Friday, October 25, 2013

How to study Buddhism like a Geshe

Yesterday I went to a talk by Geshe Kelsang Wangmo, the first woman to receive the advanced geshe designation in Tibetan Buddhism. Given only to monastics, it is the equivalent of a doctorate in Buddhist philosophy.

While I've never been a fan of dharma combat, which seems too tied to ego, I'd love to see her debate. She is razor sharp and lightning quick, confident and challenging but with a huge smile on her face. Her hands and arms move fluidly in expansive gestures, and her face, below her buzz-cut hair, is constantly changing expression.

Which, perhaps, demonstrates her point (in this talk at Smith College) that there is no one, singular, definite, unchanging "I" to be found. If anything, she says, there is a collection of I's -- "I should call itself we," she playfully suggests.

To get a geshe degree requires 16 years of study. She freely shares her method:

-- Listen. Buddhism was an oral tradition, and many of the suttras start out: Thus have I heard ... Be a student of Buddhism.


-- Listen with a skeptical mind. Don't believe things just because "thus you have heard..." Question question question. Break things down. Is this true? Is it true under all conditions? If you look at it another way? From another angle? Analyze. Come to a conclusion.

-- Then, most importantly, feel it. Does it feel right? If not, then it is not true for you, so don't incorporate it into your world view. But be sure you have investigated it rigorously so that the feeling is about that conclusion and not something related to it or the person who explained it.

"The only way to change is to bring it onto an emotional level," she said.

Quite a statement from someone with so much intellectual firepower.

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