Title: Monk Debates
Location: Jakar, Bumthang Valley, Bhutan, Asia
Description: On my first visit to Bhutan we were lucky enough to have time at a local monastery in Jakar, near the center of the country, to witness an afternoon of Buddhist monk debates. I couldn’t understand a word that was being said but the intent was obvious and our local guide filled in the rest.
The monks will take turns sitting and standing. When seated they can be approached by any other monk and a debate ensues. We were told one reason for the debate is to find a way to argue both sides of the subject without becoming attached to that side. Argueing for argument’s sake, in a sense. It’s a way to practice the concept of non-attachment that is important in Buddhist studies.
The way it played out was something different. It was clear who the older and more experienced monks were as they tended to be more boisterous. Such was the case with the gentleman you see seated.
He had been doing his share of standing and spouting his opinion on various Buddhist philosophies and philisophical questions. The monks use a clapping motion and tend to lord it over the seated as a means of intimidation. Further, they will swing their mala (a sort of rosary) over the head of the seated opponent when they feel they have made a particualrly winning point.
Here you can see our antagonist, seated, taking his medicine. But the debates don’t usually end with this.
Our anti-hero is up in a seated position and dosing it out. The irony is he was standing just minutes earlier, arguing the opposite point of view just as fervently. Again, not speaking the language I didn’t know what they were arguing but some basic knowledge of human nature told me this guy was dishing it out just to dish it out.
He was nearly toppled again as his attackers loomed over him, pushed back on one arm. But as he recovered I caught this image:
…which told me this guy was full of it and having a good time with the others.
These debates are not posted on some grand tour schedule. You’ll have to have your guide (everyone entering Bhutan is required to hire a guide, except some people from India and SE Asia) ask around to see if any are happening. In this case it was just me and the three guests I had on my photo tour. Two other tourists left after about 20 minutes.
I guess watching people argue in other languages is not for everyone. For me, it was a lot of fun and something I would do again.