There are actually many ways to answer here and that is perfect, since there are different kinds of question which should be answered differently.

The Pañha Sutta says that there are four ways of answering questions. One of these ways is to answer with a counter-question; but is doing that welcome or common, on this site?

Have people considered how "the four ways of answering questions" is relevant on this site? Because it seems to be that the focus is just on one kind of question of the four, or to misuse a kind of answering for all kinds of questions.

Atma thought it would be good to provide also a little bit material for this important matter.

(Note: this answer has not been given with the agreement to be means of trade or the purpose of/for trade and/or keep people trapped and bound. How you handle it lies in your sphere, but does not excuse the deed here either.)

  • just on one kind of question of the four -- Are you saying there are four kinds of question? Would you summarize or list, what are "the four" which you're asking about here?
    – ChrisW Mod
    Jan 4, 2016 at 15:36
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    One that should be answered straight yes/now/this/that. One that should be approached with an detail explaining. One that should be approached with a counter-question(s). And one which should be put aside. Upasaka Chris.
    – user7500
    Jan 4, 2016 at 15:42
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    I tried to answer however I did that without reading the three references you quoted at the end. I find it difficult to read a reference unless also you quote some (at least one sentence) of it. Your selecting and quoting an important bit from it might explain to me why you referenced it (what you had in mind), and explain what point I should keep in mind as I read it, and summarize it.
    – ChrisW Mod
    Jan 5, 2016 at 1:23
  • They are quoted, they are and its not to bad to give them a read which might be hard because it takes time, that's the benefit, that's the merit of listening/reading the Dhamma, even if nothing is gained with it at least. Take you time, no need to hurry and even do something one actually would not want to, Upasaka Chris. Its of course not less in such a shout time that Atma confronts you. This ...
    – user7500
    Jan 5, 2016 at 5:40
  • ... and that there are four types of excellent thoroughbred persons and its even possible to get stirred & agitated by simply a shadow.
    – user7500
    Jan 5, 2016 at 5:40

2 Answers 2


This site is mostly meant for the second type of questions, the ones that should be approached with a detailed explanation.

When someone asks the first type of question (categorical yes/no) - we try and complement the answer with a detailed explanation as to why yes or no.

When someone asks the third type of question (that is, a question that is based on incorrect/confused/incomplete understanding and begs for a counter question to help the person investigate the topic for themselves) - we try and give the correct frame of reference, or else ask/help the questioner to edit the question.

When someone asks the fourth type of question (the one that should not be answered) we explain why Buddha recommended to put such questions aside.

Since this site is not meant to be a forum (and is not good at being a forum, actually pretty bad as a forum) - we try to avoid dialogues and polemics in the questions, answers, and comments. We do have a chat feature for people who'd like to discuss things in form of a dialog.

  • 1
    In other words, we give a detailed answer no matter what. So it is really the type of Answers that is constrained, people can ask any Questions they want. That is probably the only sensible way to run a site like this. I have seen situations (on other SE sites) where my questions were simply close-voted with no real help or explanation. So I had no idea why or what to do to improve it. Rewriting got me nothing, as the question was not re-evaluated after heroic edits were made. This site is better, but then we don't get 1000 questions a day.
    – user2341
    Jan 4, 2016 at 22:31
  • Detailed answers will kill many questions (e.g. "the instant you speak about a thing, you miss the mark"), maybe best approach would be to use the spoiler tag and provide both when deemed necessary? meta.buddhism.stackexchange.com/a/277/7587
    – bbozo
    Jan 10, 2016 at 16:04
  • What do you want to hide?
    – Andriy Volkov Mod
    Jan 10, 2016 at 17:06
  • @bbozo In this comment and in that comment you seem to be a fan of short, Zen-like or laconic answers. Is it that you want to get short answers to your questions, or that you want to write short answers? How short? There are other meta-topics on this subject: Should we allow/encourage short answers?, and Should this 'zen type' answer be deleted?.
    – ChrisW Mod
    Jan 11, 2016 at 21:13

There are questions that should be answered with a counter-question.

"Is that so?"

People give Zen-style answers sometimes (e.g. here).

People might want to answer using Zen-like questions too.

"Can you show that to me?"

I guess that (discussion, rhetorical questions, the Socratic method) is not how we use this site (and not the purpose for which the site was "designed" to be used).

See also this meta-topic: Answers vs Advice -- the consensus then might have been that:

  • People who are asking for an answer want an answer
  • If they want advice instead of an answer, they can ask for advice
  • You can sometimes give advice after you answer, but maybe not instead of answering.

The site isn't meant for back-and-forth discourse/discussion/dialog.

The Kalama sutta for example is a long sequence of questions and answers. If back-and-forth dialog weren't allowed then it would have had to stop almost at the beginning, at the first counter-question, i.e.,

"What do you think, Kalamas? When greed arises in a person, does it arise for welfare or for harm?"

Maybe the Kalamas would "get it" immediately from that first counter-question, but we're meant to assume that if someone is asking some question it's because they don't know how to answer it, and want some explanation and not only a counter-question.

See also Answers I don't understand and/or answers that are questions/riddles/koans -- they're not necessarily seen as helpful.

Consider this question, Do thoughts 'create' vedana? I read it as a basic question, which it has various more-or-less informative answers and references. Conversely, this chat might have been an attempt to answer the question with a counter-question, and that apparently had a relatively unsuccessful outcome.

Another thing to consider is that there are two audiences for every question:

  • The OP who asked the question
  • Everyone else who reads the answers

A theory is that someone in the future might use Google to search for 'vedana', find that page and want to read the answers ... and that they want to read relatively impersonal or universally-true answers, instead of counter-questions and one-on-one dialog.

Speaking of counter-questions, you can post a comment if you don't understand the question; e.g. you can post a comment to say,

  • "I don't understand that question, because..."
  • "Do you mean...?"
  • "Where did you read that...?"
  • "Different schools of Buddhism might different answers to that question. Are you asking for an answer from the point of view of a specific school?"

See also this site's Moderation policies for Questions -- i.e. on this site people try to answer questions even if the question is unclear.

You can try to clarify what the question is, but you probably shouldn't expect to get the OP to answer their own question as a result of your asking counter-questions.

  • +1 for the Google scenario
    – Andriy Volkov Mod
    Jan 5, 2016 at 2:03
  • -1 (mental) for the google scenario and other considerations, since such would mean that the Suttas are useless, because somebody likes to grasp-hold simply this or that. So as assumed, you are not here to serve, but to bind people and make the owner of this benefits prospering while maintaining a livelihood in that way. It does not seem that you understand wholesome and benefical is different to purpose of creation and justification to be. Mr @AndreiVolkov as well as the rest of the team. And think about how overbearingly some of the assumings are. So is this session not meant to serve just?
    – user7500
    Jan 5, 2016 at 4:46
  • @SamanaJohann I think the Suttas are not useless, and that this site helps me to understand them -- because I can use the site to ask questions (any question) about them, and to read other people's questions and answers about them.
    – ChrisW Mod
    Jan 5, 2016 at 4:51
  • And its not necessary possible that you understand as it is not necessary that you like to understand. Its even possible that the whole team is not aspirated to lead a way out and lead others out. As told, its good to consider the kamma of questions (and answers).
    – user7500
    Jan 5, 2016 at 4:54
  • And do you think that there (suttas) have been answers of different kind, answers which did not satisfy the questions purpose? Answers which the questioner liked to be a straight forward answer? And is, when google hits a question this like as if you take a static sutta? One time you argue that it is a moving thing, one time you argue that it should be perfect when stabil. So what? What do you like to serve? A certain opportunity or an assuming? Its a matter of credit, not to try to make it perfect for everyone, but exactly there where it is possible. Could you give that?
    – user7500
    Jan 5, 2016 at 4:59
  • meta.buddhism.stackexchange.com/questions/1821/… is by the way a perfect answer and is made so that the questioner is able to find out him self by looking.
    – user7500
    Jan 5, 2016 at 5:03
  • @SamanaJohann This "meta" is where users discuss (propose) the site's policies and agree (vote) on those proposals. You can post your own meta-answer to meta.buddhism.stackexchange.com/q/1821/254 to explain why you thought that was a good answer then people could vote on your meta-answer to agree or disagree with your proposal, and that might become new site policy. I also encourage you to post your own answer to this meta-topic to explain what you think policy ought to be (so people can see, discuss, and/or vote on your proposal).
    – ChrisW Mod
    Jan 5, 2016 at 5:10
  • Re your previous comment, unfortunately I didn't understand much of it. I might agree with you that many answers on this site are not very good answers. But if they try to be answers, then that ("questions and answers") is what this site is for. There are probably other places (in real life, and on the internet) to have discussions etc. This site has a slightly specialized purpose, i.e. "Q&A": Questions and Answers.
    – ChrisW Mod
    Jan 5, 2016 at 5:24
  • So you are here as an entertainer of this site or what? Or are you using this side to help people in Dhamma? What are you obligated to? Dhamma in sentences is no a matter of knowledge and actually totally without any value if it is not given and taken in line with Dhamma, as it is simply about intentions and following actions. There is the possibility to discuss a question (and answer), there is a possibility to mention something to a question (and answer) and there is the cart possibility when it goes offtopic and it you like to maintain a longtime beauty q&a appearing, waiting and correct if
    – user7500
    Jan 5, 2016 at 5:49
  • ... the intention is visible for one self, the use is visible for one self and then, if such is not, thinking, is such is really disturbing if somebody likes to follow a certain stream of thoughts. If you are obligated to the ES, search for an other means as Dhamma to make it a scarify. In no way you should harm those you are obligated to, and as told, your are plenty trapped here and it needs plenty of righteous work to come out here again.
    – user7500
    Jan 5, 2016 at 5:51
  • @SamanaJohann Bhante, asking users "why are you here on this site" (e.g. "So you are here as an entertainer of this site or what?") seems like "a polling question" of a type that's considered off-topic. If you want to ask that as a new question on meta or ask it in a chat room (perhaps this site's main chat room) then some users might be willing to answer and/or discuss that.
    – ChrisW Mod
    Jan 5, 2016 at 6:10
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    @SamanaJohann I (personally) was interested in Buddhism for quite a long time but didn't learn very much about it. I eventually came to this site to learn more about it (by reading and asking questions) and to learn how to be without (or with less) dukkha. I then began to answer some questions too, hoping that anyone who knew better could correct my answer if it's wrong (so, it was safe for me to answer), and hoping that if I answered the questions which seemed relatively easy, then that would help to free other people (the true experts) on this site to answer other more difficult questions.
    – ChrisW Mod
    Jan 5, 2016 at 14:53
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    I have various "obligations" (e.g. as a 'house-holder' my being here is part-time, I have other work to do too). Other "obligations" are spelled out in the user terms of service and more or less defined in the various policies and recommendations. They're mostly ordinary, not unusual for any moderated internet site e.g. don't spam, don't flame, etc. -- these are obligations but they're also habitual. Plus I have obligations to this community -- as moderator my job is to inform people about the SE network policies (e.g. "Be nice") ...
    – ChrisW Mod
    Jan 5, 2016 at 15:09
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    ... and to implement the policies (for example like this one) which are defined with and by the community.
    – ChrisW Mod
    Jan 5, 2016 at 15:10
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    Also I answer question because that helps me to learn: many (perhaps most) of my answers include references, quotes. I upvote questions that I want to see other people's answers to (and I upvote questions which I have tried to answer myself, and compare other people's answers with mine).
    – ChrisW Mod
    Jan 5, 2016 at 15:22

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