Philosophy as a Form of Practice

Philosophy is a form of practice. You might say that Buddhist philosophy is practice seeking clarification, in the same way that Christians theologians say that theology is faith seeking understanding. The clarification of the mind we are talking about here is not an intellectual game. Philosophy helps a person see through the appearances of things and confront reality face to face as you were looking at that image at the temple.

Philosophical Debates in Tibetan Monasteries

I should also say that the practice of philosophy in the Buddhist community, specially in Tibet, is practical in another sense. If you go to visit a Tibetan monastery these days, there is a fantastic little ritual that kids go through when they first enter into this philosophical tradition.

When you get up in the morning, you have some breakfast and then you go to your teacher. The teacher gives you a text to memorize. Then, they have to go out and debate it. This is where philosophy really enters into this. They have to engage in an argument to try to explore some of the ambiguous points in the teaching, and learn how to make their position effective in relation to others. This is probably one of the most lively and interesting moments in the whole day.

There is a row of monks lying with their back against the temple wall. There is another line of young monks, the questioners in the debate. They start to ask some questions, like: Is the self identical to the aggregates or it is not? The answer comes back and it’s translated into another question. I haven’t seen anything similar in any religious tradition.

The Point in Which We All Agree

The goal of all of this philosophy is to experience the freedom of the Buddha’s awakening. On this point, all Buddhist philosophers agreed, but they did not always agreed on the best way to approach the concept of emptiness. Out of the differences that they felt developed two major schools of Buddhist philosophy. It is on these schools that we really want to focus. We will start to do it in the next article.

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