Suttas where the Buddha said we should or shouldn't spread the Dhamma

Continuing the discussion from The deeply concerning lack of Theravada perspectives in western media:

Because of some early influential Buddhists in the west, there is a common perception that “Buddhists should not proselytize.” But I have a hard time finding strong support for this in the suttas.

We can specifically see this spread by the Thai Forest Sangha in the west when they say that monks can only give a sermon when invited. There is no rule like this in either the Dhamma or Vinaya that would apply to the broad situations where they claim it does.

There is a corollary belief along the lines of “people will come in contact with the Dhamma when they are ready to receive it.” A variant on “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I also believe this is unsupported in the suttas, although in the commentaries we see countless instances where the Buddha would use his divine eye to see if there was anyone ready to attain magga-phala that he could teach that day.

Now, just common sense would tell us that aggressive door knocking is rarely well received. Likewise harassing friends and family into listening to the Dhamma will almost never give good results.

The problem is that because of the two views mentioned, people will often feel that any work to spread the Dhamma is at best pointless and at worst not allowed.

Now, that being said, the Buddha did give instructions on situations where teaching should not be done. Many of the sekhiya rules deal with this. We can also find general guidance for teaching, such as AN 5.157: Dukkathāsutta

It’s inappropriate to talk to an unfaithful person about faith. It’s inappropriate to talk to an unethical person about ethics. It’s inappropriate to talk to an unlearned person about learning. It’s inappropriate to talk to a stingy person about generosity. It’s inappropriate to talk to a witless person about wisdom.

However in the SN 55.16: Paṭhamamittāmaccasutta we see the Buddha instructing us that we should share the Dhamma with those we care about, to the point of them becoming stream enterers:

“Mendicants, those who you have sympathy for, and those worth listening to—friends and colleagues, relatives and family—should be encouraged, supported, and established in the four factors of stream-entry.

So, I’m interested in finding specific suttas that either support or contradict the notion that the Buddha wanted us to spread the Dhamma. I guess the conversation will have to involve general thoughts/opinions on spreading the Dhamma, but I’d like it if people could support these from the texts.

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Go forth, o bhikkhus, for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, for the good, for the happiness of gods and men. Let not two go by one way. Preach the doctrine that is beautiful in its beginning, beautiful in its middle, and beautiful in its ending. Declare the holy life in its purity, completely both in the spirit and the letter." ~ Mahavagga, Vinaya Pitaka.

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Thig 12.1: Puṇṇātherīgāthā—Bhikkhu Sujato (suttacentral.net)

Even being unenlightened, she had learned the Dhamma and taught it.

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MN 81: Ghaṭikārasutta—Bhikkhu Sujato (suttacentral.net)

Dragging friend to see the Buddha, until the level of pulling his hair

The Buddha Kassapa had as chief supporter in Vebhaliṅga a potter named Ghaṭīkāra. Ghaṭīkāra had a dear friend named Jotipāla, a brahmin student. Then Ghaṭīkāra addressed Jotipāla, ‘Come, dear Jotipāla, let’s go to see the Blessed One Kassapa, the perfected one, the fully awakened Buddha. For I regard it as holy to see that Blessed One.’

When he said this, Jotipāla said to him, ‘Enough, dear Ghaṭīkāra. What’s the use of seeing that baldy, that fake ascetic?’

For a second time … and a third time, Ghaṭīkāra addressed Jotipāla, ‘Come, dear Jotipāla, let’s go to see the Blessed One Kassapa, the perfected one, the fully awakened Buddha. For I regard it as holy to see that Blessed One.’

For a third time, Jotipāla said to him, ‘Enough, dear Ghaṭīkāra. What’s the use of seeing that baldy, that fake ascetic?’

‘Well then, dear Jotipāla, let’s take some bathing paste of powdered shell and go to the river to bathe.’

‘Yes, dear,’ replied Jotipāla. So that’s what they did.

Then Ghaṭīkāra addressed Jotipāla, ‘Dear Jotipāla, the Buddha Kassapa’s monastery is not far away. Let’s go to see the Blessed One Kassapa, the perfected one, the fully awakened Buddha. For I regard it as holy to see that Blessed One.’

When he said this, Jotipāla said to him, ‘Enough, dear Ghaṭīkāra. What’s the use of seeing that baldy, that fake ascetic?’

For a second time … and a third time, Ghaṭīkāra addressed Jotipāla, ‘Dear Jotipāla, the Buddha Kassapa’s monastery is not far away. Let’s go to see the Blessed One Kassapa, the perfected one, the fully awakened Buddha. For I regard it as holy to see that Blessed One.’

For a third time, Jotipāla said to him, ‘Enough, dear Ghaṭīkāra. What’s the use of seeing that baldy, that fake ascetic?’

Then Ghaṭīkāra grabbed Jotipāla by the belt and said, ‘Dear Jotipāla, the Buddha Kassapa’s monastery is not far away. Let’s go to see the Blessed One Kassapa, the perfected one, the fully awakened Buddha. For I regard it as holy to see that Blessed One.’

So Jotipāla undid his belt and said to Ghaṭīkāra, ‘Enough, dear Ghaṭīkāra. What’s the use of seeing that baldy, that fake ascetic?’

Then Ghaṭīkāra grabbed Jotipāla by the hair of his freshly-washed head and said, ‘Dear Jotipāla, the Buddha Kassapa’s monastery is not far away. Let’s go to see the Blessed One Kassapa, the perfected one, the fully awakened Buddha. For I regard it as holy to see that Blessed One.’

Then Jotipāla thought, ‘It’s incredible, it’s amazing, how this potter Ghaṭikāra, though born in a lower caste, should presume to grab me by the hair of my freshly-washed head! This must be no ordinary matter.’ He said to Ghaṭīkāra, ‘You’d even milk it to this extent, dear Ghaṭīkāra?’

‘I even milk it to this extent, dear Jotipāla. For that is how holy I regard it to see that Blessed One.’

‘Well then, dear Ghaṭīkāra, release me, we shall go.’

I think this strategy is more suited if one can find a teacher who is really enlightened and knows that the person one drags to there would really convert, or even break through to become enlightened. Or else can easily backfire.

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DN 29: Pāsādikasutta—Bhikkhu Sujato (suttacentral.net)

Don't praise good followers of other religions, praise them if they are bad followers. Don't praise bad followers of Buddhism, praise them if they are good followers.

“That’s what happens, Cunda, when a teaching and training is poorly explained and poorly propounded, not emancipating, not leading to peace, proclaimed by someone who is not a fully awakened Buddha.

Take the case where a teacher is not awakened, and the teaching is poorly explained and poorly propounded, not emancipating, not leading to peace, proclaimed by someone who is not a fully awakened Buddha. A disciple in that teaching does not practice in line with the teachings, does not practice following that procedure, does not live in line with the teaching. They proceed having turned away from that teaching. You should say this to them, ‘You’re fortunate, reverend, you’re so very fortunate! For your teacher is not awakened, and their teaching is poorly explained and poorly propounded, not emancipating, not leading to peace, proclaimed by someone who is not a fully awakened Buddha. But you don’t practice in line with that teaching, you don’t practice following that procedure, you don’t live in line with the teaching. You proceed having turned away from that teaching.’ In such a case the teacher and the teaching are to blame, but the disciple deserves praise. Suppose someone was to say to such a disciple, ‘Come on, venerable, practice as taught and pointed out by your teacher.’ The one who encourages, the one who they encourage, and the one who practices accordingly all make much bad karma. Why is that? It’s because that teaching and training is poorly explained and poorly propounded, not emancipating, not leading to peace, proclaimed by someone who is not a fully awakened Buddha.

Take the case where a teacher is not awakened, and the teaching is poorly explained and poorly propounded, not emancipating, not leading to peace, proclaimed by someone who is not a fully awakened Buddha. A disciple in that teaching practices in line with the teachings, practices following that procedure, lives in line with the teaching. They proceed having undertaken that teaching. You should say this to them, ‘It’s your loss, reverend, it’s your misfortune! For your teacher is not awakened, and their teaching is poorly explained and poorly propounded, not emancipating, not leading to peace, proclaimed by someone who is not a fully awakened Buddha. And you practice in line with that teaching, you practice following that procedure, you live in line with the teaching. You proceed having undertaken that teaching.’ In such a case the teacher, the teaching, and the disciple are all to blame. Suppose someone was to say to such a disciple, ‘Clearly the venerable is practicing methodically and will succeed in completing that method.’ The one who praises, the one who they praise, and the one who, being praised, rouses up even more energy all make much bad karma. Why is that? It’s because that teaching and training is poorly explained and poorly propounded, not emancipating, not leading to peace, proclaimed by someone who is not a fully awakened Buddha.

2. The Teaching of the Awakened

Take the case where a teacher is awakened, and the teaching is well explained and well propounded, emancipating, leading to peace, proclaimed by someone who is a fully awakened Buddha. A disciple in that teaching does not practice in line with the teachings, does not practice following that procedure, does not live in line with the teaching. They proceed having turned away from that teaching. You should say this to them, ‘It’s your loss, reverend, it’s your misfortune! For your teacher is awakened, and their teaching is well explained and well propounded, emancipating, leading to peace, proclaimed by someone who is a fully awakened Buddha. But you don’t practice in line with that teaching, you don’t practice following that procedure, you don’t live in line with the teaching. You proceed having turned away from that teaching.’ In such a case the teacher and the teaching deserve praise, but the disciple is to blame. Suppose someone was to say to such a disciple, ‘Come on, venerable, practice as taught and pointed out by your teacher.’ The one who encourages, the one who they encourage, and the one who practices accordingly all make much merit. Why is that? It’s because that teaching and training is well explained and well propounded, emancipating, leading to peace, proclaimed by someone who is a fully awakened Buddha.

Take the case where a teacher is awakened, and the teaching is well explained and well propounded, emancipating, leading to peace, proclaimed by someone who is a fully awakened Buddha. A disciple in that teaching practices in line with the teachings, practices following that procedure, lives in line with the teaching. They proceed having undertaken that teaching. You should say this to them, ‘You’re fortunate, reverend, you’re so very fortunate! For your teacher is awakened, and their teaching is well explained and well propounded, emancipating, leading to peace, proclaimed by someone who is a fully awakened Buddha. And you practice in line with that teaching, you practice following that procedure, you live in line with the teaching. You proceed having undertaken that teaching.’ In such a case the teacher, the teaching, and the disciple all deserve praise. Suppose someone was to say to such a disciple, ‘Clearly the venerable is practicing methodically and will succeed in completing that method.’ The one who praises, the one who they praise, and the one who, being praised, rouses up even more energy all make much merit. Why is that? It’s because that teaching and training is well explained and well propounded, emancipating, leading to peace, proclaimed by someone who is a fully awakened Buddha.

One sutta which I find not suitable for any interfaith conversations! Anyway, some Buddhist representatives in interfaith dialogues whenever they say: “oh, it’s ok, continue to be in your own religion, no need to convert (to Buddhism).” I find it sort of contradicts the spirit of this sutta. Anyway, unless they are just saying don’t need to convert externally, but internally, this is how they win people of other faiths to practise the dhamma.

Trigger warning:

Super AI scenario of spreading religion, religious warfare in terms of spreading religion

one might be able to justify being a militant, fundamentalist, hardcore propagator of the Dhamma with this sutta. I dunno, I think I am still about in conflict with this one. Say given a scenario of say superintelligent AI, who will take over the world and have some choice between socially engineer humans over many centuries to become one religion, or maintain status quo, or non interference with human religion. What’s the right move here if some Buddhist programmers are the first one to be able to create such a superintelligent AI?

To have the chance for all humanity to convert to Buddhism, expose to the dhamma, practise for enlightenment is the super long term best picture, taking into account many lifetimes.

Any move to eliminate other religions would be faced with current pushback, there could be religious secret wars to stop AI researchers from programming the wrong religions into the Super AI. Like super spy. And we don’t like it if another religion happened to win and choose to spread their wrong views over the entire humanity, even if the spread is gradual and wouldn’t lead to immediate blood bath (religious wars).

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Just to make the question complicated.

  1. Who is eligible or can spread the Dhamma? Anybody or those who memorize the Dhamma or only those who have realize the Dhamma?

  2. And, in the case of anybody eligible, what kind of Dhamma could be spread? Are those which includes personal or other people analysis are also called Dhamma?

  3. Is there any organization(s) who have the authority to appoint those chosen eligible ones?

Thanks for the contributions!

Rather than posting whole suttas or huge chunks of suttas, it would be better to give a summary and just link. Or just post the most important bit. otherwise on mobile the thread is difficult to navigate.

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I’d prefer if we didn’t. Those three things would each make good posts of their own.

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I guess the so-called Bhikkhu The Buddha directly talked to at that time were those who already realized The Dhamma. Not just any Bhikkhu.

The problem the word ‘Bhikkhu’ at that time is of different quality with the ‘Bhikkhu’ in their motives.

  1. Answered here: Suttas where the Buddha said we should or shouldn't spread the Dhamma - #3 by NgXinZhao Edit: Suttas where the Buddha said we should or shouldn't spread the Dhamma - #12 by Khemarato.bhikkhu This is better answer.

  2. I think whatever’s in the sutta, but can also include all the commentaries, basically all dhamma talks one can see now. Whatever helps people to become enlightened.

  3. No centralized system in theravada, but I think for the bigger monasteries with many branches, say like Pa-Auk, they have approved teachers. Could be that only those monastics who are stream winners and above willingly become abbots of monasteries to teach. Just guessing/speculating. There’s so many lay teachers out there who teach, maybe if one is skilled in discerning their teachings, one can judge them to be at least stream winners too, and they might not be always teaching under the banner of Buddhism.

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I just want to say that the suttas that says go spread the dhamma. It was mainly about dana and morality. As in the beginning deep Dhamma teaching was not the goal in society. Just to make society like society needs to be. The problem is that to depend on southern Buddhism for this question is not easy.

Other than that. Guru tradition is common in India from ancient times. Going to show interest was expected. If monks in suttas are not among other Buddhist monks teaching we can see the attitude outside that they are questioned first. Thats the guru tradition.

Often people will cite Brahma Sahampati’s invitation after the Great Awakening as evidence that an invitation is required, along with Ananda’s failure to extend an invitation re the Buddha’s lifespan. But these are more mythic than direct and their meaning is debatable.

Also debatable are the cases where a monk didn’t teach what wasn’t asked for and then later the Buddha said something about it (e.g. Sariputta and the dying Brahmin, or the silent Uposatta monks). Are these examples of how we should be restrained? Or is the Buddha’s gentle admonishment proof that teachings should have happened there? The stories are, in my opinion, intentionally ambiguous.

One thing I have noticed is that while the Buddha is quick to reprimand the monastics, he’s usually quite hesitant to reprimand a lay person, usually requiring a triple invitation before giving negative feedback.

The Buddha himself compared his approach to a farmer: of course a farmer spends most of his time tending to the fertile field and only spends a little time planting seeds in the dry field. So too the Buddha spends most of his time teaching those who are eager to learn, and spends only little time on those who are not. [citation needed… can’t find the sutta now :grimacing:]

In DN 12 this is called blameworthy:

It’s just as if a man, neglecting his own field, were to imagine that another’s field should be weeded. I say that such a thing is an evil, greedy deed, for what can one person do for another? This is a teacher who is worthy of criticism

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Yes. I have no idea why people would draw that conclusion. Does anyone know if this is a belief held outside of the western sangha?

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Sn 4.24 has this line of poetry to Māra:

When I’m asked, I explain to them
Tesāhaṁ puṭṭho akkhāmi

Which is admittedly quite weak, but is sometimes held up as evidence

It’s not just the foreigners in the Ajahn Chah branch. The Thai disciples on the Luangta Mahabua side of the Thai Forest Tradition also teach this way. Living in Thailand, I see why. There are many monks here who stalk around for people to teach in a very creepy and unproductive way. Like the anti-intellectualism in the Thai Forest Tradition, it serves a particular function in the Thai context and may be taken too far out of that context.

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In my study I feel there was a disagreement in Sangha towards that text. So we don’t have all schools texts to understand what happened.

Here is what a Gandhari text use

ājñāya mahābrahmāṇaś ca yāvatāṃ vi[d]i … … + + + + /// ///

Page 159

I just found this first time. Brahma Sahampati mentioned in the Copper plates of Helagupta by the unknown Buddhist patron around after 1 CE.

https://p303.zlibcdn.com/dtoken/e557e22ea2df3fb8b94b5fd03536b888

@Snowbird

Plate nr 1 mentioned Dharmaguptaka. That’s why I believe Theravada current text comes from Thailand region. I saw one a Sinhala pali text it seems probably Sri Lanka used to have another version. Probably now lost.

King Senavarma inscriptions also mention Sahampati also datable @ 1 CE

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Yuck.

Yes, that really feels like grasping at straws.

Here is the citation if anyone needs: Mahavagga

I think you are taking this out of context. When Arahant Puṇṇa did her teaching to the Brahmin, she was merely sharing the Dhamma that she had learned. And it was to great effect. That’s my understanding.

It does bring up this passage in the Sallekhasutta Sutta:

16.1Truly, Cunda, if you’re sinking down in the mud you can’t pull out someone else who is also sinking down in the mud. 16.2But if you’re not sinking down in the mud you can pull out someone else who is sinking down in the mud. 16.3Truly, if you’re not tamed, trained, and extinguished you can’t tame, train, and extinguish someone else. 16.4But if you’re tamed, trained, and extinguished you can tame, train, and extinguish someone else.

The understanding of this passage that I prefer is that if you are sharing the Buddha’s teachings with someone, then it is the Buddha, in this case, who is pulling people out of the mud.

This would, in fact, be a good guide for those who believe that simply being a certain number of years in robes authorizes you to teach, and to teach from your own experience.

Otherwise, if one understands this passage in an extreme way it would lead to no one teaching unless they were arahants. But the Buddha never once said this directly. And in fact if that were the requirement, simply teaching would imply that you were enlightened, thereby leading to other problems.

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Indeed.

We don’t need arahants to teach Sunday dhamma school for kids and teenagers.

My view is that there’s a certain level of organically formed hierarchy based on kamma and other conditionings.

People can come into Buddhism via many means. They might come into contact directly with enlightened masters and know it and stick to them directly. Or they might come into contact with more of the beginners who got the initial super excitement of the dhamma and eager to share all around. Or anywhere in between.

As we learn the dhamma, we don’t totally close off the possibility of introducing it to newcomers. Even if they are just friends and families, or simply the fellow spiritual friends in the Buddhist community. We might be able to bring them to our level of practice, by which they meet another higher level people who brings them higher, until they meet with enlightened ones who can enlighten them via personal guidance from experience.

Or we ourselves go through this transition. Maybe after may rounds, then we realize that the first teacher we are with are already enlightened and we just didn’t had enough kamma or knowledge to realize it yet.

I imagine this like web of roots of a tree. Each root branch brings up water to the centre of the trunk. So at each level, there’s certain dhammas which are more simplified, becomes more clear.

Eg. From Buddhism for beginners books to sutta studies, and further on.

Some levels I had been through before ordaining:

  1. Vesak Buddhist, just go for parade float.
  2. Student at Sunday dhamma school from primary class onwards.
  3. Reading the dhamma on my own.
  4. Joining university Buddhist society. Dhamma camps.
  5. Become management committee of the university Buddhist society.
  6. Explore many temples, organizations etc.
  7. Organize youth events.
  8. Gone for many many retreats, become retreat junkie. Including 3 times temporary novice, 2 times in Mahayana.
  9. Work in a Buddhist temple (Mahayana)
  10. Stay in monastery for months.
  11. Actively participating in Buddhist forums.
  12. Got a bachelor’s in Buddhism from Buddhist and Pali college of Singapore.
  13. Done sharing/dhamma talks as the speaker for many events. (Remember as a lay person)

It’s not always vertical levels, there’s a lot of horizontal levels, so it can be more of spiritual shopping and materialism and not getting to the goal if one doesn’t have a strong sense of wanting to end suffering.

I listed so many activities above to show that there’s so many people and so many teachers who are putting in so many efforts to help spread the dhamma. Door-to-door spreading is not needed at all. And it’s not realistic to expect everyone I met as a lay person was enlightened if they are in position to teach, or even just as a senior to guide the newcomers.

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so Bhante, what is someone who teach the wrong dhamma, a that that he did not & never realize, a dhamma of his own build delusion?

:+1::+1::+1: … it seems very logical … the mud especially … people in quick sands need help outside there, not from someone who sunks too or a help from a silly heroes who prefer their own faster death to uselessly help other :wink::wink::wink:

Well, that same sutta (DN 12) says:

for one of wrong view, Lohicca, I tell you, there is one of two destinations: either hell or the animal realm.

:fire::crocodile:

:grimacing:

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