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I commented here that we may need to be open to the possibility that Buddhism in general (as opposed to the more restricted "Buddhist Studies" or "Buddhology") may be unsuited to the SE style of forum. I think part of what was niggling me became clearer this morning -- namely, that while many online Buddhist forums can act as some kind of online sangha, the nature of SE (Q&A, not discussion and chat) means that it cannot.

I don't know if that means the whole notion of buddhism.SE is ill-founded, but I just thought I'd raise the point. At very least it's probably a useful thing for newbies to be aware of, so as to set expectations. I already feel as if I'm beginning to "get to know" a few of the regulars here, and I like that. But I suspect it's something that users need to be aware is at most a side-effect of contributing and if they're looking for an e-sangha experience, they need to look for something in addition to SE.

Yea? No? Shuddup?

  • Often, buddhist users come here and forget other users may not be buddhists -- and yet, they threat them as if they were buddhists (e.g. by expecting them to behave in certain ways). This is not a community of buddhists; it's a community that contains buddhists and non-buddhists. – Thiago Dec 30 '15 at 18:47
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This is the approach I took in the beginning as a moderator; when we got posts that were too "Buddhist", it seemed we were expected to remind them that this is not a Buddhist site. Or, in the words of this post, "this is a Q&A web site, not a church".

But, after being on the receiving end of some textual abuse from irate answerers (e.g. being called "passive aggressive"), and doing a bit of digging and a bit of reflecting, I'm not so sure there isn't room for a bit of church-ness here.

While there are certain things we aren't designed for (pastoral therapy, for example), I'm not sure that we need take such a hard-line stance against being at least a bit Buddhist, and certainly against being communal. Here's some points to consider:

1. SE sites are considered communities.

As it says on the stackexchange.com front page:

Expert communities.
Each of our 125 communities is built by
people passionate about a focused topic.

So, at the very least, we have to remember that this is more than just an encyclopedia, it actually is a community for people passionate about Buddhism. Just as stackoverflow.com is a programming community, I would suggest that Buddhism.SE is a "Buddhism community" (though not, perhaps, a "Buddhist community").

2. SE sites are designed to provide answers to real-life problems.

As it says in the 2-minute tour:

Focus on questions about an actual problem you have faced.

So, again, the focus is on helping people with their problems; Christianity draws the line on giving pastoral advice, but I would argue that this has to do with the fact that such advice is more likely to be opinion-based in Christianity. In Buddhism, on the other hand, there is much advice that can be given drawing completely from expert sources.

For example, photography.SE is full of real-world problems about taking pictures, not just abstract theoretical questions. SO is primarily a resource for people actually writing programs. Etc. Buddhism.SE should, by analogy, be a place where people actually practicing (or teaching, studying, etc.) the teachings of Buddhism should be able to get expert (meaning text-based, not guru-based) answers to their practical problems.

3. Stack Exchange is about making the Internet a better place.

On the company information page, it says:

Stack Exchange

Make the Internet a better place to get expert answers to your questions.

With this in mind, we have to ask what we are really trying to do; I think I can at least answer that we are not trying to create a second Wikipedia. So what does that leave us besides a sangha? Granted, we are not meant to be primarily a discussion forum, but we have chat rooms where we can discuss to our hearts' content.

What exactly would be the problem with allowing for a communal feel to the site? I think we've (read: I've) already managed to chase a few users away with our hard line; probably we've scared others from even posting in the first place. Look at the Judaism site's blurb:

Mi Yodeya is a question and answer site for those who base their lives on Jewish law and tradition and anyone interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Going by this, I would actually be in favour of site name like "Sangha" or something. No way I'd recommend "E-Sangha" (still have nightmares!) but just "Sangha"; we could be the Sangha of the Internet.

After all, a sangha is not about discussion or touchy-feely campfire pow wows; it's about getting support in our practice of the teachings of Buddhism, something that I think, on reflection, SE is uniquely designed for.

  • There's nothing wrong with us allowing for a communal feel; personally I want/need more than a sterile Q&A. My only concern is that we may be fighting against the underlying spirit and mechanism of SE, although more the former than the latter; I don't see anything inherent in the SE machinery that works against a more "church-ish" experience. OK, given that, and also Robin's response, here's an alternate view. Instead of reminding newbies that this is "just" a Q&A site, maybe we non-newbies should just permit ourselves to be less hard line, as you, yuttadhammo, appear to have done already. – tkp Jul 14 '14 at 14:22
  • Oh, I too shudder at "E-(most anything)". As I do with "(most anything) 2.0". However, Vince Horn and pals are already experimenting with an online sangha at buddhistgeeks.com/community. Not sure how it's going, but if it's as useful as their conference and podcast think it'll be cool. – tkp Jul 14 '14 at 14:24
  • I don't think there is anything wrong with fighting the underlying spirit. Or put a different way, we aren't necessarily fighting the spirit as we are expanding it to include more things. Maybe that's good or bad, I dunno. But I really like this site. I am a lay person just starting to learn all I can about Buddhism, and some of the questions are excellent to see / read. I think whatever needs to happen (to let that continue) should happen. – QuestionMarcs Jul 22 '14 at 16:47
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I definitely get a community feel here. I've asked many questions and each one has been given thoughtful consideration and useful answers. And for that I am appreciative and inspired to answer when appropriate or edit when needed. I notice lots of people helping to edit questions for others so they don't get closed down and that sort of thing.

There is something very clean and efficient about actually not having endless discussion, debate, etc. The internet is full of those type of forums already for people who are energized by that. This is different and quite nice really.

I do think it would be useful to have a FAQ or introduction page of some sort to guide new users in how to make best use of Buddhism SE and avoid common misunderstandings before one is accustomed to the format. Is that something that might become available?

  • 1
    Every SE site has a 'tour' that explains the SE site model; voting, reputation, badges that sort of thing. Furthermore all SE sites have a help center with FAQs. Once we agree on what is on-topic and what not (which is something to be discussed here on meta) we can use that to improve this FAQ template. – THelper Jul 14 '14 at 23:38
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    Well said. Im also liking the fact that Buddhism SE is not a discussion-site. Its very liberating that we do not have those long discussions in where there is room to post all sorts of answers and where discussions often can become off-tracked. Buddhism SE is much more streamlined, efficient and at the same time one gets to know people by their answers and commitment to the site, thereby creating a sense of community. If one really wants to discuss something there is also a chat-option. This makes Buddhism SE suitable for all needs i believe. Thumbs up for that. – Lanka May 24 '15 at 13:27
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Technically, the Sangha is the community of the ordained monks and nuns. People have just started to use the word to mean Buddhists in general.

I think what Buddhism.SE isn't is an institution (like the sanghas with buildings and administrators), in the sense of an institution that can hand out official rulings on anything, which I think a lot of people secretly want.

And in a lot of traditions, what we official are supposed to want is a teacher with the dharma transmission, someone who is an accomplished yogi and enlightened, and so on. Nothing stopping from those people from answering, but there is nothing in an SE system to put those sort of teachers answers on top.

I can't count the number of times I've read a Buddhist book that admonished me about picking a good guru and being wary of all those other teacher or trying to rely on one's own wits.

Anyhow, for me that is fine, and if people do want to find out more about whose answering, they can always follow the profile links.

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Ultimately, each one of us is responsible for our own liberation/enlightenment. The ultimate guru/teacher is the inner guru, as the ultimate teaching is that while we are all unique, we are all "arisen from the same substance" (like waves of a ocean or glasses of water from a river). (Is there a reward for most uses of the word "ultimate" in an answer?) To get to the point of being able to identify and trust one's inner guru is very difficult.

A place to ask questions freely of some sort of realized teacher is very hard to find online. (If not impossible.) The number of truly liberated teachers, or any sort of "qualified" teachers, online who will or even can answer such questions is very small or so small as to be unfindable. (Outside of online classes, like the FPMT, Kagyu Samye Ling, etc.) I find myself thinking, "Well, if no one else will or can do it, perhaps I must, even though I am hilariously unqualified." I think some or many of you have the same thought. So, (to stretch the life preserver analogy to great silliness) perhaps as we flounder and dog-paddle in this ocean of Life but feel we know the way (thata way!), we can offer Dharma Life Preservers to others, a little hope, and point to a goal on the horizon which very much narrows down the search for our fellow seekers. (I think I have stretched that analogy as far as it should go.) Cheers!

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Technical if it's the talk of "Buddhims SE is a community or not", its of course not a Sangha, since such is reserved for the Community of Monks and Nuns in this context. Its what is called a parisa a gathering (of Monks, Nuns and male and female Lay people) and of course it is a community in its open sense, since its members nourish each other to exist here for more or lesser time.

As for both, a Parisa and a place to nourish each other, it has pretty good possibilities especially in regard of "Expounding or Teaching the Dhamma (desana)", "Listening to the Dhamma (Savana)", and "Correcting one’s View (Diṭṭhijju-kamma)". Everybody has also plenty possibilities for "Moral conduct or Virtue (Sīla)", "Respect or Reverence (Apaciti)", Service in Helping others (Veyyāvaca).

It lack a little in regard of possibilities of "Transference of Merit (Pattānuppadāna)" and so with the possibility of "Rejoicing in otherʼs Merit (Abbhanumodana)".

The possibilities of doing "Giving or Generosity (Dāna)" are small, but even such can be made by giving ones reputations (since it is somehow the only material thing he possible to give).

So from my persons view, its actually a perfect place and a very good Community surrounding. Especially for monastics, its quite good placed without the need to eat together, which would be not good (meaning to have a certain need of not so good dependency).

Atma has to add that he was not really aware of “for any purpose, even commercially” so under this circumstance there is a primarily problem to make use of SE, use its environment, power, support... for a Dhammic puporse.

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