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There have been a couple of "comparative" questions recently:

In the past the moderators might not have allowed these questions; and many users voted to avoid this site being used for sectarian disparagement of other sects.

Are these questions OK? Should they be closed? Or should they have been closed immediately, should I have closed them as soon as I read them, without waiting for other users' votes and input?

Are the answers to these questions helpful? Or are they unwelcoming, and do they risk reducing the number of users who feel it's worth asking and answering any other questions on this site?

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Let us examine a case you cite in order to have "food for thoughts" so as to be able to answer your questions.

[The] Lotus Sutra [] is a Mahayana Sutra written by a number of Indian philosophers over hundreds of years.

While this is a specific belief, it is stated as a [general] fact (as attests the use of gnomic present). While the question was comparative, the answer fails to compare by taking only "one version of the story" into account and expressing it as a fact. There lies the problem.

To actually compare demands (1) putting things into perspectives, (2) not taking anyone's version as a fact, (3) but as a speech, or as a belief. Comparative analysis consists mainly in presenting or exposing what each says. It is not about what is true. It is not matter-of-factly. It could be matter-of-factly only in case the question was "I am lost! I heard the two claims... which is true?" But then, such a question would be deleted because it calls for an opinion-based answer. Similarly, an answer that is matter-of-factly and opinion-based to a "comparative religion question" ought to be deleted. A comparative model would be:

  • A says this.
  • A says this while B says that.
  • A says this while B says that and both statements are contradictory. They debate about their disagreement in such and such a way.

From this perspective, the initial statement would be better rephrased as any of the following sentence:

  • "According to Theravada, the Lotus Sutra is a Sutra written by a number of Indian philosophers over hundreds of years."
  • "One the one hand, According to Theravada, the Lotus Sutra is a Sutra written by a number of Indian philosophers over hundreds of years. On the other hand, according to Mahayana, a Sutra was taught by the Buddha in Rajagriha.

In case there are contradictions, one ought to highlight that there are contradictions, and seek to clarify them by stating arguments each side establish when they debate.

Another statement was:

Sadly there is next to nothing in keeping with the original suttas, and all you will find are contradictions.

This statement suffers three faults:

  1. It generalizes (nothing, all) without reference.
  2. The word "Sadly" makes the statement a judgment.
  3. "Sadly" might imply that "not keeping with the original suttas" makes it mistaken or deceptive while it is not so according to Mahayana. It is again taking only one side of things.

By fear of wordiness, I will not go through each statement that I think is questionable in the answer I down-voted. This is sufficient to show that the reasons of my down-voting did not have to do with sectarianism.


In conclusion various questions arise.

  • Is Buddhism SE a site where we speak, not of facts, but of propositions regardless?
  • Among the reader and the ones who answer, who is expected to be the more expert?
  • What is the function of SE? (I do not believe one should have to read all the answers to one question in order to get the answer he was looking for, because it is not a forum)

I tend to think that the ones who answer should be more expert, and that if we can not demand it from anyone (as Suminda suggests) then we should not allow comparative questions.

I checked a few Q&A that were tagged "History" because historical Q&A also does not speak of Buddhism: it speaks of events that are likely to have happened (or positions that are likely to have been held, expressed, etc). A historical Q&A will not state what is fact according to Buddhism (such as "What is fruition in Buddhism?") but what History (and thus historians!) state is likely to have happened. For instance: "Did Buddha Return to Extreme Asceticism?"

I did not come across inadequate answers to questions that were tagged history. My thought as to the why is: It is because we know how to answer historical questions. Everyone knows historians debate one another... disagree with one another... come up with versions of what might have been said, etc.; express probabilities by way of using conditional, and so forth.

I believe we lack the expertise (and maybe the maturity) to answer questions of comparative religion. This is because one the one hand, we are "obsessed" with what is and what is not, and on the other hand, we are not that familiar with comparative studies. To answer adequately a question comparing two traditions, imagine how expert I must be. Is it realistic? Can we ask such an expertise of our community?

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    Not very on here is a historian hence it is too much of a burden to mention According to Theravada ... because when one's belief is According to Buddhism .... Also on hould be able to write and answer according to once conviction. Also answers will have the bias towards one's beliefs. If you look at the Mahayana answer this seems hostile to Theravada perspective. Nobody can write from both or all perspective but multiple contributions balance out. The reader can figure out what biases are and differences in perspective. More contributors more angles get covered. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Apr 17 '17 at 16:07
  • Within Theravada also there are differences but each school takes the stance According to Buddhism ... and not otherwise. Best is encourage multiple answers from many perspectives. Let the readers be aware and decide what is palatable to them. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Apr 17 '17 at 16:13
  • Thank you for your comment. "More contributors more angles get covered" you say. Generally, yes. But in the case of comparing, no. How is this comparing if little is covered? That's what make these questions "questions for experts." At least, when someone is not an expert in relation to both the angles the question ask, he should be humble (like saying "From the little I know of..." "If it is true that you believe", etc. How could one take the stance of saying "this is fact, and what you say (that I know little about) is not fact"? I wouldn't make sense. – Tenzin Dorje Apr 17 '17 at 16:19
  • I also think sadly implies not keeping with the original suttas which is fact the Theravada belief. This is what we have been culturally taught. Many contributors from this country may take a similar stance. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Apr 17 '17 at 16:19
  • One can write the side one is an expert in. Another can write the angle another one is a expert in. This has a combined effect of completing the answer. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Apr 17 '17 at 16:22
  • I understand that you believe it is a fact. But a comparative question does not ask about facts. By nature, a comparative question asks about what people believe are facts. It is not the same thing. You can only answer it by saying "so and so believe so and so, while so and so believe so and so." It is also the reason why one must be comprehensive in answering a comparative question. But if one cannot, he ought to say "A thinks this..." not to make it a fact (as opposed to the 1st statement I quoted in my above answer) – Tenzin Dorje Apr 17 '17 at 16:40
  • As I said, not every one here are historians to follow this approach. One will naturally write based on one's convictions. Expressing one's convictions should be allowed. One will consider one's convictions as facts or "gospel truths" depending on the person. Multiple sides of the arguments will be represented through different answers than one answer. You cannot force or expect someone to say "I think this is ..." when he believes this is the truth, in which case they will say "This is so ... " – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Apr 17 '17 at 16:45
  • I'm glad you explain what you think. I gave 'food for that reason.' My conclusion is that if most people think like you, then, to answer ChrisW: Yes, comparative questions should not be allowed on SE. The answer must depend on the question. There are things that questions demand. For instance, if you are to compare Christianity with Buddhism, you are not expected to say one is deceptive or fake or deluded. You are expected to say or they relate and how they do not. So, if people can not follow this approach, these questions should not be allowed. It was so in the past, maybe for good reason – Tenzin Dorje Apr 17 '17 at 16:54
  • You can not answer a comparative question as you answer a question about Buddhism proper, such as "Can a person without any of the five physical senses attain arhatship?". Because this asks "Is it a fact?" "How are things in fact?". Comparative questions do not do that in this way. – Tenzin Dorje Apr 17 '17 at 16:56
  • The above 2 question brought about a lot of information which is interesting and food for thought. This would have not happened if they were closed. You should not say this is fake or name calling. I accept this. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Apr 17 '17 at 17:02
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. – Tenzin Dorje Apr 17 '17 at 17:03
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Are these questions OK?

I think they should be OK. Generally people tend to correlate with concepts they already know and are familiar with. So comparisons should be OK.

Also a legitimate question that may arise when initially trying to learn about Buddhism is, does this go against your religious tenets. Will I go to hell for being if I practice meditation as this might conflict with my religion.

In case of answers they should be from the Buddhist perspective. The question should be asking a Buddhist take on the matter.

As for the above 2 questions, they have generated many diverse answers with information and references which would be valuable to a would be reader. Therefore these kind of question should be allowed.

Are the answers to these questions helpful?

Both these question generated detail and diverse answers.

Any well argued and / or well reference content should be acceptable. Some content may not be helpful to everyone. If might be helpful to some. Acceptability also will vary. Some arguments may not be acceptable to some but acceptable to others. In such cases neutrality is best in moderating, comments and downvoting.

Also there are so many differences that it will come to a point there is very little you can share. Leaving aside differences between religions and Buddhist Schools even within a school's their linkages with major differences. Some lineages say this is the right way and this is wrong. Some lineages say quite the opposite emphatically as this is wrong. It will be useful if someone shares their knowledge in some way without obstruction. If this leads to say our view is this and it is offensive to say the opposite so emphatically, when teachers of particular linage / school say this is wrong may block a lot of answers. E.g. if you write what is acceptable intersection to Thai Forest, Ledi, Sunlun, Mahasi quickly you will realise little anyone can contribute, and if you were to include a few more this will be next to nothing, within Theravada alone. Even a pair wise combination will be very little in common.

Some people seem to have taken one view point as unwelcoming. Ideally this should not be the case. Any person should be able to share their views and knowledge. Sharing knowledge should not be viewed as attacking.

Some content seems to have been downvoted also. I think this should be reserved to poor quality answers than arguing out a particular stance strongly, where some view are held by scholars and teachers. I.e., this ideally should not be done due to disagreeable school of thought.

Does how will this be enforced. If the question does not explicitly mention, it is comparion between schools but as it as comparison between concepts. Do every one know succinct differences to enforce this consistently. (Is this or that understanding right type of questions.)

Also someone exposed to one line of thought may want to know why others follow something else. If the answers are logical and / or well reference I do not see a problems.

What is not helpful

  • Calling names at other schools. E.g. "X school are a bunch of idiots"
  • argument without logical basis or rational basis or references when they seem overly harsh

Or are they unwelcoming, and do they risk reducing the number of users who feel it's worth asking and answering any other questions on this site?

Maybe in the welcome message you can add a section that we accept content from wide range of schools of thoughts and to be tolerant of any disagreeable content. If you have an alternative view or disagreement best is post another answer with your side of the argument than comment wars or downvoting. Also such Q & A should not be considered an "attack". (Be cool and keep posting!) Then they know what to expect and know what to do. This has the benefit of getting a wider range of knowledge being shared.

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I'm not comfortable with the wordings on "I would like to know the basis of Lotus sutra and it's relationship with the original teachings of Buddha mentioned in the Tipitaka." because:

  1. it conveys that the Lotus Sutra is inauthentic (as compared to a certain original teaching) when those who adere to it believe it not to be the case.
  2. it conveys that the tipitaka is the, de facto, original teachings -- many Theravadins themselves say it is not so simple.

Both points above taken together, I think it opens the door for people to feel uncomfortable and lead them to start to take defense/offense measurements instead of providing the information that was requested.

But I'm comfortable with asking about the contradictions.

About the answers, I think the Lotus Sutra thread became a court. One of the answers, if I recall, spent a good amount attacking abhidhamma (?) and not nearly as much answering the actual question.

  • many Theravadins themselves say it is not so simple many people born in Theravada countries would be afraid to believe, say or imply otherwise. If you see many who say it is not so simple are predominantly Western Theravada. I agree with you that one answers did have attaching content than answering the question. From my impression it was not specific to the Abhidhamma but to Theravada in general. Best is to educate people not to do this and resolve it with some editing than banning and deleting. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Apr 18 '17 at 4:50
  • Yes, I should have been more specific, my apologies. I agree with you on everything else. – Thiago Apr 18 '17 at 17:39
  • Also I would encourage you to contribute more. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Apr 19 '17 at 3:23
  • Thank you @SumindaSirinathS.Dharmasena. I try as much as i can – Thiago Apr 20 '17 at 1:29

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