Following His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s escape from Tibet, and during the Chinese Cultural Revolution when three quarters of Tashi Lhunpo monastery was destroyed, a few monks were able to follow him into exile and the monastery was re-established in South India.  The Panchen Lama was unable to leave and went through great hardship and imprisonment for nearly 10 years before his death in 1989.  In 1995, according to Tibetan tradition, the 11th Reincarnation of the Panchen Lama was recognised by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.  Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, born in central Tibet in 1989, has been arrested, and his whereabouts and that of his family are still unknown.

Inside Tibet, it is now not possible for the monks to practice their religion freely, and even to see them taking part in Taksel or Dialectical debate is very rare.  This form of debate is a very basic part of their training, especially in the Geluk or yellow hat tradition.   In Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in exile debates take place every evening in the Monastery outside the Temple, when even the youngest monks take part.   Sitting on the ground facing his opponents, one monk defends the proposition, and while standing the others offer arguments against him, drawing on their deep knowledge of the scriptures.  The discussion brings them closer to an understanding of the philosophical meaning of Buddhist concepts.

The art of debate has its own symbolism with specific gestures, for instance raising the right hand is pulling all the sentient beings in hell up into heaven, while pressing the left hand down reduces negative elements.  In spite of appearances, the monks feel little emotion.  In the scripture it is said of the debater that ‘…the face is like a lion, but the mind is like a snow mountain….’.

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