The role of debate and discussion in understanding

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The role of debate and discussion in understanding

Postby Ben » Thu Sep 01, 2011 12:15 am

Hi everyone

An interesting line of enquiry came up in the The Dhammic free-for-all" a worthy approach to Buddhism thread which we believe warrents further investigation.

While Jaidyn's thread has been moved to the suggestion box to discuss issues relating to the role of the Dhammic-free-for-all (DFFA) forum, I would like to explore your thoughts on the role of debate and discussion in assisting one's understanding (and practice of) the Dhamma.

A few extracts from posts made at the DFFA Forum thread:
Jaidyn wrote:Are these kinds of discussions important or not for spiritual development? Why, and when?


Ben wrote:there is a tradition within different Buddhist schools to engage in debate as a means of challenging and testing one's own knowledge.


Mike wrote:Hi Jaidyn,
Jaidyn wrote:Are these kinds of discussions important or not for spiritual development? Why, and when?

Interesting question.

Personally, I've not found heated argumentation to be particularly useful to me. In some cases it has helped me hone little details of my understanding, but in my experience the nature of forums such as this is that they tend to focus me on improving my intellectual sparring technique rather than development of my actual understanding of the Dhamma, which tends to come much more from off-line practice and other activities with like-minded practitioners and teachers, and from reading books and listening to talks from various teachers.

So, to me, these heated discussions tend to be interesting diversions, rather than real aids to development. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. Nothing wrong with some intellectual exercise, and it might as well be about Dhamma...

Others might have other experiences. It would be interesting to hear them.

:anjali:
Mike


Kare wrote:I tend to agree with you. But I have to admit that I seldom read those marathon-threads where arguments tend to be repeated over and over. But it happens that I look into them, and then it also happens that I find some interesting fact or reference that I did not know. It also happens that some of those facts or references makes me think ... and I have found (to my surprise) that a new thought now and then does not hurt.


So what do you think?
kind regards

Ben
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Re: The role of debate and discussion in understanding

Postby SDC » Thu Sep 01, 2011 12:51 am

Debate is great IF those engaged are willing to follow through and not duck out no matter how long it takes. Be willing to allow your own views to be attacked! And if they are shown to be wrong/inconsistent/weak, and you understand why and are willing to admit it, then those views can be modified accordingly. And that is possible for everyone that witnesses the discussion.

For example, I must be willing to allow ^^this^^ view I just presented to be brutally attacked by anyone here because I chose to put it out there. And if I am not willing to deal with that I should not have hit "Submit".
Through many of samsara’s births I hasten seeking, finding not the builder of this house - pain is birth again, again. O builder of this house you’re seen, you shall not build a house again, all your beams have given away, rafters of the ridge decayed, mind to the unconditioned gone, exhaustion of craving has it reached.(Dhp - 153, 154)
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Re: The role of debate and discussion in understanding

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Sep 01, 2011 12:59 am

Greetings,

I think it's very useful if you frame it as a learning opportunity.

We could all speak in accord on something incredibly obvious, but would we learn anything new from that?

If people are prepared to engaged in a frank but respectful, exchange of perspsectives, check their egos out at the door, and engage in questioning and counter-questioning then I think that's fantastic. Looking at the Sutta Pitaka, it seems as if this is very much how it was done "back in the day".

No need to get heated... you don't want to vomit blood! 8-)

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The role of debate and discussion in understanding

Postby bodom » Thu Sep 01, 2011 1:36 am

retrofuturist wrote:If people are prepared to engaged in a frank but respectful, exchange of perspectives, check their egos out at the door, and engage in questioning and counter-questioning then I think that's fantastic.


:goodpost:

Its important to keep this sutta in mind when engaged in any debate:

"Only here is there purity"
— that's what they say —
"No other doctrines are pure" —
so they say.
Insisting that what they depend on is good,
they are deeply entrenched in their personal truths.

Seeking controversy, they plunge into an assembly,
regarding one another as fools.
Relying on others' authority,
they speak in debate.
Desiring praise, they claim to be skilled.

Engaged in disputes in the midst of the assembly,
— anxious, desiring praise —
the one defeated is
chagrined.
Shaken with criticism, he seeks for an opening.

He whose doctrine is [judged as] demolished,
defeated, by those judging the issue:
He laments, he grieves — the inferior exponent.
"He beat me," he mourns.

These disputes have arisen among contemplatives.
In them are elation,
dejection.
Seeing this, one should abstain from disputes,
for they have no other goal
than the gaining of praise.

He who is praised there
for expounding his doctrine
in the midst of the assembly,
laughs on that account & grows haughty,
attaining his heart's desire.

That haughtiness will be his grounds for vexation,
for he'll speak in pride & conceit.
Seeing this, one should abstain from debates.
No purity is attained by them, say the skilled.

Like a strong man nourished on royal food,
you go about, roaring, searching out an opponent.
Wherever the battle is,
go there, strong man.
As before, there's none here.

Those who dispute, taking hold of a view,
saying, "This, and this only, is true,"
those you can talk to.
Here there is nothing —
no confrontation
at the birth of disputes.

Among those who live above confrontation
not pitting view against view,
whom would you gain as opponent, Pasura,
among those here
who are grasping no more?

So here you come,
conjecturing,
your mind conjuring
viewpoints.
You're paired off with a pure one
and so cannot proceed.


http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

:anjali:
The heart of the path is SO simple. No need for long explanations. Give up clinging to love and hate, just rest with things as they are. That is all I do in my own practice. Do not try to become anything. Do not make yourself into anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you sit, let it be. When you walk, let it be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing. Of course, there are dozens of meditation techniques to develop samadhi and many kinds of vipassana. But it all comes back to this - just let it all be. Step over here where it is cool, out of the battle. - Ajahn Chah
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Re: The role of debate and discussion in understanding

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Sep 01, 2011 1:47 am

Greetings Bodom,

Excellent sutta... nice find.

I've just referenced it in the following topic.

Appropriate conduct within the Dhammic free-for-all forum
viewtopic.php?f=16&t=175

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


Dharma Wheel (Mahayana / Vajrayana forum) -- Open flower ~ Open book (blog)
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Re: The role of debate and discussion in understanding

Postby SDC » Thu Sep 01, 2011 2:24 am

bodom wrote:Like a strong man nourished on royal food,
you go about, roaring, searching out an opponent.
Wherever the battle is,
go there, strong man.
As before, there's none here.


This = the internet.
Through many of samsara’s births I hasten seeking, finding not the builder of this house - pain is birth again, again. O builder of this house you’re seen, you shall not build a house again, all your beams have given away, rafters of the ridge decayed, mind to the unconditioned gone, exhaustion of craving has it reached.(Dhp - 153, 154)
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Re: The role of debate and discussion in understanding

Postby chownah » Thu Sep 01, 2011 2:51 am

I studied education at university in preparation to becoming a teacher....one theme they emphasized over and over again was "learning style".....everyone has a style for learning...some people learn best when alone and some learn best when in groups....some when being calm...some when being active....some through visual....some through tactile...some through auitory...some through conflict....some through compromise.....
Everyone learns in a different way. People who learn one way sometimes do not understand how it can be that people who learn in some other way can possibly be learning anything. My view is that we are all learning all the time and the Buddha teaches us how to use this constant learning to achieve the best.
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Re: The role of debate and discussion in understanding

Postby alan » Thu Sep 01, 2011 3:21 am

Depends on how you define spiritual development. In some traditions, rationality seems to be subservient.
There is no way to argue against, or for, a koan answer. But in Theravada there is a set of principles, and an outlook that needs to be understood. If the best way to understand is to contrast and compare, then why not do it?
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Re: The role of debate and discussion in understanding

Postby ground » Thu Sep 01, 2011 4:06 am

Ben wrote: ... the role of debate and discussion in assisting one's understanding (and practice of) the Dhamma
...
So what do you think?

1. It is useful to probe the conceptual consistency of one's own view
2. It is useful to get inpiration from the knowledge of others which may entail modification or enhanced subtlety of one's own view
3. It is useful to experience the relativity of views through investigation into the causes of certain views (those of others and one's own)
4. Since one's practice is conditioned by one's view (and vice versa) debate is an aspect of practice

Kind regards
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Re: The role of debate and discussion in understanding

Postby PeterB » Thu Sep 01, 2011 7:20 am

In my view there comes a distinctive cut off point in any thread debate that exceeds a dozen or so posts.
At this stage almost invariably a thread will start to develop certain characteristics.

People will start to make assertions beyond their level of personal experience and Insight.
These assertions will follow party lines or personal quirks.
An attempt to parse and analyse in English certain Pali terms will result in the spirit of that term being lost and the letter being disputed.
Someone like me will get pissed off with what they see as self indulgence and attempt to throw a spanner in the works, which will often come close to being a breach of Right Speech or even cross into a clear breach.
People will have more justification and rationalisation for walking passed their cushion and turning on the PC.

In short, I think debate and discussion is of very limited value in understanding the Dhamma. And that any online debate or discussion should be conducted within certain defined and pragmatic boundaries.
By pragmatic I mean that which leads directly to more time spent on the cushion , under the guidance of experienced meditators.
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Re: The role of debate and discussion in understanding

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Sep 01, 2011 7:47 am

PeterB wrote:In short, I think debate and discussion is of very limited value in understanding the Dhamma. And that any online debate or discussion should be conducted within certain defined and pragmatic boundaries....

While, as has been observed, different people have different learning styles, I'm also unconvinced of the value of debate. And not just debate in discussions of Dhamma. My experience from a couple of decades of participating in various Internet discussions is that the for me the useful discussions are those that are quite focussed on clarifying technical points. This is where I find Internet discussions can be truly brilliant. I really struggle to think of a case where I gained much from discussions (about Dhamma or anything else) where the aim of the participants was to change someone's opinion on something.

But, of course, such discussions can be intellectually stimulating, as well as highly entertaining... :woohoo:

:anjali:
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Re: The role of debate and discussion in understanding

Postby PeterB » Thu Sep 01, 2011 7:59 am

See I find them neither entertaining nor stimulating most of the time Mike. I just get pissed off and start behaving badly.
I am aware that this is MY problem and I am trying to develop equanimity in the face of endless train spotterish discussions about the precise way to dot an I or cross a t.
I just keep getting the smiling face of Luang Por Chah in my mind, putting his finger to his lips and then pointing to the cushion.
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Re: The role of debate and discussion in understanding

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Sep 01, 2011 8:14 am

PeterB wrote:See I find them neither entertaining nor stimulating most of the time Mike. I just get pissed off and start behaving badly.

Why bother reading then?
PeterB wrote:I am aware that this is MY problem and I am trying to develop equanimity in the face of endless train spotterish discussions about the precise way to dot an I or cross a t.

Well, as I said, that's what the Internet tends to be good for. A great tool for that.
PeterB wrote:I just keep getting the smiling face of Luang Por Chah in my mind, putting his finger to his lips and then pointing to the cushion.

Sure, but I have the impression that he did have quite a bit to say if his audience was fluent in Thai or Lao...

:anjali:
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Re: The role of debate and discussion in understanding

Postby PeterB » Thu Sep 01, 2011 8:20 am

Why bother reading them ? Good question. At times I manage to not. Then I find myself watching with fascination as the usual sus......cough.... as those members much given to debate break open their Pali dictionaries again and wag the ol' forefinger of truth. But you are right.


Ajahn Chah often spoke at length. However that was entirely uncontaminated by debate... :smile:
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Re: The role of debate and discussion in understanding

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Sep 01, 2011 8:36 am

PeterB wrote:Why bother reading them ? Good question. At times I manage to not. Then I find myself watching with fascination as the usual sus......cough.... as those members much given to debate break open their Pali dictionaries again and wag the ol' forefinger of truth. But you are right.


Ajahn Chah often spoke at length. However that was entirely uncontaminated by debate... :smile:
No one, not anybody, not a soul, nor any dastardly individual is forcing you to watch with fascination the usual suspects engage in their lexical exercises in Pali. And in turn no one is forcing you to wag your middle finger of disapproval. Next time you feel the urge to peek at some debate that arouses your disapproval, sit on your hands.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.
"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: The role of debate and discussion in understanding

Postby PeterB » Thu Sep 01, 2011 8:48 am

You are of course absolutely correct Tilt.
I am sure that I can count on your assistance in my renewed determination to keep those hands well sat on.
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Re: The role of debate and discussion in understanding

Postby Jaidyn » Thu Sep 01, 2011 9:06 am

Just came by such an interesting and relevant concept in the book I am reading. (Do not be scared! Yes, I refer to the feminist-buddhist-book I recently ordered, but my quotation is not about that! ;) )

(In the book: (p. 132-3) Buddhism After Patriarchy: A Feminist History, Analysis, and Reconstruction of Buddhism)
Rita Gross explains the concept of mutual transformation by referring to John Cobb - Beyond Dialogue: Toward a Mutual Transformation of Buddhism and Christianity.

The concept of mutual transformation is based on the experience that when one enters into genuine dialogue, one is changed. Genuine dialogue is conversation with the other that abandons, in so far as possible, the agenda of debate, argument, scoring points, or conversation. In genuine dialogue one, seeks only to explain one’s self and to understand the other. But such genuine dialogue, in ways that can not be predicted at the beginning of the encounter, changes its partners. Therefore, genuine dialogue is inherently risky and threatening to ideologues of any persuasion.

She then explains further that changes are almost imperceptible to the mind and consists of inner growth because of truly understanding the other. While the changes are not deliberately sought, they arise organically when there is no protection of ideological self-justification.

She goes on explaining that mutual transformation results when people with different spiritual perspectives interact and that the process usually are an internal dialouge based on serious commitment to both perspectives.
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Re: The role of debate and discussion in understanding

Postby Kim OHara » Thu Sep 01, 2011 10:46 am

Jaidyn wrote:(In the book: (p. 132-3) Buddhism After Patriarchy: A Feminist History, Analysis, and Reconstruction of Buddhism)
Rita Gross explains the concept of mutual transformation by referring to John Cobb - Beyond Dialogue: Toward a Mutual Transformation of Buddhism and Christianity.

The concept of mutual transformation is based on the experience that when one enters into genuine dialogue, one is changed. Genuine dialogue is conversation with the other that abandons, in so far as possible, the agenda of debate, argument, scoring points, or conversation. In genuine dialogue one, seeks only to explain one’s self and to understand the other. But such genuine dialogue, in ways that can not be predicted at the beginning of the encounter, changes its partners. Therefore, genuine dialogue is inherently risky and threatening to ideologues of any persuasion.


This is excellent, Jaidyn - it's the way debate should work. The trouble is that so many of us don't really want to change - often because changing involves (shudder) admitting that we were wrong.
Sometimes we can get away with admitting it only to ourselves, and that's not so embarrassing but often leaves the debate hanging in mid-air, unresolved as far as other participants are concerned. Other times we are honest enough to admit publicly to our change of heart.
Of course, the more ego is bound up in the position we start with, the more likely we will be to defend that position even when it becomes clear that it is indefensible.
Sigh.
Like PeterB, I often see threads lose all usefulness and common sense after a dozen or so posts.

:namaste:
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Re: The role of debate and discussion in understanding

Postby Ben » Thu Sep 01, 2011 11:15 am

Hi everyone,

My own experience has been that day-to-day - I don't think I get a lot out of online dhamma discussions and debates. I'll occassionally participate but - I tend to leave it to others to get involved. I'm much more practice oriented and feel I can be more effective by encouraging others to engage in practice. And by practice I mean developing sila, samadhi and panna (via meditation); pariyatti and dana. Something one does rather than what one talks about (if you like).
But on the other hand, I owe a debt of gratitude to members of a couple of Buddhist discussion boards for assisting me with developing my intellectual understanding of the Dhamma and that has happened through the prism of public and private discussion. Cinta-maya-panna conditions (in part) Bhavana-maya-panna. We also know from the Brahmajala Sutta that a primary source of micchaditthi is meditative experiences. So, for me its been important to continue to give primacy to meditation but to also temper it with pariyatti and association with my kalayanamittas and their counsel.
kind regards

Ben
"Only those who take to meditation with good intentions can be assured of success. With the development of the purity and the power of the mind backed by the insight into the ultimate truth of nature, one might be able to do a lot of things in the right direction for the benefit of mankind."

Sayagyi U Ba Khin


Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global Relief
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