Teaching Spotlight: How to Debate

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Submitted by Ryan Dally

On Saturday, November 12th, Lama Mira and Lama Cliff were kind enough to pass along the tradition of Buddhist Debate to the students of Mahasukha. The evening warmed up with Lama Mira and some lively conversation over the existential questions of Buddhism, like “Does the Buddha see suffering?”, “Do we have free will?”, and the like. After clearing up those questions the students reviewed the Lam Rim to prepare for the coming event, Debate Class. The reigns were passed to Lama Cliff and he taught the audience about the important role debate has in learning the Lam Rim. He emphasized the importance of debate and the role it has in really learning the dharma and learning it well – backwards and forwards. It allows us to communicate clearly the ideas of Buddhism and ultimately end the suffering of all beings.

He began with the role of the attacker, or the person posing the topic of debate. It is the job of the attacker to state something “absurd” for the defender to object to. The first step to debate is to find common ground, or to specify the topic for debate. Next the attacker posses a series of questions for the defender to either agree with (Du) or disagree with (Tak ma drup). Once there is a point of disagreement, the debate can begin. But of course you need the right implements. Lama Cliff showed off his large mala he uses for debate and showed the class the proper stance of the attacker. Ryan Canfield graciously filled in the role of the defender. He stood strong against the advances of the imposing Lama force. Once the right tools were had, the players in their places, Lamaji  gave Manjushri’s Mantra, an invocation to ask for a strong debate. And then the debates began. Lamaji and Ryan held a fine debate on why the sky is green. He emphasized the importance of not only knowing the answers to the questions, but being able to articulate the ideas clearly. This is the point of debate. It is not about being right or wrong. It is about accepting truth because it has been proven (Shok!).  Other groups were formed and everyone got a chance to have a taste of debate. This class is foundation for many debates the students of Mahasukha will hold. It was a great privilege to be given this precious teaching. May the seeds of a thousand debates be planted and minds are clear of any doubt. May all living beings be happy.

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