The Monastic Dialogue Seminars organized by Tibet House and held in the quiet surroundings of monasteries provide a forum for scholars from Indian universities to meet with traditional monk-scholars from Tibetan monasteries to discuss aspects of Buddhist philosophy and to exchange their understandings derived from their respective approaches and methodologies. His Holiness the Dalai Lama encouraged the idea of such a forum which follows the highest tradition of Buddhism, where philosophical ideas are based on logic and reasoning rather than dogmatic imposition.
The first Monastic Dialogue, held in 1986 at the Sera Monastery, Bylakuppe, Karnataka, focussed on the Cittamatra School of Buddhism.
In his introduction, Lama Doboom Tulku, the Director of Tibet House, highlighted the importance of this new series of dialogue. Ever since the teaching of Buddha Shakyamuni came to Tibet in the 7th century, Tibetan lamas devoted their lives to the study and the practice of Buddhism. Monastic universities in Tibet followed the traditions of Nalanda and Vikramshila, and studied Buddhist logic, psychology, metaphysics, and ethics. The monastic universities established in India since the 1959 tragedy strive to attain the same standards of excellence.
The second in the series, a five-day seminar on Buddhist Logic took place at Gaden Monastery, Mundgod, Karnataka. The colloquium brought together forty scholars from Indian universities and Tibetan monasteries.
The seminar coincided with Jang Guncho, the monasteries’ winter debate session. Monks of all ages from many monasteries participated, while guest scholars had the opportunity to witness the uniquely Tibetan tradition of studying the scriptures through dialectical discussion. Lama Doboom Tulku, in his welcome address noted that the tragic exodus from Tibet brought one benefit, namely the opportunity for Indian and Tibetan scholars to revive their historic practice of enriching one another’s knowledge.
In his message Mr. Rama Krishna Hegde, Chief Minister of Karnataka, stressed the universality of the Buddha’s teachings and their relevance for today. Prof. Ram Shankar Tripathi, Head of Bauddh Darshan, Sanskrit University, delivered the introductory remarks on Buddhist Logic. The papers presented included discussions of Pramana (Validity), Pratyaksha Pramana (Direct Perception) and Anuman Pramana (Inferential Valid Cognition).
The third colloquium in the series was held at Drepung Monastery, Mundgod in 1989. Sixty scholars from twelve universities and academic institutions and from seven monasteries gathered to discuss the Madhyamika School of Buddhism.
The chief guest Mr. Nijalingappa, former Chief Minister of Mysore (now Karnataka) at the time when Tibetan refugees first settled in the state, expressed his happiness at the positive development of the Tibetan settlements.
The fourth in the series of Monastic Dialogues was held in 1996 at the Sakya College, Dehradun, Uttaranchal, with participation of fourteen university and nineteen monastic scholars. Kyabgon Sakya Trizin Rinpoche inaugurated the seminar and Prof. Ram Shankar Tripathi, now at the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies at Sarnath – Varanasi, presented the keynote address. The subject of the colloquium ‘Philosophy and Traditions of Abhidharma’ had a twofold objective: to acquaint traditional Tibetan scholars with the Pali and Sanskrit literature on the topic and to enlighten Indian scholars with the Tibetan tradition of studies in Abhidharma. Papers covered the topics of Abhidharma in relation to Vaibhasika, Sautrantika, Yogacara,
Over thirty-five scholars from India, the U.S., New Zealand, Italy and Germany gathered at Gyudmed Tantric University at Hunsur, Karnataka in 1998, with Tibetan monastic scholars to explore Buddhist tantra.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama inaugurated the proceedings, stressing the importance of maintaining a skeptical attitude towards the object of knowledge and the object of experience. He explained that a skeptical approach fosters a sharpness of mind, which leads to reason and knowledge, a conclusive understanding of right and wrong, and an openminded attitude towards knowledge.
Jangtse Choeje Rizong Rinpoche delivered the keynote address, followed by papers on a variety of themes, including ‘The Nature of Mind in Sutra and Tantra’, ‘The Development of Buddhist Tantra in India and Other Lands’, ‘Tantric Buddhist Healing,’ ‘The Three Bodies as a Path’, and ‘Differences in the Essential Practices of Four Tantras’.
The local host monastery held an exhibition of sand mandalas, threedimensional mandalas, ritual implements and Thangkas for the benefit of the participants. A special debating session in the Tibetan tradition with questions and answers on the Guhyasamaja Tantra concluded the conference.
Scholars and monks from all over India met at the conference on Acarya Santaraksita, jointly organized by Tibet House and the Namdoling Monastery at Bylakuppe, Karnataka in 2001. Participants debated in languages they were most comfortable with – English, Hindi, Sanskrit and Tibetan – with simultaneous translations adding to the richness of the experience.
His Holiness inaugurated the seminar with a ceremony of prayers and offerings to the Buddha. In his opening address he evoked the long history of exchange between Tibet and India as a relationship between teacher (India) and disciple (Tibet), with Tibet as the faithful preserver and disseminator of Buddhist teachings. Expressing his wish that the seminar would be mutually beneficial to both traditions – the Tibetan monastic and the modern academic – he raised as a starting point the vexing issue of chronology while stressing the need for flexibility on both sides.
The learned participants spoke on many facets of Santaraksita’s work, like ‘Santaraksita’s refutation of Atmavada’, his challenge to the doctrine of Jagatkartrivada (the belief in a creator).They addressed issues relating to philosophy, historiography and translation. It was pointed out that different philosophical systems must be understood in their contexts, rather than denounced or praised. Prof. G.C. Nayak remarked that Tibet was now the guru to India as it had kept alive and developed the teachings of the Buddha, while Buddhism suffered a decline in its country of birth.
A visit to the Sera Monastery and the Tibetan Children’s Village School at Bylakuppe provided a glimpse of the cultural wealth of Tibet, embodied in the architecture, art work and Thangkas at Sera and in the lively folk dances presented by the school children.
The ‘All India Seminar on Indian Philosophical Thought on Pramana’, the seventh in the series of Monastic Dialogues, was held in collaboration with the Drepung Monastic University at Mundgod, Karnataka in 2003. Eager monastics and academics from all corners of India listened to learned expositions on the main strands of non- Buddhistic philosophical thought especially in the field of logic. Several aspects of Vedanta like the link between epistomology and metaphysics were clarified. Sessions were devoted to Purva-Mimansa, Samkhya as well as to the Nyaya-Vaisesika School. The seminar concluded with a presentation on Jaina Logic.