When Tibetan monks get downright passionate!

Last Updated on May 26, 2011 by Christine Kaaloa

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We all have this idea that Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns have very stoic , temperate and reserved personalities.

Afterall, walking Buddha’s Middle Path (of compassion), doesn’t exactly lend itself to the appearance of being excitable, emotional or argumentative. Yet, monks have their moments and in their monk clan, they reveal themselves to be absolutely human when it comes to “the art of debate”!

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Watching Tibetan monks in debate-mode challenged my hypothesis that a monk’s life must be lived in compassionate … complacency.

In fact, it revealed the opposite…

That a monk’s life is filled with passion!

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As I watched Tibetan monks in debate practice at the Dalai Lama’s temple in McLeod Ganj, I stood mesmerized…

From starvation strikes, monks in self-immolative acts of protest (i.e. there was a rally and fast over a recent death of a young monk, who set fire to himself in demonstration over China’s occupancy a month ago. Unfortunately his protest went unnoticed by the media) and now this… It seems, Tibetan Buddhism stem from a fiery and defiant heart.

Perhaps it has something to do with Tibet’s violent upheaval by communist China, that Tibetan Buddhists have long been prone to having to fight for their culture, land and existence. Or maybe its the rebellious and the un-toppled strength of Tibet’s spiritual faith that has itched communist China’s nose in the first place.

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If you’re ever in the midst of this practice, it’s delightfully entertaining to watch the monks have fun.

The monk debating process:

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One monk/nun poses the test question and the other monk must answer. Generally, the latter is in a seated position, while the former is standing.

As soon as the testing monk asks his question, he claps his hands at the sitter and the sitter must respond.

Sometimes, the tester goes into rapid fire and this is where it gets heated, fun and fervent.

Below are some 1-2 minute rough video examples

Tibetan Buddhist monks in debate practice at the Dalai Lama’s monastery in McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala.

The impression I got was that the two elder monks were debating over something, which had to do with their pupils.

Child monks debating in a monastery in Nubra Valley, Ladakh

Below is an additional video of some of the monk activities in McLeod Ganj.

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  • Tibetan Monks have always been real passionate people. Just as you said in the article, they are everyday people just like anyone else and their passion for the spiritual beliefs amongst other rights are as strong as ever. 🙂

  • Oh, of course! You’d think I’d be familiar with it by now – I can still hear the deep and musical version of the mantra that was played *everywhere* in Thamel in Kathmandu in my head!

  • Laura in Cancun
    May 28, 2011 1:59 am

    Can’t watch the videos at work (boo!) but it sounds really fascinating! I bet it was awesome to be there.

  • Do the Tibetan characters on that stone read “Google”? Because the colours are similar 😀

    I loved watching monks debating at Sera Monastery in Lhasa, but sadly it seemed to be a bit of a tourist circus. This looks like the monks were having fun, rather than performing 🙂

  • Have you read THE TIBETAN BOOK OF THE DEAD (The Great Book of Natural Liberation Through Understanding in the Between) by Robert A. E. Thurman?… It offers a pretty comprehensive history of Tibet and Tubetan Buddhism… I highly recommend 🙂

    • @Megan Deutsch: That book would be a great place to start, Megan! Although I remember buying a book on tape version ages ago & boy did that thing fly over my head (I was just out of college though). I guess I gave up after that. Time heals wounds though and R.Thurman is one of the greatest Buddhist philosophers out there (his son was also one of my favorite yoga teachers in NYC!)

      @Megan RTW: That’s so sad to hear that about Lhasa (but I’m totally envious you got to get out to Tibet!). Many authentic rituals seem to be turning into tourist paparazzi fests these days. I was in Laos watching monks take alms; it was really disheartening to see the tourist vans pull in at 5A and pour camera flashes out. And I guess those colors resemble Google’s! Ha ha… Didn’t think of it. The inscription says “Om mane padme hum”. You’ll see that inscription everywhere Tibetan– on rock carvings, necklaces, prayer wheels– I even saw them etched like graffiti on some of the Tibetan mountain regions of Ladakh.

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