The two debaters slowly walk up and down the rows while chanting the debate text.
Rigjung marks the completion of the "Minor Field of Studies", which form the first part of the geshe studies, a milestone in the philosophical training of the monks and a yearly event in the monastic calendar.The sound of clapping hands comes from the main assembly hall, echoing through the court yard. Two monks in their monks' cloaks move along the rows in a slow and stately manner.
The ceremonial debate to mark Rigjung is based on a vision of Lama Tsong Khapa in which Maitreya Buddha and Bodhisattva Manjushri discuss Buddha nature in all its aspects. He was very inspired by this and instructed two of his disciples (Khedrup Jhe and Gyaltsap Jhe) to also debate this text. Khedrup Jhe was the superior debater of the two, so Lama Tsong Khapa asked Gyaltsap Jhe to start the debate.
After two years of studying various introductory texts, several of the top students are selected for a public debate which takes place in front of all the members of the monastery. It is believed that being selected for this debate creates the seed to become a Ganden Throne Holder (the highest position in the Gelug tradition). It is a great honor to be chosen for the Rigjung Debate. In preparation for the debate each participating monk commissions a thangka showing the debate text. This thangka will be displayed in the room, showing him to have been a participant in this important event.
After many prayers, the ceremony begins with the two debaters chanting the text of the debate in beautiful sonorous voices while walking up and down between the rows of monks. Then the actual debate starts with a loud clap from the challenger, who is asking the question, while the monk providing the answers is allowed to answer only with yes or no. The questions are designed to test the logical capacity of both participants. The debate stretches over one hour and is very intense, keenly followed by all senior and junior monks. At the completion of the debate thanks offerings are made by the two monks to their abbot and teachers. Everybody rejoices in the success of the debate, showering the debating monks with khatas.