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Prompted by this question:

What is the reason for attributing Lord Buddha's statues to days the of week?

I understand in this instance, the usage of the statues of the Buddha himself makes it seem that this has something to do with Buddhism, but it really doesn't - it's simply a use of the Buddha image by Thai people to exemplify supposed qualities of people born on specific days of the week; nothing to do with Buddhism as it is taught in Thailand. E.g., a person born on the day of the Buddha holding the alms bowl is said to be blessed with affluence. Obviously, the person asking the question may not be aware that this is not actually a Buddhist practice, but how should we deal with such questions?

For example, if a monastery runs a public food court; should we allow questions about the running of the food court? Or a beauty pageant? What about if they teach traditional Thai massage? Or parade a Buddha image around the city to bring rain?

Basically, what should we do with questions that don't have a Buddhist answer? If the correct answer to a question lies outside of Buddhism, is the question off topic even if it is an accepted practice of certain Buddhists?

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It looks like the question that prompted this has an answer, and seems to be at least borderline in scope.

Jumping to the more off topic topics, like food courts and pageants, most questions on these topics would be out of scope, so just vote to close as out of scope, put your rational in a comment under the question, and let the process work.

Occasionally the comments under the question will begin to turn into a conversation that should either be taken to chat, or start a meta discussion, and link to it in the comments.

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Having answered the question, I must respectfully disagree. That is your reading of the significance of these objects.

At the root they are Buddha images, scenes in the life of Gotama Buddha and part of a lineage of iconography which has assisted both monks and laypeople in their spiritual practice for centuries. As a layperson visiting a temple, I will pay respect to each one in turn without really thinking about which day is mine and which might grant me luck or reflect some aspect of my personality.

You might want to post an answer explaining your view – I would like to hear it! But I don’t think the question should be closed.

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    Your interpretation is fine and good, but as a Thai Buddhist monk, I can tell you, it's not just my 'reading' of their significance; paying respect to the Buddha is not the reason for lining the Buddha images up and putting money bowls in front of them. Anyway, this question is more about what to do in general with questions that are agreed to be non-Buddhist practices conducted in/by Buddhist institutions. – yuttadhammo Jun 23 '14 at 16:00
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    Perhaps they are "money bowls". I have in mind Wat Rakhang in Thonburi, where you donate a few baht for a bottle of oil and pour it on the lamps. There are other ways to donate money, for instance by paying for a roof tile. It's all just merit-making through dana, it seems to me. – neubau Jun 24 '14 at 1:28
  • Right, but the question was about the correlation between days of the week and Buddha images; the correlation is based on Thai folk astrology, not Buddhism. – yuttadhammo Jun 24 '14 at 1:29
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    @yuttadhammo Could it be that you belong to the Thammayut nikai, and the temples where bytebuster and myself have seen the days-of-the-week Buddhas are Mahanikai? If so, the varying positions on this would illustrate neatly the difference between these, the two major schools of Thai Buddhism. – neubau Jun 24 '14 at 12:26
  • no, I'm Mahanikaya, which is why I'm pretty confident having heard the meaning behind them many times. Why does it seem so hard to believe it's based on astrology? Have you never seen the shakey-sticks with the horoscope slips of paper? Or the coin-slot electric ones? It all comes from the same place; should we consider fortune-telling questions on-topic? – yuttadhammo Jun 24 '14 at 17:57
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I think that the criteria we should consider are these: (1) Do many Buddhists perform the practice in question? (2) Do most non-Buddhists not perform the practice in question? Any question about a practice that meets (1) and (2) should be on-topic. It is possible that some practices that fail (1) and/or (2); i.e. these are sufficient but not necessary conditions.

For example, let's consider the statues example. Is it the case that (1) many Buddhists attribute statues of the Buddha to days of the week and (2) most non-Buddhists do not attribute statues of the Buddha to days of the week? If so, I think this question should be on-topic.

On the other hand, consider beauty pageants. Is it the case that (1) many Buddhists / Buddhist temples run beauty pageants and (2) most non-Buddhists do not run beauty pageants? I don't know if this case passes test (1) (though I'm guessing it doesn't), but it definitely doesn't pass test (2), so this would be off-topic.

Likewise, traditional Thai massage - this may or may not pass test (1), but it definitely doesn't pass test (2).

And the parading-a-statue example - this may pass test (1) (if this is just a thing that one group of Buddhists does somewhere, probably not, but if, say, a large community of Buddhists does, then probably yes), and it definitely passes test (2). So, contingent on passing test (1), this would be on-topic.


What I'm basically trying to get at with these two tests is the following idea: if there is a strong correlation between being a Buddhist and performing a particular practice, then the practice is likely to have something to do with Buddhism (on a practical level if not a doctrinal level), and hence should probably be on-topic.

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    Your criteria doesn't leave room for the idea that many Buddhists might exclusively be practicing something that goes against the teachings of Buddhism; in the week/statutes case, it has more to do with being Thai than being Buddhist; Theravada Buddhists in Sri Lanka don't do this, and Buddhists in Burma have their own Burmese ritualistic practices; Bon rituals in Tibet may only performed by Buddhists, but there must be some that aren't considered Buddhist, but Bon. – yuttadhammo Jun 23 '14 at 23:20
  • Thinking about it more, the statues don't pass criteria two; the idea that people born on certain days of the week bear certain characteristics is common to many cultures: "Monday's Child is fair of face,", etc. The fact that they are using Buddha images to represent these characteristics doesn't make it special to my thinking. – yuttadhammo Jun 23 '14 at 23:30
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    I'm not sure that there is an association between each day and a personal characteristic. People born on Tuesdays (the reclining Buddha) are lazy? Again, each statue is connected to a miraculous event in the Buddha's lifetime. Knowledgable Buddhists are more likely to make this association. – neubau Jun 24 '14 at 1:33
  • @yuttadhammo Re: the statues and criterion (2) - sure, the broad idea of an association between days of the week and characteristics of children is present in many cultures, but the same is true of many other things that Buddhists believe in, e.g. reincarnation. The important thing is whether or not the details of the belief are strongly associated with Buddhism. – senshin Jun 24 '14 at 2:22
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    @yuttadhammo Re: your first comment - this is something I have to think about more. Nonetheless, for the time being, my opinion is that we should accept questions about local varieties of Buddhism, even if those varieties do things that "[go] against the teachings of Buddhism". If the statues thing is only done by Thai Buddhists, I think it should be on-topic; if it is done by all Thai people (Buddhist or not), then it should probably be off-topic. – senshin Jun 24 '14 at 2:27
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    In general, I'm a bit of the view that we really don't want to be in the business of defining what is and is not a Buddhist practice vs. a "cultural practice" when we get close to the line dividing them. Beauty pageants are pretty clearly removed from what constitutes a Buddhist religious practice for our purposes here, but statues of the Gautama Buddha being used in such a way isn't cleanly separate. Especially if we can describe it as a "Thai Buddhist practice." – Hrafn Jun 24 '14 at 8:37
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I think that answers to such questions might be quite useful and beneficial. The general goal of any SE site is to generate traffic such that 90% of it comes from search engines. If many people seek advice whether some practices are strictly Buddhist, expert answers found here might state it clearly, with relevant evidence, that this is not the case. The community, however, would have to make sure that the answers are polite and they don't criticize or diminish other traditions or customs.

I can think of lots of new-agey movements that draw inspiration from Buddhism among others. They take some catchy Buddhist phrases out of context and mix them with other systems. Sadly, many people confuse those with pure Buddha's teachings. It would be nice to decide whether the community here wants to tackle this problem or rather stick to purely Buddhism-related questions.

  • That makes sense to me; when the question deals with some practice that modern day Buddhists have taken up, answers that explain it not to be Buddhism would be important. I just wonder whether questions like "what is the meaning behind x" are on-topic if the correct answer has nothing to do with Buddhism. I guess so, since it deals with something that is generally thought to be Buddhist. – yuttadhammo Jun 24 '14 at 17:59
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Firstly, a good stackexchange site doesn't deal in primarily opinion based questions intended to be discussion starters. So downvoting and closing questions would deal with some of those mentioned (the massage one is just to provoke some indignation). The food court hypothetical also would be a closable question because it's just to arose indignation that monestaries would be so crass as to fund their activities the same way we do (by working in a mall food court).

The rain question is actually of interest historically. Buddhist monks had to get sponsors. The sponsors often cared more about practical magic (rain and the defeat of their enemies) more than fixing samsara. So we get historical accounts of Buddhist monks summoning rain. I wish I could find the story about a monk who summoned the rain by sitting on a pile of wood and starting a fire under it. The plan was the rain would come and extinguish the fire he was sitting on. (Chinese story)

Buddhism, broadly defined, is all the practices that self identifying Buddhist consider to Buddhist practices (or customs, etc). It is very syncretic. People have lost track of where the various practices have come from. So even if we wanted to include a rule that kept people on topic by keeping out, say, astronomy, Hinduism and Bon, it would be unfair to expect people to research where a tradition came from before they decide if it is Buddhist enough.

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I think if practice is traditional (in Buddhist region, so it counted as Buddhist practice, at least by natives) or performed by Buddhist monks, then it should be accepted. No matter if it seems "doesn't actually conform to the teachings of Buddhism" from your point of view. You may state your opinion in the answer. But to just discard is sectarian and revisionist attitude.

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I think we should accept cultural and artistic aspects of Buddhism as this is the only forum these can be brought up. Also the culture and art is influenced by Buddhism so there is some relevance.

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There is a difference between going against the dharma and being a local cultural practice, of which the Buddha statue example is the latter. I do not think Buddhism SE should only answer questions that have a "universal" scope. Buddhism is very diverse in teachings and practice, and that should be acknowleged and respected.

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