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What's a good way -- is there a good way -- to criticise living teachers, translators, essayists, authors?

  • Users -- it's policy that users shouldn't and needn't criticise the views of other users of this site -- or minimise any criticism, perhaps post only a polite and prescriptive comment or question (see Commenting with minimal argument)
  • Schools -- Similarly it's site policy that users shouldn't criticise the views of other schools of Buddhism -- the site exists to let you ask questions, and to answer with your own views, not to criticise the schools of other users

Instead of criticising others ("they're wrong") it's enough to explain what you think is right.

What about teachers though?

I tend to be suspicious of posts which criticise teachers like Buddhaghosa or Nagarjuna -- or the Abhidhamma -- because I think that would be in effect criticising a whole school of Buddhism.

But what about criticising a modern author? I'm thinking of this answer for example:

Bhikkhu Thanissaro book on "not-self strategy" is wrong and has been debunked many times. It is best ignored. This will result in not troubling Buddhists by asking confused questions about it. Bhikkhu Thanissaro's heretical book on "not-self strategy" is a misunderstanding of the sutta SN 44.10

My questions are,

  • No user flagged this as hostile, is it basically alright?
  • Is criticism unavoidable and healthy? Or should a moderator edit (remove) it -- an "if you can't say something nice, don't say it" policy?
  • If criticism is allowed, does it matter how it's said?

    For example if I were to criticise like that I might prefer to phrase it as, "I disagree with X because" -- instead of, "X is bunk and heretical and has been debunked many times" -- does that kind of tone matter? Should we insist that such criticism be delivered as an "I-message"?

    Or would that be an example of tone policing, interfering with users' "right to self-expression", and a bit pointless -- more trouble than it's worth?

  • How much should I try to protect the view of modern authors from criticism, as I might if they too were users of this site?

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I think it's inappropriate for this site. As i see it we want people to completely refrain from denegration of others as here;

One should know what it is to extol and what it is to disparage, and knowing both, one should neither extol nor disparage but should teach only the Dhamma.’ So it was said. And with reference to what was this said?

7“How, bhikkhus, does there come to be extolling and disparaging and failure to teach only the Dhamma? When one says: ‘All those engaged in the pursuit of the enjoyment of one whose pleasure is linked to sensual desires, low … and unbeneficial, are beset by suffering, vexation, despair, and fever, and they have entered upon the wrong way,’ one thus disparages some. When one says: ‘All those disengaged from the pursuit of the enjoyment of one whose pleasure is linked to sensual desires , low … and unbeneficial, are without suffering, vexation, despair, and fever, and they have entered upon the right way,’ one thus extols some.

And how, bhikkhus, does there come to be neither extolling nor disparaging but teaching only the Dhamma? When one does not say: ‘All those engaged in the pursuit of the enjoyment of one whose pleasure is linked to sensual desires … have entered upon the wrong way,’ but says instead: ‘The pursuit is a state beset by suffering, vexation, despair, and fever, and it is the wrong way,’ then one teaches only the Dhamma. When one does not say: I All those disengaged from the pursuit of the enjoyment of one whose pleasure is linked to sensual desires … have entered upon the right way,’ but says instead: ‘The disengagement is a state without suffering, vexation, despair, and fever, and it is the right way,’ then one teaches only the Dhamma.https://suttacentral.net/mn139/en/nyanamoli

Thanissaro could in theory be a user of this site for all we know. I don't see how these unsubstantiated claims are of any use to anyone.

i don't like these people. i think they are stupid and that their books are shit.

That's basicly the meaning therein.

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"Extraordinary claims requires extraordinary evidence"

https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Extraordinary_claims_require_extraordinary_evidence

Even though this is not a scientific forum, i believe the above still applies.

Regardless whether claims are presented as criticism or fact, a poster that doesn't substantiate their claims will be less credible than those who can provide evidence.

Is criticism unavoidable and healthy?

Yes and yes. Also, criticism can be presented in a variety of ways.

Or should a moderator edit (remove) it -- an "if you can't say something nice, don't say it" policy?

Im an advocate of politeness because:

  • It makes it easier for the recipient to accept the criticism, provided the message is fair.
  • Politeness also helps the messenger as he/she comes across as less emotionally biased. In a lot of situations that makes the criticism more credible.

If criticism is allowed, does it matter how it's said?

Or would that be an example of tone policing, interfering with users' "right to self-expression", and a bit pointless -- more trouble than it's worth? These are moral questions, and can be a bit tricky...

Someone once said that, in cases of brutal honesty, there are perhaps other motivating factors at play than being honest (i.e. being "brutal"). I'm not sure there is a universal right that allows us to be completely unpolished in our communication.

How much should I try to protect the view of modern authors from criticism, as I might if they too were users of this site?

I don't feel like this is up to me as an individual user. Ideally, forum norms are agreed upon by the participants.

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  • I posted this meta-question to try to get a sense -- a vote, if you will -- of whether the community would prefer I edit or delete this kind of remark, and/or insist that such a remark be mild and specific. Or advice on how I should handle it or view. Until now I've tended to tolerate this kind of remark, if it isn't about a user of this site nor about a whole school of Buddhism, but I don't know whether that's right.
    – ChrisW Mod
    May 22 '20 at 13:28
  • @ChrisW I hope i could contribute with something in the above. If you feel that i'm being vague it's likely because i feel hesitant to instruct you or others how to act, even though i have opinions about these things.
    – user11699
    May 22 '20 at 13:38
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    I hesitate too. As a user (or member of the community) myself, I might have a preference or vote; but as a moderator I feel I ought to seek instructions from the community. But thank you for your answer.
    – ChrisW Mod
    May 22 '20 at 13:45

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