I'm new here, and hoping to better understand the cultural and participation norms.

In short order, I've managed to make comments that were declared by an experienced user as "debate" inappropriate for the site. At first I rejected this, responding my "debate" was acceptable, because I thought the comments were not especially unusual or inconsistent with SE practices on I've seen for years on other sites.

I ask for your counsel after later realizing "debate" seems to have a special meaning here. At the very least, it seems it is in fact disallowed in terms of preaching, attempting to prove an opinion correct, or trying to ask or answer an unanswerable question. Moving on to the content in this case:

On one hand, I see my comments as merely simple questions seeking understanding or clarification.

On the other hand, who am I? I just arrived here in a new place and cannot really afford to make any assumptions. At a minimum, I've learned debate is the wrong word to describe what is or is not acceptable. Aside from that point, I would still appreciate your feedback as to appropriateness, if it's possible to imagine without the loaded d word.

So, any thoughts on the comments in this answer, inappropriate or reasonable? https://buddhism.stackexchange.com/a/21497/11701

1 Answer 1


Welcome to the site, and thanks for asking.

First, as you probably know, the intent of Stack Exchange is to be a Q&A site. The Tour says,

This site is all about getting answers. It's not a discussion forum. There's no chit-chat.

Just questions...
...and answers.

Another official topic about comments is here: Help Center > Privileges > Comment Everywhere

Some people in the past have found that there was too much debate on the site; for example,

But when I look at it today, I don't see the site I was interested in helping grow over a year ago, or even six months ago.

Personally, I haven't the time for or interest in debating Buddhism on the Internet - forums abound where one may do so elsewhere; I didn't think that would be the purpose of this site. [...]

What I was looking for here was a place where I could answer specific questions about topics on which I was somewhat of an expert, under the assumption that I (or anyone) could provide the single right answer to the question as a resource for Buddhists searching for answers online, without having to deal with (much) controversy or opinion. I don't think that is the nature of this site today, and I think it is (and has been for some time) moving further away from this format in general.

As moderator I'm sensitive to the idea that people want to post answers without being disparaged.

Users who post answers may feel quite sure of what they're saying. If they have to "deal with controversy" whenever they post, then that I see that as a failure of the site, and ineffective moderation (by the moderators and by the community).

Did you know, there are several schools of Buddhism (or different backgrounds of people who answer), including for example Theravada, Mahayana, secular, academic. There are different views on many subjects: different views from different schools, different views from different people.

Theoretically, any time anyone posted any answer, someone else could comment saying, "That's wrong!" and try to debate that answer.

People have had experience of something like that happening on other sites; for example

So if one asks a question about, say, mudras and the answer is "That's superstition, you should read the earlist pali texts"

Or if I ask a question about, say, mindfulness in noisy environment and the comment is "Meditational practices aren't effect, you need to chant Myo-ho-renge-kyo" or "Mindfulness is a ineffective materialist muddle you need to find a suitable lama and start ngondro"

Or if I ask a question about, If you see Amitabha and his Pure Land just before you die and the answer is "Only Christ and God can save your soul from Damnation" or alternatively "The Amitabha doesn't exist, he's a story to distract the working class from their current plight"

Do you see the pattern here? Do we want to leave open answers and comments that do nothing to answer the question, but instead are a sectarian attack on the beliefs implicit in the question?

I know from my experience on other Buddhist forums on the internet that these sort of discussions go nowhere good-- at best it becomes a battle between warring straw men, each side ascribing inaccurrate ideas to the other because neither side really is very familiar with the other's school of thought.

I would suggest that these sort of comments and answers be dealt with aggressively.

The above is about answers to questions, but I think the same is true about comments to answers.

There are several meta-topics about (which you've probably already read).

Comments aren't always bad but they shouldn't be over-used nor abused.

To be more specific let me critique the specific comments you linked to.

Do you have any basis for this other than off the cuff opinion? I'm worried this is tragically incorrect, and could prevent someone from preserving to a positive outcome. How much time did you invest in metta practice before coming to your opinion?

"Do you have any basis for this" doesn't start well. I tend to assume that everything people say does have a basis, I just don't know what it is. So rather than asking whether there's a basis, I'd ask, what is the basis.

"...off the cuff opinion" sounds a bit dismissive. I'm not sure that Dhammadhatu is always serious but I get the impression that he has some years of experience including of teaching; I wouldn't like to imply that his answers is baseless or off-the-cuff, nor that his opinion is worthless. This site is setup so that references are not required, partly so that people can post their more-or-less expert opinions as answers (and post questions which can't easily be answered using only references).

Further to that subject (the subject of posting opinions as answers) I recommend the article titled Good Subjective, Bad Subjective. A summary of it is that "good answers" should be based on:

  • Something that happened to you personally
  • Something you can back up with a reference

Even if Dhammadhatu's answer were only based on his experiences rather than on references, the answer would be on-topic.

I'm worried this is tragically incorrect, and could prevent someone from preserving to a positive outcome.

Isn't it kind of ironic that you post that, as a criticism of an answer which recommends equanimity?

Imagine if this were a cooking forum; that the question was that "cooking is hard" and that OP "tends to burn the food"; that the answer was that they should "turn the heat down, cook at a lower heat"; and you posted that same comment.

How much time did you invest in metta practice before coming to your opinion

This isn't good. The main problem is that you've changed the subject, instead of commenting on the answer you're now commenting about the user. I think it helps to avoid conflict if you talk about the answer and never try to question whether the user is worthy.

There's no good answer to this question too. You seem to be asking him to boast about how much experience he has, or to confess how little he has. You might be mistaking quantity for quality. And it seems to be binary thinking, e.g., "This is answer is wrong, and the user is wrong, and the user's practice is wrong."

I don't intend to criticize or offend you. I would simply like to ask if there is any basis in the teachings for. 1). Metta is for monks. 2). It's best to focus on equanimity rather than metta.

I think this is a better comment, but could be improved slightly by asking "what is the basis" instead of "is there any basis". For example, maybe something like, "I haven't heard that 'metta is for monks' before. Are there references which recommend equanimity instead of metta?"

  • Starting with "I haven't heard" makes it an I-message. Incidentally it could be a polite way to also signal to other users that this answer seems unorthodox in your experience (since you worry that they may tragically misunderstand it).
  • Asking "Are there references" is politer than asking whether he has "invested" enough time in metta practice
  • Mentioning "equanimity instead of metta" might be an example of "active listening" i.e. it demonstrates that you heard the gist of the answer. Your comments as phrased don't mention "equanimity" as all, as if the only thing you heard was "not metta".

Sorry, I will not stop commenting, and you are incorrect, polite debate is acceptable here.

"You are incorrect" is probably never worth saying (sorry that my answer is dragging on for so long). You might feel "that view is incorrect" or "I don't understand that statement" but it's probably never worth criticizing the person.

Also "debate", whether polite or otherwise, isn't generally acceptable on this site. Polite questions (e.g. "I don't understand X?"), or suggestions to improve or clarify the answer, are tolerated in comments. Debate may be tolerated in a Chat room (but users on this site tend not to use chat). If users are using the comments for polite debate then, depending on how long the debate is, a moderator might move those comments (i.e. move that debate) to a chat room.

After the other user has written, "Please stop commenting. This is not a debate forum. Please post your own answer. Thanks & regards" (which was in a now-deleted comment which your comment was replying to) then anything more you post is no longer a debate at all, let alone a polite debate.

I think I recommend people preserve the following attitudes, when they comment on someone else's answer:

  • It's acceptable to post a question (e.g. "I don't understand X?"), or a suggestion to improve or clarify the answer
  • Avoid, if possible, posting a criticism of the answer (e.g. "X is wrong!"). If you must, you may be able to rephrase criticism as a question (e.g. "Is there a reference for X?" or "How is X compatible with Y?").
  • Avoid posting a criticism of the user (e.g. "You are wrong!"), the user's practice, the user's school.
  • Assume the user posted an answer because they wanted to help the OP and/or future readers, and not because they wanted to debate the answer with you.

Commenting on someone else's answer is like being an uninvited or unexpected guest in their house:

  • Be polite, straightforward, easy to support, not too demanding
  • My visit is over when tell me it's over: don't overstay my welcome.

Generally I think that the other user (whose answer it is) should be allowed the last word. For example if I post a comment to ask a question, and they post a comment to answer, then that's it: end of "discussion". Sometimes I might have a follow-up question, but in general I'm hoping for a satisfactory reply.

Part of hoping for a satisfactory reply is not posting comments like, "you are wrong", because it's hard to imagine any satisfactory response to that comment.

Part of a moderator's job is to moderate inter-user interactions. I think it's easier and better for everyone when each user moderates their own interactions, so that moderators don't intervene.

It's worth highlighting something else, i.e. "Please post your own answer". Instead of telling someone that their answer is wrong, you can post your own answer which you think is more "correct". There being several distinct answers to the same question is the main way in which "debate" is meant to be expressed on the site. I think it's also valuable to have several answers, instead of thinking that only one is correct and that the rest are not (see also the Elephant parable).

  • Thank you Chris. A lot of these suggestions are helpful for any conversation in life, not just comments here, I see improvements I could have made and will learn from it. One part that I still don't understand, is why there should be no distinction between types of "wrong"? No doubt a persons belief system should not be declared wrong. Even an inconsequential opinion, I clearly see it as counter productive to declare someone wrong. But objective facts are different. If someone denies the Holocaust, how are we not ethically bound to call this out as wrong? Commented Jul 14, 2017 at 14:25
  • con't...That's extreme of course, this is not Nuremberg. However I have noticed one real example that is ethically troubling. Feminists are offended by Buddhism. With no qualification, this is not opinion, it's objectively false. When declared as a blanket statement, it can actually harm others. A young girl maybe chooses a different life path. A person on edge is nudged toward bad behavior. In other words, calling something wrong cannot all be the same. Kindness and acceptance should not conflict with moral imperative. Commented Jul 14, 2017 at 14:46
  • I reposted that as a new question.
    – ChrisW Mod
    Commented Jul 16, 2017 at 7:39

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