In his book Skill in Questions, Thai forest monk Thanissaro Bhikkhu describes the Buddha’s skill in answering the needs of each questioner:
The Buddha as a teacher was known for his skill in giving apt and effective answers to difficult people asking difficult questions. When a fierce and powerful spirit threatened him, saying, “I will ask you a question, contemplative. If you
can’t answer me, I will possess your mind or rip open your heart or, grabbing you by the feet, hurl you across the Ganges,” the Buddha remained unfazed and gave such satisfactory answers that he converted the spirit into becoming one of his followers (Sn 1:10). When approached by Sakka, the king of the devas—who had never received satisfactory answers to his questions from any other teacher—he answered those questions in such a way that Sakka gained the highest happiness he had ever experienced: his first taste of awakening [§4]. When a famous brahmanical teacher sent sixteen of his students to test his knowledge of advanced stages of meditation, the Buddha’s answers to their questions not only converted all sixteen, but also brought all but one of them to total release (Sn 5).
The discourses in the Pali Canon—our earliest extant record of the Buddha’s teachings—show that the Buddha’s skill in dealing with questions went beyond simply providing good answers. Whereas other teachers at the time had formulaic doctrines that they repeated regardless of the questions they were asked, the Buddha tailored his answers not only to the question but also to the questioner’s needs [§5, §99]. He could often detect the assumptions or beliefs lying behind a question [§66], and could tell when two questions—though widely different in their wording—were actually equivalent [§167].
In January, to accompany Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s Tricycle Retreat The Ten Perfections, now in its third week, we’ll be offering Skill in Questions for download.
We are offering this special e-book edition for free.
In addition, if you wish, you can give a voluntary contribution of $5 to the Tricycle Teachers Fund, which benefits Buddhist teachers, who offer the teachings for free. All contributions made in January will be donated to the Metta Forest Monastery, where Thanissaro Bhikkhu serves as abbot.
Here’s how to get involved:
• Join the Tricycle Community at any member level. To participate in Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s Tricycle Retreat, you must join at the Supporting or Sustaining Member level.
• Make a voluntary contribution of $5 to the Tricycle Teachers Fund. All contributions made in January will be donated to the Metta Forest Monastery.
• Download your e-book and start reading immediately.
• Join Thanissaro Bhikkhu in his Tricycle Retreat on The Ten Perfections from January 3 through January 30.
Already a Tricycle Community Member?
Click here to take make a voluntary contribution to Metta Forest Monastery via the Tricycle Teachers Fund and download the e-book.
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