Always question authority

As I was reading the thread linked below, it reminded me of a high school teacher I’m very fond of. It was one of the best life lessons I’ve learned, and I remember to apply it regularly (samma sati). Mr J. was my European History teacher either my junior or senior year in high school. My J. had the desks in the room arranged in a circle (more like a rectangle), so that all the students could see not just the teacher, but each other. And he said this so often I don’t think any student of his will ever forget: Always question authority.

History was a subject that I really hated in school, (up until Mr. J’s class), so it was quite a revelation when I found out I didn’t actually hate history, I only thought I hated it because it was always taught in such a dead uninteresting way. Mr J brought it to life by critically examining everything, people’s motivations, why they did what they did, what worked and didn’t work, what we could learn from history, and whether or not we could even trust the source of our account of “history”. He also did this in an interactive way, engaging the whole class to discuss among ourselves instead of just spoon feeding us “truths” according to biased accounts of US historians.

May all Buddhists question their authorities and sacred texts to arrive at a better understanding of their own religion.

Wherever your are Mr. J, lots of metta to you.


Well, in Theravada, such an attitude is very much frowned upon

I second that! For many Western practitioners I don’t think the mere faith following works well. We are not really good Bhaktas or Saddhakas (with exceptions!), we’re more natural in being critical followers, and we should develop this approach skillfully. I say this with regret, having spent time in India, Sri Lanka and Thailand I’ve seen the marvelous tenderness of faith-followers and I wish I had this quality - but eh, I don’t, and still in my critical love for the dhamma, I still progress. So spicing Buddhism with sober Nietzschean criticism is not a bad recipe for us I think.


How would you square the OP with the Kalama sutta?

With metta

There are 37 Bodhipakkhiyadhamma.
Faith is only one of them.

I mean, I learned this the hard way

Can you explain this?

I won’t give any details, but I have spent extensive time training in monasteries in Thailand, Burma, Malaysia and Sri Lanka, and used to be a monk. So, I guess I can claim first hand knowledge.

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When in SL… there is no issue with polite questioning. However if coming across with disrespect, not being individualistic countries, nails might be hammered…

With metta

Never had a problem with local monks in SL

I think those are independent qualities, you can have your cake and eat it too. Ajahn Brahm for example, has that tenderness and open heartedness, but also the ability question authority.

I haven’t studied the pali word saddha carefully across the entire EBT, but at least in SN 48, the one dealing with 5 indriya, saddha is confirmed confidence in the Buddha’s awakening. That is, by attaining at least stream entry, one has, through personal experience of nirvana, “conviction”/saddha in the Buddha’s wisdom, in the Buddha’s character, in the Buddha himself. I’m not sure “faith” is an accurate translation. That’s a thread for another day.

There’s no conflict. Whether one is sorting out a provisional theoretical understanding of truth, an experiential understanding of truth, it’s sensible to critically examine all the assumptions and data (“question authority”).

I thought this meant ‘challenging authority’, as in not even a little bit of authority was a good thing and should be torn down. Acceptance without appropriate due diligence could be problematic, of course.

with metta

Authority can be good if the motivations and actions are good. It can be bad if the motivations and actions are bad. People say “question authority” probably because some people inherently trust authority figures. But a rote, pedantic criticism of all authority simply because they are in a position of authority is no better-minded than a blind obedience to authority.

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