It was about 7 or 8 in the morning when we stepped into the courtyard of a gompa somewhere in Kathmandu Valley. A group of monks in red robes stood at the corner of the courtyard, having a lively discussion. We were questioning a shy young monk about what was going on at their monastery. More and more holy men were coming out from the red and white buildings, some mumbling something as their fingers slid over prayer beads, some talking to each other. I noticed a tall guy who was already sitting down, and he seemed a little worried. Finally, the courtyard was full of monks, and they had positioned themselves – about half of them sitting, and the other half standing. What now unfolded was quite interesting as I had not witnessed a buddhist debate before.
After a slow start, the shy young monk, standing next to a sitting monk, was clapping his hands together and yelling something. There was nothing left of his shyness anymore. Quite the opposite – as a questioner he was suddenly very confident. Despite of his youth he must have been quite advanced in his studies, for the defender is usually a novice, and the questioner is a more experienced debater. The courtyard had become alive with loud claps, stomping feet, yelling, arguing, and occasional laughter.
The Tibetan monastic debate has a long history. According to Buddhist belief all suffering in life is due to our faulty perception of the reality. The main purpose of debating is to remove misconceptions related to the true nature of reality, and thus eliminate suffering. But even when eliminating suffering is at hand, the debates can sometimes become intimidating or even personal. Though, the ultimate goal of the questioner is not to get glory from his victory, but rather help his opponent to overcome his wrong view. Perhaps the monk who had seemed a little worried to me, was thinking about the intensity of these discussions.
The debate begins with a ritual invocation of Manjushri who is the bodhisattva of ultimate truth and wisdom. Manjushri is often represented as a young and good looking prince. His youth and good looks point to the way an enlightened mind sees the world. In his right hand he holds a sword representing wisdom that cuts through all delusions that bind beings to the world of suffering. In his left hand he holds a lotus on which is a book „Sutra of the Perfection of Wisdom.“ He is seated on a lotus flower that refers to the purity of wisdom, existing in the midst of delusion yet being unaffected by it. The mantra of Manjushri Om a ra pa cha na dhi is to be chanted if one wants to become the beholder of the liberating knowledge.
The actors of this philosophical challenge are the questioner (riklampa), who is standing up, and after proposing the subject of discussion, keeps asking questions. The defender (damchawa), who is sitting down, has to defend the claims he presents to his challenger. The questioner is responsible only for his questions that have to be clear, and follow logically the already made statements, and it also must be relevant to defeating the defender. All the gestures used in debate have significance. For instance, the right hand relates to method and the practice of compassion. The left hand stands for wisdom. The clap – bringing the two hands together – represents blending the method with wisdom. The left foot stomping on the ground means shutting the door to rebirth in the lower levels. By holding up the left arm of wisdom, the questioner keeps the door to all rebirth closed. And, using his right hand to raise his prayer beads around his left arm refers to compassion, and lifting out all suffering beings from the circle of rebirth.
Perdue, Daniel. Tibetan Buddhist Debate.
ABOUT THIS BLOG
Welcome! :) My name is Monika. I am interested in beauty, art, different cultures, and good stories. I have always been fascinated with semiotics and symbols, and how people of different cultures interpret them.