Debate (Tib. རྩོད་པ་, tsöpa, Wyl. rtsod pa) is considered to be one of the three principal fields of activity for a scholar. 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.
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 (Wyl. dam bca' ba) and the defender (Wyl. rigs lam pa).
- 'chad rtsod rtsom gsum, exposition, debate and composition
- See Dreyfus (2003), passim.
- Georges Dreyfus, The Sound of Two Hands Clapping: The Education of a Tibetan Buddhist Monk, University of California Press, 2003, ISBN 978-0520232594
- Dan Perdue, Debate in Tibetan Buddhism, Ithaca: Snow Lion, 1992, ISBN 978-0937938768
- Katherine Manchester Rogers, Tibetan Logic, Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2009, ISBN 978-1559393157