From the 1st-30th of the 9th lunar month, Western calendar dates October 7th – November 4th 2021, Pal Shenten Menri Ling Monastery in India held its 23rd Annual Debate According to the Yeru Tradition for the benefit of educating the dialectic school students. These debate sessions are held according to the tradition of the renowned Yeru Wensaka tradition and are based upon a text of logic written by Azha Drogön Lodro Gyaltsen Rinpoche (1198-1263). He was the 8th abbot of Yeru Wensaka Monastery and many of his writings form a major part of the dialectic school curriculum. His text of logic, A Summary of the Valid Cognition of Suchness, A Treasury of Knowledge, is considered the foundation of philosophy. Because it is very old and unique, it is quite difficult to understand. He is considered to have been an emanation of the wisdom deity Mawé Sengé, and had visions of the Great Lama Drenpa Namkha who bestowed upon him instructions and transmissions, as well as secret instructions regarding the practice of the wisdom protector Yeshé Walmo.
The Yungdrung Bön monastic center of Yeru Wensaka in Tsang, Tibet was founded in 1072 by the esteemed Dru family lineage in order to promote the study of philosophy. It was the main Yungdrung Bön study center until it was destroyed by flood in 1386 and replaced with the construction of Menri Monastery in 1405.
During this month-long training, students in the dialectic school will rise early and continue their study, memorization, and recitation practice late into the night. Subjects that are studied and debated include the two truths, the three valid means of cognition, the way of establishing an object of valid cognition, and so forth. Students practice together as a group and also invite His Holiness 34th Menri Trizin Rinpoche and His Eminence Menri Pönlop Rinpoche to witness performances of formal debate, and to give their commentary regarding the difficult points of the philosophical text.
The cycle of debate within the Yungdrung Bön is used as a means to cut the three obscurations to knowledge of (1) not understanding, (2) misunderstanding, and (3) doubt, especially as it relates to the nature of ultimate reality. This is done by applying systematic logical reasoning to a particular view or position in order to ascertain if the view can be established as either true or untrue. This is done through using syllogisms. Syllogism is a type of argument that applies deductive reasoning to form a conclusion regarding the validity or lack of validity of a given thesis. In Tibetan philosophical debate, the syllogism takes the form of a thesis and a proof stated together in a single sentence. This is presented by one or two monks who are seated. They are the defenders of the thesis. One or more monks stand before the defenders and, using only scriptural quotations and proceeding from one logical step to the next, try to prove that the thesis cannot be established as valid. They are the opponents. The opponents are restricted in their response to either state that the major premise of the thesis is not true, the minor premise of the thesis is not true, or to accept the thesis as true. The defenders must give consistent responses without contradicting their original statement. In this way, wrong views are clarified through logical reasoning.
A video of the special debate retreat at Menri Monastery has been created by Menri Media and can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DAR8oDPQ2ag Monastic debates can appear quite aggressive. However, it is important to remember that the energy of defending and attacking is not toward each other but towards the statement, or idea, that has been presented. The choreography of those attacking a statement as a wrong view is an outward expression of the power of wisdom. Even the particular spot on the hands that is strongly clapped together is considered to be the area of a channel through which wisdom flows.
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