Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Great Debaters

(at Asia Society)

A random piece I wrote a while ago reflecting on Geshe Thupten Jinpa’s and Daniel Purdue’s talk at Asia Society on the Tibetan Debate Tradition. It’s incomplete but as it’s just languishing on my laptop, I figured it’s better to just put it up as it is.

On April 29, 2011, Geshe Thupten Jinpa, official interpreter for His Holiness and the founder and president of Institute of Tibetan Classics in Montreal, and Daniel Purdue, the author of Debate in Tibetan Buddhism, gave a talk on the Tibetan debate tradition at Asia Society. It was fascinating and my friends and I just sat thrilled through the whole talk. I just didn’t know much about this tradition at all, except that it’s a Socratic system where you try to arrive at the truth through reasoning and that the person on the ground, answering to his opponent’s questions, only has a choice of four answers. And it seemed particularly poor not to know much about the debate tradition, because it is the primary mode of critical inquiry in the primary institutions of learning in Tibet – the monasteries.

So apparently the Tibetan debate tradition came from the Indian. In fact, it was really just constructed by one man, Charpa Choje, in the 12th century at Sangpu Monastery, who took Dharmakirti’s Pramanavartika and extracted and adapted the form of debate, including the very specific debating language.

And I don’t know because the speakers didn’t directly speak about this, but it seemed to me like since then there really hasn’t been many upgrades to this form and it has sort of carried on, this very structured, arcane language, without many changes which is one big reason that I certainly can’t understand any debate that goes on in a debating courtyard. Another of course is that a lot of the debating is done by Kham and Amdo monks whose unfamiliar accent is coupled with the specific debate language, and they might as well be speaking Esperanto.

Actually seeing Thupten Jinpa with Daniel Purdue (after the talks and before the Q&A, they staged a display of debate in English!), that was the first that I have ever been able to see the process, and I was awed and amazed because it is really $%##&(*@ awesome! It was like the Socratic dialogues, which usually start with Socrates picking a poor guy, asking a simple harmless question, asking a follow-up question to his answer, probing deeper into his answer and gradually just taking this guy apart in the most reasonable, mild and brilliant display of intelligence - well that was what Thupten Jinpa’s debate with Daniel Purdue was like.

They decided for Thupten Jinpa to take the challenger’s position and so he asked Daniel Purdue if compassion and justice were the same. DP said, no, not necessarily and it went on from there. I wish I remembered the specific twists and turns and counter turns in the argument but my memory fails.
It was like chess, but with words instead of chess pieces, so that much more challenging. Imagine if Gary Kasparov had to announce his moves instead of actually making them, where they can be tracked, on the chess board. It’s the ultimate mental exercise.

It was just wonderful. And I was seeing this debate conducted in English, not in the home tongue of the Tibetan debate, Tibetan, in which the arguments would flow that much smoother, being assisted by built-in linguistic props and tools. A fierce debate in Tibetan must be that much more intimidating and awe-inspiring.

* An info sheet prepared by Daniel Purdue on Tibetan debate can be found here


Anonymous said...

Was the debate between Jinpa la and Daniel recorded? Youtube?

Tenzin Dickyi said...

Unfortunately it's not on YouTube. I am sure the Asia Society has the video because I believe they live streamed the event, but they have not made it available.
If you are extremely curious, you might ask them. You never know if you'll luck out.

Journalist Maria Cavalcanti said...

This journalist also takes the opportunity to express her concern:

- I -


As far as the news in the Press are concerned, the Theosophical Society has been trying to involve the Dalai Lama in the Theosophical Society, always by way of invitations for lectures, or supposed hommages to the Dalai Lama, in one or other of the Theosophical Society compounds.

Such has been the case in the past, involving the Theosophical Society compound in India, as also recently, when the Theosophical Society invited the Dalai Lama to the Theosophical Society compound in the United States.

The fact is that the Theosophical Society is involved with crimes:

a) - stealing of intellectual property;

b) - stealing of sacred Tibetan Buddhist Manuscripts;

c) - literary fraud;

d) - pedophilia disgracing hundreds of boys of the Theosophical Society;

e) - stealing of bank accounts;

f) - terrorism;

g) - human sacrifices in the Kali Temple of the Theosophical Society compound.

Under the principles of investigative journalism, this journalist investigated them all.

The case of terrorism involving the Theosophical Society was revealed to this journalist, when she interviewed two members of the Theosophical Society, and whose testimonies were thus registered, directly linking the Theosophical Society with terrorist activities in India, of the infamous LTTE, whose members killed the Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Ghandi, son of Indira Ghandi.


Between 2000/2002, this journalist filed three complaints in the FBI against Radha Burnier, president of the Theosophical Society, for other crimes commited, of which this journalist could present material evidence, i.e., documented proofs. This journalist also filed one complaint in the FBI against Pedro de Oliveira, International Secretary of the Theosophical Society, for his involvement with the stealing of the bank account of an old-aged British citizen.

The above mentioned victim came to this journalist and presented not only her oral testimony but also documented proof of the crime commited by the Theosophical Society against her.

Consequently, in my opinion, the Dalai Lama, as any of his representatives, as well as any of his faithfuls, should carefully avoid any more involvements with the Theosophical Society.

First, because it will be necessary to take the Theosophical Society to an international court of justice, by way of which the Theosophical Society shall be forced to return to the Dalai Lama the sacred Buddhist Manuscript that the Theosophical Society stole from a Tibetan Buddhist Temple, in Tibet.

This journalist investigated this crime, and therefore she has documented proofs.

She is also willing to make a donation to the Gelug-pa School of Buddhism, in order to assist in taking back to them, their sacred Tibetan Buddhist Manuscript, stolen by the Theosophical Society.