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Beyond schools and universities

Beyond schools and universities

Deepak Rikhye |

When people are inclined towards a profession that involves religion they are required to study related texts that involve different subjects. Divinity is a subject that offers a degree but there is one particular teaching that is profound and highly specialised where teachers exist only among themselves and professors are not available. Buddhism requires the articulation of different incantations prayers or recitations from the scriptures. It involves a plethora of subjects that includes training future monks or lamas to recite in a manner so the voice sounds like a bird with a mellifluous tone for certain passages or changes to a deep bass when the passage articulates the message of an angry demon. Again the voice must adopt a treble tone when uttering the blessings of a goddess and when praying it must be intoned without sharp fluctuations.nbsp;

This methodology has been revered in its unusual and unique form by saints sages pundits and eventually lamas who have all formed an incredible link to the teachings of Buddhism to ensure a continuation of this tradition down the ages. The curriculum for monkhood includes grades and disciplines in a lama’s daily life in Tibet and Sikkim. In these locations nearly all families have one son devoted to the Buddhist church and this tradition is fostered by deep religious habits that give rise to high social positions and privileges enjoyed by lamas rendering them superior and free from ordinary tribunals — although this may have changed somewhat over the decades to ensure that no person can be above the law.

It is seldom the eldest son who is chosen for monkhood because his role is to marry and continue the family name. The candidate for admission is usually brought to the monastery between the age of eight and 10 years. At Pemiongchi monastery in Sikkim the candidate must be of pure Tibetan descent but this rule would have been modified since someone immigrating from Chinese occupied Tibet to Sikkim is in all likelihood not permitted. The boy can have relatives within the same monastery who take on responsibilities during his training; should he have no relative in the monastery then by consulting his horoscope a monk is officially appointed. This monk then enters a hall where senior monks are nbsp;assembled and seeks permission to take the boy as a pupil. When approved the boy becomes a probationer and his education begins with the fundamentals that entail learning the alphabet which is the quot;ka kha gahellip;quot; thus confirming that it is undoubtedly the Hindi script that is taught. This is followed by reading and reciting a lot of which has to be memorised.nbsp;

The first books he masters are actually a series of booklets with six or seven pages each. The Leu-bdun ma or quot;The Seven Chaptersquot; is a prayer book of Guru Rimpochhe; the quot;Charmsquot; to clear the way from danger is a prayer to the Guru in 12 stanzas; the Sher-phyin an abstract of Transcendental Wisdom is six pages; the Ku-Rim is a sacrificial service for averting calamity and the Mon-lam comprises prayers for welfare.nbsp;

The young probationer is also instructed on certain golden maxims that cover the Four Precipices of Speech thus explained: if the speech is too lengthy it is tedious; if it is too short the interpretation is not valued; if quot;roughquot; it irritates listeners; if soft the effectiveness disappears. Tutors advise that speech must contain vigour to interest listeners; it must be bright to enlighten an audience; most importantly after these precepts the ending must be dynamic. Probationers memorise the principles of speech articulated by the great religious king Srong-btsan-sgam-po in these nbsp;expressive words ldquo;Speech should float forth freely like a bird into the sky and be clothed in charming attire like a goddess. At the outset the speech should be clear like an unclouded sky. The speech should proceed like the excavation of treasure. The arguments should be agile like a deer chased by fresh hounds without hesitation or pause.rdquo;nbsp;

Aat the conclusion of this first phase the probationer is specially indoctrinated with the 10 faults and three improper acts explained by a senior monk. The 10 nbsp;faults include disbelief in books disrespect to teachers making oneself unpleasant ridiculing another’s misfortune and using abusive language. The improper acts include speaking on a subject with ignorance or giving poison to someone. This period continues for three years and candidates who do not show promise are removed. The boy then enters the noviciate stage and is a quot;Gra.paquot; pronounced quot;Ta-paquot; and assumes the dress of a monk to receive a religious name. A feast is planned for all monks given by the novice’s parents. The date is chosen through an astrological reference and he now resides in the monastery and is on occasion allowed to visit home. He must implicitly obey his tutor who is on certain occasions given gifts of cooked food by the boy’s relatives. He must attempt to pass the first professional examination followed by a second examination. He is invited to the Great Assembly Hall where he must recite from memory all the prescribed books in the presence of senior monks. This is apparently a trying ordeal and he is assigned a prompter. Each examination lasts for almost a week.

The second examination ends with the most challenging ordeal of all; a total of seven books must be recited from memory. There is an incredible repertoire of topics that include quot;The Worship of the Lake-born Vajraquot; the Guru Sage Sambhava; the three roots of sagedom; the four classes of the Fierce Guardians and the prayer of the great quot;Tashiquot; the Lepcha name for Sambhava. These books total 55 pages. Recitation by memory will qualify him to pass this second examination. He becomes a junior monk and is presented with a scarf of honour. He takes a higher seat in the Assembly Hall and is permitted to play the copper trumpet at functions. He is at liberty to pursue astrology medicine or painting for which he may choose a tutor within the order.nbsp;

To become a successful priest he must commit to memory a series of litanies that will qualify him to conduct various ceremonies so memorising parts of nbsp;certain scriptures continue after his examinations. There are other duties he must perform and this begins as a conch-shell blower attending to the altar after which he is upgraded as quot; u-chhoquot;. He will eventually be eligible to conduct prayers for important people – earlier this included visiting the Raja’s palace in Sikkim on auspicious days.

The Buddha always advocated people to not listen to his thoughts because of belief but to examine his precepts before paying heed. This is why scholars are convinced that Buddhism is not a religion. quot;The Dolmaquot; a goddess of Tibetans is prayed to so as to quot;quickly obtain the perfection of Buddhaquot; who was as a human being the personification of perfection in thought. quot;Hail! O emeraldine Dolma! Who art the savior of all beings! I pray thee descend from thy heavenly mansion at Potala together with all Thy retinue of gods deliver us from all distress!quot; This is part one of the Invocation to Dolma and the worship is divided into seven stages recited by Buddhists and included in a monk’s curriculum; there is no allusion in these prayers of Buddha being referred to as a deity. Indeed the Buddha’s role on earth can be summed up in this line of a prayer to nbsp;Dolma quot;Thou zealous soother of difficultieshellip;quot; All Buddha’s thoughts help one to be content in life.