Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Summer Retreat

The engagement of twice-monthly confession, the rains retreat (summer retreat, Tib. yarne) and the closing of the rains retreat by a monastic community is a glimpse of virtual evidence of the Buddha-dharma existing in its pure form. Basically, the continuation of pure Buddha-dharma solely depends on the monks' communities which engage in the aforesaid retreats. Nowadays people have their own definition of the pure dharma according to their own capacities and dispositions, but in general the respect of the Vinaya's precepts and good maintenance is unarguably mandatory!

In Yarne, all monastic communities, especially of the Geluk sect, here in South India, are busy engaging in numerous events. These include annual protector puja days, debate presentation of selected candidates during the assembly on their subjects, the Ven Abbot's and Ven Disciplinarian's speeches on monastic discipline in the traditional manner, recitation day of Ornament for Clear Realisation (Abhisamayalankara) and Treatise on the Middle Way (Madhyamakakarika) and so on. Apart from all that, the display of an oral test of major treatises by a monk who has razor-sharp memorisation skills is considered the most attractive of all. This unique presentation takes place during the monks' assembly, followed by the debate presentation (two selected candidates debate each other). A monk who voluntarily comes forward to tackle such a monumental task is quite a rare case in the monasteries. This is because of the regular sessions that limit memorising opportunities and the necessity of extraordinary skill. Additionally, these days, the presence of modern education in the school makes it even harder, but a few have managed to do it so far who are endowed with the necessary skills in abundance. An oral test volunteer will be presented with an upper yellow robe and a set of general robes by the administration if he successfully passes the oral test without making mistakes.

In a session, three presentation events follow each other: 1) oral test presentation; 2) uma she rig geshe's rite recitation and tantric debate test; and 3) debate presentation by the selected monks. A session's period is well allocated as per necessity to all these three events, but the schedule is tight. Therefore, the oral test could not be done in a single session and thus is held each day of Yarne. The assembly oral test is mostly based on these treatises; The Essence of Eloquence on the Interpretive and Definitive Teachings, Root Treatise of Pramana-varttika, Root Treatise of Abhidharma-ko┼Ťa, Root Treatise of Boddhisattva's Way of Life, etc are the most common. This year, Thupten Gyatso and Dakpa Tsering both came from a poor background in Nepal and joined Shar Gaden in 2006, has just pulled off their preparation and are now all set to enter into the milestone that very few could achieve. Thupten prefers
The Essence of Eloquence on the Interpretive and Definitive Teachings,
that has 232 pages and 20 long phrases per page, composed by the great master Je Tsonglhapa in Tibet, while Dakpa prefers Root Treatise of Pramana-varttika, which has 208 pages, 28 phrases per page, composed by the great Indian philosopher Dharmakirti in 7th century. We wish them all the best and may their noble deeds bring peace to the world.

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