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From Tibetan Buddhist Encyclopedia
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Debate (Tib. རྩོད་པ་; Wyl. rtsod pa) is considered to be one of the three principal fields of activity for a scholar.[1]

It is practised in all traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, although the Gelugpa school in particular emphasizes the role of debate as a the most important of all educational tools, and this has led to their preeminence in the field.[2]


Buddhist history is replete with tales of encounters between scholars of rival schools or traditions meeting in debate to settle their differences, often with miraculous results. Chandrakirti famously debated with Chandragomin in Nalanda for several years before realizing that the lay master was secretly receiving help each night from Avalokiteshvara.

The practice of public debates continued in Tibet and the biographies of many of the greatest masters in Tibetan history, including the likes of Sakya Pandita and Longchen Rabjam never fail to mention their debating prowess.

The Great Prayer Festival, inaugurated by Jé Tsongkhapa in 1409 and held in Lhasa every year until 1959, saw candidates for a geshe degree debate before representatives of the 'three great seats' of Sera, Drepung and Ganden as part of their final examination.

In the late nineteenth century, Mipham Rinpoche was involved in a public debate with Japa Dongak while Patrul Rinpoche acted as the adjudicator.


The two parties in a debate are known as the challenger or questioner (dam bca' ba) and the defender (rigs lam pa).


  1. 'chad rtsod rtsom gsum, exposition, debate and composition
  2. See Dreyfus (2003), passim.

==Further Reading==

Debate is contention in argument; dispute, controversy; discussion ; especially the discussion of questions of public interest in Parliament or in any assembly.

Debate is a method of interactive and representational argument.

Debate is a broader form of argument than deductive reasoning, which only examines whether a conclusion is a consequence of premises, and factual argument, which only examines what is or isn't the case, or rhetoric , which is a technique of persuasion.

Though logical consistency , factual accuracy and some degree of emotional appeal to the audience are important elements of the art of persuasion, in debating , one side often prevails over the other side by presenting a superior "context" and/or framework of the issue, which is far more subtle and strategic.

The outcome of a debate depends upon consensus or some formal way of reaching a resolution, rather than the objective facts as such.

In a formal debating contest, there are rules for participants to discuss and decide on differences, within a framework defining how they will interact.

Debating is commonly carried out in many assemblies of various types to discuss matters and to make resolutions about action to be taken, often by a vote. Deliberative bodies such as parliaments, legislative assemblies, and meetings of all sorts engage in debates .

In particular, in parliamentary democracies a legislature debates and decides on new laws.

Formal debates between candidates for elected office, such as the leaders debates and the U.S. presidential election debates , are sometimes held in democracies.

Debating is also carried out for educational and recreational purposes, usually associated with educational establishments.

The major goal of the study of debate as a method or art is to develop the ability to debate rationally from either position with equal ease.

Although informal debate is common the quality and depth of a debate improves with knowledge and skill of its participants as debaters . The outcome of a contest may be decided by audience vote, by judges, or by some combination of the two.

 Debating, the formal arguing or discussion of a thesis before an audience, has a long and distinguished history in Buddhism beginning with the Buddha himself.

In text like the Sutta Nipata of the Pali Tipitaka, the Buddha says that the true monk argues with no one and keeps away from public debates.

But in many other works in the Tipitaka he is portrayed as a vigorous and successful debater.

It would seem therefore that at the beginning of his career the Buddha simply taught those who were interested in what he had to say, but later as his teachings came to be criticised or misinterpreted, he felt the need to explain, clarify and defend them.

And this he did with remarkable virtuosity. So successful was he that he was accused of using magic to convert his opponents.

In later centuries, Buddhist scholars success in debating played an important part in the winning of intellectuals to Buddhism.

Sometimes the stakes were high. During certain periods those defeated in debate had to either become the victor's disciple or commit suicide.

Different Buddhist schools also debated with each other.

The Chinese Mahayana monk Hsuan Tsang debated with the Savakayana monk Pragnadea in front of a huge audience and won. However it is specifically mentioned that after it was all over the two men remained good friends.

The great Samye debate in Tibet in 792-4AD between the Chinese monk Hva-san and the Indian monk Kamalasida, which the latter finally won, meant that Tibet was to rely more on India than China for its Buddhism.

Perhaps the most crucial modern debate took place in Panadura in Sri Lanka in 1873. Venerable M.Gunaranda took on the Reverend David de Silva in a two day debate and to everyone's astonishment, thoroughly defeated his opponent.

The victory marked the halt in Buddhism's decline in the face of Christian evangelism and the beginning of a major revival.