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The Sound of Two Hands Clapping: The Education of a Buddhist Monk by Georges B.J. Dreyfus (University of California Press) (Papercover) Gives an insider's view of how Tibetan Buddhist are trained in Tibetan scholasticism. Dreyfus trained for 15 years in various Buddhist universities. In The Sound of Two Hands Clapping we are shown the these strengths and weaknesses of Tibetan intellectual culture as he observed that while studying.  He examines Tibetan monastic education, analyzing its central practices: memorization, the reading of commentaries, and dialectical debate. Dreyfus’s thesis is that this education is central to comprehending Tibetan Buddhism, that has formed many of the brilliant Tibetan teachers who have captured the modern imagination.

By showing the importance of the life of the mind in this tradition, he presents a picture of Buddhism that differs from standard, romantic representations. Instead of straining his ears to listen to the mystical sound of one hand clapping,  he was taught to focus on practices such as debate, where the sound of two hands clapping can literally be heard loud and clear. Dreyfus examines in depth the tradition's rational and intellec­tual elements. These elements have often been misrepresented as precur­sors of scientific inquiry or rejected as clerical corruption of an originally pure message.  By examining the role and nature of rationality in Tibetan monastic education, The Sound of Two Hands Clapping shows that each of these views seriously distorts the nature of rationality in traditional Buddhist cultures.

His claim is not that Tibetan culture is uniquely spiritual or that monas­ticism is the only focus of intellectual life. Tibet also enjoys a secular cul­ture with political institutions, literature, music, folklore, and so on. Nevertheless, it remains true that the so­phisticated intellectual culture that developed in the large monastic institu­tions has been at the center of traditional Tibetan life for centuries. Hence, an examination of the ways in which Tibetan monks are educated can pro­vide an important view of the depth and richness of Tibetan culture. It can also correct the excessive emphasis on the mystical and romantic that at times have been the focus of Western understanding of Tibetan culture. If one were to fault Dreyfus’s focus it would be on the lack of rich ritual life that can so obsessed with some Tibetan monks.

This rich study brings to the fore a self reflective attempt to begin to integrate the vigorous intellectual traditions of Tibet with modern thought, as both a critique of the postmodern and as a contributor to postmodernity       in its turn to a strong nondefic spirituality. The Sound of Two Hands Clapping should interest those who are in­trigued by such intellectual issues as the relation between contemporary theories and traditional views of interpretation, the role of rationality and education in traditional cultures, the kind of practices found in such educa­tion, and the kind of intellectuals that it produces. Too often tradition is understood solely in oppositional terms-as that against which modernity defines itself to assert its unquestionable author­ity. Tradition is then depicted as static rather than dynamic, as based on custom rather than reflection, and as repetitive rather than creative. This view has been by now criticized by many thinkers, who have exposed at great length its limitations and blindnesses. What may be less often ap­preciated is that such a critique, as necessary as it may be, still fails to do justice to traditional societies. To expose the dominant modern discourse as hegemonic does not provide an adequate view of tradition, which should be explored on its own terms, insofar as that is possible.

Dreyfus description of the formation of the Tibetan monastic intellectual elite, shows little concern with the whole range of monastic experience but only with its scholarly dimensions. Hence, the key term of this book is scholasticism rather than monasticism. Scholasticism is often misunderstood as involving hair-splitting dis­cussions of irrelevant questions. This modern prejudice obscures the nature and importance of scholasticism. Historically, scholastic thinking has been at the center of several traditions, and it continues to prosper today. Many modern thinkers can be considered scholastics, sometimes unbeknownst to themselves. To rehabilitate scholasticism, Dreyfus attempts to reconceptualize it as a range of diverse intellectual practices that shape its participants.

Academics typically have studied scholasticism in relation to Western traditions (including Islam), rarely considering it in relation to Buddhism or Confucianism. But in recent years, scholars have expanded this category, which can be fruitful for cross-cultural studies, and have shown that sev­eral Asian traditions can be usefully described as scholastic. The question is, what do we learn about scholasticism by including these traditions? By analyzing the nature of the intellectual practices that constitute scholastic experience in the Tibetan tradition, Dreyfus attempts to make a substan­tial contribution to an answer. As a living and thriving tradition, Tibetan scholasticism provides an ideal venue for exploring a range of scholastic methods and their results.

The Sound of Two Hands Clapping is divided into three parts. The first consists of three chapters that provide context. In chapter 1 there is a brief synopsis of the main elements of Tibetan Buddhism and a sketch of the history of the tradition.  Next is examined the nature of Tibetan monasticism, fo­cusing on the institutional framework in which scholastic studies take place.  After which Dreyfus should shows the course of a typical monastic career and the role played in it by teachers. He also engagingly reflects upon his own less typical monastic career.

In the second part, Dreyfus analyzes the intellectual practices that constitute scholasticism. The discussion starts  with memorization and the acquisition of basic literacy, which constitute the heuristic aspect of the process. It continues with an analysis of the two types of complementary interpretive practice that form the core of this work, commentary and debate. The constitutive role of commentary is treated and competing curricular models is contrasted.  Next he considers the role of oral commentary and its relation to the issue of orality. The soteriological role of commentary, its rela­tion to meditation, and its participation in the construction of meaning, particularly in relation to the study of the path is examined in depth.  Next of the role of commentarial logic is contrasted with the critical approach embodied in de­bate. Debate as a dialectical practice is shown to explain the rules of debate and how they are learned. The role of debate in the curriculum, particularly in relation to the study of logic, epistemology, and Madhyamaka, is then considered; and the use of debate by Tibetan scholastics emphasizes different approaches in the tradition and the function of debate as a mode of inquiry.

The Sound of Two Hands Clapping concludes with an examination of the results and limitations of these interpretive practices, Dreyfus analyzes the use of rationality in Tibetan scholasticism, particularly in its relation to some of the prac­tices associated with folk religion, thereby distinguishing it from modern scientific inquiry.  Then he considers some of the limitations of Tibetan scholastic education, particularly those intrinsic to its structure. It also sets out the external limits imposed by the sociopolitical location of scholastics, sketching how Tibetan scholasticism has been shaped by the pressure of political forces and events. And finally he considers the future of scholastic education as modern secular education develops among Tibetans and provides a very provisional evaluation of his own scholastic experience.

In The Sound of Two Hands Clapping, Dreyfus has focused on the traditional aspects of Tibetan monastic education, bringing to life the Tibetan scholastic experience as it existed both before 1959 and afterward in exile. In doing so, he has argued that scholasticism is characterized by three types of practice. First, scholasticism, which is memorial rather than documentary, gives memorization an im­portant role. Second, scholasticism relies on commentary through which the tradition is transmitted, interpreted, and enshrined. Third, scholasticism in Tibet involves debate, which provides room for inquiry in a tradition in which truth is not discovered but rather is transmitted.

Throughout this study, Dreyfus has delineated the particular features of Tibetan scholasticism, focusing on the ways in which commentary and de­bate support the dialectic of authority and freedom that he sees as a central dynamic of scholastic traditions.  Dreyfus has described the constitutive role of the great Tibetan texts, the root texts (often memorized) that delineate the outlines of the tradition.  He has emphasized their centrality in construct­ing a universe of meaning and in strengthening one's confidence in the va­lidity of the tradition, one of the main functions of scholasticism.  He has also shown that the closure presupposed by tradition distinguishes ratio­nal scholastic practices from the practices of modern scholars. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that the boundedness of scholasticism nec­essarily implies a dogmatic and uncritical spirit. To flourish, scholasticism needs freedom to interpret its own constitutive texts. In the Tibetan tra­dition, debate provides this freedom of inquiry, which allows scholars to examine rigorously the content of the tradition, though that examination is limited in its scope. Questions may be raised, but they may not under­mine the foundations of the tradition, particularly its constitutive texts. In Tibetan scholasticism, when such limits are transgressed, authorities (secular or monastic) step in to restore what they perceive to be the integrity of the tradition, thus illustrating the reality and limits of this tradition's freedom of inquiry. The Sound of Two Hands Clappingoffers a critical look into a form of religious inquiry still too little understood in Western forms of knowledge.  This study provides an important link between Western self-critical inquiry with Buddhist practice and doctrine.

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