DEBATE in Action

What is a Debate?  

A bunch of young monks are wildly gesticulating, jumping up and down and even tossing each other aside. The sound of clapping and excited voices is heard. What is going on?

It is 7.30 pm and the monks of Kopan monastery assemble for their evening debate session. Philosophy debate is considered a very important part of the studies of a Tibetan Buddhist monk. It deepens understanding and sharpens the mind, in this way helping the development of wisdom, both conventionally and ultimate, which we need for the attainment of Buddhahood.

Debating philosophical topics is in accordance with the teachings of the Buddha, who said we should analyze the teachings before accepting them, just like we would analyze the purity and quality of gold before buying any. It is a sequence of questions and answers, based on logical reasoning, put forward in a ritual way. If you are unfamiliar with the Tibetan way of debate, then once the debate  started all you will see is the monks shouting and jumping up and down.

It is said in the scriptures, and this is confirmed by modern research on learning methods, that we derive 25% of our understanding from listening to teachings, 25% from reading by ourselves and 50 % through debating different points of view. So behind the playful aspect lies a very powerful method of gaining wisdom.

Understanding the importance of developing our own wisdom and the superiority of insights we have achieved after much effort and discussion, many teachers refuse to clear up difficult points at first and tell their students to try to find out during the debate class.

In the course of their studies the monks cover all the main topics of the method as well as of the wisdom side of the teachings. This is combined with training in logic so that the student is able to clearly analyze and realize the teachings. The teachings on logic shows us how to change our ordinary way of thinking, which is following the wrong kind of reason, to a correct one, following perfect reason.

Because of the need of both merit and wisdom for our mental and spiritual development, the monks recite prayers for one hour before debate. In this way onCe the debate is finished at 10 o'clock, the monks have accumulated vast amounts of merit and wisdom during the period of one evening, as well as having had much enjoyment and fun.

This article was written by Tenzin Dognak.


Kopan Monastery
Nepal Buddhist Mahayana Center Gompa

Kopan Monastery FPMT pending affiliation
Foundation for the preservation of the Mahayana Tradition