Teaching by Lama Zasep Tulku Rinpoche
September 1998, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Then after we meditate on emptiness of personality, and when you go up the realization, some realization of emptiness of personality, or emptiness of person or emptiness of self, then you meditate on emptiness of other things, other than person. One should meditate on emptiness of other phenomena. You will find it the same way. Then you could also meditate on emptiness. What about emptiness itself? Does emptiness exist inherently or not? Then you find emptiness does not exist inherently. Emptiness is also empty. There's a book I think I saw called, "The Emptiness of Emptiness."

So then, ultimately, everything is one energy, one essence. At the same time, on a relative level, there are many. So when we meditate on emptiness, shunyata, we need to ask questions. Emptiness does not mean nothingness. Shunyata does not mean nothingness. So now we have a lot of confusions about this thing. Like, many people understand intellectually. Many people have a good understanding about shunyata. Many people have a sort of, how should I say, intuitive understanding about shunyata, or emptiness, but they don't have intellectual understanding. They don't know how to express. They don't know how to express. A lot of times we do have deep, inner, or what we call innate understanding, sort of intuitive understanding of emptiness. We don't know how to communicate or how to say. Sometimes we don't find the words, right kind of term. When we find some kind of term, when we try to say it, then it becomes funny. And then it's confused, confusing. Then you feel it's better not to say anything, just experience, just feel.

And some people have so much intellectual understanding, but no feeling inside, no intuitive understanding. Doesn't really have much deep feeling. So some people have a glimpse of understanding, some people have no clue, no understanding at all, and no foggiest idea. And some people are completely wrong. So there are so many questions.

That's why it's suggested one should do analytical meditation, and that's why it's suggested one should debate, so here I'd like to talk about debating a little bit, according to Tibetan tradition. You have seen videotapes of lamas debating. You have seen those monks who came to Vancouver and did tour, chanting tour, and at some point those monks are debating. One monk sitting on the floor and three monks jumping on this one monk and clapping their hands and laughing and shouting and you don't know what they're talking about. You've seen these pictures. You saw, right? You have seen, some of you. And some of you have been to India, went to the monasteries and saw monks and nuns are debating in Dharamsala, and you have seen, perhaps in Tibet, too, in Sera Monastery and Ganden Monastery. And so we don't know what they're discussing.

We have a funny -- I'd like to tell you a funny story. Most Tibetan people, lay people, who haven't really studied Dharma, they don't even know what these monks are debating, what they're talking about. And because they're using philosophical terms, they're not using ordinary words. They do use sometimes, use ordinary words, but its meaning is different. So one nomad man, fellow, came visited Sera Monastery. He went there and he saw these two young monks debating and arguing, very seriously arguing, for hours and hours, sitting on the rock and in hot sun, summer day, you know. And they are sweating and debating. So he overheard they're talking about, they're arguing about "vase". We call "Bumpa" in Tibetan.

So one monk is asking, "What is emptiness of vase?"

And the other answers, "This is emptiness of vase."

"Tell me what is the definition of vase according to the Parasangyimika Madhyamika school?"

And so on. They were just debating. So this man thought, "Why are these two young monks arguing about this vase? What a waste of time! Strange. I thought all the monks sitting, meditating, chanting, praying, sitting like very holy man instead of arguing, yelling and jumping around and clapping their hands. It looks like they're swearing to the Buddha and looks very, sort of uncivilized and aggressive sometimes, even aggressive." So he was kind of sad. He was a little disappointed. He didn't know what was going on. So he went back to Lhasa.

The next day he came back again, the same two monks debating about vase. So then he thought, "This is not good. They should stop arguing. Not right. They should go in temple, prayer in front of shrine."

So he went up to the monks and said, "Excuse me. Yesterday I came here and you two were arguing about the vase. Today I came and you two argue about the vase. Yesterday you argued for four hours. Today you've been arguing for four hours. I feel very sad. Please don't argue. Tonight I'm going back to Lhasa. And tomorrow I'll buy each of you a vase! Stop arguing about vase. Forget about vase!" [Laughter.]

Now about debating at a monastery. Debating is maybe the right term, maybe is not always the right term. They are not always debating. I think the style of debating is different than I think the style of debating in the west. Actually according to tradition, when you debate there is no loser; there is no winner. It is also not really a competition. You are not competing. And there's no loser or winner; there is no good guy or bad guy.

And it is more like sharing the knowledge, sharing understanding. What I have studied, what I know, I'd like to share with you. What you have learned you share with me. We discuss. And find out differences. Maybe you learn something different. You have studied more about certain philosophical point of view. Maybe you have studied about interpretation of shunyata according to a particular Madhyamika school, like Parasangyimika. Then I study a different school a different school of Madhyamika, or you have studied a commentary on shunyata and a certain lama according to the Gelugpa tradition, and I study different. Or maybe you studied Kargyu tradition. I studied Sakyapa traditon, so here we sharing the differences. And certain things are not different. We share that as well. Sharing and trying to exchange views, now, and sharing knowledge and trying to help each other. Help each other so you will not forget. See, after debating, it helps you not to forget. You always remember.

And now, when you do formal debating, very formal, for example examination, and when you are receiving a degree, like a what we call Geshe degree, or there are many degrees. One can receive degree or recognition or like certificate, a certain degree. And then there is a formal debate. So there is a judge, there is a witness, like the abbots and the higher lamas or philosophers. They are the judge, and they will judge you -- the way you debate and the way you answer and the way you question. So then they will decide who has the best understanding, who gave the best answer, who asked the best question. Then according to the abbot or the judges of the monastery will give degree to certain monks, like first degree, second degree, third degree. But that's sort of like recognition, it's not a competition.

But most of the time when we're debating in a debating class, you share what you have learned. See, before you actually debate a topic, what you're going to debate, according to tradition you have to memorize the text. Necessary you have to memorize the root text, maybe fifteen page, twenty page, thirty page, certain kind of text, or maybe 100 page long. You have to memorize the root text. Then you have to memorize certain outlines. So there's a lot of memorizing. You have to memorize. When you debate, you're not allowed to bring a text and read, or when you ask questions, you cannot read a text. And when you answer the questions, you cannot read the text. Because anyone can read text. You have to memorize, then you have to say, "Nargajuna said, according to text called Madhyamika Mulamademika Karika, in verse 15, chapter 2, 'Dada dada…'" You have to repeat or recite those verses and then you give a commentary. And you ask commentary.

Let's say I am the debater. I am a person who is asking questions, let's say to Cyndy. So I already memorized the verses, one or two verses, whatever, and before you go debate, that day or the day before. Maybe could be long ago, maybe I memorized the whole text. So I recite several verses or one paragraph. I recite, then I say, "Could you please give commentary. I would like you to give a commentary." So then if you don't know the commentary, if you're not prepared, not sure, then you can say, "I cannot give you commentary on this." So then I have to move on. I have to recite another verse or another paragraph. "What about, maybe you can give me commentary on this." If you know, or are not sure, you can kind of guess. "Well, I'm not sure, but o.k., I'll try." And, "O.k., what did you say? O.k." And then you give a commentary.

So this way I'm listening. I learn something from you, the way you give a commentary. You may have more understanding than me, and so I learn something from you. So now, also, you will find something more than when you try to give your own commentary, your own interpretation. That is different than what you read. That will be different than commentary written by certain lama, even a great scholar. It's your own commentary, it's different, right? I learn something from you.

So if we both agree that you are not sure, your commentary is not clear and not completely accurate, then I will try to help you. Say, "This part of your commentary is good, but this part is not very correct. I would like to give a commentary." I could be also wrong while I give the commentary to you. So then, at that point, another monk jumps in and says, "No, you're wrong. You both are wrong, and that's not the way it is. This is how I think. This is what a certain teacher like Nagarjuna said," and you give another commentary.

So the dialogue goes on and on. So that is the style of debating, certain style of debating. There's many things you can debate about. In other words, it's a discussion. And then I could also ask question, definition. This is a very important one. "Could you give me definition of shunyata?" or "Let's change the subject. Let's talk about generosity. According to Dharma it says there are three types of generosity: generosity of Dharma, generosity of material aid, generosity of fearlessness or generosity of protection. There are three types of generosity. So I would like to ask you, what are those three generosities? So I would like to ask you to give me commentary, or first I would like to ask you to give me a very precise definition of what is generosity of Dharma? Then you tell me what is definition of generosity of material aid and what is definition of generosity of protection." So you tell, you explain the definition. You don't have to know exactly, you can just say what you think.

And then another topic is you ask divisions. First you discuss definition, then divisions. Ok, how many are there? Are there different types of generosity of Dharma, or not? And how many divisions? How many types of generosity are there generally, divisions. So like that. It's discussion, lots of discussion, and then division and then subdivision. Then subdivision of subdivision. And sometimes you count with mala, fifteen different types of this, ten different types of this. Sometimes they are not very exciting. They are kind of tiring, boring. At some point you don't have the energy for clapping hands and jumping around, decide to sit down and start counting using pebbles and rocks. [Laughter.] And using mala. I even, one time I saw a monk with an abacus keep counting -- fifteen different types of mind, three types of delusions, like an accountant, counting. There's all kinds of ways of debating.

And also literal meaning, you can debate about literal meaning, meaning of certain things, certain Dharma. And also the real meaning. There's different kinds of literal meaning, real meaning. And interpreting and un-interpreting teachings. Certain teachings cannot be interpreted, has to be followed literally. Some teachings, sutras, has to be interpreted. One must not follow it literally.

I should actually ask question to you, or let you ask question. I think it's important we should have discussion. So if you have any questions regarding style of debating, or shunyata, most welcome.

Onward Onward to Bodhicitta

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