That is it, Se Acabo! Our first year of Dialectics School is officially done, Phewwwwu! This pass week, I dwelt in an intense state of revision, discussion and memorization. Gen la gave us our final lecture on Monday. Though from Tuesday until Friday we had morning debates and mandatory group study sessions from 10:30am to 12:30pm, the rest of the afternoon we had free to study and prepare our debates for our first exam. I was very fortunate to have the help of a German nun for the preparation of my debate and she also connected me with a monk from I.B.D to help me, who was at Sarah at the time relaxing and teaching Tibetan to the study abroad students and to the international student’s class. I jumped in head first towards my task. Already from class I was used to normally spending long hours in study, but this was a bit different from my normal routine. I was very daunted at the idea of revisiting everything that we have studied since day one, which in fact proved to be utterly impossible though as far as reacquainting myself with the defining characteristics and the divisions from “The Presentation of Collected Topics” that came easier for although I had forgotten most of them as soon as I started reading them again they came quickly back to my mind.
For the exam, when one sits as a defender, one doesn’t know what queries the challenger might posit. Gen la said that we could prepare a debate on anything that we had studied this year. As the days turned into nights and back into days again, I had to prepare myself mentally. I was pretty nervous about this whole exam business. During my first years at Sarah, the second and the third being in the Tsamjor course, the international students were encouraged the take the exams but no one ever did. But this is different and there was no way around it, we are all O.G. legit students, not gank-assed sidelined spectators. As the time eventually slipped by as it is currently perceived in nature, I felt in some ways like a bowling ball propelled by a unseen but tactile hand down the alley of the week. Every morning the closer it got to the exam date, the clearer comes the sight of your target. At the beginning of a throw, though one as made a straight roll the doubt of it being a strike does not appear to the mind until a split second before when one is assured in triumph of ones marksmanship. If you are the ball though then the perspective changes, once in the gutter you know what’s up, but if you are in on alley, that very slick and slippery wooden alley there is no way of avoiding the collision. That was the feeling that I was harboring and as the days passed, sliding closer, seeing the size of those pins getting bigger and bigger; the sense of nervousness and excitement grew within my form. That sense was bloody strong too. I practiced placing my intention in the right place. I acted everything out as I worked on my debate, how it could go on exam day in my mind. Bamm! Immediately the butterflies came flooding in dowsing my bloodstream with it noxious intoxicant. My voice began to waver and stutter. This was a lot of help.
Finally I woke on the morning of Saturday, 26th February. It was a cold and gloomy Saturday once again. Rumors were floating around about snow in McLeod Ganj. I thought about the previous months and more particularly about the previous week of study in my icebox of a room freezing late into the night. The big day was finally at hand and I remember that the day before as I was descending the stairs heading to the dining for dinner one of the monks stopped me and was singing a Hindi song to me. I asked him what it meant he said that it was a song from the Hindu epic the Mahabharata singing the song to battle between the Pandavas and Kauravas, encouraging them to prepare for the upcoming struggle just like our upcoming exam tomorrow is like a battle. I was like, “well at least we won’t be using no real bows and arrows”. “But we will be wielding word bows and firing word arrows” he said. To which I laughed. I had not prior to that little interlude ever thought of our exam as a battle, though battle terminology works great, but it some ways this monk was right.
We were to meet in the temple at 9am, I wore some nicer clothes; I don’t have an iron so they were crinkly as hell, and I entered the temple where most of my classmates and other schoolmates had gathered. We didn’t have to wait to long before Gen la entered with our two judges; two Geshes, one from Drepung Loseling monastery, and the other from Sera Je monastery, two very prestigious institutions. We all stood up as they walked in and we sat down after they took their seats. Our class was split, about half on the left and half on the right. The Geshes sat in the front left on double stacked mattress’ and Gen la sat across from them with the defender’s mattress laid on the floor slightly in front, in between them. Gen la explained the rules of the proceedings. In a plastic container were little pieces of paper with our names on it. As he said this, he lifted it up and shook it and everyone ohhhed and awwwed in nervous anticipation. The first named to be pulled will sit as defender and the second name to be pulled will be the challenger. After ten minutes Gen la will clap his hands and then the first person will be the last challenger and the second person will immediately sit as defender and another name will be drawn from the container to fill the spot of challenger and so and so forth. Those were some tense moments; I don’t think no one wanted their name to be pulled out first. I know that the only thing I wanted was to go in the morning and have it over with. The Geshes graded us each on a 50 point scale, 25 point for our debate, and 25 points for answering as defenders then both of their points are added together making it out of a total 100 points. The first name was drawn, pheewwu! As Shaggy said, “It wasn’t me!” and the battle, as the monk told me yesterday was on. Once thing was very obvious from the start, everyone was nervous; with this being our first such exam it makes sense. Watching as the exams went along, those tens minutes seem very long. My classmates had chosen debates from all the presentations; what a milieu of analysis we had going on.
After the fourth or fifth challenger had passed, I heard my name. Oh dip! Again my stomach started to tremble such as I had experienced the pass few nights. I remembered what my marching band instructor used to say before we had to perform for half-time at football games in high school, “Get yo’ game faces on, Get yo’ game faces on!” So I slipped on my sandals and my game face and got to business. The defender was a Tibetan monk from Kham who had broken his legs awhile back; now has trouble walking and had studied previously in one of the monastic institutions in South India, a good debater for sure. He had to sit in a chair. He gave me such a hard time for the opening part of the debate which was from “The Presentation of Signs and Reasonings”, I had three debates initially prepared and I was not happy that he was holding me up on a very common query and after a few minutes into it he finally accepted it and I got the contradiction out of him, Tshaaa! I then moved into the first phrase, comparing two phenomena that seem so similar but in actuality they were not so thus it was a debate that was totally dependent on how he answered the first question. There were only two ways he could answer. If he had given the correct answer then I would have moved quickly to the second phrase. But that was not necessary, just as the German nun said; the correct response is hard to posit, even though it sounds so easy. Once I heard his answer I knew what to do and he was stuck like chuck. He had no room to move but unfortunately I heard Gen la clapping from my lower right meaning that my debate was over; those ten minutes went über quick, dawg. I was hoping to get his main assertion.
Then it was my turn for the receiving end, not knowing what the hell the challenger is going to ask, I sat down crossed-legged nervously on the defender’s mattress, “the hot seat”, in front of the temple between the Geshes and Gen la. A monk from Mön, Arunachel Pradesh, India was my challenger. I knew that I was in for it, for the pass couple of months I have noticed that his knowledge has been getting better and sharper. In one way luckily he asked something that I was familiar with from the same presentation that I had previous debated and I knew that I was stuck from the beginning. I had two ways to initially answer each leading to various logical absurdities and contradictions. I weigh out my options, made my assertion and he tore into me good. I noticed from corner of my eye that the Geshes were smiling. I think that this was their first experience too in many respects. Before I knew it, I heard Gen la’s clap to my left and I knew that that was that. I was done. Once I had taken my seat on the sidelines a sense of relief flooded me, Wow! I was now that bowling ball which was tossed down a slick wooden alley and had struck its mark. Now, all we had to do was to wait for the results of the bowl to appear on the screen above the alley. The guys on the side were so encouraging. I could just relax now, knowing that I was done and watched the rest of the debates. We had an hour and a half break at 12:30pm, as I was leaving to go the lunch, the Geshes were in front of the temple and one of them said that I my debate was good, I was more that elated to hear that.
After lunch, we met back up in the temple at 2 to finish the exam which ensued until 4:15pm. Everyone did so well, but of course some of the guys love asserting and holding ridiculous views and doing so during the daily debates is one thing but during an exam is not such a hot idea. Our judges were pretty cool, not all of them are, like I remember seeing when I attended the exams from the above class that was at Sarah. Only when the defender would say stupid-ass shit and the challenger couldn’t catch them in the contradiction would the Geshes step in and set shit straight. I was happy for every one, I could tell that everyone had studied hard and that is what counts. After the very first defender finished his debate as challenger, on the side: it was interesting that the last three debates was by our three youngest classmates, one of the Geshes commented on us staying that though we don’t study the topics as long as they are studied it in South India that we overall did pretty good. I knew that no one bombed the exam. Gen la then announced that we are to convene after dinner at 6:30pm in the temple to receive our grades. We normally called our Gen la “Gen Lodöe” but that is not his monastic name. The monk who was helping with my debate last week asked me if I knew why he is called “Gen Lodöe”. Lodöe (blo gros) means wisdom and he was given this name “Lodöe” by the founder of I.B.D. Ven. Lobsang Gyatso a.k.a Gen Dampa, because he supposedly never studied the texts too much but was known as an amazing McNasty debater. Now with having Gen la as my dialectics professor I can totally see that, it makes so much sense.
And so comes 6:30pm gathered in the temple again, the Geshes had split and Gen la was carrying the three mark sheets in his hand. After he had sat down he said, “Because we belong to a school we have to administer exam but these exams are not the goal of your studies. Your goal is to grow in wisdom, compassion and understanding. Your goal is to gain experience in practice. If it is only to pass exams then there is no point in studying this at all, that being said here are your grades!” He read each of our grades, first the two halves, one for debate and one for answering from each Geshe and then the total score. The range of the scores was not bad at all I don’t think, the lowest was a 60 or a 64 and the highest was an 81 going to our Singaporean nun putting her at 1st place or anki dangpo. Two others and I came in second at 77 and surprising Gen la said that I had a good debate. Three others came in third with 76. I was surprised for sure and was very happy. Normally the Rignae classes would give awards to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place students of the exams but Gen la said that our class doesn’t do that. He then passed the score paper around for us to see and talked about our upcoming vacation and the upcoming year.
Initially he was going to have us meet for mandatory study session on Monday and Tuesday morning since the official last day of class at Sarah for Losar is on Tuesday but last night he said that it will be fine if we eliminate that and that we could just chill quietly in our rooms. Losar, the Tibetan New Year is coming up next Saturday, after that HHDL teachings, and Geluk Monlam after that which the monks have to attend; thus making our first day of class for the New Year around 20th or the 21th of March. Sweet! Though I have no clue what I am going to do with myself for all this time, I can’t afford to go anywhere unfortunately but that is ok. It is nice though just to chill and read a book or something, for this time of the year; Losar is generally nice at Sarah, though normally the study aboard students would be here and we’ll be kickin’ with some dancing or something, but they all headed to McLeod Ganj on Saturday so none of that this year. I called the German nun and told her how the exam went and gave her so many thanks, which does no justice to the amount of help and time she provided from her busy schedule for helping me, my marks are due to her. But that’s all folks for the week. I am hoping that the spring we will be descending soon. I am hoping that Libyan people will be able to find a solution to their situation, there are rumors of things trying to be sparked in the P.R.C. though the government has tried hard to control and censor any info concerning the Arab Facebook revolution, let see what happens. Sarva Mangalam!