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Are we here to preach and make converts?

For me, the answer is no.

We shouldn't be a site for people with out a religious inclination or with doubt yearning for a change to a whole new system. (Blatant hypothetical question "Shouldn't we all be Mahayana by now?") We shouldn't be posting normative declarations in the form of a question. (Blatant hypothetical question "Should Buddhist be teetotalers by now?) And so on for every view ever ascribed to Buddhism. My comment about preaching should apply to answers & comments-- with the exception of advice questions. If someone is asking "What is the Buddhist thing to do about abortion, alcohol, depression, etc" and as they invariably do-- don't bother to tag with any particular school of Buddhism, then an answer is going to be somewhat prescriptive.

We shouldn't be a debate site, there is no independent third party to call a winner, no referees, no ground rules for what constitutes fair debate. Instead, we have Q & A where the winner is chosen by the question asker, or more commonly, not at all. Question askers are likely to pick an answer that suits their biases were they to post a statement for debate. (Blatant hypothetical question "A permanent, non-changing soul doesn't exist-- can you prove to me otherwise?") Maybe some enterprising reader of this post can go make a debate website.

In light of this, I urge people to ask questions with potentially factual answers, or advice questions or the many other sorts questions that get numerous upvotes — and move the preaching to their blog, the debate to one of the many forums that exist elsewhere on the net.

And I descent from my soap box, because this post is getting a little preachy.

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    If you're worried about getting preachy in a question, one can instead ask a (short) 'neutral' question and post a (longer) 'opinionated' answer in reply. A separate answer can be clearer and more opinionated than if it's trying to be a neutral question; and people can upvote your opinionated answer if they agree with it (it's slightly less clear what the vote means if they upvote a queston - on meta it ought to mean "I agree with the suggestion in this question", but people who don't know that voting on meta has a special meaning might just think their upvote means "this is a good question"). – ChrisW Sep 23 '15 at 21:43
  • @ChrisW I agree with the suggestion in this question. Note: I am from Crete. (Just wanted to clarify this question in particular.) – user2341 Dec 16 '15 at 2:24
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If you look at other SE sites like Programming, Travel, Parenting, Cooking, English Language, Gaming, Photography etc. - most of them are based on the idea of requesting, sharing and receiving expert advice from people who have programmed, traveled, had children, cooked, played the games etc.

Very few of these sites are intended as places to copy/paste quotes from official documentation or from books on travel and parenting etc. Instead, most of the best answers come from the users who either faced the same exact problem as the questioner faces now and for various reasons were compelled to invest some serious effort into doing their homework, OR from the users who had direct and extensive experience (e.g. with traveling, raising children) -- in the area that OP has none.

Here comes my punchline. Most of the SE sites are based on experience rather than on quoting official sources. The only notable exception that comes to mind is the Fantasy and Sci-Fi site which in the large part depends on presenting quotes, by the people who seriously studied e.g. Tolkien's universe. Obviously no one can travel to Tolkien's universe and come back with direct observations. All we have is quotes.

I hope that Buddhism is an area of human activity in which people may and should have direct experience.

When a question is asked on the Programmers Stack Exchange, for example "what is the Agile approach to work estimation", the answer can certainly be "according to Poppendieck's vision of Lean we should do this, and according to Ken Schwaber's definition of Scrum, or David Anderson's presentation of Kanban, or whatever, we should do that" (="high quality, well sourced answers") -- or it can be something like "Inspired by Poppendieck's guidelines here is the method I came to prefer after trying various other approaches" or even "here is the approach to estimation that I think the best reflects the spirit of Agile based on my studies and practice". -- It is my belief that answers based on both wide study of preexisting art and on trying various methods in practice, are almost always superior to pure speculative answers or to answers discovered purely by uninformed trial-and-error.

So, are we here to preach and make converts? No. Are we here to share experience and give expert advice? Absolutely.

  • Yes, but, on the other hand in this answer for example I think you agreed that personal-practice questions aren't easy to answer well. Do you think we should keep allowing all questions (as is current policy)? Or can you suggest a method/measure by which to classify them, into questions which can't be answered well (and shouldn't be asked) versus questions which (with enough of the right experience) you could answer (e.g. as described above)? – ChrisW Sep 26 '15 at 21:11
  • Right, there is no contradiction. I feel the easiest to answer questions in this format are framed inside Buddhist framework, tied to Buddhist stake poles, requesting interpretation in terms of actual experience -- as opposed to the personal-practice questions tied to actual experience, asking to be framed within Buddhist framework. Makes sense? – Andrei Volkov Sep 26 '15 at 21:19
  • I think you're saying that it's easiest to answer, "How do you interpret this Buddhist doctrine (referenced here in this question), based on your experience and/or based on what you've read and been taught)?"; as opposed to (maybe not such a good question), "How do you interpret this experience of mine (described here in this question) based on Buddhist doctrine?" – ChrisW Sep 26 '15 at 21:28
  • Correct, yes, you understood right. Although the second is not "maybe not such a good question", just not easy to answer in this format without knowing more about the person or making far-fetched conjectures. – Andrei Volkov Sep 26 '15 at 21:37
  • I could propose that as a specific new amendment to the policy for questions, to see whether users agree ... maybe that kind of question (about personal experience) should be off-topic (because we can't answer it "in this format"), and say that it's up to the questioner to instead formulate their question to ask about doctrine. If I did (make that proposal) then IMO I ought to include a list of (past) questions which that proposal would have affected (so that people could see the effect of the proposal). – ChrisW Sep 26 '15 at 21:44
  • What do you think of generic/impersonal questions about sila such as, "How do you interpret the Buddhist doctrine about celibacy: i.e. that for lay people celibacy is not recommended except on Uposatha days?" Is that easy to answer because it's about doctrine and your experience of doctrine, or is it less easy to answer perhaps because it depends on personal circumstances or something? – ChrisW Sep 26 '15 at 21:55
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    If you insist on classifying it as one of the two categories, it certainly leans closer to the first type, but falls short because instead of asking about "purpose/benefits of celibacy according to texts and your experience", it ask for a reason of Buddha not deciding to recommend celibacy to laity. In other words, the question pertains to Buddha's teaching methodology instead of student's practice and experience. I did hint at what I think is an answer in a comment (buddhism.stackexchange.com/a/11716/43) but generally I don't feel comfortable explaining why teachers do or not do X/Y/Z. – Andrei Volkov Sep 26 '15 at 22:39
  • You're saying that answers should be based on experience; but I don't see how that relates to the question, i.e., "Are we here to preach and make converts?" – ChrisW Jun 12 '17 at 14:53
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I think that the correct answer is that we are not here to make converts or preach. The overarching goal of stackexchange is to give high quality, well sourced answers in a brief and convenient format. In other words, the essence of the site's function is that of sharing information, rather than taking a position. People ask questions about what Buddhism says about x,y, or z, and other people give factual answers as to what the various traditions and schools of Buddhism have to say on it, because that's by and large a fact based style in conformity with the way the other stackexchange sites operate.

  • You wrote, "well sourced". Moving on and away from the topic of 'not preaching', and on to the topic of 'what is this site for', "well sourced" is obviously true for questions tagged reference-request. It isn't current policy though that 'reference request' questions are the only type of question permitted. – ChrisW Sep 26 '15 at 21:01
  • Reference requests aren't the only allowed question, true, but it is generally preferred that answers quote relevant portions of texts to back up their positions. – Bakmoon Sep 26 '15 at 22:21
  • @Bakmoon BTW quoting the texts is not preferred on most of the SE sites. But I understand why it is preferred by many on this site, and do try to include sources whenever I can. But in those cases when the answer involves interpretation of the doctrine that I slowly absorbed from my teachers over the decades of practice, or something that I have read in one of the gazillion Mahayana texts -- to find reference would be too time-consuming and impractical, in which case I prefer to retell the points in my own words, rather than to keep the teaching to myself and leave the others in the dark. – Andrei Volkov Sep 27 '15 at 1:34
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No. I am hear to talk, discuss, and inform, those curious about Buddhism.

The culture and beliefs are of interest to me.

I have studied them for some time. At one time I considered myself to be a Buddhist.

Though I no longer consider myself to be a Buddhist, I still enjoy talking and discussing on the topic. For me this site is an opportunity for me to talk about interests of mine, and maybe help someone find an answer to a question or two.

As soon as this site becomes about which school of Buddhist thought is correct, or starts trying to sway peoples beliefs it will begin to falter.

Though I do think this site should encourage those with questions that challenge the beliefs of Buddhism, and to try to answer them to the best of their ability without making it personal/ getting defensive. I do see that happen sometimes, thought not often at all. Overall this site does a great job of not preaching. The area to work on would be the reaction to questions that might be more challenging, or even seem disrespectful.

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Yes, we all are here to preach and make converts. All shades of Buddhists will surely try to win converts for their set of beliefs, and there is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing to be coy about.

Rationalism is a form of Buddhism. Gautam Buddha himself was a rationalist who questioned the established beliefs of his times, and took nothing on faith. Moved by the spirit of enquiry, Gautam Buddha established a tradition of intellectual and spiritual leadership, opposed to the traditions of followership that was prevalent in his times.

And so, rationalists too, like other schools of Buddhist thought, seek to win converts.

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    I infer then that your questions are intended as a type of preaching. – ChrisW Sep 23 '15 at 20:21
  • Careful there, too much identification with, "I'm a rationalist Buddhist" seems the opposite of letting go. See sakkhaya-ditti. – Buddho Sep 24 '15 at 4:05
  • @ChrisW - Feel free to infer. – Krishnaraj Rao Sep 24 '15 at 5:33
  • @Buddho - Was The Buddha a rationalist Buddhist? Or not? – Krishnaraj Rao Sep 24 '15 at 5:34
  • If the Buddha ever held a self view on such terms as, I'm Buddha or I'm a rational Buddhist, that would be sakhaya-ditti, something even sottapanna-ship will destroy. Thus your question is invalid. – Buddho Sep 24 '15 at 6:06
  • @Buddho - No, my question was not, "Did the Buddha think of himself as a rationalist buddhist". My question was, "Was Buddha a rationalist Buddhist". But why are we debating this in meta? It's not a question about questions on this site... hence, invalid. It belongs out there, not in here. – Krishnaraj Rao Sep 24 '15 at 6:14
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    It is wrong to assume "we" as one corpse with the same intention here (that corpse is actually very small). And I find it even rude to appropriate the visitors and participiants here for this statement even if only verbally. The sites of stackexchange are not meant for preaching but for Q&A of real questions with a (faithfully expected) concrete answer and it is a misuse of the great work of the founders of this software and the maintainers of this site; such misuse is not fair and should not be done by follower of the dharma. – Gottfried Helms Sep 24 '15 at 9:20
  • @GottfriedHelms - The question has been raised by someone; as it has received at least 5 upvotes currently, I assume that it is not a rude question. This question has assumed "we", not I. This is a basic-level question about this SE forum, and it requires a straight answer. I fail to see how the above answer is "rude". – Krishnaraj Rao Sep 24 '15 at 10:12
  • Please explain, how after "Yes, we all are here to preach and make converts" one can say "this question has assumed 'we', not I". This seems not much rational to me... – Gottfried Helms Sep 24 '15 at 10:15
  • @GottfriedHelms - But let us not argue about this in comments space. May I request you to enrich this discussion by kindly posting a well-reasoned answer to the question that has been raised? If you know for sure what this SE site is exactly meant for, then perhaps you will be able to share your knowledge, supported with the relevant rules, guidelines etc? – Krishnaraj Rao Sep 24 '15 at 10:15
  • @GottfriedHelms - The questioner asked, "Are we here to preach and make converts?" and so I replied, "Yes, we all are here to preach and make converts. All shades of Buddhists will surely try to win converts for their set of beliefs, and there is nothing wrong with that." Why does the "we" in the answer offend you while the "we" in the question does not? – Krishnaraj Rao Sep 24 '15 at 10:18
  • @GottfriedHelms Instead, if the questioner had asked, "Are YOU here to preach and make converts?", I would have replied, "Yes I am" or maybe, "No, I am not". Then I would not have used "we" in the answer. – Krishnaraj Rao Sep 24 '15 at 10:24
  • If one does not expect their argument to be persuasive, why bother to utter words? To hear oneself talk? – user2341 Dec 16 '15 at 2:22

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