Why is SGI's doctrine better than others?"

A bad question is inclined toward flamewars

I accept that this is a slightly artificial limitation. Even if Nichiren himself compared his doctrines with other earlier doctrines, for the sake of the "community" on Stack Exchange a question about comparisons should be asked carefully if at all.

FYI here are some highly-upvoted quotes from the corresponding policy of the Skeptics.SE site:

  • If someone wants to mock creationists, flat-earthers or vaccine-denialists he/she should just get a blog. This site should be objective and polite, as Robert explained in his excellent answer.

  • "Hostile or mocking responses to untenable claims" equals a failed site. It's really as simple as that.

    Be nice.

    Treat others with the same respect you’d want them to treat you. We’re all here to learn together. Be tolerant of others who may not know everything you know. It's not optional or reserved for people you agree with; it is a basic tenet of the site. Any hostile behavior or ad hominem attacks should not be tolerated.

    The community should reject and down-vote disproportionate, mocking behavior towards any opposing ideas or people in the guise of making a VALID argument.

    [...] Otherwise, this site will fail.

    Trust me on this one: Users will leave this site in droves if its primary purpose is for members to pat each other on the back and tell each other how smart they are. That type of clique-ish behavior starts when "the best quip" or "best put-down" curries favor and popularity from the community. Don't encourage those activities with your support. The best way to respond is with a polite "We don't do that here."

    Let's keep the questions (and answers) canonical and authoritative. If you can resist the urge to browbeat those who hold opposing ideas (whether they're on this site or not), this site will thrive.

  • Well said. It's never reasonable to be hostile.


I suggest that all this is a reason why some questions could be closed:

Perhaps some questions should be closed until they're made more neutral (unbiased) in tone.

A possibility is:

  • Put the question on hold (five closed-votes by community, or flag it for a moderator to close)
  • Optionally create a topic here on meta to discuss how to improve that question
  • Optionally if (after) it has been edited/improved, then it can be reopened (five reopen votes by community, or reopened by moderator)
  • "Ask about their perspective" is right. I was lazy in creating the question but I can definitely break up my conclusive, loaded question about SGI into several questions or one long, thorough one referencing their source materials...
    – Ahmed
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 17:13
  • Thank you. I don't know whether there are any SGI practioners reading the site; but there may be in the future.
    – ChrisW Mod
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 9:42

I've closed the question as "off-topic", rather than opinion based. It doesn't exactly seem opinion based, since I think there could ostensibly be a set of criteria by which a specific religious movement could be reasonably labelled a cult. I don't think such labelling has anything to do with Theravada Buddhism, or any Buddhism.

A part of me is concerned with censorship - obviously censorship of hate-based content is perfectly fine, but I'd like us to keep open the potential for asking tough questions like the one asking how godless Theravadins replace god. Suppose the question in question was worded "How does SGI defend their seemingly non-Buddhist doctrines like holding Nichiren to be the true Buddha and expiating karma through chanting a specific mantra?" Would it be a reasonable question then, and thus the offense here was to try and pit two schools of Buddhism against each other? Or do we want to avoid such pointed questions all together?

  • 1
    Well, "How does SGI defend" implies that it's being attacked, and "their seemingly non-Buddhist doctrines" implies that their doctrines seem non-Buddhist. Removing those and any similar words from the question, and just asking about "a true Buddha", "Nichiren", "karma", "mantra", would make the question more neutral. Also "pitting two schools" doesn't seem right: the "godless Theravadins" question is addressed to Theravadins, not asking for "theists' perspective on Theravadins". And "cult" is just a vague word as well as being vaguely rude, so it's unclear what it's asking.
    – ChrisW Mod
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 13:01
  • So I think that particular question was "unclear", and "primarily opinion-based", and "inappropriate for respectful discourse".
    – ChrisW Mod
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 13:04
  • I guess you're right... the word cult itself is too problematic. But how do we approach the issue of what is and what is not Buddhist? Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 13:08
  • If someone answers referencing a teacher who claims to be Hindu, I point that out in a comment (or flag it); but if a question is about a Yoga teacher who says they included Buddhist influences into their meditation curriculum, I don't complain. How about allowing questions about any tradition (or culture, or literature) which self-identifies as "Buddhist": would that cause problems? If Christians share a site, I'd like to think that Buddhists can as well (SGI are mentioned on Wikipedia's Buddhism page).
    – ChrisW Mod
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 13:56
  • 2
    The list on Wikipedia for Schools (and Movements) of Buddhism is huge. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schools_of_Buddhism. What is and isn't Buddhism is likely going to vary by whose answering that question. I think the acid test for a question for this site is if the person is actually seeking information or looking to push their own viewpoints.
    – Robin111
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 13:57
  • @ChrisW no, I suppose not. Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 14:11
  • There's an old Robustness Principle for computer protocols: "be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others". So permit a wide range of questions (including other schools), but try to be careful to stay on-topic when answering them (i.e. answer within the context of the question).
    – ChrisW Mod
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 14:12
  • 2
    An example of a question from a person looking for information: "Does the belief (or practice) of the School of X reconcile with early Buddhist teachings? Or is this a point of contention between the schools?" An example of a person pushing their own viewpoint. "Is School of X wrong because they believe Y?" Or "Is School of X a cult because they believe Y?" Skillful editing can probably turn a problematic question into one that facilitates respectful exchange.
    – Robin111
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 14:37

Any question can be asked as long as it's asked respectfully and objectively and fits standard SE criteria for questions. The problem with the question we're discussing is that is was framed neither respectfully nor objectively.

People with little or no knowledge of Buddhism may come to this site for information. The tone set on a site called Buddhism.SE can shape opinions of newcomers to Buddhism. Are we practicing Right Speech? (Granted it's a site about Buddhism, not a Buddhist site; but the majority of active participants in the site indicate in one way or another that they are practicing Buddhists and as such our behavior reflects on how Buddhism is practiced in daily life.)

We have not declared some traditions of Buddhism to be valid and others invalid. That was one of the first issues discussed on this site; whether to have separate sites for separate sects and the idea was immediately discarded as impractical. Theravada and Mahayana

I did not vote to close the referenced question. My reason for this is that the OP has formed a pattern of divisive input to this site and it's something we should address and determine how we will deal with a situation where a contributor has an ax to grind and uses the site to do this. Simply closing the question without addressing the underlying "agenda" issue would only result in more questions, answers, comments in the same vein. Following are some of his contributions to the site:

From: What is meant by Namu Amida Butsu and also Nam-myoho-renge-kyo?

...not someone who is practicing to achieve one's own salvation. To practice anything after the salvation-event is to not understand that event." I don't like this. It smells of the same Christian "we are already saved, you don't have to do anything but come to church and donate" nonsense. There are so many practical Right Speech and Right Livelihood elements to the orthodox Buddhist path that are eliminated in these newer "Buddhism"s. Also, this is not a good example of Pure Land Buddhism. For a good representation I reccommend the book "The Secrets of Chinese Buddhist Meditation." – Ahmed Jan 11 at 7:08

@Methexis How can a sect say say that the Buddhadharma is not necessary with ____? Maybe it can say that with the inclusion that one already studied and practice the other things but to have a special sect devoted to this practice... I hope the people being introduced to this practice already came from a background of heavy emphasis of Buddhist studies (cosmological, dharma, etc.) and sila and are not your typical old people scared of death and just making prayers and vows to squeeze their way into heaven... Although that still has some minor merit. – Ahmed Jan 13 at 21:04

From: Why can't a Buddha's power just save us already? Like Jesus

@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

@GottfriedHelms I am over this argument. You guys are not going to get it and in the end it comes down to my "rude" style of writing doesn't it? Which by the way is perfectly precise. "Scam" is denotatively the exact word to describe these Latter-day-Religious-Sects which use the Buddhadharma's name yet being cheat you entirely of it by saying studying the rest of the Buddhadharma is not necessary, pandering to old/weak people who do not wish to study Buddhism like the science that it is. – Ahmed Jan 14 at 16:29

I'm not trying to be Pollyanna here. But it's a slippery slope to start rudely criticizing the traditions that other people hold dear; both Buddhist traditions and religions outside of Buddhism. It's also jarring to read his comments that imply that certain schools of Buddhism are for the old, the weak, and the less intelligent.

Perhaps this should be a different thread. But this issue in it's entirety is something that should be reviewed to determine how we move forward.

  • If you flag these sort of comments, we can (and probably should) delete them. Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 12:36
  • Will do. Thanks. :)
    – Robin111
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 14:00

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