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Questions from Krishraj Rao continue to polarise the Stack Exchange community and to be systematically voted down and put on hold for reasons that are not clear to me. My guess is that there is institutional bias and prejudice at work here.

This question has been edited to be more appealing to the members of the community, but is still described as "divisive", though comments with negative comments have been left in place.

Why is this question divisive?

What is it about a question being "divisive" which is a bad thing?

@CrabBucket says "I do think it could be rephrased though to make it less contenious. Would you be willing to try to do that to stop it provoking negative reactions or drawing negative answers and comments? "

What is wrong with contentious questions?

  • Fair point thanks for asking. I'm pleased that someone is asking this and about this user who is as you say contentious. – Crab Bucket Sep 13 '15 at 7:19
  • I don't think @KrishnarajRao is contentious at all and I do not say it. I say the community is divided between a majority who want to silence him and a minority who answer his questions and get very polite and thankful notes in response. – Jayarava Sep 13 '15 at 7:27
  • I think that something like my answer to What are the aspects of Buddhism and it's scriptures that a Buddhist might not like to comment on? could have been posted as an answer to this question, so you might like to read that answer too. – ChrisW Sep 14 '15 at 12:13
  • I agree with Thiago that the problem with Krishnaraj's questions is that in general, many of them contain condescending insinuations like asking "apart from unquestioned faith in infallible ancient texts, what other basis do you have for believing in X?" – ruben2020 Sep 24 '15 at 17:33
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I edited the question and for the record, I don't want to silence any user on asking questions. Our biggest challenge here on Buddhism.SE has been to receive enough questions. It's our only underscored area on Area 51. (http://area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/45110?phase=beta) So more questions are good! In fact, we at one time were only receiving on average 2 questions per day, so this 5.6 per day is significant improvement and any user who contributes good questions helps us to meet the criteria needed to graduate to a full site.

Yesterday I edited 3 of Krishnaraj Rao's questions; two which had been closed and were subsequently re-opened with the edits and the 3rd which you've linked above. In the question linked above, there was a good question in there but phrases like "Other than unquestioned faith in the infallibility of ancient texts, is there any basis for...." may be interpreted as provocative as it implies a simplistic blind faith. Removing "unquestioned" and "infallible" didn't change the question, from what I can see, but it did remove the words which may be seen as mocking, disdainful, critical, or even trolling.

It's a democratic site. If people feel a question is mocking their tradition, practice, belief, are they going to upvote it? Not likely.

There is nothing wrong with skeptical questions, but a certain level of sensitivity that one is being skeptical of things others hold dear would be appreciated. Krishnaraj Rao has not objected to edits made and I take that as a good sign that we can find a balance here between people who see Buddhism from a scholarly PoV and people who know what they know from the experience of living and practicing Buddhism.

Be well. :)

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    I'm not sure how SE works, but from what you have said above, doesn't merely wanting to increase the counts of questions here, by encouraging non-quality and unnecessary questions, amount encouraging the other person go astray? In the Ananda Sutta SN 44.10 , the Buddha is seen not answering the question of Vacchagotta, with the intention of not leading him astray. Shouldn't this be the spirit of raising questions and answers on this site and not mere numbers? I feel that ignoring bad questions by leaving them unanswered with Metta for the person asking, may be a good approach. – kilocharlie Sep 14 '15 at 15:07
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    @KaKo, I should have been more specific. All SE sites want good questions. There are 5 typical reasons for closing a question, (listed under the Vote to Close option), duplicate, too broad, unclear what you are asking, off topic, and primarily opinion based. We as a site have also determined (in another meta question) that we don't want to "seed" questions and try to remake Wikipedia. So my reference to more questions should have been more specific to say more good questions. Thanks for pointing that out. :) – Robin111 Sep 14 '15 at 15:15
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    @KaKo, an important point is that this is not a Buddhist site; this is not a Sangha. This is a site about Buddhism and intended to inform all, Buddhists and Non Buddhists about Buddhism. Leaving questions unanswered does nothing to inform about Buddhism. So we (I think) try to find a balance. – Robin111 Sep 14 '15 at 15:24
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This and other Buddhist sites, be they in the Q&A format or discussion format, really don't have a good way to deal with people who are borderline hostile to Buddhism as a project-- this goes for both the Christians who want you to drop this religion and pick up theirs, and for areligious atheists that think all religions are parodies of the worst of what religion has to offer.

The later group-- people trying to make religion compatible with modern life, may have legit questions. How do we salvage the good parts of Buddhism once we realize that we just can't muster the faith to believe the impossible? But these people's questions look a lot alike the people who have already made up their mind that religion and Buddhism is all garbage.

This is even true for some critical academics like Glenn Wallis-- He's a professor at a Buddhist University, translated Pali texts, but with his Non-Buddhism project, somedays I can't tell if he wants to reform Buddhism and make it compatible with modern world views or if he just wants to burn it to the ground and replace it with French philosophy and poetry.

If the subtext of a hypothetical problematic question is "You guys are a bunch of infantile, superstitious, right wing, reactionary, nit wits, am I right or am I right?" Then we can't help them with that question. It is the job of an Atheist/Anti-Religion Stack Exchange to win converts to that world view.

If the question is, "I am literate, have a college degree and am incapable of belief in the hells, the afterlife, or belief in the ability of Buddhas to literally fly by meditation alone...yet my life is chronic bouts of depression and suffering, how do I follow the Buddhist project, can the suffering end?" Well, that is a question we should be able to answer-- if the traditionalists want to come up with a good argument for faith, let them. If the secular Buddhist can explain what the "good parts" of Buddhism are, then that is so much the better.

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    This is about the best description of our current site 'turmoil' I've read. The problem is as you say - people who are borderline hostile to the Buddhism project - or people who might be. It's just hard to tell the difference sometimes between genuine inquiry and hostility. Well I'm finding it difficult right now – Crab Bucket Sep 14 '15 at 14:52
  • This is useful. Thank you for sharing the broader perspective you've gained through participation in multiple sites Matthew. :) – Robin111 Sep 14 '15 at 16:07
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    @CrabBucket, this comment (from question linked above) gives some insight into motivation. "I owe you an explanation for my general line of questioning - not only on this forum, but generally in life, I believe that very real harm is done to mankind as a whole (and the common man in particular) when superstition & dogma flourish under cover of religion, commerce, healing, etc. And I firmly hold that by lancing superstitions and by promoting rational thought, one renders a very real service to society. By doing this, one defends the common man who cannot defend himself. – Krishnaraj Rao" – Robin111 Sep 14 '15 at 16:09
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My guess is that there is institutional bias and prejudice at work here.

For your guess to be true (and I'm broadening here what you may be referring to as "institutional"), the 7 or so downvotes would have to correspond to some majority of users. Yet, 7 is not even half of the top voters of this month.

Naturally, as per how this site works, it is irrelevant if the 7 are the most active, if they are the moderators, or any other "prominent role". So I interpreted "institutional" as "the whole community".

This question has been edited to be more appealing to the members of the community, but is still described as "divisive", though comments with negative comments have been left in place.

I can only speak for myself: I think it's current form is fine.

Why is this question divisive?

Maybe it wasn't sufficiently clear of provocation1.

Other than unquestioned faith in the infallibility of ancient texts, is there any other basis for modern Buddhists to believe in Buddhist Cosmology? What If so, what is that basis?

While the above can be seen as a perfectly objective question, it also may not: it leaves room for a person to understand that modern buddhists (e.g. a reader) have unquestioned faith in the infallibility of ancient texts and, moreover, unquestioned faith in the buddhist cosmology -- furthermore, possibly spiraling to the idea that general faith in the texts are uncritical, and so on.

IOW, it might be read as:

"I know you all have unquestioned faith in the infallibility of ancient texts and buddhist cosmology, but do you have anything else to show why it might be true?"

Yes, certainly the original text did not say that. It seems what matters is how it's patterns create reactions that are known and could have been avoided.

A good objective text is not just one that is, by itself, objective, but one that minimizes any chance for a reader to misfocus and drift away from the subject at hand.

The bulk of his question is about evidence for cosmology. He could have avoided all the trouble by asking precisely and only this: if there are empirical evidence for the buddhist cosmology and what writings are there of gurus confirming its reality. That's all a user looking for such information would be required to say (unless he wants to say or imply more than that?).

Answers "based on faith" are easily implied that it is not what he is looking for. No need to further add words that risk implying problematic things. Specially when humans, with diverse nationalities, age, education, background and mood are reading and voting and specially when this user has had troubles to be understood before. And really, I think that's all there's to it.

What is it about a question being "divisive" which is a bad thing?

I'm certain that it's not the essence of the question that is drawing such a negative reaction. It's likely the perception of some users towards another user and his way of expressing himself.

What is wrong with contentious questions?

Not much, if the contention is limited to their subject. @ChrisW has pointed out how one of his question is the second most upvoted on this site: Is rebirth a delusional belief?. That's a pretty contentious question, no? Notice how there is one downvote on it. Notice how even a user who would not be inclined to upvote did so because he praised the research behind it.

There are many people here willing to address skeptical questions and respect them but I guess there aren't many who are interested in untying nots of questions that might be saying more than what they should.


1 However, the larger number of downvotes might be better explained by the context: previous questions posted by the same users, and how other users have been reacting to him

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What is wrong with contentious questions?

I think the definition of Right Speech as per the Eightfold Noble Path may be cleary useful to identify what is right, unharmful and useful speech (or debate) and what is not. An excerpt from the elaboration on Right Speech as given here :-

Five keys to right speech "Monks, a statement endowed with five factors is well-spoken, not ill-spoken. It is blameless & unfaulted by knowledgeable people. Which five? "It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will."— AN 5.198

I personally think that for an academician or philosopher, debates and contentious issues are bread and butter. They thrive on it for intellectual satisfaction or for the satisfaction that comes from showing superiority by winning a seemingly intelligent argument.

A practitioner of the Buddha's teachings on the other hand sees no point in them, as a debate can just be to build up one's ego, fame or for other worldly gains for which he has no interest. The time available as a human being in this life is too precious for him to be wasted away in such futility. One of the members here has beautifully highlighted what's wrong with futile debates here. I have used the link to his answer here, since his thoughts totally echo mine.

The beauty of Dhamma and the Buddha's teachings is that irrespective of the situation (undesirable in this case due to futile debates) or the kind of experience one is having due to a person or occurrence (unpleasant in this case, since a few are being hurt), one can not only choose to stay unharmed without blaming a particular person or situation for one's unpleasantness, but also on the contrary use the unpleasant and undesirable situation totally to one's own benefit as an opportunity to cut the bonds of aversion and continue sprinting on the Noble Path.

In this spirit, this opportunity (the current unpleasantness in the forum) seems to be the right one for novice practitioners like me to work on the qualities/parmis of Uppekha, Khanti, Karuna and Metta for all stakeholders. And I'm inspired to do this by the tolerance shown by senior members of the forum who have been upholding the spirit of the Buddha's teachings.

The following comment of mine may be unnecessary but I'm too tempted to close with it:- Those touching on unnecessarily sensitive subjects, should really ponder if they would have dared to do so on forums of certain other religions, where there is very little tolerance and democracy. It really is a downside of the humans isn't it that we take democracy and freedom for granted till we are made to realize otherwise. :-)

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My explanation of divisiveness: we appear to have a kind of heightened/orientalized standard of politeness versus westernized/modern traditions of exchanging views. And there are three types of temperaments:

1) Some people's belief-systems being relatively robust, they don't mind people questioning, probing and poking around. Possibly, they actually enjoy the stimulation and challenge, and like to shake things up themselves. Their view is possibly that the Truth (whatever that is) needs no protection, or that it shines brighter with some intellectual friction.

2) But there are others, who are like, "Who gave you the right to come in here and ask uncomfortable questions about our beliefs? Our beliefs are ancient and venerable, and you are off-limits. You are too ignorant to ask questions. Go play in the preta realm. Leave us to discuss in peace."

3) And then there's a third set whose response is protective. They are like, "We personally don't mind your questioning, but hush, speak gently, you are hurting and offending the elders."

So, one question, and three ways of experiencing it. That's divisive.

  • And the onus is on whom? ;) – Andrei Volkov Sep 22 '15 at 0:28
  • @AndreiVolkov Experiential knowledge (which as we know trumps all venerable scriptures) teaches us that the object of experience has the onus for all our experiences. A rose pleases us because it is intrinsically pleasant, and a rotten egg offends us because it is intrinsically offensive. In the same way, the onus for unpleasantness caused by a question is undoubtedly on the person who asked the question, which is intrinsically offensive in its very nature. It is utterly nonsensical to fault the persons who are offended, and cast the onus on them, individually or collectively. Agreed? – Krishnaraj Rao Sep 22 '15 at 6:35
  • @AndreiVolkov - And as for those who are not offended by offensive questions, it must be deduced that they do not sufficiently love right speech and right thinking. It may even be deduced that they are supporters of and apologists for wrong speech and wrong thinking. – Krishnaraj Rao Sep 22 '15 at 6:39
  • Wrong. The onus is on us. – Andrei Volkov Sep 22 '15 at 11:06
  • If you're getting push-back it's perhaps not an entirely intellectual reaction: as an example, by analogy this WIkipedia article says, Used as an insult, "your mother..." preys on widespread sentiments of filial piety, making the insult particularly and globally offensive. I don't want to say your questions were nothing-but-offensive however there are cultures (including entire Buddhist countries) where impiety or anti-piety (a.k.a. "offending religious sensibilities") is illegal and perhaps unheard of. – ChrisW Sep 22 '15 at 12:53
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    So, yes, hopefully it's less divisive if you do maintain "a kind of heightened/orientalized standard of politeness" – ChrisW Sep 22 '15 at 13:01
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    not accommodating one's questions to a particular audience ends up (1) annoying the audience; and (2) being unable to get the information one is looking for. Everybody loses. – Thiago Sep 22 '15 at 13:25
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    For what is worth, I'm less concerned about protecting people from feeling hurt and more concerned about protecting the content in this site from infertile posts and noise. – Thiago Sep 22 '15 at 13:27

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