Homage to the former scholars and adepts of the country of Superiors and Tibet,
The great beings Dignaga, Dharmakirti, and so forth
Who clarified with valid cognition the path of reasoning well spoken
By the Valid Teacher seeing the meaning of reality
(Translated from the Tibetan by Daniel Perdue)
When class first started in the middle of March, this expression of worship was the first stanza that we memorized. And from then up until now many of our debates have started with this stanza. The reason for this stanza being that at this point we, as students of Buddhist dialectics, are striving for the path of reasoning which was said to have been first implied by the Valid Teacher himself a.k.a Shakyamuni Buddha and later clarified by the two great masters of Indian Buddhist logic Dignaga and Dharmakirti. At this moment, the text that we are using is called Collected Topics (bsdus grwa) because there are various topics of dialectical study collected within it, ranging from the introductory to the more advance. There are many different Collected Topics texts with different monasteries of the Gelukpa sect using specific ones. These days the other sects are familiar with Collected Topics and supposedly the Sakya sect has a Collected Topics tradition that might have been lost to antiquity.
The title of the Collected Topics text that we are studying is called “The Presentation of Collected Topics Revealing the Meaning of the Texts on Valid Cognition, the Magical Key to the Path of Reasoning”, written by Phurbuchok Jampa Gyatso, the main tutor of Thupten Gyatso the 13th Dalai Lama, for teaching the young Dalai Lama dialectics. And so, this text’s intention is to act as a magical key to open the door to the path of reasoning. In this method reasoning is seen as a path to illumination. Tibetans generally talk about the path of reasoning (rigs lam) as something you can obtain because not everyone is born with it, like me for example. It reminds me of chess books that have games written in them in algebraic notation showing the progression of certain games or possible moves that can be done depending on how an opponent moves. In a similar fashion, the Collect topics text runs through different consequential reasonings that are based on how a possible opponent might answer and/or pose a question. An example of what our text can look is this, if a defender states that whatever is fruit is necessarily apple then the challenger might say it follows that the subject banana, is apple, because of being fruit. You (defender) asserted the pervasion or entailment; being that whatever is fruit is necessarily or must be apple. And from this, since the mistake is obvious a possible series of questions that a challenger might use to show a defender that not all fruits are apples will be presented. Each topic is more difficult than the prior. We started with topics on colors that ran through similar assertions as the one stated above. One of the principal lessons that is learned at initial stages is learning to differentiate quickly and instinctually between a predicate statement (A is B) and a statement of pervasion/ entailment (if it is A then it is necessarily B) The text also presents positions where the challenger’s assertions are incorrect and the possible answers that a defender can state to dispel them are presented.
The Buddhist meaning of valid cognition (Tib. tshad ma, Skt. pramaana) was principally elucidated by Dignaga and Dharmakirti in India in the 6th and 7th century respectfully, and by next year we will be studying Dharmakirti’s main text on valid cognition (tshad ma rnam ‘grel, pramaanavaarttika) directly for two months. All I can say about valid cognition right now is that it is how the mind or consciousness knows things to be true. The defining characteristic of valid cognition is a newly unmistaken consciousness and they are of two kinds, direct and inferential valid cognition.
In thankgas (Tibetan hanging scroll painting) of Dignaga and Dharmakirti, they are usually depicted standing with their hands assuming the position of a challenger in debate with his left arm outstretched in front of him and the right arm with palm facing up at about ear level, ready to pose a qualm to a defender. Their faces seem rather wrathful looking too. Last night during damja, I was looking from my group over to another watching one of monks standing as a challenger posing questions in such a way that one is just amaze to watch him. The defenders sitting in front him also had an expression of amazement. Namgyal has had debating experience prior to attending our course at one of the Drepung monasteries in South India where there are thousands of monks. So for him to debate with a bunch of newbies must be a walk in the park for him; our class is only 40 folks tops. Today I told him, “last night you really stirred it up, man”, and he told me, “you know those Thangkas of Dignaga and Dharmakirti always have very wrathful faces on them and since they are the ones that we look up too I modeled my style from their wrathful expression. It also brings on the pressure on the defender”. I smiled when he said that. I have always wondered why in the thangkas Dignaga and Dharmakirti’s faces were drawn that way and with the little experience that I have gained in debate I can see why.
I do not know how it is to be in a graduate school program but being in dialectic school is a lot of work. The studying, memorizing, debating, thinking and rethinking seem never ending. In debate, the folks who are good at it bring so many pretty different aspects from the various topics thus studied so far. There is always something new to think about and that one thing could leave one stumped for months. At the end of the day right before bed I say, “wooh” and crash to wake up the next day to hit it again. As I go through the motions of this course I am just amazed for it is different from US college life and even the regular Sarah college life. I still doubt if I will ever get proficient in this method, though I have just started, the level needed for proficiency is daunting from where I stand and I wonder what it will look like in two years?
Later on today Takbum and I are to start practicing a song for the concert on Friday which I now know is for “college day”. I have no idea what college day is or why we are celebrating it because we have not celebrated it since I have been here, but I have noticed that every year Sarah celebrates a new unheard of holiday. Next Saturday is the second Saturday which we have off and normally the Friday before that we will have an all night debate (mtshan ma’i dam ‘ca) but because of the concert we will have it on Thursday night instead.
On Monday I had a pretty neat surprise. So far, I have not had any family visiting me here but on Saturday I received an email from Aunt Marlyn (my sister’s mother) that she was in New Delhi and that she and her husband Muganza will be there until Wednesday. She gave me the number of where she was staying that. On Monday afternoon I was able to talking to her briefly, I was so neat to chat with her being in India, but since they were only staying for a few days and Dharamshala being too far apart they could not visit, but I would have loved to show them a bit of my life here. It is hard to understand my life here since it is so different from anything back state side. They got an incredible deal too, like less than 300 bones here and back. That is unheard of. I was shocked that they got such cheap tickets to India and I see why they hopped on it. I do hope that some day my family will get to see my life here.
This caused me to think a little bit about my visit back to the states. As I visited various friends and family I struggled with the idea of the various realities that I witnessed as I stayed with different people. I was getting the feeling of being on a holo-deck like in Star trek; the city, the suburb, the north, the south, the deciduous woods of Appalachia, the redwoods of Northern California, popping in and out of different realities with those realities created by the folks who have been accustom to them and work with in it without thought because it is normal for them. Every place and every person that I stayed with had different vibes, different perceptions. In many instances I was revealed a glimpse of there lives, what stood to be important to them at that particular moment, what problems they had, who they associated with and how they came to be surrounded or in some cases not surrounded by certain people. The variation in everyone’s life is multitudinous and in a majority of cases I enjoyed every moment I spent with them. Some realities more shanti (peaceful) than others but I learned so much about the world, life, myself and them, we all shared and bounced ideas off of each other and that is why I miss them so much right now. I definitely felt a growth process happen within me and I hope that that was so for them also.