Blog Post 3 March 12, 2019

In the readings from The Sound of Two Hands Clapping: The Education of a Tibetan Buddhist Monk, the author discusses the practices in which both a Tibetan monk and a lay person of Tibet come to understand the concepts of literacy and Buddhism. Both are learned largely through memorization and recitation of known letters and text, until a pupil can read and repeat a given text. A Tibetan education is focused largely on reading through memorization largely ignoring the ability write, with the exception being practicing calligraphy (84). While memorizing a text may be helpful in remembering the many lists and heavily structured rituals that come in Tibetan Buddhism, based on the descriptions from this reading it seems that the Tibetan educational system would fail greatly in the aspect of teaching comprehension. Simple memorization of Buddhist scriptures would go a long way in assisting young monks to be able to quote scripture and provide a textual answer to many of the questions they may be faced with in their religious studies, however it would do little to prepare them to expand on past teachings and potentially modify the scripture so that it could more effectively adapt to a changing social or political climate. To put this issue to a metaphor, if someone was trying to learn a new language they could easily find a translative dictionary or pay someone to write a very extensive phrasebook. While inefficient this person could essentially converse with anyone in that given language without ever truly learning or understanding this language. Then while this person may be considered “fluent” in this new language, presented with a word or phrase not in their books, or in a Tibetan’s memory, they may be unable to adapt and react to this previously unknown situation. This gap in creative adaptability seems to be tackled to some extent through the practice of Tibetan debate. The author describes the methodology of Tibetan monastic debate as involving “the same kind of logical manipulation as algebra” (195). In this sense it would follow that Tibetan debates largely consist of breaking down memorized texts and paraphrasing them in given moments as a response to a question posed in the debate. This practice would go a long way in helping a monk comprehend and understand the texts they would have been working to memorize as a part of their schooling. Being able to deconstruct and repurpose logical arguments would be very helpful in the path of comprehending Buddhist texts however this practice of debates still does not address the lack of creative development that monks see in their education. This could be of a particular problem for Tibetan Buddhists in the modern world as they try and preserve their ancient customs in the face of Chinese oppression. In their inability to adapt their message and teachings, Buddhism as it stands will have a difficult time being repurposed to attract a western audience, which it desperately needs if the religion is going to take hold beyond Tibetan borders.

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