One fine afternoon, we got to interact with Mr. Jyampa Gyaltsen who heads the English Language Programme in the Language Translations department of the ‘Sera Jey Monastic University for Advanced Buddhist Studies and Practice’. He was quite young but his words were amazingly insightful and reflected immense knowledge in the Buddhist discipline. He underwent his monastic education in the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. He pointed out that the Namdroling monastery in Bylakuppe which was founded in 1963, is the largest institution in the world that propagates the Nyingmapa tradition. After an initial phase of introduction, he gradually delved into the prominent teachings which the students go through in their learning process. As described by him, the major philosophies they study are the following:
- ‘Paramitha’, which means ‘perfection’, encompasses certain guiding principles in the Buddhist practice. There are six perfections which they must attain which are the perfections of patience, generosity, morality, meditation, energy and wisdom.
- ‘Madhyamika’, which deals with the ideology of emptiness, is generally considered to be logically elusive due to the difficulty in comprehending the same and hence demands a deep and immense engagement.
- ‘Vinaya’, which pertains to certain ethics and codes, has an indispensable role in their monastic life. It describes certain disciplinary codes which are to be adhered to, by the monks and nuns for the purpose of self-training.
- ‘Abhidharma’, which talks on evolution, extensively discusses science.
- ‘Pranama’, which deals with valid cognition, elaborately discusses the concept of rebirth. It has striking similarities with the Hindu philosophy. Debates are an integral component of this teaching because of its characteristic nature of being a discipline dealing with the quest for the origins of knowledge.
He also mentioned the three objects of refuge called the ‘Triratnas’- Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, which are ideals that possess qualities which can get us out of the ‘samsara’- the bounds of the material world. After this brief but quite dense interaction, he went on talking further about the subsequent stages in monastic education, where the students can pursue the prestigious ‘Geshe Lharampa’ academic degree which spans for a period of 6 years, similar in stature to the doctorate degree. The ‘Geshes’ can further undergo an year of training in Tantrik teaching, which is of the highest order. He particularly emphasized the fact that it was a landmark year in the University’s history as a nun got conferred the ‘Geshe Lharampa’ degree for the first time ever.
Words flowed unrestrained from him, touching upon diverse topics in the process. According to him, Sera Jey is in the frontline in modern education. He also pointed out that IGNOU has come up with Tibetan Studies which was initiated in 2011, thereby, throwing light upon the increasing recognition to the same. He suggested us to watch ‘Kundun’, a Martin Scorsese biographical film on the 14th Dalai Lama and also the documentary ‘Unmistaken Child’ which follows a monk’s search for the reincarnation of the Lama, which is a complex process that demands extreme patience and perseverance and an inevitable element of divine intervention, according to him.
This brought us to the question of perpetuity of the Tibetan cause as the child who was considered to be the reincarnation of the 14th Dalai Lama was allegedly captured by the Chinese in 1996, which was something I myself felt uncomfortable enquiring about, due to the sentiments they have associated with the same. The inquisitiveness was owing to the possibility of the absence of a spiritual leader after the 14th Dalai Lama, who is highly revered across the world and is considered to be the torch-bearer of the Tibetan refugee cause. But he responded exuding remarkable positivity, saying that the Tibetan spiritual foundations are not confined to certain symbols which they can uphold. It is more about the ideals and practices which extend meaning to their very existence and the cause they stand for, which cannot be influenced by any external force. The 14th Dalai Lama, himself emphasizes the key virtue of not succumbing to the aura of symbols by advocating the same repeatedly to the Tibetans spread across the world, by also probing them to re-evaluate the necessity of the institution of Dalai Lama. The systematic attempts of the Chinese State to take over the institution by themselves choosing the next in the lineage are one among the major concerns behind the same.
I was particularly overwhelmed by his response as I could sense the passion and conviction with which he uttered it. It filled us with an optimism for a better tomorrow for the Tibetan refugee cause, the cause which lies afresh and intense still, at least in the minds of many, maybe not all. The interaction, undoubtedly, brightened up the day and left imprints of an unforgettable chapter in our days in the field!