Memorizing is considered an essential skill in Buddhist studies, as it sharpens the mind and trains the memory. This skill has been mostly lost in Western school education. When the young monks enter the monastery, their first task is to memorize all the prayers and pujas that are part of the monastery's daily schedule. This takes several years, during which the monks also attend their regular school classes.
It is interesting to understand why memorizing is emphasized so much in the Tibetan tradition. To put it in simple terms, without knowing and remembering the actual words, you will not be able to remember the meaning without using notes, etc. This applies not only to the meaning of words, but also to logical arguments. Without knowing and remembering the actual words, you will not be able to remember the meaning without using notes, etc. This applies not only to the meaning of words, but also to logical arguments.
|Memorising a text in preparation for debate.|
Debate occupies an important place in monastic education. To be a good debater is considered a high mark, and much time is spent on refining the logical arguments needed.
The essence of effective learning, according to the scriptures and also to modern research, is to listen, then contemplate, and then debate. The first step for the student is to memorize the text he is studying. This will give the mental flexibility to refer to any part of the text in debate without hesitation. The next step is for the teacher to elucidate the meaning of the text, backing up his statements with reason and logic. Questioning the validity of these statements sharpens the mind.
|One To One Debate|
In debate these statements are then challenged again and again by fellow students, trying to prove their own point of view or disproving their debate partner's point of view. The aim of the debate is to come to a conclusion based on valid reason and logic and not just following the words of teachers. Compared to the way we learn in the West, this is a radically different approach and extremely effective. To watch a debate can look like there is some sort of serious argument going on. There is indeed, but without the personal and emotional overtones of everyday arguments. It is a battle of the minds, probing deeply into the meaning of the scriptures and testing them and clarifying one's own doubts with the help of one's fellow students in many different ways, till one is convinced of their validity.
Debating philosophical topics is in accordance with the teachings of the Buddha, who said we should analyze the teachings before accepting them, just as we would analyze the purity and quality of gold before buying any. If you are unfamiliar with the Tibetan way of debate, then, when observing it, all you will see is the monks shouting and jumping up and down and shouting at each other. it can looks quite chaotic. However, there is much more to it. Read more on Debate here
Every year the monasteries in the Kathmandu valley meet for a two week inter-monastic debate called Jang Gunchoe, where the various debating teams are taking the measure of each other's knowledge and progress in a friendly way.
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 side 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 teaching on logic shows us how to change our ordinary way of thinking, which is following the wrong kind of reasoning, to a correct one, following perfect reason.
Kopan Monastery has been affiliated with Sera Monastic University in South India since its inception. Recently permission was given by Gelug Society, which oversees the accreditation of geshes, and Sera Monastery for geshes graduating from Kopan to attend an intensive study year at Sera Monastery. This is a great honor and a milestone on the way to developing a monastic university in Nepal, where the geshes can engage in postgraduate studies and receive international accreditation. The new graduates take up positions at the monastery, such as taking the office of disciplinarian (Gegu) teaching memorizing, and preparing the younger monks for the philosophy study.