Reconciling Suttas on Debate

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Reconciling Suttas on Debate

Post by retrofuturist » Thu Jan 09, 2020 10:07 am

Greetings all,

I was looking at suttas on the subjects of discussion and debate, and I came across the following texts, which (on face value, at least) seem as if they are potentially at odds, somewhat.

When talking about "the bases of talk"... we read the following.
Kathāvatthu Sutta, AN. ii. 198-9

Those who speak with quarrelsome intent,
settled in their opinions, swollen with pride,
ignoble, having assailed virtues,
look for openings [to attack] one another.

They mutually delight when their opponent
speaks badly and makes a mistake,
[they rejoice] in his bewilderment and defeat;
but noble ones don’t engage in such talk.

If a wise person wants to talk,
having known the time is right,
without quarrelsomeness or pride,
the sagely person should utter
the speech that the noble ones practice,
which is connected with the Dhamma and meaning.

Not being insolent or aggressive,
with a mind not elated,
he speaks free from envy
on the basis of right knowledge.

He should approve of what is well expressed
but should not attack what is badly stated.
He should not train in faultfinding
nor seize on the other’s mistakes;
he should not overwhelm and crush his opponent,
nor speak mendacious words.

Truly, a discussion among the good
is for the sake of knowledge and confidence.
Such is the way the noble discuss things;
this is the discussion of the noble ones.
Having understood this, the wise person
should not swell up but should discuss things.
Note, the bolded portion above... "he should not overwhelm and crush his opponent".

Yet, then we come across sutta accounts of the Buddha doing precisely this in debate with others. See the following extract from MN 35: Cula-Saccaka Sutta, again noting the bolded portion...
In the same way, Aggivessana, when you are interrogated, rebuked, & pressed by me with regard to your own statement, you are empty, void, mistaken. But it was you who made this statement before the assembly in Vesālī: 'I see no contemplative or brahman, the head of an order, the head of a group, or even one who claims to be an arahant, rightly self-awakened, who — engaged in debate with me — would not shiver, quiver, shake, & break out in sweat under the armpits. Even if I were to engage a senseless stump in debate, it — engaged with me in debate — would shiver, quiver, & shake, to say nothing of a human being.' But now some drops of sweat coming out of your forehead, drenching your upper robe, are landing on the ground, whereas now I have no sweat on my body." And the Blessed One uncovered his golden-colored body to the assembly. When this was said, Saccaka the Nigaṇṭha-son fell silent, abashed, sitting with his shoulders drooping, his head down, brooding, at a loss for words.

Then Dummukha [BadMouth] the Licchavi-son — sensing that Saccaka the Nigaṇṭha-son was silent, abashed, sitting with his shoulders drooping, his head down, brooding, at a loss for words — said to the Blessed One, "Lord, a simile has occurred to me."

"Let it occur to you, Dummukha," the Blessed One said.

"Suppose, lord, that not far from a village or town was a pond. There in it was a crab. Then a number of boys & girls, leaving the village or town, would go to the pond and, on arrival, would go down to bathe in it. Taking the crab out of the water, they would place it on the ground. And whenever the crab extended a leg, the boys or girls would cut it off, break it, and smash it with sticks or stones right there, so that the crab — with all its legs cut off, broken, & smashed — would be unable to get back in the water as before. In the same way, whatever Saccaka the Nigaṇṭha-son's writhings, capers, & contortions, the Blessed One has cut them off, broken them, and smashed them all, so that Saccaka the Nigaṇṭha-son is now unable to approach the Blessed One again for the purpose of debate."
for which the one defeated in debate later expresses remorse...
When this was said, Saccaka the Nigaṇṭha-son said to the Blessed One, "It is we, Master Gotama, who were insolent, we who were reckless, in that we construed that Master Gotama could be attacked statement by statement. For there might be safety for a person who has attacked a rutting elephant, but there is no safety for a person who has attacked Master Gotama. There might be safety for a person who has attacked a mass of fire, but there is no safety for a person who has attacked Master Gotama. There might be safety for a person who has attacked a fanged snake, a poisonous snake, but there is no safety for a person who has attacked Master Gotama. It is we, Master Gotama, who were insolent, we who were reckless, in that we construed that Master Gotama could be attacked statement by statement.
What do you think? Is there a conflict in these passages, or do they just show "both sides of the coin" as it pertains to the activity of debate.

Comments, and explorations (mindful of the topic, of course) are welcome.

:soap:

Metta,
Paul. :)
"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"It is natural that one who knows and sees things as they really are is disenchanted and dispassionate." (AN 10.2)

“Truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” (Flannery O'Connor)

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Re: Reconciling Suttas on Debate

Post by robertk » Thu Jan 09, 2020 10:16 am

Really it all depends on the underlying mind-states.
When the Buddha 'crushes' the states are all with unlimited wisdom etc.

When we 'overwhelm and crush' an opponent in debate, it is quite likely to be associated with unwise states.
But not necessarily: we could be helping someone to see the error of their views, and that might need direct explanation that is unwelcome, yet still rooted in some degree of wisdom.

Also someone could agree with another in a pleasant way, and all are happy- yet the agreement, and original point, was all rooted in wrong view.

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Re: Reconciling Suttas on Debate

Post by SarathW » Thu Jan 09, 2020 10:27 am

Buddha used different technics (soft, hard and the middle) to teach people.
As unenlightened people, we can't use all these techniques.
It is unfair to be adamant with your view when you know for sure that you are not enlightened.
perhaps we can prove our points using Sutta but not from our own experience.
It is not wise to assume that Sutta is always right.
So we have to have an open mind approach.
If you think that you are not enlightened you always have to use the soft approach.
Because you may be wrong and you can learn from the very person you try to teach.

Many teachers are overcome by the tenth Mara.
They disparage others.
“As the lamp consumes oil, the path realises Nibbana”

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Re: Reconciling Suttas on Debate

Post by DooDoot » Thu Jan 09, 2020 11:16 am

retrofuturist wrote:
Thu Jan 09, 2020 10:07 am
What do you think? Is there a conflict in these passages, or do they just show "both sides of the coin" as it pertains to the activity of debate.
I think the opening sentence: "Those who speak with quarrelsome intent" some it up well; namely, it is all about intent. Further, it says: "Truly, a discussion among the good is for the sake of knowledge and confidence."
There is always an official executioner. If you try to take his place, It is like trying to be a master carpenter and cutting wood. If you try to cut wood like a master carpenter, you will only hurt your hand.

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Re: Reconciling Suttas on Debate

Post by Sam Vara » Thu Jan 09, 2020 11:26 am

An interesting topic which raises the wider question of how we conceive of the suttas and their commentaries, and what view we have of the Buddha as their originator and author.

Some people seem to see in the suttas a complete and coherent solution to the problem of their and other people's suffering. They are necessarily internally self-consistent, although problems of translation and our own interpretations might obscure that consistency. Were there real inconsistencies which violate (say) the law of non-contradiction, then the salvific potential of Buddhism is somehow vitiated. Such people would tend to look for reasons as to why the examples given are not really in contradiction. For example, they claim that what the Buddha does to those he vanquishes in debate is not what he warns others against; or that he does it with a pure heart which we cannot yet aspire to.

Alternatively, we might see the suttas as human artefacts, and recognise that what we think of as "The Buddha" is a literary invention, cobbled together from a range of sources and memories and incapable of independent verification as to the facts of his existence and character. Harold Beaver (Ajahn Sucitto's old literature teacher from the days before Sucitto became a monk) provides an example of this in his book The Broken Gong. The suttas as literature, and the person of the Buddha as subject to literary criticism. He sees the debates such as with Aggivessana as literary set-pieces, and, apart from claiming that
This cannot be gloating exactly; a Buddha can hardly be supposed to gloat over their opponent
he doesn't seem to see the necessity of consistency between this story about the Buddha, and others when he he has a different didactic purpose. Expecting it all to tie up is like expecting the creatures in Aesop's Fables to all inhabit a verifiable ecosystem.

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Re: Reconciling Suttas on Debate

Post by DooDoot » Thu Jan 09, 2020 11:28 am

retrofuturist wrote:
Thu Jan 09, 2020 10:07 am
When this was said, Saccaka the Nigaṇṭha-son said to the Blessed One, "It is we, Master Gotama, who were insolent, we who were reckless, in that we construed that Master Gotama could be attacked statement by statement. For there might be safety for a person who has attacked a rutting elephant, but there is no safety for a person who has attacked Master Gotama. There might be safety for a person who has attacked a mass of fire, but there is no safety for a person who has attacked Master Gotama. There might be safety for a person who has attacked a fanged snake, a poisonous snake, but there is no safety for a person who has attacked Master Gotama. It is we, Master Gotama, who were insolent, we who were reckless, in that we construed that Master Gotama could be attacked statement by statement.
Also, I think the passage above shows when Saccaka was "smashed", it was essentially self-inflicted.
There is always an official executioner. If you try to take his place, It is like trying to be a master carpenter and cutting wood. If you try to cut wood like a master carpenter, you will only hurt your hand.

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Re: Reconciling Suttas on Debate

Post by SarathW » Thu Jan 09, 2020 11:38 am

Are you saying I am enlightened? :strawman: :jedi:
No.
What I am saying is a when a person progresses in his practice s/he can be the subject of Mara's last weapon.
Mara gets the practitioner to disparage others through various kinds of achievements.
For instance, Devadatta was possessed by Mara when he involves with schism.

In my opinion every practitioner should be familiar with the ten Maras provided in your reply on the following topic.
We should continuously check ourselves against Mara.

viewtopic.php?f=13&t=35806&p=535737&hilit=
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Re: Reconciling Suttas on Debate

Post by retrofuturist » Thu Jan 09, 2020 11:39 am

Greetings DooDoot,
DooDoot wrote:
Thu Jan 09, 2020 11:28 am
Also, I think the passage above shows when Saccaka was "smashed", it was essentially self-inflicted.
By that do you mean the over-cockiness which caused him to initiate the debate, in which he was (according to one observer) smashed like a crab?

Metta,
Paul. :)
"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"It is natural that one who knows and sees things as they really are is disenchanted and dispassionate." (AN 10.2)

“Truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” (Flannery O'Connor)

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Re: Reconciling Suttas on Debate

Post by DooDoot » Thu Jan 09, 2020 11:41 am

SarathW wrote:
Thu Jan 09, 2020 11:38 am
What I am saying is a when a person progresses in his practice s/he can be the subject of Mara's last weapon.
I think because you are generally on the receiving end of the debate whip, you appear to be blaming others for your humiliation that arises from your own self views & wrong views. As I said, when Saccaka was smashed by Buddha, it was self-inflicted.

When you, SarathW, post, you generally posted with rigid statements asserting you know. This is why you get smashed. A lack flexibility. Then you start to blame others of being Mara when it is actually you possessed by Mara. ;)

The Tao Te Ching says:
A man is born gentle and weak.
At his death he is hard and stiff.
Green plants are tender and filled with sap.
At their death they are withered and dry.

Therefore the stiff and unbending is the disciple of death.
The gentle and yielding is the disciple of life.

Thus an army without flexibility never wins a battle.
A tree that is unbending is easily broken.

The hard and strong will fall.
The soft and weak will overcome.
:alien:
retrofuturist wrote:
Thu Jan 09, 2020 11:39 am
By that do you mean the over-cockiness which caused him to initiate the debate, in which he was (according to one observer) smashed like a crab?
I think so because the debate was entered not for the sake of knowledge. For example, SarathW once posted I treat him harshly. Personally, while I may challenge SarathW, my sole intention is for the sake of his/our knowledge.

:smile:
Last edited by DooDoot on Thu Jan 09, 2020 11:50 am, edited 2 times in total.
There is always an official executioner. If you try to take his place, It is like trying to be a master carpenter and cutting wood. If you try to cut wood like a master carpenter, you will only hurt your hand.

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Re: Reconciling Suttas on Debate

Post by SarathW » Thu Jan 09, 2020 11:50 am

When you, SarathW, post, you generally posted with rigid statements asserting you know. This is why you get smashed. A lack flexibility. Then you start to blame others of being Mara when it is actually you possessed by Mara. ;)
You are most welcome to wear the hat if it suits you.
:tongue:
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Re: Reconciling Suttas on Debate

Post by retrofuturist » Thu Jan 09, 2020 11:55 am

Greetings DooDoot,
DooDoot wrote:
Thu Jan 09, 2020 11:41 am
For example, SarathW once posted I treat him harshly. Personally, while I may challenge SarathW, my sole intention is for the sake of his/our knowledge.
:anjali:

Metta,
Paul. :)
"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"It is natural that one who knows and sees things as they really are is disenchanted and dispassionate." (AN 10.2)

“Truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” (Flannery O'Connor)

SarathW
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Re: Reconciling Suttas on Debate

Post by SarathW » Thu Jan 09, 2020 12:03 pm

I may challenge SarathW, my sole intention is for the sake of his/our knowledge.
and to test whether I practice what I preach.
:D
“As the lamp consumes oil, the path realises Nibbana”

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Re: Reconciling Suttas on Debate

Post by SDC » Thu Jan 09, 2020 5:55 pm

The Buddha being capable of debating in a way that is categorized as "crushing" shouldn't give anyone grounds for desiring to emulate such behavior. Only being on par with that level of knowledge would the tact even be sufficiently available and the most pertinent information be delivered so capably and directly.

The last thing lay people should use as a guide in debates are the actions of individuals who were not fettered in any way. Most lay people, being fettered, should know they cannot act without conceit and therefore cannot choose how and where it will rear its head. That is why the precepts guide the emulation, not simply the imitation of the Buddha nor the arahats (which would be none other than sīlabbata-parāmāsa). The non-arahat should know this and therefore be extremely tactful in tone, lest they reveal their hand as one who has not made the distinction.

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Re: Reconciling Suttas on Debate

Post by mikenz66 » Thu Jan 09, 2020 11:35 pm

Some great replies here, especially to do with attitude.

I think this is very true:
SDC wrote:
Thu Jan 09, 2020 5:55 pm
The last thing lay people should use as a guide in debates are the actions of individuals who were not fettered in any way. Most lay people, being fettered, should know they cannot act without conceit and therefore cannot choose how and where it will rear its head. ...
Except that I'd replace "lay" with "non-awakened"...

I also thought DD made a good point that the "crushed feeling" in the sutta was because of the attitude and argumentativeness that the protagonist Saccaka brought to the debate. There is a nuance here that sometimes seems lost. That is, these situations are quite different from cases where someone is attacked or insulted for no apparent reason. In the former case it is reasonable to say that the dismay that Saccaka feels has been brought upon himself. Whereas, in the latter, such the claim that any dismay felt is self-inflicted is merely the self-serving excuse of a bully.

:heart:
Mike

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Re: Reconciling Suttas on Debate

Post by SDC » Thu Jan 09, 2020 11:42 pm

mikenz66 wrote:
Thu Jan 09, 2020 11:35 pm
I also thought DD made a good point that the "crushed feeling" in the sutta was because of the attitude and argumentativeness that the protagonist Saccaka brought to the debate.
A very good point. Also good to acknowledge that the simile was that of Dummukha who seems to be a bit of a troublemaker.

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