INTERCLASS DEBATE IN LOSELING COLLEGE

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The seventh abbot of Loseling, Omniscient Lekpae Choejor, also known as Jamyang Gawae Lodoe --whose wisdom spreads like the endless sky – composed many commentaries on the major Buddhist texts and composed many teachings to subjugate those proponents of the falsity of dharma. During his time,
the academic standards of this monastic college bloomed manifold and in particular, the system of debate became very efficient. He split the major Buddhist texts into required divisions and standardized them into curriculums to be studied by different classes. He also introduced the system of interclass debate – debate between the students of higher and lower classes. This tradition is still practiced in this monastic college. The purpose of the interclass debate is to help the students of the upper classes remember the profound meanings of the major texts, which they have already debated in the previous year, for they must go through the texts again in order to prepare for the debates. It also helps the students of the lower classes to learn the meanings of the profound major texts and their logical approaches from the students of the upper classes. Interclass debate is not at all to create negative competition between the students of different classes.
The interclass debate session begins at the start of the Second Spring Religious Festival. It is a month long religious gathering from the third day of the third month to the third day of the fourth month of the Tibetan lunar calendar. If the interclass debate is not concluded during this religious gathering then it is continued in the Third Spring Religious Festival, which is from the sixteenth day of the fourth month to the sixth day of the fifth month of the Tibetan lunar calendar.
As preparation for the interclass debate, each class is required to thoroughly prepare five different topics, each class to debate with either the upper or lower class under the guidance of a well qualified scholar long before the debate session begins. The last topic of an interclass debate should be started and ended with some auspicious words. It is not hotly debated, and, for the sake of auspiciousness, every class does the same.
After every short morning debate, in the debate courtyard, the Chabril invites the Khenpo from his residence and receives him on his throne in the debate courtyard. When the actual debate session is about to start, as soon as the Disciplinarian signals, the students of the upper class sit on the right sitting row, the students of the lower class on the left sitting row and all the other monks take their seats around them. As soon as the Khenpo signals, the monitor of the Interpretive and Definitive class (the second year students of the Perfection of Wisdom) and a senior Tulku, if there are Tulkus in class, if not, the student whose name is on the second list of names, sit as answerers to the debate. The monitor of the Freshers (the first year students of the Perfection of Wisdom) commences the first debate. The Khenpo observes and oversees the whole of the interclass debates and he controls the time duration of the debates.
Since the debates must be witnessed by the Khenpo and many great scholars of the monastic college, it is not uncommon for debaters to spend many sleepless nights and many days without food before the debate, due to excitement and fear. Sometimes it brings boundless joys when the debaters are able to defeat the answerers, backed by convincing scriptural citations and stainless logical reasoning, which the debaters consider an offering of accomplishment to their spiritual masters. Amidst thousands of monks, sometimes the answerers bring a debate to an end, where the debaters are kept standing still not knowing what to ask, and sometimes the debaters box the answerers in, along with their classmates, keeping the whole class mum not knowing what to reply. Such sights are considered to be exciting moments in the monastic community.
During the interclass debates, participants are not allowed to use satirical words or debate in a disorderly manner. When the third round of each interclass debate begins, the Disciplinarian signals and dismisses all the monks except the monks of the two classes that are debating. The debate continues until it is over. Afterwards, all the students of the two classes offer prostrations to the Khenpo and the debate session is adjourned until the next morning. The Chabril escorts the Khenpo to his residence.
Like the first day of the interclass debate, the interclass debate continues for a month. The classes, from the Freshers to third year students of the Vinaya course, must debate with the immediate upper and lower classes. The third year students of the Vinaya course debate with the fourth year students of the Vinaya course but the fourth year students do not debate with the third year. The last interclass debate is between the students of the Tagrig class and the Freshers’ class.

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