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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A path of learning : Indo-Tibetan Buddhism as education MacPherson, Sonia


This study chronicles a non-modern pedagogical tradition, Indo-Tibetan (Gelugpa) Buddhist education, as it negotiates a modern, global context in exile in India. As an enlightenment tradition, Buddhism emphasizes investigative inquiry over scriptural orthodoxy and belief, making it compatible with some aspects of modern, secular culture. This is a study of the relationship between these two educational cultures within one educational institution—Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute of Dialectics in the Indian Himalayas. The text itself is arranged in the form of a mandala, which is divided into five sections or stages of learning: intention, path, inference, experience, and realization. The intention section highlights the value of cultural and educational diversity, and includes a brief synopsis of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist educational history. The path section describes specific Buddhist approaches to ethnography and social research. The inference chapter is the empirical (ethnographic) component of the study, and considers the practice of dialectical debate as a case of what Wittgenstein called a "language game." This chapter includes photographic documentation and the text of a public (Western-style) debate held at Dolma Ling on the subject of the merits of their traditional debate system. The experience chapter considers the unique role of direct perception (experience) in Buddhism, and how it can be educated through combined meditational and testimonial practices. The author explores the tendency to segregate experiential from rational paths, especially when liminal experiences of suffering, bliss, and death are involved. She concludes that such experiences strain our powers of reason and, in some cases, representation, resulting in a tendency to marginalize such experiences within formal, rational education systems and their knowledge bases. Narrative, poetic, and direct experiential methods of meditation are better suited to deal with these subjects. The "realization" chapter discusses conceptions of realization, praxis and embodiment, that is, rational inferences translated into direct experience and action, as of particular relevance to educators. In the Buddhist view, such realizations are the desired end of all inquiry. This end is accomplished through creative and direct "conversations" (testimonies, dialogues) between reason and direct experience on the path of learning.

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