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Discipline and Debate

The Language of Violence in a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery

Michael Lempert

Publication Year: 2012

The Dalai Lama has represented Buddhism as a religion of non-violence, compassion, and world peace, but this does not reflect how monks learn their vocation. This book shows how monasteries use harsh methods to make monks of men, and how this tradition is changing as modernist reformers—like the Dalai Lama—adopt liberal and democratic ideals, such as natural rights and individual autonomy. In the first in-depth account of disciplinary practices at a Tibetan monastery in India, Michael Lempert looks closely at everyday education rites—from debate to reprimand and corporal punishment. His analysis explores how the idioms of violence inscribed in these socialization rites help produce educated, moral persons but in ways that trouble Tibetans who aspire to modernity. Bringing the study of language and social interaction to our understanding of Buddhism for the first time, Lempert shows and why liberal ideals are being acted out by monks in India, offering a provocative alternative view of liberalism as a globalizing discourse.

Published by: University of California Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiii

I don’t recall how the routine started, but its central prop consisted of a small cylindrical object, usually a AA battery, though a pencil or pen plucked from a nearby table would do. One of my monk friends from South India’s Sera Monastery—my primary field site—would press the object toward my face, as if it were a microphone; ...

Technical Note on Transcription and Research Methods

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pp. xiv-xx

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Introduction: Liberal Sympathies

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pp. 1-16

Buddhist ‘debate’ (rtsod pa), a twice-daily form of argumentation through which Tibetan monks learn philosophical doctrine, is loud and brash and agonistic. Monks who inhabit the challenger role punctuate their points with foot-stomps and piercing open-palmed hand-claps that explode in the direction of the seated defendant’s face. ...

Part One. Debate

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1. Dissensus by Design

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pp. 19-43

How could fierce, stylized wrangling about centuries-old religious doctrine— by monks, no less—seem as if it involves the exercise of an autonomous, critical rationality, a faculty akin to the one celebrated in the European Enlightenment? To appreciate how debate can exhibit attributes of the liberal subject and become a diasporic pedagogy— ...

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2. Debate as a Rite of Institution

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pp. 44-79

Tsongkhapa (1357–1419), founder of what would crystallize into the Geluk sect, is reported to have had repeated visionary encounters with Mañjuśrī, a deity who embodies Buddha’s insight into the nature of reality and who, on a more mundane plane, is associated with intelligence, learning, and skill in speech and composition. ...

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3. Debate as a Diasporic Pedagogy

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pp. 80-104

For a half century the Dalai Lama has exhorted Tibetan refugees to hold fast to their religious patrimony and never waver in political resolve. For the exile community, “change” has been an unsettling word, especially in the domain of religion. Asked whether debate has changed in exile, the monks I spoke with often seemed uncomfortable, ...

Part Two. Discipline

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4. Public Reprimand Is Serious Theatre

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pp. 107-126

I had originally come to Sera to see how monks wrangle, but when I returned for extended fieldwork I found Geshe-la, the senior monk I befriended two years before, transformed. He had become, his assistant informed me, the college’s ‘disciplinarian’ (dge bskos / dge skos), a high-ranking monastic office second only to the abbot. ...

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5. Affected Signs, Sincere Subjects

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pp. 127-152

With what emotion and tactics should monks reform the moral dispositions of others? For some Tibetan monks in India, this is a live and at times vexing question. In a range of male socialization practices in the monastery—public reprimand, courtyard debate, the meting out of corporal punishment—Sera monks are asked to exhibit a kind of anger. ...

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Conclusion: The Liberal Subject, in Pieces

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pp. 153-168

How liberal is this liberal subject that encroaches on Sera, an Indian avatar of a fifteenth-century Tibetan monastery, and sweeps through the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics, a place nearly as monastic and just as devoted to centuries-old philosophical texts? Remember:These are places populated by men who wear robes, in principle renounce the world, ...


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pp. 169-192


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pp. 193-206


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pp. 207-216

Production Notes

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p. 238-238

E-ISBN-13: 9780520952010
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520269460

Page Count: 238
Publication Year: 2012