Smartphones meet sutras at ancient monastery

Publish Time: 2019-06-03 Author: From: China Daily Global

Personal choice

Young apprentices don't automatically become lamas when they arrive at the monastery. Instead, they study more than 100 pages of scripture, which may take one to two years.

During that time, they learn to respect their masters and other people, and more important, they can take time to decide if they truly wish to dedicate their lives to Tibetan Buddhism, Khyungpo added.

He said the system fully respects personal choice and ensures that those who choose to stay can commit to the tough journey ahead once they are allocated to one of the four schools.

The headmaster of the schools bears the Tibetan title Gexi, meaning "Master of Knowledge". To obtain the title, Gelug lamas, including Living Buddhas, must pass a series of exams and debates after completing their studies of the five theories.

Although a heated debate, where the challengers clap their hands while raising questions about theory, may look entertaining, it's an extremely serious business. Hesitation or a slow response means a lama will lose the debate.

Gexi Lharangba - equivalent to a doctorate - is the highest of the four Gexi levels. It is awarded in front of the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa after the applicants face challenges from top lamas who rapidly fire tough questions at them.

"The exams for Gexi Lharangba are extremely difficult, so applicants must be very knowledgeable about Tibetan Buddhism," said Lozangpal Trinleychusang, deputy director of the exam committee.

Thanks to the significant improvement in Tibet's transportation infrastructure, a growing number of lamas from remote monasteries are taking the exams, he added. At the most recent exams, the youngest applicant was 30, while the oldest was 51.

Almost every year, lamas from Tashilhunpo successfully gain the title. A monk named Lobsang sat the six-day written theory exams for the Gexi Lharangba title in July. Last month, he and 11 other lamas passed the debating exam and were accredited as Gexi Lharangba.

"There aren't many hairs left after more than 30 years of study," the 44-year-old laughed, pointing to his head. "For a lama, studying Tibetan Buddhism is a lifelong journey."

Moving forward

Dawa stood outside the Tsogchen Hall courtyard and looked down at a construction site at the foot of the mountain.

"When it is completed, that building will be a modern academy for Tibetan Buddhism run by the monastery as a branch of the Tibet Buddhist College. It will provide regular classes for lamas in Shigatse so they can be educated by Tashilhunpo's top masters," he said.

"Although the teaching methods and equipment will be modern at the new academy, the education provided at the monastery must stick to tradition," he added, as the sound of lamas' chanting scriptures lingered in the air and the sunset illuminated the golden roofs of the temples - something that hasn't changed for centuries.

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