Should we allow preaching answers sidetracking the question?

That is, should we allow answers that disregard the literal question and instead just try to preach?

Examples of answers I'm referring to:

Q: What are the dates researchers most commonly attribute to the period of the life of the Buddha?
A: That is not important. The important is to do meditation and etc etc.

Q: Was the Buddha harsh?
A: There's no sutta or veda for every question but an acceptance can always be here (only you know what it is).

Conversely, should any moderation be performed on preaching comments -- specially when uncalled for? e.g. telling someone to follow right speech because of disliking how he or she was addressed -- specially when one does not know if the person being talked to is Buddhist or not.

The thing to keep in mind is that many of us have made the case that this site should welcome buddhists and non-buddhists alike. So, at the very least, I don't see how it's appropriate to treat every user here as buddhists.


Since this discussion might come up again in the future, let me expand the context of this question and clarify things a bit to avoid confusion. Though I think the concern here is one, I'll divide it in two parts.

On Answers

From the examples above, I hope it is clear the nature of the exchange I'm referring to. This is not a matter of whether answers should be teaching (dhamma) or should not be teaching (dhamma); obviously, any clarification of a dhamma topic could already be qualified as "teaching dhamma" anyways.

I'm afraid it's not quite settled in this site that "Buddhism equals dhamma" (as far as "Buddhism" here refers to the term that serves as the title of this community and delienates our scope), at least from what I have seen since I joined here. It's my understanding that, from the beginning, there's an implicit (and often explicit) attitude to welcome topics of:

  • historical nature
  • philosophical nature
  • cultural nature
  • artistic nature
  • and religious nature.

In that sense, I understand dhamma is just one of many topics related to "Buddhism" we would like to provide an open door to.

If we come to agree that the scope of this site is not restricted to dhamma, than I think we must respect the boundaries of each question and settle that this kind of answers (those that diverge from the original request) are "not an answer" -- regardless if such "non-answer" is believed to be valuable for the one who questioned, or for future users who may come up here. A few reasons why:

  • The belief that such "answers" are valuable comes invariably from those desiring to provide "dhamma teaching" (whether it answers the question or not); it is not necessarily the opinion of those looking for actual answers to their questions.

  • [Consequently] it likely alienates users who asks questions (and, in particular, those who asks "non-dhamma questions", but are interest in some on-topic aspect of Buddhism). E.g. those users who really need specific information, only to find something else being offered. If they don't get what they come for here, if it's not useful to them, why come again?

This is also related to the reason why why Christianity.SE decided that pastoral advices are off-topic (see their help center and discussions here and here on how they deal with it).

Finally, this kind of dynamics in internet forums likely detracts seasoned users. I'm of the position that sanghas and personal teachers are the proper communities for interactions that S.E. is simply ill designed to be useful. @yuttadhammo's last post might also be a good related reading to have in mind when reflecting on such matters.

Now, if on the contrary, we decide that this should be a community strictly devoted to dhamma, I guess this should be clarified.

On mindless preaching

This is more of a "call to discussion": not every user here is buddhist and this has been problematic every other month when we are not mindful of that. I think it reflects in some answers (as discussed above) and it reflects in the general attitude towards some users and their questions -- creating confusion, which further makes good users distance themselves, etc.

While many here are buddhists, we should expect users who subscribe to other religions, who are atheists, agnostics, who are researchers interested in buddhist history, who are artists interested in buddhist art, who are meditators (but not necessarily buddhists), or just a general non-buddhist curious person. Thus, I think it's sensible to expect that, unless stated otherwise, a user may not subscribe to, say, the doctrine of anatta or feel bound to any other buddhist teaching.

Is this any relevant to be discussed? Is it not? Should something be done about it? ....

  • You added to your question, but I don't know how to change my answer. If my answer doesn't satisfy you please tell me why or how you find it unsuitable.
    – ChrisW Mod
    Commented Jan 11, 2016 at 20:20
  • I hope I didn't change the meaning of the question. I added more context after reading Samana Johann's answer and realizing it wasn't as clear as I'd like -- and also to better inform future discussions that could come from this. Overall I think all questions tackle what I meant. But, of course, you know you can write another answer if you have anything else in mind :)
    – user382
    Commented Jan 11, 2016 at 20:26
  • I hope I write enough already. Sometimes I find an answer off-topic but I don't delete it because it's not flagged or downvoted. Is that OK or would you rather moderators were stricter? IMO this said it should depend on the community's reaction to each individual/specific question and answer, so I rarely delete an answer.
    – ChrisW Mod
    Commented Jan 11, 2016 at 20:45
  • I would be OK with moderators deleting, on sight, answers like the ones I exemplified: ones that clearly are not directly answering the obvious meaning of the question or putting the question on the side in favor of something else -- regardless of being flagged. If it's kind of a grey area, I would leave to the community. So I think I advocate something slightly stricter, as I would be considering indirect/"personal" answers to clear questions as "not an answer" -- even if some could consider a "wise/dhamma answer" otherwise.
    – user382
    Commented Jan 11, 2016 at 21:02
  • The answer to the "harsh" question was deleted by its owner after a while (after no comments, no downvotes, and no flags). I didn't find the first question about "dates" but that answer looks off-topic. It's hard to know which answers you're really asking about unless you'll identify them (which you could, and use the specific-answer tag). If you don't want to publicly name-and-discuss an answer whose existence you disagree with, you can just flag it for a moderator to consider.
    – ChrisW Mod
    Commented Jan 11, 2016 at 21:51
  • I wasn't much concerned with using real examples when I wrote this. I just made fictitious ones for illustration (even if based on some I already knew).
    – user382
    Commented Jan 11, 2016 at 21:56

3 Answers 3


Buddhism is the study of the teaching of the Buddha; As such, even if such an answer is not on the level such that the OP can appreciate it, others who come by and see such a response may benefit from it themselves.

Even if every user here isn't Buddhist, the answers given in your example are, generally speaking, more or less the appropriate response to many of the questions asked here, as far as the teaching of the Buddha is concerned, even if they don't explicitly answer the question in a conventional sense.

So in conclusion, I feel its appropriate to leave such answers be, let them be upvoted/downvoted; if nothing else than as food for thought. The OP doesn't have to accept them as the answer, but it certainly doesn't hurt to have them there either.


Generally if you want to give advice you should also answer the question.

So this is more-or-less OK:

  • Q:

    What are the dates researchers most commonly attribute to the period of the life of the Buddha?

  • A:

    Well the dates according to this is so-and-so but according to that it's so-and-so, and here's a reference which explains why so-and-so thinks it's such-and-such.

    Meditation is etc.

However the example you gave is not.

In the extreme I can imagine someone giving the same answer to every question ...

"That's not important."

"Practice and find out for yourself."

If you don't want to answer the question, why not find where else to write that advice?

You should try to be sensitive of who you'e writing to (look at their past questions to see what their interests and/or level of knowledge is), and how the question is phrased.

If the advice is a natural segue which follows from the answer and the question, so much the better. If the advice has nothing to do with the question it's probably off-topic. If the advice is directly contrary to the question (e.g. "Q: How can kill people?" -- "A: Don't!") then that's more on-topic (and is sometimes but not always alright instead of an answer).

I slightly disagree with Ryan's answer: someone who wants to ask about meditation, wants to read about meditation, has many other topics (other pages) where they can do that. Try to be sensitive to whether the advice is relevant to the topic ... and, on the whole, refrain fro posting advice that's completely off-topic.

"The Tathagata has a sense of the proper time for saying something."

I agree with Ryan that moderators may let the community (including the OP) vote and common on the answer: at least, I think that's been the current moderation policy for answers which are not-an-answer (see Moderating answers which don't answer the question?).

Also "preaching" has been mentioned in at least one other meta-topic and I think it's generally unwelcome, perhaps by definition and even as an answer. It may be a matter of attitude: preaching may be expecting, forcing, requiring, demanding, whereas instead what we ought to be doing is "offering" an answer.


If one asks, it is pretty needed to be intent to be taught. So this question is merely not well considered but simply as other reasons and intents. Given the fact that you love to urge this is not a chat-room. So what?

"Please answer but beware that you never ever teach a lesson. You can tell me things that I like, or that a merely bla bla, but never teach me!"

If your undertaking is merely meant to amass content and make people willing to put content inside so that search machines do the patrons a good and/but to work for misleading of the people its pretty good if you cut away of any notion that somebody who is asking seeks for somebody who teaches him.

Maybe you write "Ask before you answer if that is the desired question!"

People what are you up here and how are you to judge about an answer? Not to speak about going between somebody who asks and somebody gives a lesson?

Tread somebody as a Buddhist? What that notion origin from? To be smarter or somebody who talks different as a normal righteous person?

It seems to be more a "we don't need no education" but let us amass together movement. Let that all in and then throw away what we don't like. It seems that you have adopted the ways certain trades.

Atma guesses you should reflect a lot of what is your intention here and if such has any founding anywhere.

And if you think that this answer is not treacherous you would be wrong. If you you don't like it/such there are serial ways:

  • delete what ever you don't like
  • tell what answer you like to have when you ask
  • try to dispel everybody who ever has a notion of teaching

There is no need to answer and one you should know is, that a wise has no reason to answer or to rebuke. That is simply compassion. Of course others who depend on certain societies and there ways would not be able to stick just to that.

As for the software, it has already plenty of ways and they are not that bad. But as it is a deep problem within the heart, ever kind of way will be not right for those who seek harmony but are not willing to gain wisdom at first place.

Atma will abstain from quoting you relevant teachings form an unsurpassable trainer, trainer of those ready to be tamed.

And yes, the Buddha was not only once harsh, especially if things are made under his banner.

It goes all straight back to here: Are the kinds of question, and what kinds of answers are good, considered on Buddhism.SE?

  • It's sensible to ask ourselves what we are up to here, but parts of the answer before that ("never ever teach a lesson" and "merely meant to amass content") could sound like an extreme "Straw man" position, which could seem to argue (perhaps wrongly) that, "It would be wrong to never teach, and therefore we must always preach."
    – ChrisW Mod
    Commented Jan 9, 2016 at 12:42
  • I'm sorry for any confusion, I've added some extra information and rationale to contextualize the point of the question.
    – user382
    Commented Jan 11, 2016 at 20:02
  • Does Thiago Silva ever asked "Sure?". May he try it, just "is it sure?" Of course such an advice could be treacherous and drive others away but "sure?". Following a strategy to get people: such will work "sure?" You are the reason why... "sure?" I don't like it. "sure?" Doing a little to fondle defilement will keep the wheel run. "sure?" You confused me! "Sure?"
    – user7500
    Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 9:45

You must log in to answer this question.