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4 Public Reprimand Is Serious Theatre 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. In public, Geshe-la parted crowds. All, save for the infirm and the unsocialized , now scattered upon seeing him, as I discovered during walks with him around Sera’s premises. Monks in visual range took cover, colliding with each other as they ducked into restaurants or phone centers or careened down narrow paths. I once caught sight of a frail, elderly monk who could do no such thing. Stung by the disciplinarian ’s presence, he backed up a few steps and withered in place. His head and shoulders crumpled into a long, abject pose till Geshe-la passed. Geshe-la had been vested with considerable ‘authority’ (dbang cha), and these were signs of respect. Indoors, monks who paid him visits had this way of slinking in and edging down the hall with a sheepish grin till Geshe-la sensed their presence and peremptorily hailed them into his room.1 All this conspicuous cross-modal indexing of deference entitlements, figured through an idiom of “fear,” was testimony to Geshe-la’s new status in the monastic hierarchy. It also suggested, as Geshe-la himself remarked, that monks who inhabit the role of disciplinarian channel during their tenure the college’s protector deity, an incorporealagentwhoinspiresfear,forhepreservesmoraldisciplineat anyexpense. Though his duties are many and varied, the disciplinarian’s primary obligation is, as his title suggests, to ensure that the college’s moral foundation remains intact. This foundation’s integrity is modeled in reportable, normative claims about the disciplinarian ’s authority. He is likened to a mountain, for instance. Unshakable, his 107 words cascade downhill like rocks, and as rocks tumble down, never back up, so the disciplinarian’s authority is unquestioned, and his commands are nonnegotiable for all those in his path. Methodwise, the disciplinarian operates on the moral dispositions of monks in manifold ways. Administratively, he collects fines from monks who skip courtyard debate and accepts medical slips from those who are ill, for instance. Corporeally, he occasionally metes out punishment through his proxy, an imposing assistant who burnishes a short leather whip. Only rarely did Geshe-la himself strike someone, and then only weakly, as a token show of force.2 It was especially through verbal means that he carried out his moral charge, which includes a form of public address that he is authorized to deliver.3 Termed tshogs gtam, which translates literally and euphemistically as ‘assembly talk’ but which is better glossed as ‘public reprimand ’,4 this speech genre is a key disciplinary practice, a means of “forming or reforming moral dispositions” (Asad 1993:130). A word about the diversity of disciplinary practices at Sera, first. In Discipline and Punish (1979), Foucault led his readers from sovereign spectacles of public execution to modern disciplinary technologies of surveillance and incarceration. His presentation permitted a linear, diachronic periodization, even if the periods were to be understood as disjunctive, not continuous or cumulative in any kind of familiar historiographic sense. At Sera, diverse types of punitive and disciplinary practices seem thrown together in a manner that would tax the stratigraphically minded observer. At Mey college, there is a schoolhouse where young monks pursue subjects like Tibetan literature, English, math, geography, and science. Outside , monks who have misbehaved do frog jumps clockwise around its premises as punishment (clockwise being the direction for circumambulation, so that they pick up a little religious merit along the way). Not far from the schoolhouse is Sera Mey’s main assembly hall, where the disciplinarian and his assistant pace up and down the aisles during public gatherings. Sit for a spell and you will hear the periodic crack of the assistant’s whip. As the disciplinarian’s assistant explained, monks are disciplined for various infractions: for playing, for chatting idly during a sermon , for dozing off. In one assembly, he recounted, a young monk had sculpted some pak (roasted barley flour combined with liquid till claylike) into a helicopter and began playing with it. Others tossed around pieces of bread—offering bread, bread that had been consecrated; these were grounds for being struck. The leather is without question more for sound than pain, however; it conforms...


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