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.

  • "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

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.

  • 1
    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

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!


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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