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Kathāvatthu Suttaṃ

(A.i.197)

Topics for Discussion

“Monks, there are three topics for discussion. What three? One may talk about the past, monks, saying — ‘This is how it was in the past.’ One may talk about the future, monks, saying — ‘This is how it will be in the future.’ One may talk about the present, monks, saying — ‘This is how it is in the present.’

“It is by how he engages in a discussion, monks, that an individual should be known as fit to discuss with or unfit to discuss with. If, monks, on being asked a question that deserves a direct answer, an individual does not give a direct answer; on being asked a question that deserves a qualified answer, an individual does not give a qualified answer; on being asked a question that deserves a counter-question, an individual does not ask a counter-question; on being asked a question that deserves to be set aside, an individual does not set the question aside; then he is not fit to discuss with.

“If, monks, on being asked a question that deserves a direct answer, an individual gives a direct answer; on being asked a question that deserves a qualified answer, an individual gives a qualified answer; on being asked a question that deserves a counter-question, an individual asks a counter-question; on being asked a question that deserves to be set aside, an individual sets the question aside; then he is fit to discuss with.

“It is by how he engages in a discussion, monks, that an individual should be known as fit to discuss with or unfit to discuss with. If, monks, when asked a question he does not maintain his position, he does not maintain his strategy, he does not accept what is known, he does not follow the accepted procedure; then he is not fit to discuss with. If, monks, when asked a question he maintains his position, he maintains his strategy, he accepts what is known, he follows the accepted procedure; then he is fit to discuss with.

“It is by how he engages in a discussion, monks, that an individual should be known as fit to discuss with or unfit to discuss with. If, monks, when asked a question he changes the subject, pulling the discussion off-topic, if he becomes angry or sullen; then he is not fit to discuss with. If, monks, when asked a question he does not change the subject, thus keeping the discussion on-topic, if he does not become angry or sullen; then he is fit to discuss with.

“It is by how he engages in a discussion, monks, that an individual should be known as fit to discuss with or unfit to discuss with. If, monks, when asked a question he reviles the questioner, crushes him, mocks him, picks on trivial faults; then he is not fit to discuss with. If, monks, when asked a question he does not revile the questioner, does not crush or mock him, does not pick on trivial faults; then he is fit to discuss with.

“It is by how he engages in a discussion, monks, that an individual should be known as having the supporting condition [for liberation] or not having it. One who listens attentively has the supporting condition, one who does not listen attentively does not. One who has the supporting condition, knows one thing for certain [suffering], abandons one thing [craving], realises one thing [nibbāna]. Having known one thing for certain, abandoned one thing, and realised one thing, he gains right-liberation. That is the advantage of discussion, monks, the advantage of consultation, the advantage of supporting conditions, the advantage of listening attentively, that is to say the liberation of the mind without attachment.

“Those who discuss obstructed by dogmatism, puffed up with pride
Ignoble, seeking to expose each other’s flaws.

“What is badly said in error, rejoicing in the other’s defeat,
Each delights in the other’s mistakes, but the noble do not do that.

“If a wise person wants to discuss, having considered the right time,
He speaks on the essence of the Dhamma, that is the conduct of the noble.

“He is not envious, and speaks from true knowledge
Approving of what is well said without disparging what is not.

“He does not train in reproach, nor seize on mistakes
Not putting others down to crush them, he does not speak maliciously.

“For the sake of knowledge and confidence, the wise give counsel
This is how the noble consult and advise,
Knowing this the wise advise without grandiloquence.” (A.i.197)