The Great Debate….Monk Style

photoWe’ve seen many a monk in China and Tibet. Monks texting. Monks eating at the hotel breakfast. Old monks. Young monks. Monks chanting and holding prayer beads in their hands. And also doing other monkly things like tending the yak butter candles at the temple—they have to ladle out vast spoonsful of yak butter as supplicants keep adding more to the giant candles.

And now the monks are arguing.

Waving their hands around, slapping, yelling, gesticulating, dancing almost.

It is a sight to behold and it happens every day, pretty much only here in the Debating Courtyard at the Sera Monastery in Lhasa.

There are clutches of monks all around the courtyard, those standing seem to provoke discussion points of philosophy. Those sitting respond. Correct answer, SLAP…the interrogator slams his hands together. Wrong answer? SLAP, this time the slapping hand faces downward after a pitcher’s style wind-up.

The monks near me are vigorous, loud, moving every which way, their burgundy robes somehow out of sync with their sneakers. Turns out the monks near me are the youngest, and they get slightly older, and sedater, class by class toward the back.

There used to be many more monks here, every family would want one son to become a monk….whether he wanted to or not, to bring good will on the family. Now there is a limit on the monks and the Chinese government checks the family backgrounds checking for signs of political leanings before allowing a young boy to become a monk. And debating of course is only on point of Buddhist philosophy. No politics allowed.

Some things, though, remain the same.

The nunnery is up the hill some distance

About Karen Ray

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