User:Robertinventor/Buddhism Articles DRN Notice Summary by Robert Walker

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Summary of dispute by Robert Walker[edit | hide | hide all]

I got involved as a reader, not an editor. Previously, the articles were excellent. My only talk page posts were to ask editors if they could help improve other parts of wikipoedia.

If the articles can be rolled back to their previous mature state, and the editors can resume collaborative editing following the guidelines, then I will feel that they are once more in safe hands.

All I've ever done as an editor for any of these articles is to fix one broken url using the wayback machine. There are multiple issues, but to summarize:

1. Rapid large scale rewrites[edit | hide]

It is hard to discuss changes when the article is suddenly and rapidly transformed, with many of the old sections removed, others rewritten and re-ordered, new sections added, and other large scale changes.

2. Presents only one view[edit | hide]

When there are various sources saying conflicting things, Jonathan tends to choose just one of them as "the correct view" to include in the article. For instance, he uses this approach for Anderson's book which he turned up recently in a google search. Her thesis is that the historical Buddha did not give many of the teachings in the Pali Canon traditionally associated with him, and Jonathan is convinced that she is correct in her deduction here.

The new articles have no citations to material critical of her ideas (such as Lance Cousins review of her book) and don't mention any other views on the matter. The celebrated Thai scholar monk Prayudh Payutto has argued that the simpler teachings, though earlier than the other teachings, actually precede the Buddha, and that the Buddha gave all the central teachings on Karma and the Four Noble Truths traditionally attributed to him.

Other editors who consider that the Pali Canon is essentially the work of a single teacher include Richard Gombrich, Peter Harvey and many others, see Pāli_Canon#Attribution_according_to_scholars.

For more about the "Theory of authenticity" of these scholars, see "The Authenticity of the Early Buddhist Texts" by Bhikkhu Sujato and Bhikkhu Brahmali,a supplement to Volume 5 of the Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, and The Oral Transmission of Early Buddhist Literature - Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies (Volume 27. No. 1 2004) by Alex Wynne.

There are also many scholars with intermediate views.

Carol Anderson's is a worthy endeavour to try to find the Ur Texts for Buddhism. So this is not at all an issue with her work. Nor is it saying she is wrong (or right) in her conclusions.

It is just an NPOV issue, that there are many other POVs on the matter and they should all be presented. Also that while her view remains one of many, her ideas should not be used to reshape the articles and remove content counter to her views. For that matter, her book is a search for the teachings of the historical Buddha. AFAIK she doesn't say that contemporary Buddhists should change their beliefs and practices as a result, and I'd be surprised if she herself would feel the articles need to be rewritten because of her book.

3. Removal of material of central interest to contemporary Buddhists[edit | hide]

Surely many readers will be present day Buddhists or others who want to understand their beliefs, so why remove the material which is of most interest to them?

Jonathan gives as his reason for removing this material that

  • it is "popular Buddhism",
  • that the sections rely extensively on quotes
  • that they are adequately summarized by a single sentence and no more detail is needed.
  • that they rely too much on sources such as Prayudh Payutto, Walpola Rahula, the Dalai Lama etc, which he regards as "primary sources" - he thinks the books by Anderson and others should take preference over them because they are "secondary sources".

None of these seem good reasons for removing the material to me.

4. Removal of quotes from the footnotes[edit | hide]

I see no value at all to the user in this. In the case of Karma in Buddhism, he took a mature article that has evolved over a period of years, with many quotations in the footnotes, and then, without any prior discussion, stripped all the quotes from the footnotes.

He moved them to Wikiquotes, but that doesn't help the reader of Karma in Buddhism. The sources are still given, but with the quotations gone from the footnotes, it is harder to see why they were included or what to expect from them. It also makes it harder for other editors to verify the statements backed up by the citations. Also, as a reader I found these quotes in the footnotes of great value, and others may also. Many wikipedia articles have quotes in footnotes. Why remove them? Why not at least debate this and try a RfC before removing them?

In the latest version, as of writing this, he has restored some quotes to the footnotes but many of them are still missing.

5. Short lede[edit | hide]

I think the present ledes for these articles are far too short. For complex subjects like this, you need a long lede, see for instance Reimann Hypothesis or Climate change or Resurrection or Gautama Buddha. It is rare to have such short ledes for such long articles, and it doesn't prepare the user sufficiently to read the rest of the article. I think they amount to oversimplification and "writing down" to the reader.

6. Tendency to over simplify complex subjects[edit | hide]

Here, I think one might get the impression that Buddhism has to be simple because of stories about people who became enlightened as a result of hearing just a few words of the dharma. Also Zen Buddhist stories about koans.

Of course nirvana and enlightenment itself can't be something you need to complete a course of study to PhD level or higher to understand - otherwise it would be dependent on conditions and impermanent. However, depending on the practitioners, some need complex teachings on the path,and Buddhism has many teachings available for them, which can become highly technical at times.

It's due to the complexity of the relative world and the complexity of the people who follow the path, some of whom need many words.

Nobody would expect Reimann Hypothesis to be rewritten, removing all content that is only understandable by mathematicians.

Some articles and sections on Buddhism may be similarly technical and detailed. In my view anyway, these articles and sections should not be simplified to one sentence summaries, or removed.

Instead, as with articles on maths, every effort should be made to make them as accessible as possible to as wide an audience as possible, where appropriate. But if this is not possible, the material still should be presented, technical terms, complex concepts, and all.

7. Errors introduced due to rapid editing of mature articles on difficult subjects[edit | hide]

Jonathan seems widely read, especially of Western academic sources - but he works rapidly with many bold edits.

This style of editing, I think has its place, especially for new immature articles, or articles that have multiple issues with them. But it is a risky approach for mature articles. The editor doing the rewrite can't be expected to be expert on all the topics in the article, and hasn't got time to read or re-read all the citations in detail and review them.

As a result, I think it is not too surprising that he is also rather prone to presenting misunderstandings of the material in his rewrites.

Karma in Buddhism is a particularly tricky subject to cover. Such hasty editing is likely to introduce errors, and indeed it did. I commented on just a couple of the mistakes I spotted straight away in his version, as you can see in the talk page discussions. Fundamental, quite major errors, e.g. removing all mentions of "Karma is not a Judgement" because, until I suggested he re-read Dorje's citations on the topic he was under the impression that it was impossible to say such a thing about Buddhism.

I didn't spot any errors at all in the previous mature version of the article.

Four Noble Truths, Nirvana (Buddhism) and Dzogchen are also mature articles, developed over many years, and cover topics generally considered to be subtle and hard to explain clearly and concisely. Again surely there are many chances of introducing new errors with his style of editing.

In my view, if a rewrite was needed for whatever reason, it should be done more carefully. If your rewrites introduce errors, that is surely a sign that you are editing too quickly. It should also be done with collaboration of other editors where possible, to help reduce chances of errors.

Request for rollback[edit | hide]

With so many issues, it seems to me the obvious solution is to roll back to the mature articles and then go through the process more slowly, to give an opportunity for a section by section discussion of any issues in them. I should say that the other main editor involved in this dispute, often mentioned by Joshua, User:Dorje108 is a collaborative editor and Jonathan has agreed himself that he is considerate and an easy editor to work with.

(Dorje is one of the main editors of three of the articles, all except Dzogchen where he made minor corrections and edits - and pretty much the sole editor of Karma in Buddhism for 2012 - 2013)

I think it is a similar situation to BRD but on a larger scale. He made a series of bold edits, to mature articles. Other editors oppose his changes. So we should revert to the previous mature articles, and then go through it again slowly and discuss his proposals.

  • I think we should discuss the proposals one at a time. If we attempt to discuss all his proposals simultaneously the debate will probably never end.
  • Also, give time for editors who edit wikipedia less frequently to present their views, or to fix the sections etc. User:Dorje108 particularly has less time for editing wikipedia than most of us, so that needs to be considered in the pace of discussion and edits.

With mature articles like this, which have been unchanged with only minor edits for years, there is no great rush to rewrite them. We can afford to do it more slowly and take some time over the process. Which also greatly reduces the risk of introducing new errors and misunderstandings into the articles.

If we do a rollback like this, the new versions as edited by Joshua Jonathan will still be in the page history and good content from them can be referred to and used as necessary in the process of this discussion.

I have asked him several times for a roll back, and to go through the process more slowly, to discuss each section or issue, and to give other editors the opportunity to respond and if necessary fix issues, but to no avail so far.

And he engages in BRDR instead of BRD.

What can we do?[edit | hide]

As far as I can tell, all the editors involved are acting in good faith to improve wikipedia. But we can't see how to resolve this dispute between those who approve of Jonathan's edits and those who feel he has essentially destroyed much of the best content of the articles with his work. We have no idea what can be done to resolve this issue.

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