Tibetan and Himalayan Library - THL

THL Title Text
Tibetan Monastic Education
by Georges Dreyfus
January 1, 2001
Section 3 of 7

Preliminary Studies

Students begin by mastering the techniques and basic concepts necessary to engage in debate. During this period, which usually lasts three years,25 monks are trained in the art of debate as they study the The Collected Topics. They are also introduced to the basic concepts of logic and epistemology that they will use throughout their studies. The texts used are manuals specific to the monastery and contain five parts:

  1. The Collected Topics (Düdrabsdus grwa) proper (in three parts)
  2. Types of Mind (Lorikblo rigs)
  3. Types of Evidence (Tarikrtags rigs)

The first three texts of the The Collected Topics teach monks the debate’s structure, techniques, and terminology. These introductory manuals provide the key to the practice of debate.26 The first chapter introduces the students to debate by focusing on the logical relations between colors and showing how these relations can be used in simple debates. Later chapters introduce more sophisticated topics, including the basic outline of the Buddhist conceptual universe and its main categories, and examine logical relations such as exclusion and inclusion. But not all of the topics are important for later studies; several are mere brainteasers introduced purely to sharpen the reasoning abilities of the students. In fact, the real topic of the three volumes of the The Collected Topics is training in debate.

That training is completed when epistemology and logic are introduced to the students. The lo rigs presents the main concepts used in Buddhist epistemology, a subject of great importance in the GelukDge lugs school. From this genre of text, students learn about the nature of knowledge, its types, and its objects. The Types of Evidence delineates the types of reasoning they must use and begins to supply the different logical tools that will be available to them during their studies. For example, students learn how to distinguish probative arguments from statements of consequence...

This propaedeutic phase of the curriculum is often completed by the study of doxography (druptagrub mtha’, siddhānta), which examines Buddhist and non-Buddhist systems of belief. In this way, students acquire a sense of the shape of the tradition as a whole—its main ideas and its most important distinctions. To help them understand the structure of the Buddhistworldview, students have recourse to another genre of text, the Paths and Stages (Salamsa lam). In this stage, they also study the Seventy Topics (Dön Dünchudon bdun cu), a summary of the seventy topics covered by the Ornament. Throughout the first part of the curriculum, no in-depth comprehension is expected of the students, who develop their reasoning abilities and learn the basic philosophical vocabulary needed for the rest of their studies. They also acquire a variety of cognitive maps on which they can locate all the ideas that will confront them in the core of the curriculum, the study of the five treatises.

[25] Monks who have already received some training are often allowed to cover these preliminary classes in one year.
[26] Hence, the Collected Topics (Bsdus sgrwa) are often called the Magical Key to the Path of Reasoning (Rigs lam ’phrul gyi lde mig). See, for example the Sera JéSe ra byes Collected Topics: Phur bu lcog ’jam pa rgya mtsho, Tshad ma’i gzhung don ’byed pa’i bsdus grwa rnam par bshad pa rigs lam ’phrul gyi lde mig las rigs lam chung ba rtags rigs kyi skor (Palampur, India: Library of bkra shis ljongs, n.d.). This text is often known as The Collected Topics of the Tutor (Yongs ’dzin bsdus grwa), because its author was the tutor of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama.
Tibetan Monastic Education, by Georges Dreyfus