So far the respondents have agreed on the principle, but no-one has really considered why it is that monastics in particular argue.
To start with, let’s remember AN 2.47: householders argue about sensual pleasures, while ascetics argue about views.
So why argue about views? Well, think about the phenomenon of the newly converted. Those who have given up smoking can’t stop talking about it. Fresh vegans want the world to know. As a general rule: someone who has recently reached a new insight or stage of development will feel the need to defend and argue for that stage.
What is happening is, of course, that they are still in doubt and insecure, and need to argue to convince themselves. As time goes on, and their new insight, way of life, or viewpoint becomes second nature, they quiet down, and learn to speak of it when the time is right. How long this takes can vary: a day? A lifetime? But as a general rule, if someone is excessively evangelical and dogmatic about a view, it is a sign of immaturity, of an inner insecurity.
One might expect that in a monastic setting this would be fairly quickly overcome. By reflecting on one’s own changes and the anger that arises from argument, it is not hard to learn to restrain yourself when the conversation becomes unbeneficial.
The problem here is that personal monastic development can unfortunately be undercut by the wider monastic culture. Put shortly: in traditional Buddhist cultures, there has come to be such a cult of deference to monks that we easily fall into conceit and dogmatism, and there is no-one to help us get past it.
The insecurity we have around our views becomes hardened and brittle, especially when we perceive ourselves as the embattled custodians of the One True Teaching, valiantly striving against the tides of the world. We forget how to have actual conversations with people, the give and take, ebb and flow of human relations. Every word becomes a sermon. And so little by little we lose the ability to listen, to hear the wisdom of others, to learn from them, to share in their pain and sorrow. And we forget the humility it takes to have a rational disagreement, to reasonably express different viewpoints while grounding oneself on logic and facts, not losing sight of empathy with those one speaks with.
Because this problem is essentially a social one, it is often untouched by meditation. Indeed, meditation, if done in an unbalanced way, can reinforce the sense of isolation and alienation.
The good news is that the solution is not difficult: get out there and talk to people. Have some conversations with people of different backgrounds. Take an interest in how they think, what matters to them. Don’t preach at them or try to convert them: have empathy, feel their pain. We see the Buddha doing this all the time in the suttas: it is one of the main reasons I try to emphasize reading the suttas themselves, rather than summaries or guides.
For junior monastics, even if most of your time is dedicated to solitude, don’t forget to develop this empathy. In the five years of nissaya, much of your monastic character will be formed. Take the opportunity to listen when the senior monastic is speaking with lay people. See how they interact with different people in different contexts. Take the opportunity to learn, and recognize when dismissiveness and negativity rears its head. Your defensiveness is only your insecurity. Be thankful when you’re wrong and someone has the heart to tell you. It won’t be long before no-one corrects you, and by then it’ll be too late.
Don’t shy away from conversations where you have a reasonable disagreement. It’s important for senior monastics to model rational disagreement. It’s why I am happy to say when I disagree with something that Ajahn Brahm or Ajahn Brahmali says, or some other senior monastic. Because I know that I can disagree with them and we can have a useful conversation about it.
At the same time, learn to recognize when a conversation is not going to be useful. With few exceptions, an internet forum is not somewhere that major personal growth is going to happen. If you’re trying to have a conversation and it just isn’t working, leave it. It’s okay, we don’t have to resolve everything today.