Dominique Butet and Olivier Adam report on the twenty sixth Annual Tibetan Nuns’ Winter Debate (Jang Gonchoe) in Bodhgaya, which gathered 500 Tibetan Buddhist nuns to apply philosophical debate. Textual content by Dominique Butet. Images by Olivier Adam.
A dense warmth welcomed us as quickly as we exited the airplane in Bodhgaya, accompanied by an invasive luminosity radiating from the encompassing rice fields. An electrical, whirring tuk-tuk introduced us on to the corridor of the Kagyu Monlam, the place the twenty sixth non-sectarian nuns’ annual Winter Debate, referred to as the Jang Gonchoe in Tibetan, was held from October 16 to November 17, 2022. The occasion gathered round 500 Himalayan nuns from the Tibetan Buddhist custom, coming from ten totally different nunneries in each India and Nepal.
Debating on this particular place may be very significant, as a result of there’s a direct connection to Lord Buddha.”
“Jang Gonchoe” actually means “winter debate classes in Jangphu monastery.” The occasion originated in Tibet within the Lhasa space and was historically held just for male monastics. Throughout the Nice Prayer Competition (Monlam Chenmo) that was historically held in Lhasa between the eleventh and twelfth month of the Tibetan calendar, monks of the three main monasteries — Sera, Ganden, and Drepung — would be part of for a number of days of celebration and geshe examinations. None of them would miss the superb alternative to apply philosophical debate. For that function, they discovered the texts of Legitimate Cognition (tsema namdrel in Tibetan, or pramana in Sanskrit), a department of data which offers with elaborated logic and epistemology.
After the Tibetan rebellion in March of 1959, 1000’s of individuals fled Tibet, together with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, arrived in Northern India throughout the Himalayas. Amongst those that arrived have been many monks and nuns. At the moment, there have been solely two nunneries round Dharamsala with very primary infrastructures. The Tibetan Nuns Challenge, based in 1987, got down to present exiled ladies not solely a house but additionally a high quality schooling. With the assistance of different associations, communities of nuns have been step by step established in all Himalayan areas of India and Nepal.
Due to the unfailing assist of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Buddhist nuns have been inspired to check and step by step reached excellence in Buddhist philosophy, enabling them to take part within the debate competitions. The primary feminine Jang Gonchoe was held in 1995 in Dolma Ling (Dharamsala), gathering 150 nuns from 4 nunneries.
In 2012, the Dalai Lama invited the nuns to debate in entrance of an viewers of monks, testifying to the diploma of excellence of their degree of research. This invitation lastly opened the door for ladies to the Geshema diploma. In December 2016, the diploma was awarded to twenty nuns in South India after 17 years of examine of the 5 Nice Canonical Texts and extra 4 years of examination. Greater than 50 nuns have since graduated, representing a historic step in Tibetan Buddhism, as beforehand solely monks might declare the title of Geshe. Entry to schooling step by step offers the nuns better self-confidence and allows them to develop all the mandatory abilities and qualities to show, but additionally to guide the group and to be empowered inside Himalayan society.
The group of a philosophical debate competitors within the holy metropolis of Bodhgaya takes on a really particular shade and that means not solely it’s near the well-known College of Nalanda, a cradle of Buddhist philosophy, however the phrases of the Buddha who attained enlightenment some 2,500 years in the past on this very place nonetheless resound right here.
At this yr’s debate, the noise that arose from the corridor all through the 4 weeks of intensive debate coaching clearly mirrored the nuns’ joyful motivation to debate, regardless of the intensive schedule. Within the guidelines of debate, the appropriate hand represents compassion whereas the left one represents knowledge. No sooner is a query requested than it’s punctuated by a clap of the challengers’ arms within the left palm. The clapping of the arms signifies the union of knowledge and compassion and the stomping of the left foot on the similar time symbolizes the closing of the door to rebirth within the decrease realms.
The debates embody a morning philosophy class, the information of which is then practiced within the afternoon debates to assist perceive the profound that means of the Buddhist texts.
“Debate is about giving questions and solutions,” mentioned Namdol Phuntsok, who grew to become a Geshema in 2016 and attended the competitors as a trainer of Philosophy. “In a really Tibetan model, that implies that some are standing and asking questions ready that provides them extra power, extra ‘strongness,’” she defined. The opposite members – one or two nuns referred to as defenders — sit and provides solutions and defend a thesis.
This yr, 5 Geshemas have been among the many twenty professors current in Bodhgaya. One of many Geshemas, Delek Dolma efficiently ran the Organizing Committee whereas one other nun carried out the features of self-discipline grasp. The presence of the nuns among the many academics was very vital in regard to ladies’s empowerment. “Right here, all of the academics – whether or not male or feminine — are given the identical rooms and are sitting on the identical stage,” mentioned Namdol Phuntsok.
Geshema Delek Angmo was one of many first rivals in 1995. On the time, she felt shy to compete, however doesn’t any longer. “I really feel very completely happy as a result of the nuns have good competences about logic. Their information has elevated so much and they’re extra self-confident,” she mentioned. “We’re assembly nuns from totally different nunneries so the nuns can share their information and nourish one another.”
Eighteen-year-old Tenzin Norzin from Spiti valley mentioned she felt “very excited by Jang Gonchoe.” Her ambition? “Changing into a Geshema, even when it is rather exhausting to memorize all of the texts.”
Others appeared much less assured. “We’re so fortunate to be right here,” mentioned nineteen-year-old Choying, however she questions her future following her research.
“Concerning my future, it isn’t so clear,” she mentioned. “We’re studying so many issues now, however after I want to profit others. How — by changing into Geshema? I’m undecided, as a result of Buddhist philosophy is so exhausting, and it turns into tougher and tougher with the years. It requires a really excessive degree of psychological exercise. Will we be able to fulfilling this Geshema approach?”
Lhamo Tsering, a thirty-year-old nun from Nepal was extra optimistic, though she nonetheless wants 10 extra years to complete her Geshema diploma. “If I turn into a Geshema, I want to educate both to nuns or to poor folks. Even when it is rather exhausting to memorize, I really feel so completely happy when I’m debating,” she mentioned.
Tenzin Chimey, now 40, has been a nun since she was 12. She arrived from Tibet to India (Dharamsala) in 2010. “It’s a distinctive alternative to check profound texts that convey deep that means to Buddhist psychology,” she mentioned of her research.
“We are able to’t miss such good karma, even whether it is tough, as a result of only a few folks amongst Himalayan society have this chance. My goal just isn’t solely to get a level, however to discover ways to be at peace and obtain a significant life,” mentioned Chimey.
“For that, we should break misconceptions in our thoughts — that’s why we examine Buddhist Philosophy. Our goal is to assist others sooner or later. After getting the Geshema diploma, I’ll do a retreat first as a result of I need to internalize the instructing earlier than with the ability to educate others,” she mentioned.
Lobsang Chodron, 43, got here from Brazil to Geden Choeling (Dharamsala) seven years in the past, and later grew to become a nun. “What is going to I do with a Geshema diploma? In all probability nothing,” she mentioned laughing.
“The present of the title is to check so long as you may. No matter we examine, we do analytical meditation, so we get extra readability. The purpose of all these years of examine is to turn into a extra dependable supply to assist others, to scale back the hole between what we predict and the way we act.”
Thupten Drolkar, 40, from Ladakh will begin the 4 years of Geshema examination subsequent yr. “With out information we’re ignorant, so we can not assist neither the others nor ourselves,” she mentioned. Drolkar is already instructing in Dolma Ling, however in a match of humility she confessed: “I ought to be taught extra to have the ability to take my duty as a trainer.” That morning, round fifteen nuns, largely inexperienced persons, have been listening to her teachings.
“I’m amazed to see how curious my college students are. We are able to actually empower ladies by information,” she mentioned.
The experiences of those nuns exhibits that the examine of Buddhist philosophy is one technique to entry transformation and part of profound non secular apply. The controversy session held on Saturday, October 29 at Mahabodhi Temple within the particular place the place Buddha was enlightened was an instance of how enlightenment can blow out ignorance. From 3 p.m. to eight.30 p.m., these motivated feminine practitioners took turns debating underneath the banyan tree, in a really deep respect for his or her interlocutors, as Geshe Lobsang Tarchin writes: “The aim for debate is to not defeat and embarrass a mistaken opponent, thereby gaining some victory for oneself; fairly, the aim is to assist the opponent overcome his fallacious view.”
“Earlier than debating we have been so fearful,” Tenzin Norzin mentioned, “However once we begin debating, our stress went away, and our debating went properly.”
Lobsang Chodron additionally shared her emotions: “At Mahabodhi, I really feel so impressed and blessed to debate these texts coming from Nalanda students.”
Thupten Drolkar added that “debating on this particular place may be very significant, as a result of there’s a direct connection to Lord Buddha.”
“By debate we are able to accumulate loads of deserves, as a result of we’re doing what Buddha particularly taught us: we sharpen our thoughts to be free from ignorance so we will act higher in our every day life,” she mentioned.
One of many 5 “defenders” (every of them is represening one nunnery) paying respect in entrance of a portrait of His Holiness Dalai Lama earlier than begin of debate competitors.
Non secular ambition goes along with the valorization of the female exercise in Tibetan Buddhism. On the finish of the 26th Jang Gonchoe, 10 new Tibetan Buddhist nuns obtained their Geshema levels throughout a particular ceremony chaired by the 41st Sakya Trizin Rinpoche, bringing the variety of Geshemas to 54. The secretary from the Division of Faith and Tradition, Chime Tseyang, in addition to many company have been additionally in attendance. They’ll certainly be a supply of inspiration for all nuns as they’re referred to as to play a significant position of their monastic and lay communities.
Even on this winter season, caterpillars littered the bottom within the early morning at Bodhgaya. By sundown, magnificent butterflies with massive wings in shades of midnight blue, purple, yellow, and orange flew across the debate corridor, carrying in every single place the joyful information of those newly empowered ladies.