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Trying to get useful and helpful information on this site is very difficult. Why do Buddhists have so many conflicting opinions? It's kind of ridiculous and just one more reason why I can never take religion seriously even though I appreciate some of the teachings that resonate with me.

Some examples I've noticed- The western insight tradition emphasises acknowledging, turning toward, facing whatever is present so for example if anger arises one is to recognise it, investigate how it feels in the body etc but to not identify with it. The same goes for everything else, thought, sensations, emotions etc. But Ive noticed one school of thought with people on this site who say you must try to rid your mind of certain unskillful feelings and thoughts and try to replace them with skillful ones.

These two ideas seem to conflict with each other. You can't face and turn towards and get rid of at the same time. I have to say it makes much more sense to me to acknowledge what is already present and notice how it goes away of its own accord because of anicca rather than forcing it.

Another conflict I've noticed is the labeling, noting. Again the western insight tradition, Mahasi Sayadaw, yuttadhamma Bikhu emphasise the labeling. One teacher that took a retreat I went on has been practicing for over 40 years and still labels when walking etc. But then other people on here say you shouldn't. Yuttadhamma Bikhu says that by labelling you are replacing the thoughts etc with clear thought. So instead of being lost in proliferation you say to yourself in your mind "thinking thinking" and then you have replaced the thoughts. I have to say that this works. As soon as a thought is recognised and named its gone. So again not sure why some say it's not correct. It works for me so I will keep on doing it.

In the end I believe spirituality is a personal journey and no one can really tell another what is right without it just becoming dogmatic.

  • Hi! I won't post as an answer on its own because I have no sources to back me up. But in my opinion, about the way to deal with emotions/mind processes, I don't see a necessary conflict between the positions you tell us. The final goal is to get rid of unwholesome thoughts, deeds and words, and to eradicate their unwholesome roots (greed, aversion and ignorance). But, in order to achieve that goal, the open recognition and facing of emotions is a good way to do it, because you slowly train your mind to not to react blindly to daily situations, and wisdon becomes the compass of your actions. – Brian Díaz Flores Feb 4 at 7:57
  • No some people on here say you must not acknowledge such things but rid your mind of them. It's a a very clear distinction between the two methods – Arturia Feb 4 at 8:04
  • And how do you get rid of ingrained tendencies, nurtured through years of unattentive life? Is there a way to do that inmediately? – Brian Díaz Flores Feb 4 at 8:09
  • there's a good technique known as RAIN. Recognise, acknowledge, investigate, non identification. You cannot get rid of things. If it's there then it has arisen already. You can't just command it away. You acknowledge it and you know that it will go of its own accord. The most important thing is to not react to such things. – Arturia Feb 4 at 10:15
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    Buddhism is crazier than all of the other religions combined and Buddhism is not really a religion. Lol – Dhammadhatu Feb 4 at 10:46
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There are many techniques that were taught by the Buddha and also later, other techniques were developed by Buddhist teachers over history, that are based on the Buddha's teachings. You are right that some of these techniques may appear to be in conflict with each other.

However, we must understand that each technique is used for a particular purpose, for a particular situation, to cater for a particular need.

It is just like how a master chef uses various techniques to craft the best results based on the needs. Sometimes you need to boil, sometimes you need to bake, sometimes you need to fry and sometimes you need to sautee. These techniques are mutually exclusive but used at different times to achieve different results.

You can find guidance on the basics of insight meditation in the booklet entitled "How To Meditate" by Ven. Yuttadhammo. This technique is used to gain insight into the workings of dependent origination. Also read "The Way of Mindfulness" by Ven. Soma Thera, which is an essay that discusses the Satipatthana Sutta. This the technique that involves noting.

But you can't progress in insight meditation, if you are strongly assailed by the five hindrances. To solve this, one technique is in the Vitakka-Santhana Sutta which teaches the forceful removal of unskillful thoughts. Forceful removal of thoughts is not part of insight meditation, but if you are too disturbed by unskillful thoughts, then you need to forcefully remove it.

To eradicate the hindrance of ill-will, you can use Loving Kindness (metta) as the technique for eradication. Intentionally generating thoughts of loving kindness is also not part of insight meditation.

For overcoming lust (as a hindrance of sensual desire), you can use the contemplation on unattractiveness (see this question). But too much of it may lead to negative thoughts of suicide, in which case, use the mindfulness of breathing (see this answer) to counter it. Intentionally contemplating on unattractiveness, is also not part of insight meditation.

Also, samatha meditation (see the article entitled "Entering the Jhanas" by Leigh Brasington) is yet another technique used to calm the mind, and create focus and concentration. This is yet another technique that could help insight meditation. But it can be developed on its own too.

If you are continuously disturbed in every way in meditation and cannot progress further, then the technique to solve this, is the development of virtue (sila) outside of meditation - see this answer for details.

So, although different approaches appear to be conflicting with each other, they are actually complementary. The Buddha taught the practitioner to be multi-skilled. That's why there's the Noble Eightfold Path, rather than a Noble One Single Technique to End Suffering. No one technique is sufficient to achieve the results.

  • I have tried metta practice many many times and it does not work. It's not possible to just feel loving kindness when you just don't feel it no matter how many rote phrases you repeat to yourself. It might work for some people but not for me. Some teachers don't even include it in their teachings on retreats because they agree that it's useless. – Arturia Feb 4 at 10:20
  • I had a look at that link "the way of mindfulness". There is no way I can read that. The never ending rambling repetitive blocks of text just send me to sleep. – Arturia Feb 4 at 10:53
  • So wonderful and practical. The objective is - your mind should be calm and you should be able to witness what is happening as it is, without reaction. – Lakshman Prasad Mar 5 at 17:28
  • @LakshmanPrasad Though it was polite of you to post comments like this one, but that's not necessary or conventional on this site -- "Compliments which do not add new information" is listed here (in the "When shouldn't I comment?" section at the bottom). – ChrisW Mar 5 at 20:31
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I agree with many of the answers here. Here are a few hopefully useful comments of my own.

The reason you are going to get conflicting information from this site is that different people have different opinions and some of us are right and some of us are wrong, for better or worse. Otherwise debates and discussions would never need to occur (As an example, the Pali canon itself contains the 'Kathavatthu' the points of controversy between various Buddhist schools). If you want the most qualified answers then you're probably better off looking at texts by current authorities. In my experience I've found the books by the Dalai Lama to be clear and direct.

The fact that people disagree does not mean there's no objective truth about something, or no reason to take it seriously, whether in religion or otherwise. For example, someone might assert that 'No human being is intrinsically inferior than the other', and some may assert that 'Some human beings are intrinsically inferior to others because of trait x'. There is a disagreement here. Does that mean that there is no objective fact on the matter? Or that this is not something take seriously? People often disagree often things about which there is obviously an objective answer, take any scientific controversy, for example.

Regarding the first example, I think that the two conflicting answers you've mentioned are really talking about two different processes that might not be clearly separated in discussions, as Brian Díaz Flores has basically explained in his reply. If there are some who disagree then they must be wrong since as you've pointed out that view leads to a contradiction. That doesn't tell us anything about other Buddhists or Buddhism as a whole or religion. Similarly for the second example you raise about labelling.

It's also worth pointing out that the disagreements you've raised might not actually be that important. Regardless of what you think about labelling and so on, I would have thought that all Buddhists basically agree to assert against Hindus and others that there is no substantial self to be found in experience and enlightenment does not come from a god, among other things.

Finally your last remark contradicts the point above it. Haven't you just told yourself what is right by arguing against those who think that labelling is the wrong practice? If someone gives you the same argument then s/he has told you what is right with the same reasoning that you use and so endorse. This contradicts your point that: 'no one can really tell another what is right without it just becoming dogmatic'.

As an aside: sometimes a lot of what is discussed seems difficult to reconcile because of the translations that we use. For example 'unwholesome' is sometimes used and for me tends to conjure up Judo-Christian images of sinful acts. But it's important to realize that this might not be the kind of associations that the word translated had in its original context. Similarly I understand that 'skill full' is often a translation of the Sanskrit word 'upaya', but does not necessarily have many of the exact connotations that the original word has.

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There is only One Truth, but many ways to be confused. There are people of different levels of understanding, both students and teachers, some closer to truth and some farther. This is why there are different explanations and different teachings - all partially valid in different ways.

When you know Truth, you can see: this teaching is partially valid from this side but wrong here; and this other teaching does a better job explaining this piece but has a problem with this other thing. When you know Truth you can see how it all connects. But when you don't know Truth these different perspectives seem contradicting. But they are not contradicting, what's missing is your understanding of Truth.

It's like with 3D objects, there may be multiple flat projections drawn on paper, each is a partially valid representation of the object - but each is ultimately wrong. When you know the 3D object, you can see how these projections relate to it - but if you don't know the object, the projections seem completely unrelated, nothing in common. Dharma is like this, even more complex than a single 3D object.

Specifically about stopping unskillful states, Buddha said that there is suffering (=bad experience) and that suffering can be stopped (=no more bad experience). He then said that the cause of suffering are unskillful mindstates, esp. craving, but also anger, fear, torpor, doubt, ignorance etc. He also said that suffering can be stopped through getting rid of these unskillful mind states and generating skilful mindstates. The culmination of this process is Nibbana. Are we good so far?

So, if it were impossible to get rid of unskillful mind states, it would be impossible to stop suffering. If that were the case, there wouldn't be any Buddhism, it would be pointless to try. But Buddhism exists.

Now, there are two schools of thought as to how the unskillful mindstates can be removed. These two schools of thought are two different flat projections of the same 3D object. They are two simplifications.

One school of thought says, we should make effort to actively get rid of unskillful mindstates. So if we have anger, we should stop it, when we have lust we should stop it and so on. The idea here is, if we don't make effort to fix the problem it won't go away by itself.

The other school of thought says, that just looking at the mind directly is enough to remove the unskillful states. The idea here is, unskillful mindstates appear when we think about some external objects and form some sort of attitudes toward them like craving or rejection. But if we look at our mind directly without judgement, in that very moment there is no attitude of craving or rejection, so right at that moment there is peace.

In reality, the two methods are the same method. In both cases we do something to stop the unskillful mindstate. In both cases we stop feeding it, by no longer thinking about the external object or problem, we take our attention from it. It's just that in one case we talk about the old thing we're stopping but not what we do instead, and in the other case we talk about the new thing we are doing (looking at mind directly) without mentioning the fact that by doing that we're stopping to feed the bad thought. So we are just talking about two sides of the same elephant. The actual practice is the same.

Now, about labeling. Labeling is just a way to switch your mind from thinking about the problem to looking at the mind. That's all. There is no magic value in labeling other then helping you switch your attention. If you can switch your attention to mind without labeling, then you don't need to label. It's like training wheels on the bike.

However, the problem with labeling is, some people tend to obsess with the label itself too much, instead of looking at the mind which is the whole point. This is why I always say, don't overdo it, it's not about labels it's about the mind.

It's like, when you look at the sunset standing on a cliff over the ocean, and someone calls you on the phone and asks what you see, and you just say "sunset". Isn't that a horrible vulgarization of the actual experience? Squeezing the entire endless ocean, colors, wind, and the atmosphere to a single label? Similarly, when you are labeling what happens in your mind. You are simplifying something subtle, deep, and nuanced - something alive - to a single label, a dead concept of logical mind. The danger there is, if you keep labeling it, at some point you will stop paying attention to the colors and wind and the background sounds - because you will know: it is "sunset". That's it. Once you know it you no longer see it. That's the danger with labeling in meditation, as well as post-meditation practice. Makes sense?

So you can either actively stop the bad mindstates by shifting attention away from them, or you can simply look at your mind, and in both cases you may use labels or not - as long as you know what you are doing and why, the practice is essentially the same.

As you can see, when you understand what's going on, there is no conflict between different schools or methods. They just approach it from different sides. The Truth is one and the same.

  • Well explained except "wrong" in this phrase: this teaching is partially valid from this side but wrong here The "parable of the elephant" suggests the teaching-as-perceived may be incomplete or one-sided, bit isn't wrong; and that even seemingly-contradictory descriptions are describing the same thing. If that's not what you meant, then I don't know what kind of wrong you were referring to. – ChrisW Feb 6 at 9:37
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    Like, one school says "Samsara is Nirvana" and it is right in one sense, but wrong in another. The other school says, "Samsara is here and Nirvana is over there" and this is right in one sense but wrong in another. – Andrei Volkov Feb 6 at 12:02
  • As I said you before, you have completely wrong perceptions about noting. Noting actually take's a person's attention to what is real in the present moment and it makes the practise very effective. That's why experience is very important in spirituality. Without experience you can not judge anything correctly in spirituality. – Murathan1 Feb 14 at 5:50
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The various views you will come across regarding methodology may usually be reconciled quite easily. Methods must vary with the practioner and often a technique that is useful in one system of practice will be unhelpful in another. This is true for practicing tennis or a musical instrument.

The serious disagreements, the disagreements that damage Buddhism and should not arise, are not about methods but about truth and the true nature of Reality. The reason they arise is that many Buddhists do not know the answers but speculate beyond their own knowledge, and where this speculation is not guided by metaphysical analysis it may go off the rails very quickly.

Attempts to dispose of these disagreements must refer to logic and reason but many Buddhists, and most people, do not like this approach. They interpret the teachings in the way they prefer and ignore arguments from logic even where this is counter to the Buddha's advice regarding the use of reason.

The topic is a hobby-horse for me. I cannot grasp why all Buddhists don't accept Nagarjuna's logic and normalise on the non-dual view. The problem is that until they do people like yourself will see Buddhism as a muddle of views and will question its claims to truth and knowledge, and rightly so. It makes no sense that a doctrine supposed to be grounded in knowledge ends up in a muddle.

I have no idea how to address the situation. Metaphysics is ignored by almost everyone and this leaves them free to adopt any old view, as we see in the scientific community and in academic philosophy. But really it's all very simple.

The finding of all philosophers who persevere is that all extreme metaphysical views fail in logic. This result of analysis is well-known to philosophers the world over and yet for some some reason most ignore it. If this result is correct then the Buddha's teachings must be true, as Nagarjuna tried to show, so metaphysical analysis endorses the teachings and this can be logically proved. This does not help Buddhism, however, because many Buddhists reject metaphysics and adopt logically unsound views.

It's a shame. If all Buddhists adopted a neutral metaphysical position as recommended by Nagarjuna then Buddhism could be presented as the only workable solution for metaphysics. As it is we have to limit this claim to Middle Way Buddhism. Then any sensible sceptic looking into Buddhism will be forced to ask why we don't all agree and is bound to doubt its knowledge claims.

There are further complications. For Nagarjuna's view the world becomes difficult to explain in ordinary language because we have to use a language of contradictory complementarity for which, as Lao Tsu puts it, 'true words seem paradoxical'. This would be the language of the Buddha's 'Third Turning of the Wheel'. Thus the language of mysticism in every tradition will seem to be inherently and deliberately self-contradictory unless we understand it. So very often where we see disagreements this will be an illusion. A classic example would be Heraclitus' famous statement 'We are and are-not'. If we know Nagarjuna's view then this statement will seem rigorous. If we don't it will seem paradoxical.

So there may be three reasons for finding disagreements among Buddhists.

  • Not all Buddhists know everything
  • Not all Buddhists pay attention to logic and reason
  • The language of Buddhism, where it is non-dualism, is bound to seem contradictory since rigour requires the avoidance of extreme views and positive statements about reality.

The other problem is that while so many Buddhists reject Nagarjuna it will be impossible to syncretise Buddhism with Taoism, Sufism, advaita and so forth, undermining the idea that truth may be discovered by self-enquiry and doing damage to religion and mysticism as a whole.

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  • thinking thinking
  • seeing seeing
  • hearing hearing
  • smelling smelling
  • tasting tasting
  • touching touching

The above does seem to be equivalent to "This is not mine, I am not this, this is not my self" MN62. I added the other five senses for completeness (I assumed you would naturally do that as well?).

In terms of the efficacy of practice, we read in MN62 The Simile of the Saw:

a mendicant may be the sweetest of the sweet, the most even-tempered of the even-tempered, the calmest of the calm, so long as they don’t encounter any disagreeable criticism. But it’s when they encounter disagreeable criticism that you’ll know whether they’re really sweet, even-tempered, and calm.

Therefore, one must consider "thinking thinking" in different contexts, such as:

Even if low-down bandits were to sever you limb from limb, anyone who had a malevolent thought on that account would not be following my instructions.

If "thinking thinking" would suffice here, then you will be fine.

If "thinking thinking" would not suffice here, then the sutta has some suggestions that may be of value.

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There's some variation in everything -- in houses, vehicles, medicines, languages -- maybe that's good, or anyway it might not mean that they're contradictory or wrong.

Also how to practice meditation isn't described in detail in the suttas, and they hint at more than one technique. People learn from contemporary teachers, and make inferences from the little that's mentioned in the suttas, there were texts that written after the suttas. Some people (the Buddha himself) try different things and discover what works for them. Many have more than one teacher.


The western insight tradition emphasises acknowledging, turning toward, facing whatever is present so for example if anger arises one is to recognise it, investigate how it feels in the body etc but to not identify with it. The same goes for everything else, thought, sensations, emotions etc. But Ive noticed one school of thought with people on this site who say you must try to rid your mind of certain unskillful feelings and thoughts and try to replace them with skillful ones.

I'm not sure that's contradictory.

I suppose that "identifying with anger" is an "unskillful feeling". A converse (more skillful) might be somehow experiencing it if it arises but without embracing it, maybe without acting out, experiencing it briefly or in passing.


You can't face and turn towards and get rid of at the same time.

If you say so.

Words are inaccurate -- I'd say that literally I'm inevitably always "facing" forward, whereas what I feel is elsewhere (e.g. internal, in muscles).

But I guess I "face" it in the sense that if I feel it I'm alive to the danger of it, and don't pretend it's not happening or that it's somebody else's fault.


In the end I believe spirituality is a personal journey and no one can really tell another what is right without it just becoming dogmatic.

Okay.

One of the guidelines I read for this site is that answers should be based on something, either a reference to scripture (for what that's worth, some people think that's worth something), or based on personal experience.

I suppose something like this phenomenon (i.e. "contradiction") happened even when the suttas were first written, for example one of them is called The Sectarians and has a parable of Blind men and an elephant. Anyway this sutta (and other suttas like it) warn people against arguing.

Even just the suttas are kind of self-contradictory, e.g. there are some which say you absolutely need a teacher, a "spiritual friend", and that that is "not half the holy life, but rather the whole of it" -- but then there's also a sutta like this one which says,

"Monks, be islands unto yourselves, be your own refuge, having no other; let the Dhamma be an island and a refuge to you, having no other. Those who are islands unto themselves... should investigate to the very heart of things: 'What is the source of sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair? How do they arise?' [What is their origin?]

Perhaps different advice is appropriate at different times and/or for different people.

I read a monk say that Buddhism is a Middle Way, and he advises, "go left", or, "go right", depending on which extreme a person has veered toward.

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Of the billions of human beings who are and have been on this earth, I doubt that any two have been exactly the alike in psychology and ability to understand the abstract. Is it so surprising that each different individual might need to use slightly (or vastly) different methods to achieve the goals laid out by the Buddha to achieve enlightenment?

The surprise is that anyone would think that any one teacher would have the absolute correct method that would serve all in their quest.

If you went to the store for a hammer to drive nails, you would find many different types, shapes, sizes, and weights of hammers. Would you spend time criticizing each hammer for what it is or is not to you? No, you have a goal and would find the hammer that worked best for you to achieve that goal - then buy and use it. The reason is that there is NO one perfect hammer for everyone even though the goal of driving nails might be common to all in that store.

To the original poster, I would say: Stop looking at the differences among the many methods / techniques presented as if there is one correct one for all.

Instead, understand who you are now and where you need to be to reach enlightenment. Then focus on the finding the best method / teacher FOR YOU to get you there. In my humble opinion, the rest is just noise and chaff blocking you from moving forward.

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  1. I can completely say mostly "imaginable conflict" is not an actual conflict. I uncountable questions on the internet through more than 10 years and I discover the fact it's reader's error.
  2. The case, sutta, is just used in a case, not wrong in the right case, but it is going to be wrong in the different case. Four Nikaya means there are more than ten thousand cases. In my experience, almost conflicts come from the readers' error, not from Tipitaka or Atthakatha.
  3. The case's environment has various properties which can be noticed by just the proficient.
  4. It is very hard to be a real Theravada professor. In VN Atthakatha has written it requires 20 years experience, the memory of whole 5 canons of Vijaya, and the whole 4 Nikaya. After that one has memorized that all, he are going to have the understanding like KN, Abhidhamma, and Atthakatha. By this way, most of "imaginable conflicts" are becoming no conflict.
  5. All of the western style professors have no above qualifications, so they can't understand Abhidhamma, Atthakatha, and some sutta, then they again them all. It means they against the Tipitaka origin because actually, the MahaAtthakatha teachers are the first council members.

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