Nibbāna this, Jhāna that: Meta Discussion on debates

With metta.

So much of the online discussions on Buddhism revolve around:

  • My text is older, clearly superior!
  • Jhāna has body / no body!
  • Nibbāna has unestablished consciousness / nothing persists!

I see monastics and lay people bickering and arguing passionately (problematic!) and insultingly, with passive aggressive or outright aggressive tones.

Investigation, peaceful dialogue and careful analysis is at the heart of the teachings, but so is dispassion, compassion, kindness, equanimity.

The fact that I’m disappointed is also unskillful - people are lost and heedless in the samsara, and buddhist community is no better (and sometimes even worse!).

No truth is worth insisting on.
‘sabbe dhammā nālaṁ abhinivesāyā’ti.

When a mendicant has heard that
Evañcetaṁ, devānaminda, bhikkhuno sutaṁ hoti:

“No truth is worth insisting on,”
‘sabbe dhammā nālaṁ abhinivesāyā’ti.

they directly realize all truths.
So sabbaṁ dhammaṁ abhijānāti. MN37


@Dogen I was thinking of making a similar post myself but you beat me to it.

Duelling Suttas at twenty paces does seem unedifying at times. Although, legitimate debate does have its place, I guess.

Who gets to decide if one Sutta is older or more relevant than another? Or, this Sutta was a later addition and probably not spoken by the Buddha? Or, that Sutta is an outlier and not mainstream? Or, Abhidhamma is not the word of the Buddha? Etc., etc…

It seems to me that if we question the validity of any of the text, then we are questioning the validity of it all. In which case, who decides what is valid and what is not? Surely, the best validation is gained by investigating our own body and mind?

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Precisely. It often seems to me we’re discussing suttas, and by extension, words, and not realities. Not our understanding, not our practice, not our experience; but translations, inference, semantics.

A good example is Buddha’s message on eating meat. Technically, it’s “allowed” in Pāli Canon, while it’s steadfast banned in Mahāyāna tradition. I even see in the suttas that eating meat creates problems to Buddha, people accuse his benefactor of murder, his benefactor says he never killed an animal; but even the mere presence of such a discussion is evidence to me that eating meat is going to get me to suffer.

Alright, so that’s my takeaway, and if people disagree, then it’s up to them and their experiences to tell them whether eating meat is a cause of suffering or not. For some people, refusing to eat meat might be a suffering in their family, environment. For others like me, it just complicates things.

I think such an approach -analytical, based on personal experiences that are shared- we can move away from dogmatism and fundamentalism. Was Buddha’s first sermon 4NT or Jhānas? Beyond a mere intellectual curiosity, who cares? Is 4NT and Jhānas useful for me to gain insight and overcome suffering? If yes, then everything else is just a distraction.


I’m quite sure than Buddhist online communities are not representative of the Buddhist culture.
Sadly, as you point, most users do not reread their posts in search of unskillfullness before replying. Bear in mind that this forum is a schoolarship forum about buddhism and not a buddhism forum - to the point, Buddha would be banned if he ever posted here!


The debate between people who focus on texts and critique lack of study, and people who critique the textualists and try to emphasize personal relevance is also just as frequent and back-and-forth.

Different people benefit from different things. There are valid reasons for both approach, and usually this discussion just swings back and forth to correct lack of balance on one side.

The presence of different interests, unsurprisingly, goes back to the suttas themselves, where folks such as Ven. Ānanda valued memorizing and contemplating Dhamma teachings, while others focused more on secluded meditation, or asceticism, etc.

We can appreciate each other’s interests and strengths, while helping each other develop our weaknesses and point out blind spots. Learning from the recurring debates and arguments that crop up can help us save time and balance our efforts. But we also can’t expect everyone to learn the same lessons from history that we might.



True, but I think the point is that we should show those teachings in our conduct first, regardless of the academic and intellectual propagation.

“You don’t understand this doctrine and discipline. I am the one who understands this doctrine and discipline.”
“How can you understand this doctrine and discipline?”
“You’re practising the wrong way. I’m practising the right way.”
“I’m being consistent. You’re inconsistent.”
“What should have been said first you said last, what should have been said last you said first.”
“What you took so long to think out has been confuted.”
“Your doctrine has been refuted. You’re defeated. Go, try to save your doctrine, or disentangle yourself now if you can”—
the recluse Gotama abstains from such wrangling argumentation.’ DN1

If we lose this attitude, then rest of our intellectual / academic pursuits are moot.


According to Plato, it seems Socrates was against writing — especially writing down important philosophical subjects which try and present the truth. It seems that Plato also probably held this view. He used the dialogue form in his writing.

The point they make, roughly, is that knowledge and understanding are only something a mind can have. It is arrogant and misguided to think that by writing down statements of truth in a book, that the reader or audience can come to have understanding of that just by knowing the terms. It seems that Socrates (or Plato) also thought that people who had access to such writing would think they understood just by reading, memorizing, or quoting it. But true knowledge is actually fluid, and it is able to respond and adapt to changing data, circumstances, questions, and people. The mind has to gain it through time and through various means. It grows and evolves. It is not a series of formulas, statements, or propositions, but more of a function and capability gained.

Apparently, in one of the letters attributed to Plato, he argues that because of the dangers of writing getting into the wrong hands, it would be better for philosophers to have their oral teachings committed to their students’ memories. I think that the point here is that if someone is learning and memorizing something from a teacher within a living tradition that aims at knowledge, memorizing a text actually involves cross-questioning, discussing with teachers and peers, contemplating it in bits and pieces. It has to adapt to the audience, and it is embedded in a series of past teachers or groups that contemplated and applied that teaching in relevant ways to them. Each generation is evolving from the previous one. It is not the same as a blank formula repeated rotely, or a dead page stating the same words, without a living tradition passing it down for meaning.

I found this worth contemplation.


Great post, well said. May I submit a couple friendly additions?

  • I am right, you (he/she/etc) are wrong
  • I know what this says and it means this…

What I have come to conclude is that there is a deeper issue at play that is not really discussed much, and that is that there are different models or paradigms through which we interpret the suttas. We are discussing the same words and throw quotes back and forth as if there is only one way to understand it - and there isn’t. So often we are talking right past each other and don’t even realize it.

The two general models that stand out to me on this forum could be called an objective model ( the 3-life model of dep. orig. is an example) where the suttas are seen to be describing reality and how to work with it) vs a subjective model (the Buddha is describing our subjective experience and how to work with it). Bhikkhu Cintita discusses this at length in his book on Dependant Coarising

To give one example: The five aggregates is all there is (objective model) vs The five aggregates are a means of describing our experience (subjective model).

Once I came to see this I could see why different posters make the comments they do - they made sense to me considering their viewpoint.

I see thread after thread where people seem not to be aware that this is going on. It is as if we are interpreting the same text through two very different dictionaries.


On this forum there are often categorical statements made defining Nibbana and/or Jhana that imply that the one making those categorical statements knows them to be true. Similar for stream winning and once returning and all manner of other things. This is problematic because even if the ones making them did know those categorical statements to be true, this would imply that a realization has been made and it is against the rules of the forum to proclaim realizations.

Perhaps the rules or moderation could be updated to disallow such categorical statements, but I’m afraid this would put too much work on the moderators. Far better for those interested in both following right speech and the rules of the forum to be aware of the problem implicit in making such categorical statements and thereby refrain from making them? This discipline also might lead to actual insight into what one knows and what one merely believes? It also might lead to less dispute and quarreling over what the elephant looks like? :joy: :pray:


Pinned: Congratulations to the following forum members for reaching arhatship in May: Mr. & Mrs. John Sears … :joy:


I think this is the best that monastics can do. Just teaching is not considered claiming attainments. But not claiming attainments doesn’t prevent monks from teaching.

Eg. one can teach how to attain to Jhāna, but not that one has attained to it (if true). One can say this is what nibbāna is, but not one has seen it directly for oneself (if true).

So regardless of whether one has attained or not, the mere teaching or sharing of the content shouldn’t be an issue.

It is possible for an unattained person to parrot the dhamma so well and convincing that people suspect that she has attainments, but one shouldn’t have an intention to declare attainments. It’s also a (deliberate) guessing game, or else it’s too easy to tell apart those who keep on declaring that they are not there yet then stop such declaration after some time to imply that they have attained.

Of course, to be safe, it’s just to quote suttas, thus have I heard. And thus have I heard from my teachers, practitioners etc.


Teaching doesn’t require making categorical statements about which thing one doesn’t actually know though, right? One can simply say, “I have heard” or “I have read” or “I believe based on faith” or “My hypothesis is” or “My best guess is” and so on, correct? This is also what the Teacher recommended from what I can tell. I also don’t see how whether one is a monastic or not enters into the question; regardless I believe the Teacher advised against making categorical statements if one doesn’t actually know. :pray:

Indeed, but then wouldn’t this change once the person had attainments, and when they change their way of presenting, it would be a clue?

Perhaps say “my best guess is”, once the person have direct knowledge, it’s no longer best guess.

Stream winners also don’t say some things from faith, but direct knowledge.

Yes, I suppose it would, but I don’t see how this is a problem. If they had undertaken vows not to reveal or revealing would break commitments I imagine they’d undertake noble silence. If they believed that noble silence wasn’t in order - motivated by compassion - they would declare what they know even when breaking vows or commitments and deal with the consequences or so I would imagine.

I believe there are also ways of speaking and preserving the truth without revealing realizations while skillfully follow right speech.


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From what I learned in vinaya class, the rule of not revealing attainment if one has it, is only breakable without mind. That is accidentally, or unmindfully. And that ariyas wouldn’t want to purposely break the vinaya.

I would rather monastics speak in a consistent manner that allows for those who have attainments to continue to teach without any issue. As certainly those who have attainments are gems in the world.

Venerable, I’m quite ignorant when it comes to Vinayas. I know that in the Suttas there are passages (like with Moggallana) that talking about or demonstrating psychic powers is frowned upon; but could you help me where in Vinayas are jhānas and/or experiencing nibbāna explicitly banned?

Pārājika 4 says cannot lie if don’t have.

Pc 8 says cannot reveal to unordained people if have.

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Well, people argue about things that are important to them. So, at least to that extent, it’s good that people are arguing about deep states of meditation! At least someone cares about them. :wink:


I almost left permanently because certain people refused to stop stating polemic certainties about what the Buddha clearly, specifically said he left “undeclared,” (cessation/eternalist 4 ex) as “not conducive to the goal.”

What’s made clear by this kind of chatter is who does not attain to right speech. At least.

If this was a community of practice, I would have pushed the issue or left. But I realized that -
as designed and moderated - it isn’t. I adjusted my expectations for various reasons as I’ve grown to enjoy the cast of characters, worts 'n all.

Now, I greatly appreciate your observations and will leave you with this thought…

What I’ve said above doesn’t mean to suggest that there couldn’t be a subset of members that agreed to hold each other to a higher standard.

That would be a joy.

Goodwill and safety to you all.


Hi bhante , isnt a sotapanna would speak from (supramundane) faith of five faculties which is direct knowledge and not ordinary faith .