In Buddhist Tibet, monastic universities still put heavy emphasis on training students for debate, which is an essential part of the monastery curriculum. The three purposes of Buddhist debate are to defeat your own and others’ misunderstandings, to establish your own right view, and to clear away opposition to your view. Reasoning and debate are an integral part of one path to spiritual wellbeing, taking practitioners closer to the health of liberation, removing mistaken views and strengthening understanding of correct ones.

The unique style of Tibetan debate plays an important part of philosophical investigations in Tibetan intellectual communities.  The daily timetable of monasteries re-established in India usually include two hours of debate in the morning and two hours in the evening after dinner, although advanced classes may extend these sessions. The disputants come to the debating courtyard with no assistance,  only their own understanding. One does not examine books at the time of debating and books are not allowed in the debating courtyard. Rather, the debaters must depend on their memorization of the points of doctrine: definitions, illustrations, and even whole texts, together with their own evaluation of understanding gained from instruction and study.  Independently, they think about the meaning of what they studied, and meditate (analytical meditation) on its implications.

The practice of debate involves two people, a Defender who sits and gives answers to the Challenger who stands and asks questions.  The roles are quite different; the Defender puts forward claims for which he is held accountable.  The Challenger raises doubts to the Defender’s claims and asks questions in an attempt to get the Defender to accept statements that are inconsistent or illogical. Although the monk may become very excited and strongly object to the views of his opponent in a debate, the purpose for his debate is not to defeat and humiliate an opponent, thereby gaining some success for himself; rather, the purpose is to help the opponent overcome his wrong view.

When a student is called to enter the field of debate, it’s important they adopt an approach that is based on two principles; truthful speech and loving speech, which are centered on the overarching of Right Speech in the Eightfold Path. Truthful speech indicates that while one’s own perspective is never perfect, one commits to tell the truth as best as he/she knows it. Right Speech is not easy. It can be especially difficult to practice in debates concerning intensely personal issues like religion. It is not always pleasant when one’s philosophical beliefs are challenged. But this is only the beginning of cultivating a Buddha-like attitude.

Debate is a prime means for establishing the extent and nature of phenomena. By sharpening the intellect, one is eventually able to cognize selflessness with inference. Through repeated familiarization with this inferential realization, one is gradually able to realize selflessness by means of direct perception. In this process, reasoning is essential in the beginning and the middle, but eventually it is no longer necessary. For

this system, debate is rigorous conceptuality for the sake of eventually transcending conceptuality.

The author Gangri Karma Rinpoche examines debate literature from a different perspective; with skilful and insightful analysis. This book is of great value if you are interested in Tibetan Buddhism and their culture of debate. It will help you avoid a wrong view of debate as written in some literature and gain and deep understanding of this practice.