After 100 plus days in beta do we have a clear idea what is on or off topic? I have reviewed the closed queue and I'm not seeing an obvious pattern. This is what I can glean from meta questions, the closed question list and personal experience

We seem to like

  1. Questions and answers involving personal experience

  2. Questions comparing one aspect of a religion to Buddhism are OK but feelings can run a little high with these

  3. Fairly general questions about meditation

  4. Questions asking for a specific text

We don't like

  1. Questions asking for great lists of books

  2. Very localised questions about retreat centres or local Buddhist resources

  3. Vague questions

We are ambivalent about

  1. Very broad questions. Sometimes these get closed down but sometimes they become very popular

  2. Very specific questions - as above

  3. Spoiler questions or answers - such as koan answers. I think the consensus here was OK but treat sensitively

I think it would be a good idea to put something up for the help centre around this area hence the motivation for this.

So anything to add, take away, shout about?

  • My own dilemma is when I see something like on this post where it has been edited by " ". First thought is what did I miss? Was this a necessary edit? Does this restrict someone's freedom of expression? Would it be possible to view the unedited question or answer so that we can answer some of these questions? I had a teacher that always "edited" my papers and there was a loss of spontaneity and trusting my own impulses in the presence of editing for unknown reasons.
    – soulsings
    Commented Oct 13, 2014 at 20:02

4 Answers 4


Taking another point of view on this matter, I imagine the users interested on this site would revolve around a few groups or profiles such as:

  • The buddhist
  • The scholar (not necessarily buddhist)
  • The meditator (not necessarily buddhist)
  • The newcomer (perhaps with a different religious background)

I think all the above should be welcomed. And one tricky thing is that they don't necessarily write questions their siblings may find of their taste.

While a buddhist might have more interest in questions around the Dharma (conceptually and/or experientially), he/she could be less inclined about history or scholar nitpicking. Even less about "dharma-off-topic" (ie, questions "that do not lead to nirvana" -- "what is the origin of the universe ?", "can a woman become buddha?", etc).

The scholar, however, may be more inclined to history details, "comparative religion", folkloric narratives, symbolism, cultural and philosophical questions pertaining to buddhism world, etc (I'm not a b. scholar so these examples might sound a little bit naive).

The meditator, as someone interested in questions about techniques of meditation and its effects, would also be one raising questions about the use of drugs and what current scientific experiments are there and what they say.

Finally, the new comer, as someone with less exposure to buddhism, would probably have a broader range (as this is a broader category). Also, naturally he/she would be the one to employ more often questions "that do not lead to nirvana" (say, to assess if buddhism devalues the female genre, or some race, or religion) or involving comparisons with other religions: and that is just natural, to try to understand something new comparing with something we are familiar with. He/she may also be one who writes "superficial" questions (from the point of view of the "initiated"). And then, either the more experienced users bear with it and provide a safe space for that kind of inquiry and support the arousal of interest with proper guidance, or the bar is actually on a higher place, and I think this should be clear.

(of course, interests intersect across all of these users with varying intensities)

Personally, I think andrei's "like" list comprises the questions I think are the most important, by any measure, as they pertain to the actual practice. But that is how I personally assign value, not my evaluation of on-topic Q's for this side. As for that, considering what I understand to be B.SE's scope and the sketch of profiles above, I find myself supporting all his "don't like" list as well (with the exception of answering "comparative analysis", I'm convinced SE is not the place for that kind of Q&A).

  1. Questions and answers involving personal experience

I'm not found of counseling questions, and I would consider them off-topic. Mostly because, in the past, I've seen online buddhism communities have the experienced users be pushed away by newcomers loading the community with emotional struggles and personal dilemmas, and "buddhist advices" following up to the point the actual buddhist users were no more there (they literally nibanna'd...from the community :)

But I also think many of these questions can be formulated in ways that are more general/useful for a broader audience and that extract more buddhism knowledge from answers, and SE is a good place for that kind of thing.

With proper guidance, (and good, available help material), I think the community could easily guide users to improve questions such as "My girfriend left me, I'm unable to concentrate, what should I do? HELP!" (which attracts lots of personal advices telling the OP what he should do: "do vipassana!", "donate to the poor!", "there is no girlfriend, a frog jumps into the pond, splash!") into something more general, useful to the questioner, to the community and on-topic such as "What buddhist techniques, exercises or practices are there to improve concentration under emotional stress?"

On the other hand, I'm a little surprised that recent questions with that taste have attracted informative knowledge-packed answers, steering away from counseling answers.

We are ambivalent about ...

  1. Very broad questions. Sometimes these get closed down but sometimes they become very popular

  2. Very specific questions - as above

1 & 2: It's hard to pindown...A few things I see too broad questions and too specific questions having in common, at least the ones I would not consider proper for SE, are:

  1. Very few people, by just reading them, would know the answer.
  2. Maybe 50 lines could fit an answer, but no one who knows the answer would be able to write one without going through some serious literature review and spending hours of laborious editing.
  3. No 50 lines or so of answer would satisfy the question.

(note: I'm not giving any special significance to the number 50. This number reads "within reason" or "a suitable size for an SE answer".)

As in other SE sites, (1) alone is not a good reason for downvoting or closing. (2) just turns the question into a zombie, doomed for eternity with zero votes and zero answers. Now (3) I think is a solid reason for considering it inadequate.

In other words, I think the problematic questions in this set are those that taxes too much a possible answer.

  • Maybe like is a strong word for our attitudes towards experiential based questions but we do seem to keep them open when they are about meditation e.g. buddhism.stackexchange.com/questions/1999/… I personally think that's fair but that's just me. Commented Oct 3, 2014 at 18:20

We should be careful of becoming averse to what happens on this site, as well as of any attachment we may have, wishes for the site to be this way or that way. This site has a lot of potential and I've recently been guilty of those things.

Let's have a look at the more established StackExchange sites and see what makes them so great, and let's see how we can make this site stand out from ordinary forums.


Speaking for myself, I don't like:

  • superficial controversies and popular topics (can buddha be a woman, LGBT topics etc.)
  • comparative-religion questions (tend to borderline with "whose father is stronger?")
  • questions about scientific studies of Buddhist practices (I don't believe the amount and depth of research currently done on B. is enough to adequately answer these)
  • questions requesting conclusive summary / comparative analysis of any subject across all texts and/or commentary traditions
  • questions challenging buddhism beliefs in light of scientific world view (e.g. rebirth)

Questions I like:

  • About meaning of certain passages in texts
  • About definitions of basic concepts (suffering etc.)
  • About basic principles (often encoded as matrika lists) and how they play out in life
  • About challenges one faces in one's practice (as long as they are not too personal / specific and can be of use to many other practitioners)
  • Reference requests (finding texts a quote comes from)

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