Pañhabyākaraṇasuttaṃ – How Questions should get Answered!
An inspiring sutta that is elucidating the method of vibhajjabyākaraṇīyo is the Sīlabbatasuttaṃ, Aṅguttaranikāyo, Tikanipātapāḷi, Ānandavaggo. Buddha repeatedly praised the Venerable Ānanda for his skills in giving illuminating replies after investigation: In this sutta the Buddha addressed Ānanda: “What do you think, Ānanda, will every performance of holy practices and every way of holy life bear fruit?”-“sabbaṃ nu kho, ānanda, sīlabbataṃ jīvitaṃ brahmacariyaṃ upaṭṭhānasāraṃ1 saphalan”ti? On which Ānanda, replies: “This can not be responded by a direct reply, Bhante!” “Then, Ānanda, go ahead and detail with further investigation!” “Na khvettha2, bhante, ekaṃsenā”ti. “Tenahānanda, vibhajassū”ti. Ānanda, replies: “Yañhissa, bhante, sīlabbataṃ jīvitaṃ brahmacariyaṃ upaṭṭhānasāraṃ sevato akusalā dhammā abhivaḍḍhanti3 kusalā dhammā parihāyanti, evarūpaṃ sīlabbataṃ jīvitaṃ brahmacariyaṃ upaṭṭhānasāraṃ aphalaṃ. Yañca khvāssa, bhante, sīlabbataṃ jīvitaṃ brahmacariyaṃ upaṭṭhānasāraṃ sevato akusalā dhammā parihāyanti, kusalā dhammā abhivaḍḍhanti, evarūpaṃ sīlabbataṃ jīvitaṃ brahmacariyaṃ upaṭṭhānasāraṃ saphalan”ti. - “If, O’ Bhante, the performance of holy practices or way of holy life helps to increase the unwholesome states and to decrease the wholesome states, then these kind of performances of holy practices and way of holy life will not bear fruit. But if, O’ Bhante, the performance of holy practices or way of holy life helps to increase the wholesome states and to decrease the unwholesome states, then these kind of performances of holy practices and way of holy life will bear fruit.”
Idamavoca āyasmā ānando; samanuñño satthā ahosi. Atha kho āyasmā ānando “samanuñño me satthā”ti, uṭṭhāyāsanā bhagavantaṃ abhivādetvā padakkhiṇaṃ4 katvā pakkāmi. Atha kho bhagavā acirapakkante āyasmante ānande bhikkhū āmantesi– “sekho, bhikkhave, ānando; na ca panassa sulabharūpo samasamo paññāyā”ti - Thus spoke the Venerable Ānanda and the Teacher agreed with him. Then the Venerable Ānanda, thinking, “the Teacher agrees with me,” arose from his seat and departed after having greeted the Bhagava from his right side. Not long after the Venerable Ānanda had left, the Bhagava addressed the Bhikkhus thus: “Ānanda, Bhikkhus, is a learner. But it is not easy to find someone who can match with him in wisdom!”
A further interesting reference is the Kathāvatthusuttaṃ, Aṅguttaranikāyo, Tikanipātapāḷi, Mahāvaggo, where general topics of discussions are explained. It also designates the ways, how these conversations should be performed and how one should notice, that the opposite person may be a suitable or unsuitable person to converse with. The Kathāvatthusuttavaṇṇanā explains these four ways of responding to a question:
Ekaṃsabyākaraṇīyaṃ pañhanti-ādīsu, “cakkhu, aniccan”ti puṭṭhena, “āma, aniccan”ti ekaṃseneva byākātabbaṃ. Eseva nayo sotādīsu. Ayaṃ ekaṃsabyākaraṇīyo pañho.—The question which requires a direct reply may be the question beginning with: “Is the eye impermanent?” “Certainly, it is impermanent!” needs to be dealt by this direct reply. And the same applies to the ear and so forth. This is a question which requires a direct reply.
“Aniccaṃ nāma cakkhū”ti puṭṭhena pana “na cakkhumeva, sotampi aniccaṃ, ghānampi aniccan”ti evaṃ vibhajitvā byākātabbaṃ. Ayaṃ vibhajjabyākaraṇīyo pañho. — “Impermanent is the eye, certainly, but not only the eye but also the ear is impermanent, also odour is impermanent?” this requires further investigation. It is a question which needs further investigation.
“Yathā cakkhu, tathā sotaṃ. Yathā sotaṃ, tathā cakkhū”ti puṭṭhena “kenaṭṭhena pucchasī”ti paṭipucchitvā “dassanaṭṭhena pucchāmī”ti vutte “na hī”ti byākātabbaṃ. “Aniccaṭṭhena pucchāmī”ti vutte, “āmā”ti byākātabbaṃ. Ayaṃ paṭipucchābyākaraṇīyo pañho. —“Like the eye, so the ear; like the ear so the eye —in which aspect do you ask?” this question should be placed in reply. If: “I ask in respect to seeing,” is said, the reply : “No!” should be given. If: “ I ask in respect to impermanence,” is said, the reply: “Yes!” should be given. In this way it is a question which requires a counter question.
“Taṃ jīvaṃ taṃ sarīran”ti-ādīni puṭṭhena pana “abyākatametaṃ bhagava-tā”ti ṭhapetabbo, esa pañho na byākātabbo. Ayaṃ ṭhapanīyo pañho —“Is life and body the same?” and so forth should be rejected in the way: “This has not been explained by the Bhagava” this question should not be dealt with. It is a question which needs to be rejected.
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