Interesting debate: "We should support no platforming"

I met a friend (a long time ago) who said, “I’ll discuss anything with anyone – but if it turns into an argument I walk away.”

Free speech is tolerable if I’m not obliged to listen to it.

Any place where serious work is being done – a classroom; an operating theatre; air traffic control – the speech is expert. The same is true for almost any type of conversation.

“Free speech” is usually limited to meaning that the government cannot decide what speech is permitted. xkcd: Free Speech Related laws include “freedom of association” and “freedom of assembly” – which do not mean that someone should allowed to e.g. follow you into your home and (please forgive me, this is just a for example) spend a lot of your time there telling you what an idiot they think you are.

I think you’ll find something like that in the suttas too: i.e. some politeness and a meeting of minds, and in extreme cases people being excluded from the society of monks.

Incidentally I think that some people might view this as “cultural marxism” which I think might be an allusion to authoritarian control over what’s considered permissible speech, also “groupthink”. And perhaps it does seem like control over the means of production (the production of speech, i.e. the right to publish on a given media platform). Instead though I think it’s democratic and a matter of private property rights (not that democracy and private property and so on are necessarily especially Buddhist).

“No-platforming” is something else again i.e. it is a question of whether I can and should disrupt other people’s meetings (instead of just choosing not to go to those meetings myself). I suppose that a decision to “no-platform” a topic (or people’s meeting and speaking about a topic) is reasonable and virtually necessary if the people are proposing to meet in “my” house. Whether it (“no-platforming”) s appropriate at universities is a matter of some debate, apparently – as is the “for the public good” argument of suppressing (or, conversely, protecting) things like political “hate speech”, “false advertising”, what “balance” is expected of public broadcasters, and so on.


I think @brooks makes a very relevant point about skillful dialog and debate. And kudo’s too for relating it back to the EBTs.

Tying into the theme of this thread It seems that a good number of the people who are strong advocates for free speech also tend to be skilled in constructive dialog. At minimum free speech advocates tend to recognize the value of of constructive dialog and appreciate those who are skillful at it.

There are skillful means for having dialog and capturing the strength of viewpoint diversity. Thinking about skillfulness it seems that along side skillfulness in dialog and community there are also important factors (causes and conditions) that lead to behavior and words that look like skillfulness.
Causes and conditions for constructive dialog include first common commitments and views and second a commitment to long term relationship.

Commitment to a Sangha or Group Long Term
I’m going to be attentive to my speech when I am committed to maintaining a long term, civil and harmonious relationship.

Common commitment to Open, Civil and Constructive Dialog
It seems that most people who are strongly committed to free and open speech because they recognize the power of viewpoint diversity, second opinions from those who can see what is in our blindspots, and free and open dialog. Such persons also tend to share a common long term vision for a civil and harmonious society built, in part, on free expression and free choice. This is one view of freedom in a free society.

It seems to me that the EBT’s tend to support the idea that each person should make a free and informed choice to follow the dharma. Free and informed choice usually requires the freedom to question and disagree as well as to listen and consider the knowledge, experience and viewpoints of others.

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This is a very interesting perspective, because I’ve witnessed the opposite correlation: the people most vocal about “free speech” are those people like Milo Yiannopoulos who wish to say awful things to silence diversity. Those who are actually contributing diverse perspectives to the conversation are usually just trying to be believed, and are not arguing about their “right” to say it.


In MN 22 the Buddha seems quite intolerant of a “misconception” and of “misrepresenting” the doctrine – also (as in other suttas) against studying it “for the sake of finding fault and winning debates”.

He calls the perpetrator a moghapurisa (which is barely civil), and doesn’t ask him to say any more.

And “viewpoint diversity” might be beneficial sometimes – e.g. if I ask a question then I might like to read several answers – but see also the parable of the elephant and the blind men in Ud 6.4.

A “free and informed choice to follow the dhamma” is one thing, yes – in that case perhaps “free speech” cannot mean “an unconditional license to tell you my view of the dhamma” because that could become an unwelcome imposition – perhaps especially on the internet. And so instead there are socially-negotiated limits and conventions, about what speech and when and how much and from whom and on what topics and so on. People with whom you have actual long-term relationships (family, friends, teachers, employees) might or might not have a broader license.

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What constitutes silencing can be tricky: there are direct ways of silencing through laws and regulations by a central authority where by joining a certain group the individual willingly agrees (or obliged by law) to surrender parts of his/her freedoms and allows the central authority to redistribute these freedoms, and there are indirect ways where there is no central authority and the act of silencing is though demonizing individuals who hold certain views with the aim of hijacking public debate.

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What is not seen in NM 22 is de platforming.
Quite the reverse. The story is full of examples of open dialog.

[SuttaCentral](http://middle discourses 22 The Simile of the Snake)

Several mendicants heard about this. They went up to Ariṭṭha and said to him, “Is it really true, Reverend Ariṭṭha, that you have such a harmful misconception: ‘As I understand the Buddha’s teachings, the acts that he says are obstructions are not really obstructions for the one who performs them’?”

“Absolutely, reverends. As I understand the Buddha’s teachings, the acts that he says are obstructions are not really obstructions for the one who performs them.”

Then, wishing to dissuade Ariṭṭha from his view, the mendicants pursued, pressed, and grilled him …

The Buddha decided to use this as what is sometimes called a teachable moment.

So the Buddha said to a certain monk, “Please, monk, in my name tell the mendicant Ariṭṭha, formerly a vulture trapper, that the teacher summons him.”

The passage illustrates what opponents of “no platforming” offer as an alternative: constructive engagement.

Then the Buddha said to the mendicants, “What do you think, mendicants? Has this mendicant Ariṭṭha kindled even a spark of wisdom in this teaching and training?”

“How could that be, sir? No, sir.” When this was said, Ariṭṭha sat silent, embarrassed, shoulders drooping, downcast, depressed, with nothing to say.

Knowing this, the Buddha said, “Silly man, you will be known by your own harmful misconception. I’ll question the mendicants about this.”

Then the Buddha said to the mendicants, “Mendicants, do you understand my teachings as Ariṭṭha does, when he misrepresents me by his wrong grasp, harms himself, and makes much bad karma?”

It seems clear and evident that the Buddha lived and taught in the midst of considerable viewpoint diversity, attributed his own enlightenment in part to it (the middle way), and even interwove viewpoint diversity in his teaching.

Some of the Buddha’s language in MN 22 challenges the formation of overly simplistic notations of Right Speech.

“Is it really true … that you have such a harmful misconception? …
Silly man, who on earth have you ever known me to teach in that way?
… But still you misrepresent me by your wrong grasp, harm yourself, and make much bad karma. This will be for your lasting harm and suffering.”

But after making such strong assertions the teaching goes on in some depth speaking of prior teachings, sharing his reasoning, inviting others to listen and either challenge or confirm him. That is, he engages in an active dialog, seeking to persuade but always allowing for disagreement or alternative ways of thinking about an issue.

In other passages it seems that the Buddha’s questions are not just rhetorical. The direction of the teaching sometimes seeming to pivot and adjust to the answers given to questions.

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I think it is, in that the silly man was not able to reply, “Well, actually …” to the Buddha.

And it’s an example of someone (the Buddha) being an arbiter of what views are allowable, are permitted to be taught on that platform and within that society.

Yes those are examples of the Buddha’s teaching, skilfully.

If I was arguing against an extreme view of free speech (e.g. that “my speaking to you here is an unalienable right, and should not be subject to a moderator’s approval”), I wasn’t thereby arguing for the opposite extreme e.g. “no speech at all” (though I guess that’s part of it sometimes).

In what way was the man “not able to reply”? Where in the passage does it indicate that.

When this was said, Ariṭṭha sat silent, embarrassed, shoulders drooping, downcast, depressed, with nothing to say.

We can’t know for sure what social/psychological dynamics motivated Arittha’s silence. But it sure resembles a dynamic of countering speech with more skillful, evidence based speech. I think one has to concede that is a very plausible reading of the passage. Can you show me otherwise with quotations from NM 22?

Furthermore, where is the evidence of de-platforming in the modern sense?
Did the Buddha eject Arittha from the grove? Cancel his speaking engagement? Or shout him down or drown him out with shouts and noise makers?

Revision: The link again to NM 22 again is:
NM 22 – Middle Discourses 22 The Simile of the Snake
SuttaCentral - Translation by Sujato

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At least I remember that Devadatta has been silenced by expulsion from the order. (Openly disclaiming he can no more be taken as speaking for the dharma/sangha).

Surely it has not been needed to transmit many stories of disciplining talkative bhikkhus while the master was alive and present and whose statements are taken immediately, so we don’t have many stories about such incidents. I expect that -let’s call it- “destructive talk” has been grown after the first council, though, but I’m no expert in such (still early) buddhist literature.

Apart from the suttas, the Vinaya has rules about “schisms”, which can eventually result in a person being removed from meetings. The Sangha is, furthermore, presumably not obliged to accept everyone in the first place.

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The incident with Devadatta showed that saying what is pleasing to others is not an essential criteria to determine right speech as per Abhaya sutta.

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Is Buddha a democratic figure!? Or an expert!

I remember encountering an input by a monk saying that the closest political theory to the Buddha’s teachings would be Hobbes’s Leviathan.


Maybe he’s a benign, ruler?!

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The Buddha lived in an age of kingdoms, hung out with kings and (correct me if I’m wrong) gave advice on how to reign benignly. However, he refused to name a successor to lead the Sangha. I’m not sure to what extent we should accept the analogy.

(I loved the montaging, am going to watch more of these. Thanks.)

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I think I’m probably the monk whom Bundokji is referring to, but if so, I was referring specifically to the resemblance in how the Buddha (in the Aggaññasutta) and Hobbes (in Leviathan) depict the beginnings of the social contract. Other than that I don’t see much resemblance in their social and political outlooks as a whole.

The post in question:

Dear Venerable. I have gained the impression from some of your forum posts that you appear to be a “royalist”.

Yes, in the sense that I have a mild preference for monarchies over republics and as a boy when attending English Civil War reenactments I would always cheer for the Cavaliers, not the Roundheads.

If so, is this “royalism” a personal bent; a respect based in Buddhist cosmology; or something a bhikkhu must train in? In other words, if I personally ordain as a bhikkhu, must I train to respect royalty?

A positive regard for monarchy is something that any classical Theravadin might arrive at upon discovering that the Buddha’s conception of the social contract was essentially a prefiguration of that found in Hobbes’s Leviathan. Having said that, I’ve never heard of a monastery where being a royalist was either a job requirement or something that the community would attempt to instil in an ordination candidate.


Thanks Gillian,

I was indeed referring to Ven. Dhammanando’s input on Dhammwheel. I think the main challenges faces us as Buddhists who happen to live in the current age is how to reconcile the letter of the teachings (the suttas) with the spirit of the teachings which is often described as “timeless”.

Both Thomas Hobbes and the Buddha lived in a specific historical and cultural contexts. Both agree on an underlying assumption about human nature (or an original state as a starting point) to construct their theories. The question therefore becomes: was Hobbes’s method of investigation contradictory to the Buddha’s teachings?

In my opinion, his way of constructing his political theory was inline with the Buddha’s method:

1- He began with the what (the original state, the first noble truth)
2- Then he went into explaining the why (the second noble truth, or why a ruler is needed which is context sensitive)
3- Then he went into explaining the how (the fourth noble truth, or how the relationship between the ruler and the ruled should be based on the previous two points).

More generally, Buddhism seem to be more aristocratic than democratic (making wisdom as the “criteria” rather than the number of people who agree on a certain action) and which might have manifested itself as the focus of some Buddhist schools on linage. It also seem to be encouraging adapting more than conquering (it is difficult to imagine a Buddhist seeking change or a revolution when a certain equilibrium is reached even if not perfect). Of course, that does not necessarily make it anti democratic or against progress.

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I thought the vajjins had a power base that was a confederate which was more more devolved.