Except for a few exceptions, all currently existing schools of Buddhism but Classical Theravada are, by definition, gaslighting

“All is illusion,” “Reality is a product of the mind,” “Objects never exist independent of consciousness,” and so on are, quite literally, the definition of gaslighting. These positions are foundational to almost all schools of Buddhism, and the only school that doesn’t play this game with people is Classical Theravada. CT is the only school existing today, other than some rare exceptions, that teaches people that reality does exist, and starts from there, and then teaches people how reality exists. Though, just to be clear, I don’t know of any other schools that exist today which don’t gaslight like this, I’m just covering my bases. The suttas themselves, of course, support the CT position, and so surely many who read them, but are unaffiliated with CT, have the right idea, too.

These other schools are even more insidious and malevolent when we understand that their positions aren’t actually even coherent. If objective reality doesn’t exist independent of mind, then the teachings themselves wouldn’t exist outside the adherent’s mind. This would mean that the teachings couldn’t possibly by true, nor could anything else! Not to mention the myriad other logical issues with such ideas. Thus, these schools prey on people who have issues with learning, logic, and understanding basic ideas and thinking. In other words, they are gaslighting vulnerable people:

gaslighting, an elaborate and insidious technique of deception and psychological manipulation, usually practiced by a single deceiver, or “gaslighter,” on a single victim over an extended period. Its effect is to gradually undermine the victim’s confidence in his own ability to distinguish truth from falsehood, right from wrong, or reality from appearance, thereby rendering him pathologically dependent on the gaslighter in his thinking or feelings.

The origins of gaslighting are colorful: the term comes from the title of a 1938 play and the movies based on that play, the plots of which involve a man attempting to make his wife believe that she is going insane. His mysterious activities in the attic cause the house’s gas lights to dim, but he insists to his wife that the lights are not dimming and that she can’t trust her own perceptions.

When gaslighting was first used in the mid-20th century, it referred to a kind of deception like that in the plots mentioned above (sense 1). In the current century, the word has come to refer also to something simpler and broader: “the act or practice of grossly misleading someone, especially for a personal advantage”
-Merriam Webster

Do I sound harsh? Well, sorry, but telling people that reality is imaginary, and everything they know is wrong is really a very evil thing to do. Markedly so, when we notice this only ever is effective on people who are simple thinkers, and can’t see the flaws in these positions. Gaslighting is evil, plain and simple.

On the other hand, telling people that everything they know is real, as while it may be largely pannatti, it is founded upon what is ultimately real, but that there are things that are deeper than they know, and beyond what they normally perceive, and how to practice to see the fundamentals of reality is what arahants do.

Classical Theravada is the only valid system of Buddhism (except for some hypothetical schools that I am unaware of).

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You might like this topic Zan.

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This is excellent. Exactly what I’m talking about: confirming that reality does indeed exist, and then explaining how it exists. We experience the shadow of the real, and can learn to see the real. Diametrically opposed, thankfully, to the common Buddhist gaslighting of “nothing exists, it’s all in your mind.”

I don’t think your posts are being particularly kind or respectful to the traditions you are alluding to. You can certainly disagree with them but I don’t think you can say they are going around gaslighting people, as in abusing them. You do, quite clearly, need a certain philosophical view to be true. That need is to do with you, but it’s unfair to then attack people with different views like this just because you find the ideas weird, or threatening, or self-defeating. In old times, monks and nuns of different traditions would live together in one monastery. A lot of them would have become friends. There really isn’t the need for this level of hostility between Buddhists.


This isn’t dhammawheel. The Classical Theravada tradition is the most rational, logical, and perfect path there is, and it’s okay to say so.

And, sorry, but I don’t think it’s moral to tell people that everything they experience is imaginary. As to it hurting feelings: I’m not worried about that, because anyone who believes that shouldn’t think that what I said actually exists. Hence, they have to either switch sides, and agree with me that things aren’t imaginary, and then be offended, or, stick to their position that things are imaginary, and lose all grounds to be offended. If people switch sides to be offended, that’s good for them to give up their idealism/anti realism.

As to what I need to be true, it’s nothing, really, as, while I reject idealism and extreme nihilism, and such because they are self refuting positions,
I’m perfectly comfortable with Ajnana or Pyrrhonian skepticism. These are rational positions, and thoughtful responses to the difficulties in forming a philosophy of any kind. While at my core I always hold the Classical Theravada dhamma as correct, these positions are sometimes what I consider as my position, privately, in my own thoughts. Because sometimes I feel like: who knows?

But, if we’re going to discuss things and live our lives, this must be done with certain assumptions about the common sense world being true. Claiming all is mind or whatever other nonsense disallows anyone who takes such things seriously to even live a normal life. This is why, in discussion, I always stick to firm realism. If things aren’t real, discussing with people is asinine.

In fact, taking the idea that reality strictly is imaginary completely literally, as it is taught as literally true, is extremely dangerous, and, so, it’s not hard to see how that is truly awful to teach people. Someone who takes this literally might walk into traffic and get hit by a car because they think it’s not real. It is profoundly bad advice to instruct people to believe everything is just in their minds. Luckily most who promote these ideas don’t really believe them, evidenced by their avoiding very real dangers!

Nonetheless, surely some have gotten injured by actually believing. Even if it’s extremely rare, it is needless danger for these rare individuals. So, the people who don’t really believe all is mind shouldn’t be promoting it, and those who truly believe it need to stop believing this, asap, for their own safety.

As to the obvious counter that the teaching of “all is mind” doesn’t mean “all is mind,” well, then, it shouldn’t be taught if that’s not what it means. And anyone who looks at the Yogacara teachings can see that they do quite literally teach that reality is imaginary. Any other conclusion is some kind of apologetics.

These representations (vijñapti) are mere representations (vijñapti-mātra), because there is no [corresponding] thing/object (artha)…Just as in a dream there appear, even without a thing/object (artha), just in the mind alone, forms/images of all kinds of things/objects like visibles, sounds, smells, tastes, tangibles, houses, forests, land, and mountains, and yet there are no [such] things/objects at all in that [place]. MSg II.6[17]

“This [world] is vijñaptimātra, since it manifests itself as an unreal object (artha), just like the case of those with cataracts seeing unreal hairs in the moon and the like.”

As to monks being best buds even though their
schools disagreed; there are many debates between monks, where they attacked each other’s positions and critiqued them harshly. And that’s just what we have in surviving documents. There is no reason to assume this didn’t happen all the time verbally. That said, I like you, despite my belief that your positions are incoherent. So, likewise, monks may have liked each other, but still spoken negatively about each others positions.

Probably renaming other traditions such as lessor vehicle while renaming their own tradition as greater vehicle is a good example of gaslighting at the very root.


It’s fine to disagree, but it’s not ok to slander. You can disagree with others without attacking their character or integrity.

Please see Venerable Subhuti’s post above. The very fact that they are called what they are, and have labeled Theravada, and all early schools, deficient is gaslighting, and I’ll add it is also slander. Particularly apparent when we consider that their school’s texts, which they claim are superior, and claim they were written by the Buddha, have zero connection to the Historical Buddha, and the so called deficient school’s texts do have a connection.

This is a constant in Buddhist discourse.

Further, I didn’t slander anything. Slander implies lying. Everything I said is true. They teach all is imaginary, and don’t themselves live as though this were true. They accept donations from followers, avoid danger, and so on, making clear they don’t actually believe these things are imaginary at all. Yet they tell others that it is true, and hold the teachings quoted above as fact. This is gaslighting.

If anyone tells someone money (and all things) is imaginary, and then accepts a donation (of money or goods bought with it), that is a very suspect thing to do.

If anyone tells someone all things are imaginary, yet while themselves not living as someone who believes this would, they put them at risk for getting injured or messing up their life. This is just plain wrong.

They gaslight.

As to your very prim and proper sensibilities of what is appropriate to say, even some on their side spoke even harsher than I have. People considered masters in that tradition no less. For example:

Here, there is neither Buddha, nor Patriarchs. . . . The bodhisattvas are only dung-heap coolies. Nirvana and bodhi are dead stumps to tie your donkeys to. The twelve divisions of the Sacred Teaching are only lists of ghosts, sheets of paper fit only for wiping the pus from your boils. And all the ‘four fruitions’ and ‘ten stages’ are mere ghosts lingering in their decayed graves. Have these anything to do with your salvation?
The wise seek not the Buddha. The Buddha is the great murderer who has seduced so many people into the pitfalls of the prostituting Devil.
That old barbarian rascal [Buddha] claimed that he had survived the destruction of three worlds. Where is he now? Did he not die after eighty years of life? Was he in any way different from you?" "O ye wise men, disengage your bodies and your minds! Free yourselves from all bondages.

The mission of Bodhidharma’s coming to the East was to find a man who would not be deceived by men.
Here in my place, I have not a single truth to give you. My work is only to free men from their bondage, to heal their illness, and to beat the ghosts out of them.
Inwardly and outwardly, do try to kill everything that comes in your way. If the Buddha be in your way, kill the Buddha. If the Patriarchs be in your way, kill the Patriarchs. If the Arahats be in your way, kill them. If your father and mother be in your way, kill them too. . . . That is the only path to your liberation, your freedom.
Be independent, and cling to nothing. . . . Even though Heaven and Earth are turned upside down, I doubt not. Even though all the Buddhas appear before my eyes, I have not the slightest gladness at heart. Even though the hell-fire of all the three underworlds burst open before me, I have not the slightest fear.
Recognize yourself! Wherefore do you seek here and seek there for your Buddhas and your bodhisattvas! Wherefore do you seek to get out of the three worlds? O ye fools, where do you want to go?

Your idea that ancient Buddhists were super cordial and proper all the time is golden age thinking. No such golden age existed. There have always been people who spoke their minds, and called out what they saw as false, wrong, etc.

That’s not gaslighting. It’s polemics. Theravāda also denounces other traditions, both Mahāyāna and non-Mahāyāna. Is Theravāda also guilty of gaslighting?

These 17 sects are schismatic,
only one sect is non-schismatic.
With the non-schismatic sect,
there are eighteen in all.
Like a great banyan tree,
the Theravāda is supreme,
The Dispensation of the Conqueror,
complete, without lack or excess.
The other sects arose
like thorns on the tree.

(Dīpavaṁsa 4.90–91)

Interestingly, the Mahāsaṅghika had a more friendly view of the other schools

The Mahāsaṅghika school diligently
study the collected Suttas and teach
the true meaning, because they are
the source and the center. They wear
yellow robes.

The Dharmaguptaka school master
the flavor of the true way. They are
guides for the benefit of all. Their way
of expression is special. They wear
red robes.

The Sarvāstivāda school quickly gain
unobstructed knowledge, for the
Dhamma is their guide. They wear
black robes.

The Kaśyapīya school are diligent and
energetic in guarding sentient beings.
They wear magnolia robes.

The Mahīśāsaka school practice jhana,
and penetrate deeply. They wear blue

(T24, № 1465, p. 900, c12–18)

Was it the case then, for you, that only the Mahāsaṅghika were non-gaslighters, based on what we have here? Obviously not, because none of the above is gaslighting. Gaslighting is what abusers do to their victims. It’s not in thinking your system is best. Besides, not every Mahāyānist buys into the whole “Great Vehicle vs Lesser Vehicle” thing. Many think you can become awakened via Theravāda too.

Further, I didn’t slander anything. Slander implies lying. Everything I said is true. They teach all is imaginary, and don’t themselves live as though this were true. They accept donations from followers, avoid danger, and so on, making clear they don’t actually believe these things are imaginary at all. Yet they tell others that it is true, and hold the teachings quoted above as fact. This is gaslighting.

What you are saying is false, which is slander. Ignoring the obvious frauds and abusers which you get in any religion (or none) adherents of the traditions you are trying to demonise aren’t seeking to psychologically torment and abuse people. They are sincerely practicing, just like you and I. They just think differently. Their only crime here is in holding views that you personally really do not like. I should say at this point that I would say the same if a Mahāyānist wrote this about Theravādins too.

Your idea that ancient Buddhists were super cordial and proper all the time is golden age thinking. No such golden age existed. There have always been people who spoke their minds, and called out what they saw as false, wrong, etc.

I don’t think that was always the case, but I think it is the standard expected of us and that such standard has been met many times before. As I said, it’s fine to disagree. That isn’t a problem. Just don’t turn to vitriol.

Since we’re on the Classical Theravada site, you’re in the wrong place to promote the idea that Theravada was gaslighting, and so you’ve asked a losing question, because the proper answer from the perspective of this site is: It’s only gaslighting if it’s lying, so, in reference to that question, no, Theravada was simply telling the truth, not gaslighting at all. On this forum, CT is gospel, and there is no way that they could be gaslighting in this scenario, it’s impossible. These ancient texts were written by arahants, incapable of such things like gaslighting or slander.

You may think I’m being difficult, but, in reality, I’m just following the rules of this forum. Here, attacking CT is always an automatic lost battle for the attacker. I have things I don’t agree with CT on, but I would never post them here, and if I did, and was corrected, I’d be obliged to concede that CT is correct, even if I wouldn’t concede such outside of this forum. So, you’ll never get me with a “Well Theravada is bad too!” gotcha attack on this forum, because of the sites rules. Here, I’ll always side with CT, and give the pious answer in “gotcha!” scenarios like you present, so, this is a waste of time.

Moving on.

Nope. I’ve not said a single false thing.

Show me where I said anything that is demonstrably false, not just false in your opinion, on an emotional level, but where we can compare it to a historical document and say: “see, this thing is false, here is the actual record.”

You’ll not be able to do this, because I didn’t say anything demonstrably false. Quite the opposite, the historical record shows that they have taught all is mind, in no uncertain terms, and quite literally, and in very clear terms, and yet still taken donations, and avoided danger. These are the facts of my position. No slander here.

My opinion is that this is taking advantage of donors who listen and empty their pockets, because they believe money is imaginary, since that’s what they were taught by the person they’re donating to, who, themselves, clearly doesn’t really believe that in any literal or real sense, as they accept the donation, avoid danger, etc. This is gaslighting.

You can fault my opinion all you want, but that’s an emotional, opinion based argument. You think it’s faithful monks who believed they were helping people by telling them their money is imaginary, and then accepting it as a donation. I think it is gaslighting.

There is no way to read the minds of every monk in history who has done this, so this is a dead end. It cannot be proven that I am saying anything false, here, nor that you are correct in that all, or most, monks were good hearted people who believed what they preached, and somehow found some faith loophole to still accept donations that they shouldn’t need, because they are imaginary, and so on.

It could be true that the majority of people promoting “all is mind” truly do believe it, and find that loophole to still, inexplicably, take donations. It could just as easily be true that a significant chunk, or even most of them were gaslighting. It is impossible to tell without a time machine and a mind reading device, because this certainly isn’t something anyone would admit on paper! This would be something very private, that they wouldn’t want anyone to know. It could also be subconscious, where they just naturally did it, because it was their livelihood to get donations from people this way, even though they didn’t believe the teachings, but didn’t even think about it. See how ridiculous it gets to parse out such a thin case for slander when it comes to things that are purely subjective, personal opinion, completely dependent on individual motivations of people neither of us could possibly know enough about to declare either of us correct?

In other words, there is zero case to claim I am slandering, because the only facts I’ve claimed that can even be validated one way or the other are correct. Beyond that it’s just your opinion, versus mine.

So, might I be wrong about the gaslighting? Sure, the gaslighting angle is my opinion, and I never claimed to have some kind of historical evidence for it, I only presented my opinion about what the facts add up to. But, am I slandering anyone? Nope. You just don’t like my opinion and speculation about the motivations of people who promote these things, and you’re conflating that with the facts. In reality, neither of us really could prove the opinion side of this argument.

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