Responding to Critics and Anti-Buddhists

“Take a foolish person who memorizes the teaching—statements, songs, discussions, verses, inspired sayings, legends, stories of past lives, amazing stories, and analyses. But they don’t examine the meaning of those teachings with wisdom, and so don’t come to a reflective acceptance of them. They just memorize the teaching for the sake of finding fault and winning debates. They don’t realize the goal for which they memorized them."

— Alagaddūpama Sutta (MN 22)

When encountering someone who holds very critical views of the Buddha, Dhamma, or Sangha, how do you respond? Do you try to engage in a discussion? Do you debate them? Or maybe you don’t respond at all? Sometimes I feel obligated to say something when a mischaracterization is being publicly made. But I usually find such discussions tiresome. I may need more patience.


I try to receive all ideas and suggestions according to their intellectual merit, to the extent I am able to grasp that merit in the light of everything I have learned and understood so far in my life, from whatever field of study. I approach the Buddhist texts, and the teachings of Buddhist teachers alive and dead, as subjects for an ongoing process of inquiry. I have changed my mind about important things in the past, and will no doubt continue to do so.

I regard many of the assertions made in the texts, and the practices conveyed, as extraordinarily important and valuable for the human race, and they have influenced the way I live. Other things in the texts I think are either false or not of great importance, and so I tend to ignore them. There is a large middle ground of material I believe is valuable if taken figuratively, mythologically or poetically, but not literally.

I think the Buddha realized and attained some very important truths and spiritual perfections. But I don’t think everything the Buddha believed was true or that everything he did was perfectly beneficial. I think the sangha provides a lot of important benefits to people, but I don’t think everything about it is beneficial.

Except for the time I spend here, I don’t have much occasion to decide whether or not to engage in debate about Buddhism, because I don’t know many Buddhists. When I visit the vihara, I tend to keep fairly quiet about my personal opinions. I do sometimes engage in debate here, but also pass over many things.


Some will criticize for attention. Others will criticize as a defensive way of asking a question. Extend metta and answers to the latter if you can.

There is a question that should be answered definitively.
There is a question that should be answered analytically.
There is a question that should be answered with a counter-question.
There is a question that should be set aside.


That’s fair enough.

Good advice.

How should shallow or inaccurate representations of the dhamma be addressed?

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Embrace a small truth with a larger truth as the suttas themselves have done for each of us. In particular:

I will speak gently, not harshly
I will speak beneficially, not harmfully
I will speak lovingly, not from secret hate


I try to be polite and brief, perhaps to the point of curtness sometimes, but this is unintentional. My aim is to avoid using more words than necessary so that my point isn’t lost in idle chatter, and to not use too much of the listener’s time.


Wise words.

From Dhp IV. Translation by Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu.

not on the rudenesses of others,
not on what they’ve done
    or left undone,
but on what you
have & haven’t done

Yes, and in my experience these occur on a regular basis - I’ve had people who know nothing about Buddhism telling me what Buddhism teaches.

Indeed. It can be hard work discussing Buddhism with other Buddhists, let alone the “general public.”:yum:


Same. In these cases, I let in and out a deep breath, then calmly explain what Buddhism actually is. As usual, I try to keep it brief. And if they’re hardcore secularists, I make the point that belief in karma and rebirth aren’t mandatory to start practice—which is true.

How do you explain it to them?

Frankly, I wish there was a place where people could discuss the Buddha and Dhamma in an unabashedly orthodox way free of quarreling, lol. Life provides us with plenty of strife already. The Sangha could at least be a break from all of that.


It depends on the person and situation. Would they be receptive to what you have to say or not? Most times I’ve found that it’s not worth getting involved. Actually, I usually see myself out when it comes to those type of discussion—but maybe that has more to do with my quiet nature :man_cartwheeling:t5:

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I find that a personal response works better, so I tend to talk about what I actually do, eg meditation and mindfulness, and why I do it ( curiosity mostly! ).

It’s also difficult to explain to people that there are many different types of Buddhism, many different methods and assumptions.

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