The Appropriate Limits of Comparative Religion

Split from: Bodhisattas and the EBTs.

First of all, @Nadine, I did not quote you above to single you out as a “moderator” in any negative way when making this post, although I am aware that no matter what I say from here on out, I am publicly “identifying you” by continuing this thread, which is to-do with Terms of Service and SuttaCentral online propriety and a questioning thereto, something that I can imagine, if I were a moderator myself, I would encroach with caution upon.

I think that this is a conversation that would do D&D good to have. What precisely, for the purposes of this forum, constitutes the limits of acceptable comparative religious inquiry?

This is a conversation which, in truth, can have no end, because all cases (i.e. threads) IMO ought to be taken on a contextual and individual basis. In my opinion, it simply doesn’t make sense to outrightly ban the discussion, even in passing, of any other religion outright, indeed, I think no one here thinks this, if I might be so bold as to suggest. I would like to defend this stance, with the blessing of you all, below, and open it up to public inquiry.

This site is founded two sorts of comparative religion.

What is EBT studies, if not “comparing” the Sarvāstivāda and Sautrāntika, the Mahāsāṃghika and the Vibhajjavāda, the Pudgalavāda and the Mahīśāsaka?

Now, one can take a prescriptivist stance and say: “these are not different religions, these are different sects,” but I would recommend such a view to @crizna’s wonderful essay here and his follow-up here in that same thread, to open up another subconversation. Look at these divergent nirvāṇaprapañcāḥ! IMO it is more fascinating than troubling.

The line of inquiry that this forum is founded upon, the feat of identifying the most antique sayings of the Victor, involves necessarily comparing them to what is not likely a saying of the Lord. And how do we know that, at a material level? Certainly we have archaeology to help us, but the material history of the lines of transmission for the only extant authentic Indic recension of the elder dispensation of the Buddha to the śrāvakāḥ, the Pāli Canon, is, alas, in a tragic state, for the simple reason of unfortunate geographic climate. If only the Well Gone’s instruction had been born in the desert, where paper can survive to great antiquity. Hence why we need rely on Chinese translations and parallels to establish the antiquity of much buddhavacana.

While looking at these two recension-collections, Chinese & Pāli (the Sanskrit manuscript testimony, to my knowledge, is almost completely fragmentary, much like the Pāli after a certain date), how to we identify the dharma? Some things are shared between these sects, some things are not, and this is unrelated, sometimes, to if they are truly dharma, whether they are shared or not. Sometimes the preserved Pāli dispensation, or the Sarvāstivāda dispensation for that matter, can independently remember of a sermon of the Thus Gone that was not remembered by others in theory. All we have, ultimately, are ancient remembrances to go on, and a precious few remaining.

We identify the dharma by identifying what is not the dharma, dare I say, which, IMO, is comparative religion. What do you all think?


Understood and accepted. :slightly_smiling_face:


Honestly, today I searched for the delete button to close my account with SC. It really was not my intention to leave with prior notice. One of the reasons for the decision is the constant abuse of power by the ‘SC system’ to close threads under unclear pretexts to silence critical voices. The case of frankk is for me a shocking example of how this forum deals with it.

As some people started now new discussions referring to an earlier essay of mine, I will wait a couple of days before I will delete my posts.

I’m definitely more of a ‘comparative guy’ and see great value in other traditions and formulas. Yes, there is a danger of getting lost in other traditions. Any maybe even more, there are probably very few experts in other religions on the forum. So when someone who is relatively learned writes about Islam or Judaism it is doomed to become a discussion not assessable by the many.

But overall I see more benefits and would not restrain comparative discussions, if the relationship to early Buddhism is still apparent, and if it doesn’t deteriorate in just bashing other traditions & religions.

To clarify my intention in the above quoted post, when threads get off-topic from the OP, frequently it’s a sign that constructive discussion has been fulfilled and the topic has reached a conclusion. That would be a reason to close it. Perhaps I could have worded it better.

I was not trying to silence anyone, critical voice or not. Again, perhaps I could have worded it better, but this is a forum for discussing the EBTs. There is nothing inherently wrong with discussing other religions, but as we have a founding focus stated in the guidelines, the moderators historically have tried to retain that focus in discussions.
Gabriel states my perspective very well here:

It seems my economy of words, while a virtue when writing précis in college, is not serving me well here at the moment. My apologies!


Apologies @Coemgenu as the author of the OP, for not addresing the OP but responding instead to a comment.

@crizna As long as posts are related to a discussion of EBT’s AND practice right speech, there is no issue.

Moderators have the unappealing task of enforcing compliance with the guidelines on occasions when someone continually ignores the guidelines, and ignores moderator requests, to frame arguments according to ‘right speech’ and right ways to ctiticise.

I have taken a week away from the site, and cannot begin to express my disappointment to read this as the first thing I saw when I came back on.
This is a completely unfair and totally inaccurate comment to make. Indeed I am amazed at the degree to which moderators put up with such things out of a love for the Dhamma and service to the mission of this site.

If you have nothing beneficial or helpful to say - then don’t say it. As stated before, countless times, there are many many forums available for people to choose if they do not agree with the guidelines. However, if one does choose to participate, then be prepared to comply with our Standards.

I link them once more below, and suggest that anyone not familiar with the whole document, take the time to read them mindfully and to apply them. All moderator decisions are reached on the basis of these guidelines.


Can I just add my support for the work of the moderators. They are, and have always been, an exemplary team of dedicated volunteers. They bend over backwards to ensure that any decision is made for the right reasons, and are more than understanding of the different reasons people make various kinds of comments. The very nature of the task is unpleasant and unrewarding, yet without moderation it would be literally impossible to have sane and civil conversations on the web. All the moderators, past and future, have my deep and lasting respect and gratitude. :pray:


Yes, you’re right, that’s not fair. I should have directed my statement at the SC system as a whole. I’ve changed the post accordingly, but I’m afraid it does not make things better. You will have to live with the fact that there are people like me who see it that way. To hear an inconvenient truth is usually painful, but sometimes wholesome. In that sense, this is indeed a constructive contribution.