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I recently reported this answer and to my surprise the moderator saw no problem with this answer.

The reason for declining the flag was that "flags should not be used to indicate technical inaccuracies, or an altogether wrong answer".

I see several problems with this answer

  1. It doesn't actually answer the question and is beyond low quality as it is off-topic. Moderator classed it as 'technically wrong' but this is beyond inaccurate imo.

It is actually just a random statement about something unrelated to the question!

  1. It explicitly makes the unsubstantited claim of other answers being incorrect.

The other answer here, btw., has nothing to do with share of merits, but answers question on giving (of things) toward certain.

  1. It doesn't address the tags of the question, even if one spends time looking for the answer in the link.

  2. It links to a german site owned by the person who posted the answer. Imho answer appears to be spam-like linking to a website, which is a rather common attribute of the user's posts which are hardly intelligible.

  3. I would say that the formatting of the link fails to meet community guidelines

Excerpt;

In my experience, posts with links are not downvoted if all these conditions are met:

  • you paraphrase the content of the linked item (possibly omitting details or examples)
  • you identify the author (yourself, MSDN, etc)
  • someone could benefit from the answer without reading the linked item at all
  • you include information to let the reader decide if clicking the link is worthwhile

For example:

You can use the CircularLabelsStyle custom property for this, for example:

  chart1.Series["Series1"]["CircularLabelsStyle"] = "Circular";

I blogged about this last year, with some sample code.

The other extreme, an answer that says nothing more than "here" or "read this" or "please read" and is a link, I will not just downvote but flag as not an answer, and I don't care whether it's the definitive documentation from the owner of the technology, another question on the same SE site, or just a blog you wrote yourself.

I hope these issues are addressed because trying to look for value in such answers & links, trying to have them mended, let alone having to raise the issue on meta is a huge waste of time and puts me off from using the service. If this goes then i probably misunderstood what the point of raising a flag is.

You say 'flags should not be used to indicate technical inaccuracies, or an altogether wrong answer' but 3 top reasons to raise a flag is it being

  1. Spam - primarily promoting a service
  2. Rude or abusive - such that it is inappropriate for respectful discourse
  3. Not an answer - doesn't attempt to answer the question

I think this answer is arguably all three of those.

2 Answers 2

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It doesn't actually answer the question

I think you're right. The questions asks, "What did the Buddha say about this?"

The answer doesn't seem to answer that. Instead it:

  • Explains what merit is
  • Explains how to share merit
  • Explains why to share merit

It does add some information for the avid reader. For example it gives the term Pattānuppadāna and given that you can find references of your own, for example here:

Though in the older texts very seldom mentioned (e.g. A.VII.50), it is, however, a widespread custom in all Buddhist countries. It is presumed that moral merit, especially that acquired through giving alms, can be transferred to others, apparently for the reason that one's own good deeds may become to others, especially to departed relatives and friends reborn in the ghost realm, an inducement to a happy and morally wholesome state of mind.

Transference of merit is advocated (though without mentioning the term patti-dāna) in the Tirokudda Sutta (Khp. and Petavatthu) and its Com. (Khp. Tr.).

It is one of the ten 'bases of meritorious action' (puññakiriyavatthu, q.v.), called there pattānuppadāna. (App.).

See 'The Doctrine of Reversible Merit by F. L. Woodward. Buddhist Review (London), Vol. I (1914), p. 38.

It explicitly makes the unsubstantiated claim of other answers being incorrect

That's a reference to this answer -- it's a reasonable comment, that the quote in that answer is about sharing wealth.

It doesn't address the tags of the question, even if one spends time looking for the answer in the link.

The tags are "merit" and "reference-request".

It certainly addresses the topic of "merit", much less so the "reference-request".

As I said previously I think there are some useful references in the linked content, though you have to do a tiny bit of work to make the reference useful.

Imho answer appears to be spam-like linking to a website

Most of my answers link to one of a handful of web-sites (ones I'm familiar with), and some of my answers link to other answers on this site. I assume Samana Johann is doing something similar in referencing the sangham.net site.

I don't consider it "spam". Spamming is:

  • "Unsolicited messages", usually for commercial reasons (and often via email)
  • "Usenet convention defines spamming as excessive multiple posting"

However this post isn't "unsolicited" (because it's posted in answer to a question someone asked), and it's not "excessive multiple posting" (because he hasn't been posting the same answer in reply to multiple questions).

I would say that the formatting of the link fails to meet community guidelines

Yes it's a "link-only answer" and is in that way far from ideal.

A fix would be to edit the post, to quote a relevant extract from the linked content -- that might be better than deleting the post, given that the post may be helpful -- I'm reluctant to delete it just because of how it's formatted.

I'm also reluctant to make the edit, partly because it's late on Sunday and I'm posting here on Meta instead, and partly because he has views about copyright and I don't want to trigger more complaints about Stack Exchange using a "CC BY-SA 4.0" license, technically I don't have permission to repost here what he write there -- and though I could argue that my doing that would be "fair use" I don't want to risk an argument.

Rude or abusive

No I think he was posting out that the other answer might be taking its quote out of context -- which is fair enough, encouraging the reader to re-read the quoted text with a discerning eye -- I don't think the way he did that was rude or abusive.

The other answer here, btw., has nothing to do with share of merits, but answers question on giving (of things) toward certain.

I suppose the phrase "nothing to do with" could be milder:

By the way, the quote in the other answer here wasn't about sharing merits -- it's about making merit by sharing wealth (and with advice about different kinds of making wealth).

But I don't try to read "tone" into Samana Johann's posts, I'm lucky if I can understand it literally.

If you read the examples though of Unacceptable Behavior I don't think he's posting like that.

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  • "That's a reference to this answer" except that it was posted prior to that answer being posted. You are wrong and i am appalled of you thus boldly asserting this, just goes to show that you are an advocate here.
    – user8527
    Oct 3, 2021 at 20:56
  • If you said that the answer pointed out a way for one to benefit from another's merit, practice of mudita, as a close thing to 'sharing merit', that is true. If you said that the website has a few references to the canonical take sharing merit, that i can accept. Still neither the answer nor the link provides the actual references answering the question and the answer puts down other people's answers.
    – user8527
    Oct 3, 2021 at 21:07
  • Ah you're right, I didn't notice the timestamp. So whether the claim is substantiated depends on how you understand AN 10.177, is that right -- i.e. whether the dana which the brahmans are giving consists of "merit" or only "of things"? And it was your quote that was being criticised.
    – ChrisW Mod
    Oct 3, 2021 at 21:07
  • I don't know what his problem with my answer was, the user hardly speaks english and i can't read minds. I did understand that he thought it wasn't relevant.
    – user8527
    Oct 3, 2021 at 21:10
  • "Still neither the answer nor the link provides the actual references answering the question." That's true. I think its format could theoretically be improved by editing but I'm not sure I will this time. Another thing is that I take this comment to be the community consensus on that topic.
    – ChrisW Mod
    Oct 3, 2021 at 21:12
  • Who is Crab Bucket? ... which community is in consensus, the 4 people that upvoted the comment 7 years ago? Crab Bucket, you and who else? Because i am not in consensus at all... Anyway, these are rethorical questions. I see no point in discussing this further.
    – user8527
    Oct 3, 2021 at 21:20
  • I will as you as well, why don't you downvote it?
    – user8527
    Oct 3, 2021 at 21:38
  • @SlayingDefilements Samana Johann is saying that your quote is about giving gifts to the dead. It's about charity and not sharing merit. He is making a distinction between the two. The plot twist is that he might be saying that sharing merit in the Canon actually refers to mudita but may have been corrupted or misunderstood later, but I haven't deciphered the answer fully yet. And he is not rude. He is simply pointing out that your answer is about charity rather than sharing merit. Hence his answer is not off-topic and doesn't merit deletion. It may be technically wrong or inaccurate though.
    – ruben2020 Mod
    Oct 4, 2021 at 0:47
  • I think I got it now. Samana Johann is trying to say that telling others about the good things that you have done (i.e. your merits), so that they may practice mudita and brighten their minds, is you sharing your good merits with them. And I think that needs to be backed up by the Canon if possible. On the other hand, your quote is about charity, rather than sharing merits, according to him.
    – ruben2020 Mod
    Oct 4, 2021 at 0:58
  • @ruben2020 I'm not sure it's about charity: I think it it might be about "ritual sacrifice", some brahmanic rites, perhaps funeral rites (which are repeated on anniversaries). I think that brahmins are generally portrayed as have some wrong view in the suttas, perhaps they're advocating some material transaction -- e.g. worldhistory.org/Brahmanism "The Vedas moved the peoples’ relationship with the supernatural from the day-to-day rituals of honoring spirits in a quid pro quo kind of contract to understanding the origin of all existence and the meaning of one’s life".
    – ChrisW Mod
    Oct 4, 2021 at 4:45
  • In the sutta, the Buddha is portrayed as saying that benefit may accrue to "hungry ghosts" (though not to animals and those in hell). Piya Tan's essay on 10.177 does describe it as being about "transfer of merit" and relevant to (an explanation of) Buddhist practice; though he also writes, "very little support from the early canon", "the the rise of religious materialism and laicization of the monastic members during the post-Buddha period in India", and so on.
    – ChrisW Mod
    Oct 4, 2021 at 4:50
  • @SlayingDefilements "which community is in consensus, the 4 people that upvoted the comment 7 years ago?" A joined the site a little after it was started (by other people). Not very long very after that I was asked to help moderate it (as one of the original moderators wanted to stop). At the time, Meta was more active -- as you might see from some topics having 10 or 20 votes which they wouldn't these days. Generally people discussed what content should be allowed and how the site should be moderated.
    – ChrisW Mod
    Oct 4, 2021 at 4:56
  • I think I posted this question soon after becoming moderator. There aren't a lot of answer or a lot of upvotes, but that comment seemed to be a consensus among those who voted. I generally tried to ask the community what rules they wanted, instead of imposing my opinion or even Stack Exchange conventions, which is how we ended up with non-standard policies like this and all the site-specific FAQs more generally.
    – ChrisW Mod
    Oct 4, 2021 at 5:01
  • The participation rate on Meta has declined since then, but I (and I think all moderators do) continue to moderate the site more-or-less "as we have always done". Occasionally one user or another questions some-or-other policy, but I reckon one vote from someone today doesn't override a consensus established by several people originally. Yes some people wish the site were otherwise -- more strict, more expert -- and say that it would be more popular if it were so (but I suppose there's no way of knowing that, and that we can't please everyone).
    – ChrisW Mod
    Oct 4, 2021 at 5:08
  • Occasionally some minor early policy is overturned, like this one. My "bright line" as a moderator, the bit of the job that I consider important, is more around posts that seem hostile, towards other users or other schools of Buddhism. And, to "take action" when it appears that several users are getting upset by something or someone. I've had long dialogs with Samana Johann in the past; in my opinion his posts are much improved, e.g. trying the answer the OP without writing to complain about the site and its users, and relatively welcome.
    – ChrisW Mod
    Oct 4, 2021 at 5:18
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First, regarding Stack Exchange policies on answer deletion vs. downvotes:

The moderators will definitely delete answers which are:

  • Spam (which of course, is unrelated to Buddhism)
  • Rude and abusive content - this may include rude criticism of other Buddhist schools
  • Not an answer - usually meant as a comment, or a new question, or it is completely unrelated to the question (e.g. question asks about meditation and the answer literally talks about Buddha statues)
  • Clearly off-topic - e.g. 100% Christian preaching or 100% Muslim preaching
  • Very low quality and unsalvageable - severe formatting or content issues like completely unintelligible posts, rambling, gibberish
  • Completely in a non-English language

All non-deleted answers are expected to:

  • Not meet the answer deletion criteria mentioned above (i.e. spam, rude and abusive content, not an answer, clearly off-topic, very low quality and unsalvageable)
  • Be on-topic i.e. most or all of the answer is related to any mainstream school or tradition of Buddhism (including Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayana and sub-schools like Zen, Pure Land, Ch'an, Madhyamaka, Yogachara, Sarvastivada, Sautrantika, Kagyu, Nyingma, Dzogchen, Nichiren, Secular Buddhism etc.)

All on-topic answers which are technically wrong or inaccurate should be downvoted and not deleted. The Stack Exchange policies are quoted below.

According to this Meta SE answer for the question "How does deleting work? What can cause a post to be deleted, and what does that actually mean? What are the criteria for deletion?", the criteria for answer deletion is:

For answers, any post that is not an answer (should be a comment, doesn't answer the question, etc.) should be deleted. Answers that are wrong or that dispense poor advice should be downvoted, not deleted.

These are general guidelines; some communities in the network may uphold more specific reasons to delete posts or not. For example, on Puzzling.SE, answers to a puzzle without explanation are subject to deletion, and some technical sites will delete answers which are not only wrong but also harmful when tried.

So, this means we can add additional criteria for deletion, if we have extremely good reasons.

Also, according to this Meta SE answer for the question "Why shouldn't I delete wrong answers?":

"Wrong" as in "completely unrelated to the question"? Go ahead and delete those.

"Wrong" as in "yes, that will solve the problem, but that's a bad idea"? Those should be downvoted. Think of it as a lesson - showing a bad solution can be helpful as well, especially if it's an obvious solution that others may gravitate towards and/or when accompanied by an explanation (say, in a comment) of why it's a bad solution.

"Wrong" as in "this doesn't solve the issue, but it an obvious attempt at providing a solution" is trickier. The appropriate action here would depend on what the answer actually was. In most cases, I would go with downvoting as well or, frankly, not voting at all.

What is a good answer that should be upvoted?

  • Technically on-topic, correct and accurate, with elaboration
  • Addresses and answers all parts of the question
  • Related to the tags of the question. For e.g. if the question's tags include only theravada and pali-canon, then the questioner limits the scope to Theravada and Pali Canon only.
  • Preferably substantiated using scriptural quotes or commentaries or the opinion of experts, but this is not strictly required as the poster could answer using his or her experience and expertise. Please see this answer for the Buddhism Meta SE question "Is “opinion based” a reason for closing a question?"
  • Answers to questions requesting for references (and tagged using reference-request) should include relevant references

Flags should be used for answers meeting the criteria for deletion above, and not used for answers that should be downvoted.


Regarding the user's own websites, the policies are stated in "Does SE have a policy about linking to one's own research, sites, and blogs?".


For the specific answer in question:

The answer in question was written by Samana Johann, whose command of the English language is very poor. His native language is German. I believe he is a Theravada Buddhist monk based in South East Asia.

Oftentimes, Samana Johann's answers are good or at least meaningful, as also opined by moderator ChrisW in this comment. Usually, many of his answers go in the direction of "the other answers explain what you're asking, but you've got your priorities wrong. This is what's better to focus on ...... because ......"

However, due to his lack of fluency in English and very awkward articulation, what he meant to express in his answers is often unclear and needs to be improved significantly. I myself have edited a number of his answers to make them clearer, if I managed to understand them myself.

So, for the flag, I decided that it looks more like a technically wrong or low quality (but not very low quality) answer than completely off-topic. It looks at least 40 - 50% on-topic, but the articulation in English and grammar has to be improved tremendously. It's not completely gibberish.

In any case, we don't intend to punish users for their poor command of English. We also have other users who write very good answers, but their command of English is poor, because English is not their first language. In this case, we would like other users to improve their answers by editing, but such edits should not change the original intention of the author.

Hence, I decided to give Samana Johann the benefit of the doubt and decided that this answer is meant to be downvoted rather than deleted. Also, it should be edited for improvement, and a disclaimer should be added to state that this is the user's own website. A summary of the website should be added to the answer, although I don't understand what it's about at the moment.

In summary, I feel, "the baby should not be thrown out with the bathwater" for this answer.

Of course, I welcome the other moderators to give a second opinion on this answer.

3
  • If this is ok then i will stop flagging and commenting on other people's answers altogether because it is obviously a waste of time and there is little to no point in doing so because you set the bar for what goes so low. It is fine by me.
    – user8527
    Oct 3, 2021 at 20:42
  • "I decided that it looks more like a technically wrong or low quality " + "and decided that this answer is meant to be downvoted rather than deleted". Did you downvote at least?
    – user8527
    Oct 3, 2021 at 21:37
  • @SlayingDefilements Yes, I did downvote.
    – ruben2020 Mod
    Oct 4, 2021 at 0:22

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