Last night, I was fortunate to sit with, and hear talk from forest monk and Buddhist scholar Thanissaro Bikkhu. He spoke about the importance of giving skillful answers to questions. His talk referred to several suttas, with relevant excerpts quoted below:
From Panha Sutta:
"There are these four ways of answering questions. Which four? There are questions that should be answered categorically [straightforwardly yes, no, this, that]. There are questions that should be answered with an analytical (qualified) answer [defining or redefining the terms]. There are questions that should be answered with a counter-question. There are questions that should be put aside. These are the four ways of answering questions."
The prince asks him two questions, and in both cases he responds first with a counter-question, before going on to give an analytical answer to the first question and a categorical answer to the second. Each counter-question serves a double function: to give the prince a familiar reference point for understanding the answer about to come, and also to give him a chance to speak of his own intelligence and good motives. This provides him with the opportunity to save face after being stymied in his desire to best the Buddha in argument. The Commentary notes that the prince had placed his infant son on his lap as a cheap debater's trick: if the Buddha had put him in an uncomfortable spot in the debate, the prince would have pinched his son, causing him to cry and thus effectively bringing the debate to a halt. The Buddha, however, uses the infant's presence to remove any sense of a debate and also to make an effective point. Taking Nigantha Nataputta's image of a dangerous object stuck in the throat, he applies it to the infant, and then goes on to make the point that, unlike the Niganthas — who were content to leave someone with a potentially lethal object in the throat — the Buddha's desire is to remove such objects, out of sympathy and compassion.
Most notably, Thanissaro Bikkhu stressed the importance of not just answering questions skillfully, but also of raising the right questions.
This morning, I reflect on this last point from Thanissaro Bikkhu, and I wonder which question(s) do I need to ask myself? which ones do I need to bring forth to my teacher? and I realize, that in itself is a great question to ask . . .
How about you? Which questions should you be asking, that you have not already asked?