Inaugurating Drepung Gomang Monastery’s New Debate Yard
December 14, 2019
Mundgod, Karnataka, India – This morning, His Holiness the Dalai Lama drove to the newly constructed Debate Yard of Gomang Monastery. He was received by Abbot Lobsang Gyaltsen. At the door, he cut the ribbon and symbolically opened the new facility. Escorted by monks wearing yellow crested hats, with a yellow umbrella spread overhead, he walked in formal procession the length of the hall to the stage at the top end.
Abbots, former Abbots and Tulkus of Gomang welcomed him. He in turn greeted the Ganden Throne-holder, former Throne-holder and the Sharpa and Jangtsé hierarchs and saluted western Buddhist scholars and scientists from Emory University. He briefly consecrated the statues and thangkas, lighting a lamp before them, then took his seat on a comfortable chair.
Auspicious prayers were led by the Chant-Master in stentorian tones as tea and sweet rice were served. After offering a mandala and the threefold representations of the Buddha’s body, speech and mind, the Abbot introduced the principal sponsors of the new construction to His Holiness.
The new debate yard is a large open space flanked by buildings and covered by a light fabric roof stretched over a steel structure requiring no supporting pillars. Today, the space was filled to capacity—15000 people, mostly monks, but also nuns, lay Tibetans, as well as friends and supporters from abroad.
Addressing the gathering, the Abbot thanked His Holiness, who he referred to as the friend of all beings, for presiding over this inauguration. In giving a short report about the new debate yard, he began by remembering Jamyang Chöjé Tashi Palden, the founder of Drepung Monastery in Tibet and Drung Dakpa Rinchen who founded Gomang College. Monks who escaped Tibet after 1959 congregated at Buxa Duar and resumed their studies. There were 60 monks when they moved to Mundgod in 1969 to begin the process of re-establishing their monastery in exile.
Gradually, as monks joined from Ladakh, Mön in Arunachal Pradesh and other Himalayan regions, their number increased to about 300. After 1982, Tibetans came from Tibet to join the monastery, boosting the population further. Then, in the 1990s, monks began to come from Mongolia and the Russian Republics of Kalmykia, Buryatia and Tuva. By 1995, there were 1000 monks at Gomang. Today, there are 2000.
The need to accommodate larger numbers of debaters, the distracting echoes of the previous debate yard and its failure to provide adequate shelter during monsoon are all reasons why the monastery decided to construct a new debate yard. The buildings flanking the yard include teachers’ rooms, classrooms, science laboratories and conference rooms.
The Abbot was pleased to announce that eleven candidates of the re-established Gomang Monastery have come first in the Geshé Lharampa examinations and at present 150 candidates are waiting their turn to take the exams. He added that the monastery is providing classes for those interested in Tibetan and Chinese languages. There is also a course of study in Tantra for those who have qualified as Geshés.
The Abbot has been in his post for four years and has taken full responsibility for fulfilling this project. However, he acknowledged that the monks have been closely engaged with it too. Monks have supervised the building work, but have had to keep up their studies while doing so.
He closed his report with a verse from Jé Tsongkhapa:
Wherever the teaching has spread and declined
And wherever it has not spread
May I cause it to spread out of compassion for all living beings.
There followed a short ceremony to mark the completion of a six-year implementation phase of the Emory Tibet Science Initiative (ETSI). Director Dr Lobsang Tenzin Negi thanked His Holiness and the other dignitaries for presiding over the occasion. He reported that in 2006 His Holiness established a working relationship with Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. He encouraged the founding of a partnership that became ETSI and which also included the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (LTWA).
Dr Tsetan Dolkar, Asst Director explained what has been achieved with the six-year program, a one-month summer program, and the Tenzin Gyatso Science Scholarships. Bilingual textbooks in Tibetan and English have been prepared for each year of the six-year program in such subjects as biology, physics, chemistry and neuroscience. Copies of these books were presented to His Holiness by people involved in their creation. In addition, Geshé Damdul Namgyal has created a new dictionary for scientists.
Dr Dolkar told the audience that more than 1000 monks have completed the first phase of training. At present 40 nuns have completed the first three years. Besides these opportunities there is also the Tenzin Gyatso Scholars Program designed to create indigenous, Tibetan monastic, science teachers by providing additional science training at university level. Every two years a group of six monastics from various monasteries is chosen for a four-semester residency at Emory College. So far there have been four such groups.
Dr Arri Eisen, ETSI Biology Faculty leaders offered a glimpse of his personal involvement with the program as he recalled the eager interactions he’s witnessed between Tibetan monks and other Emory students. He was also moved by the memory of a procession of monastics to the new science centre down the road here in Mundgod.
Dr Carol Worthman, ETSI Neuroscience Faculty Leader acknowledged that science studies physical phenomena, while Buddhism, employing reason and logic, focuses on the mind. She voiced a conviction that working together the two disciplines can contribute to the flourishing of all beings. She thanked His Holiness for his vision and the inspiration he has lent to all who have taken part in fulfilling it.
The theme of vision was taken up by Geshé Lhakdor, Director LTWA who spoke of the cooperation that has taken place between the Library and Emory University. He praised all who have participated for their hard work. He suggested that a general understanding of His Holiness’s four commitments would help participants appreciate the context of his vision for science. He prayed that His Holiness will live long.
His Holiness began his speech with an acceptance that in the past Abbots and Lamas had been sceptical about the value of science. “However, what the Buddha taught in his second round of teachings, of which the core was the perfection of wisdom, involved science and reason. In the west, science focussed on external phenomena. Buddhism similarly deals with understanding evident phenomena on the basis of empirical experience and understands slightly hidden and obscure phenomena through inference based on that.
“Following what it has learned of the external world, science should pay attention to the subjective inner world. If these two sources of knowledge can be combined, it will be good. It will create a more complete education.
“After categorizing the content of the Kangyur and Tengyur, our collection of Buddhist literature translated into Tibetan, into science, philosophy and religion, we set about compiling such materials in separate books. While the religious material is really only of interest to Buddhists, the scientific and philosophical material can be examined in an academic context.
“The discussion of philosophical views reveals that things appear to us as having independent existence; but that is not true. They have no intrinsic, independent existence; no absolute existence. We can overcome ignorance, this misconception of reality through logical analysis. We cling to the intrinsic existence of things, so to say that they exist only as designated feels uncomfortable, but it loosens the grip of our wrong view.”
His Holiness gave a brisk reading of his ‘Praise to the 17 Masters of Nalanda’. The first verse pays salutation to the Buddha, while the second and third verses praise the great masters Nagarjuna and Aryadeva respectively. Buddhapalita introduced the use of logical consequences and wrote, ‘If things were to have any essential existence in and of themselves, what would be the need for dependent arising’.
Bhavaviveka was sharp with words, he rebuked Asanga and Vasubandhu for disregarding Nagarjuna’s point of view. Chandrakirit asserted that appearance and emptiness eliminate the two extreme views.
Shantideva composed the ‘Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’, which, as an explanation of the awakening mind of bodhichitta, Khunu Lama Rinpoché, Tenzin Gyaltsen, told His Holiness is unsurpassed. Chapter six explains patience and presents arguments to counter anger. Chapter eight deals with developing altruism.
Shantarakshita, invited to Tibet in the 8th century, established Samyé Monastery with its departments of celibacy, translation and so forth. He encouraged the Tibetan king to initiate the translation of Buddhist literature into Tibetan. Kamalashila was Shantarakshita’s disciple and was summoned to Tibet to argue with those who proposed that enlightenment could be won through non-conceptual meditation alone.
Asanga was responsible for recording the precious five treatises of Maitreya, including the ‘Ornament for Clear Realization’, which reveals the implicit meaning of the perfection of wisdom. Vasubandhu was a great scholar. Dignaga and Dharmakirti were exceptional logicians. Vimuktisena and Haribadra wrote illuminatingly about the ‘Ornament for Clear Realization’. Haribadra’s ‘Clear Meaning’ is one of the best Indian commentaries on the text.
“Living behind the Himalayas,” His Holiness remarked, “our horizon extended little beyond the local market. Coming into exile has been like a blessing in disguise in that it has given us access to the whole world. Tibetan Buddhism is no longer dismissed as ‘Lamaism’, but is accepted as the custodian of traditions from Nalanda. Interest in Tibetan culture in the wider world has been a source of hope and inspiration for people in Tibet. The spirit of Tibetans is undaunted. More than 160 Tibetans have committed self-immolation, sacrificing their own lives, but they have done no harm to others.”
Gunaprabha and Shakyaprabha were masters of monastic discipline, the Vinaya. Lastly, Jowo Atisha came to Tibet where he rekindled the study and practice of the Buddha’s teachings.
The closing verses include the following advice: ‘By understanding the meaning of the two truths, the way things exist, we ascertain through the four truths how we arrive in and how we leave the cycle of existence. Engendered by valid cognition our faith in the three refuges will be firm.’
Next, His Holiness read a short piece by Changkya Rölpé Dorjé (1717-1786), ‘Recognizing My Old Mother’. He mentioned that Gyen Tempa Tenzin was so intrigued by the text that he wrote his own commentary to it, which His Holiness has received. The short text deals with the way things exist by way of dependence on other factors. It’s this that makes freedom possible.
During his reading, His Holiness recounted stories from Jé Tsongkhapa’s life. His first teacher Chöjé Dharma Rinchen advised him to study the great Middle Way treatises. This he did in Central Tibet and sat for exams in what he learned. During a vision of Manjushri he put questions to him, but didn’t understand the curt replies. Manjushri recommended he accumulate merit and purify negativities. He went into retreat and during that time had a dream of Nagarjuna and his disciples.
One of them touched a book he’d written to Tsongkhapa’s head. He recognised him as Buddhapalita and the next day consulted the text, where he read, ‘if the aggregates were the self, they would not have the characteristics of the aggregates’, which sparked insight into the correct view of emptiness. As a result, he composed ‘Praise to the Buddha for Teaching Dependent Arising’. His Holiness advised his listeners that this is a text to learn, recite and think about.
The colophon of Changkya’s text records that it was written at the Five Peak Mountain of Wu Tai Shan.
His Holiness noted that there is a large community of Mongolians at Gomang. The monastery has long had a special connection with people of Mongolian ethnicity, there were 100 there in 1959. Tibetan Buddhism travelled to Mongolia with Drogön Chöggyal Phagpa and later with Sonam Gyatso, the Third Dalai Lama. During the revolution in the early 20th century, hundreds of monks were killed, but after the country regained its independence, the situation improved.
Geshé Lobsang Gelek offered thanks to the distinguished guests for their attendance and to everyone who has contributed to the completion of the new debate yard. He concluded with prayers that His Holiness lives long, that his wishes be fulfilled and that the cause of Tibet be resolved.