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I get the impression that questions have a tendency to receive answers that seems to differ a lot from each other. I realize there can be several different reasons for this, so I am curious about your reflections on why that is. It is an open question, but I figured I’d ask.

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  • "Some questions" -- any in particular? – ChrisW Aug 9 '19 at 21:33
  • When you say "disparity in answers" do you mean disparity in numbers (some questions get more answers than others), or something else e.g. answers which are mutually contradictory? – ChrisW Aug 9 '19 at 21:36
  • @ChrisW I don’t have any particular question in mind. It seems like a general tendency. I’ll edit my question for clarity. – Erik Aug 10 '19 at 6:10
  • I doubt I could usefully even try to answer it unless it's about, for example, some specific question-and-answers. – ChrisW Aug 10 '19 at 16:11
  • @ChrisW Well, it is a very open question, so your response is understandable. I wanted to ask, regardless. – Erik Aug 10 '19 at 19:25
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The most obvious reason is affiliation to different schools of Buddhism. For e.g. a Theravadin might tend to relate something to not-self (anatta), while a Mahayanist might tend to relate the same thing to emptiness (shunyata).

Even among people belonging to the same school, there may be a variety of views. For e.g. many Theravadins accept the Abhidhamma, Visuddhimagga and the Commentaries (Atthakatha), while a few only accept the Sutta Pitaka (the Buddha's discourses). Most Theravadins believe in literal rebirth while a few do not. Most Theravadins accept that anicca means impermanence but a very tiny minority take it to mean insatiable.

Similarly, not all Mahayanists have the same views. For e.g. some accept storehouse consciousness (alayavijnana) and some do not.

Then we have those who write answers based on their experiences and ideas, while others stick to scriptural quotes.

Some people take the scriptures very literally, while others consider some suttas or sutras to be allegorical.

Some consider the Buddha to be omniscient about all things (including cosmology and biological evolution), and even has mystical supernatural powers. Others feel that the Buddha was concerned only with the cessation of suffering, and talks of his supernatural powers are mostly exaggerated.

Some are concerned about metaphysics and philosophical speculation, while others are only interested in pragmatic topics.

Some display their cultural conditioning in their answers. For e.g. a person from Sri Lanka may have a different opinion on oral sex compared to someone from Western Europe. Someone from Thailand may have a different opinion on how a statue of the Buddha should be respected, compared to a person from the USA.

Finally, we have mostly Buddhists answering questions, but sometimes we also have people who are non-Buddhist who are answering questions for e.g. academic philosophers, New Age (e.g. Eckhart Tolle's followers or Osho's or J Krishnamurti's), Hindus (some who think that Buddhism is really just an export version of Hinduism), those who use meditation for therapeutic purposes (e.g. mindfulness to treat depression), social activists (for e.g. Dalit activists), skeptics etc.

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    Thanks for a thorough reply. You're touching on a lot of things i've been wondering about. – Erik Aug 12 '19 at 7:06
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Based on comments under this answer I propose to add the following to the site's Welcome message.

Reading answers

This site is open for anyone to post their answers, and the quality of answers will vary.

  • Different people have different ideas
  • There's more than one school or tradition of Buddhism
  • There might be several ways to understand the question

I usually find it helpful to read several answers to my questions -- to see it from more than one side.

Sometimes users may disagree with someone else's answer. Moderators will usually not delete an answer just because they think it's wrong, or imperfect! Instead the moderators try to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to answer, without their views being "attacked" by other users.

So it is your job -- the reader's -- to read each answer and to "see for yourself" which answers appear to be true and useful.

It might be worth mentioning The Four Great References as a way to assess what people say. The more you learn, practice, and study, the better you'll be able to see how good each answer is (or isn't).

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  • Yes, this is good – deadmanposting May 17 at 10:12
  • Can it be put in help center as well? Maybe more people get to see it. – deadmanposting May 17 at 11:44
  • There are (only) two Help pages I can edit -- one is the top of the main page i.e. where we added "Useful resources" -- and I can edit the What topics can I ask about here? section. I guess I can edit the latter, or both, to include a reference to the Welcome page, and to the [non] moderation policies for questions, and to the index of other site-specific FAQ topics. – ChrisW May 17 at 14:05
  • I edited the top of the Help page to add a reference to the Welcome page. – ChrisW May 17 at 15:04
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Once I heard: In a monastery there are a hundred monks; in that monastery there are a hundred religions.

All the individuals in a particular community might say "I'm buddhist", or "I believe in the Buddha", or "I believe in the sutras", and so on. But is the meaning of "buddhist", "the Buddha", "believe" and "sutras" self-evident?

One interprets stuff on the light of what one has lived and experienced. In the case of the sutras, this phenomenon is specially notorious. As pāli (at least in the exact form presented in the suttas) is not a spoken tongue in the same way english is, and so, we can only assume how close we are to the real meaning of a word based on some evidence. But what represent evidence for some, it is not real and significant for others.

This is truly troublesome specially when one assumes that "only I know the truth, and everyone else is wrong", which is a position that the Buddha didn't recommend. By taking this view, one becomes oblivious to future information that might be relevant in the search for truth; for these kind of persons, "truth" is only what accomodates and fits their personal criteria. A "true scotsman" fallacy through and through.

Sadly, this posture of "self-censoring" is more common than expected in the buddhist communities; the Path becomes a competition for the truth, rather than a Path where everyone can help each other. As the Buddha indicated, by helping of others one helps oneself.

Kind regards!

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I think looking for true dhamma on the internet is a lot like looking for gold in a river in that one goes to a place where there might be gold, gets a load of dirt in a bucket and starts look through the dirt.

People need to develop the skill to analyze the content they are presented with to discern what is of value.

Everyone is responsible for their own study development and the suspended judgement of moderators makes the burden of looking through the dirt one's own responsibility.

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  • It might be worth mentioning The Four Great References. – ChrisW May 16 at 17:32
  • There should be a community wiki with guidelines like this imo – deadmanposting May 16 at 17:35
  • There's a Welcome message here -- I don't know how often people read it. Would you like to suggest an addition to that? – ChrisW May 16 at 20:25
  • i can try to come up with something – deadmanposting May 16 at 20:48
  • I think one can add a few paragraphs about this disparity in answers, explain the suspended judgement policy and why it is necessary (only way because there is no worthy arbiter and it is a study environment of peers rather than a teacher's class). I would encourage people to do their own analysis and to scrutinize the answers as is adviced in the sutta. – deadmanposting May 16 at 21:06
  • I do think that people should know that no q/a is too stupid here and that there is a very good reason for it. We disagree on what the truth is but we all agree that there is a truth and we are trying to find it, therefore we protect the truth by suspending judgement of moderators so that nobody gets unrightly censored and all can share ideas. – deadmanposting May 16 at 21:16
  • I would also write that moderation is otherwise focused on making sure the discourse is friendly, diffusing arguments and making sure that the content is made in good faith. – deadmanposting May 16 at 21:17
  • Maybe if this was common knowledge we would get more questions as well – deadmanposting May 16 at 23:33
  • How about this then as an insert -- is that what you might like to see added? – ChrisW May 17 at 7:52
  • Maybe if what was common knowledge? – ChrisW May 17 at 15:25
  • I meant these policies – deadmanposting May 17 at 15:34
  • OK I think I've done what I can then. Thanks for your input and advice. – ChrisW May 17 at 15:38
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Sometimes the question isn't clear and people interpret it differently.

Sometimes the answers are based on personal experience, and people who answer have had different experiences.

Sometimes people have different views or interpretations on a matter of doctrine (e.g. rebirth), and/or explain it differently.

Sometimes different schools have different doctrines.

Sometimes I agree with some existing answer[s] -- and I would post an additional answer only if I had something else/new to add -- so different answers are always different by definition and by design, otherwise you would just upvote an existing answer.

Sometimes people try to adapt their answer to the question and the person asking, but have different ideas about how to do that.

Sometimes one person is inhibited -- perhaps they want to avoid "harsh" speech, for example -- and another person isn't so they answer differently.

Sometimes people believe or are willing to post something other users might consider odd or mistaken, unlikely -- but there's no mechanism on this site to delete a "wrong" answer (though you can downvote it), it's up to the reader to decide what answers are useful.


I think it's good to get different answers -- if I ask about something I don't understand, sometimes one answer is clear, sometimes I find it helpful to read several explanations.

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