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How did the Buddha debate?

Was he trying to convince or persuade people? Did he go towards them or did he let them come to spread the Dhamma? How did he react when he was not understood or listened?

I have noticed that I often tend to get carried away in debates where I try to convince my interlocutor of the truth of Buddhism and I get angry when he doesn’t listen to me or disagree with me and then I blame myself for having debated in the first place. Then I often find myself with the feeling that I should have kept quiet, and I remember this quote:

He detested objective truths, the burden of argument, sustained reasoning. He disliked demonstrating, he wanted to convince no one. Others are a dialectician’s invention.

  • Cioran, The Trouble with Being Born

Should we keep quiet in a “save yourself before saving others” logic?

:pray:

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Sorry but I don’t think the question was framed in the most skillful way.

I usually see people arguing and quoting examples of how the Buddha or an arahants are recorded to debate or teach in the suttas.

It doesn’t not seem to be the most useful reference point for how an individual not yet fully liberated should or not debate or teach.

If one is after a reference point for which behaviors and modes of being to emulate from such awakened individuals, the EBTs are very consistent about point to more basic things, usually summarized in the uposatha suttas such as AN3.70

Secondly, there is not concept of “save others” in EBTs. So the only real option is to save or not yourself, and that is it.

In the process of doing so, if you really take the on the task, you will necessarily decrease the chances of you disturbing others in their own pursuit (be it noble or ignoble).

There are many EBTs which one can look at as you seek to solve or untangle the painful cognitive dissonance we find ourselves in the situation you describe.

One EBT of great help to me is the discourse on the Analysis of Non-Conflict recorded within MN139.

In MN139 we find a very skillful framework to at the same time remain true to the Buddha’s teaching and presenting others with something that can be helpful in their own process of developing the first and foremost right view factor of the eightfold path:

"When you know that what you say behind someone’s back is untrue, false, and harmful, then if at all possible you should not speak.

When you know that what you say behind someone’s back is true and correct, but harmful, then you should train yourself not to speak.

When you know that what you say behind someone’s back is true, correct, and beneficial, then you should know the right time to speak.

When you know that your sharp words in someone’s presence are untrue, false, and harmful, then if at all possible you should not speak.

When you know that your sharp words in someone’s presence are true and correct, but harmful, then you should train yourself not to speak.

When you know that your sharp words in someone’s presence are true, correct, and beneficial, then you should know the right time to speak.

‘Don’t talk behind people’s backs, and don’t speak sharply in their presence.’ That’s what I said, and this is why I said it.
(…)
The middle way by which the Realized One was awakened gives vision and knowledge, and leads to peace, direct knowledge, awakening, and extinguishment. It is a principle free of pain, harm, stress, and fever, and it is the right way.
That’s why this is a principle free of conflict.

Flattering and rebuking without teaching Dhamma is a principle beset by pain, harm, stress, and fever, and it is the wrong way.
That’s why this is a principle beset by conflict. Neither flattering nor rebuking, and just teaching Dhamma is a principle free of pain, harm, stress, and fever, and it is the right way.
That’s why this is a principle free of conflict.

Sensual pleasure—a filthy, common, ignoble pleasure—is a principle beset by pain, harm, stress, and fever, and it is the wrong way.
That’s why this is a principle beset by conflict. The pleasure of renunciation, the pleasure of seclusion, the pleasure of peace, the pleasure of awakening is a principle free of pain, harm, stress, and fever, and it is the right way.
That’s why this is a principle free of conflict.

Saying untrue, false, and harmful things behind someone’s back is a principle beset by pain, harm, stress, and fever, and it is the wrong way.
That’s why this is a principle beset by conflict.

Saying true and correct, but harmful things behind someone’s back is a principle beset by pain, harm, stress, and fever, and it is the wrong way.
That’s why this is a principle beset by conflict.

Saying true, correct, and beneficial things behind someone’s back is a principle free of pain, harm, stress, and fever, and it is the right way.
That’s why this is a principle free of conflict.

Saying untrue, false, and harmful things in someone’s presence is a principle beset by pain, harm, stress, and fever, and it is the wrong way.
That’s why this is a principle beset by conflict.

Saying true and correct, but harmful things in someone’s presence is a principle beset by pain, harm, stress, and fever, and it is the wrong way.
That’s why this is a principle beset by conflict.

Saying true, correct, and beneficial things in someone’s presence is a principle free of pain, harm, stress, and fever, and it is the right way.
That’s why this is a principle free of conflict.

Speaking hurriedly is a principle beset by pain, harm, stress, and fever, and it is the wrong way.
That’s why this is a principle beset by conflict.

Speaking unhurriedly is a principle free of pain, harm, stress, and fever, and it is the right way.
That’s why this is a principle free of conflict.

Insisting on local terminology and overriding normal usage is a principle beset by pain, harm, stress, and fever, and it is the wrong way.
That’s why this is a principle beset by conflict.
Not insisting on local terminology and not overriding normal usage is a principle free of pain, harm, stress, and fever, and it is the right way.
That’s why this is a principle free of conflict.

So you should train like this: ‘We shall know the principles beset by conflict and the principles free of conflict.
Knowing this, we will practice the way free of conflict.’

Hope it helps! :anjal:

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Hi,

This sutta may help answer your question:

Dependent on the situation and intention, I think it good to share what we have understood, cultivated and developed. Like one friend with another, or like one student with another, or a postgraduate student with undergraduate, …
:pray:

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MN.58 too offers some good advice on what to speak and when to speak.
With Metta

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Bhikkhu Analayo I think has a chapter on debates in Early Buddhism and in the book How the Brahmins Won: From Alexander to the Guptas also many information regarding debates in India and Buddhism.

In one of them I found out about the scholar debate explained in Questions by the king
Scholar Debates

Tibetan debate example is on YouTube that sort goes probably back to Nālandā University.

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But a search in Suttacentral with word debate and Some interesting suttas come up.

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The Lord Buddha taught:

If, like a broken gong, you silence yourself, you have approached Nibbana, for vindictiveness is no longer in you.

He also taught:

There never was, there never will be, nor is there now, a person who is wholly blamed or wholly praised.

Arguments operate using language, which assumes nama-rupa where the logic itself leads to uncertain future (hence engagement makes one neither wholly blamed or wholly praised)

Everything else being equal, silencing oneself seems to be more conducive to dispassion.

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I agree that one can’t do the work for someone else, but this seems misleading.
There does seem to be a notion of “help both oneself and others.”
If the word “save” as used in OP is replaced with “help,” then the question seems to make sense and framed skillfully, I think. This seems to be just a semantic issue that doesn’t seem to take away from main purpose of the question, at least for me.

Decreasing the chances of disturbing others in their own ignoble seems to be a harmless and beneficial thing, I think.
Buddhism definitely seemed to disturb me in this way when I first came across it and continues to do so now too.

:pray:

I don’t think this is true at all. I don’t think the Buddha was a relativist.

However, I think this is a wonderful question - I find myself wondering the same thing myself.
I often think about it as “how do I balance both helping myself and others?”

Perhaps the answer could be found here:
https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an08/an08.026.than.html
“And to what extent, lord, is one a lay follower who practices for his own benefit but not that of others?”

"Jivaka, when a lay follower himself is consummate in XYZ but does not encourage others in the consummation of XYZ.

“And to what extent, lord, is one a lay follower who practices both for his own benefit and the benefit of others?”

"Jivaka, when a lay follower himself is consummate in XYZ and does encourage others in the consummation of XYZ.

The answer seems to be to try to both develop one’s own mind as well as encourage others to develop their own mind (since one cannot develop another’s mind for them - it is up to them to do that and/or to be receptive to guidance from others).

I struggle with this same problem and I am curious to see what other thinks on this topic too!

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This quote is not about the Buddha, sorry if I gave that impression. It is simply a quote from Cioran that I like and that often comes to my mind.

:pray:

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No problem at all! Thank you for clarifying. :pray:

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