Literacy and Memorization

Georges B. J. Dreyfus

in The Sound of Two Hands Clapping

Published by University of California Press

Published in print January 2003 | ISBN: 9780520232594
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520928244 | DOI:
Literacy and Memorization

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In this chapter, the author distinguishes three stages or aspects of Tibetan monastic education. It begins with memorization and the acquisition of basic literacy, followed by two central hermeneutic practices: commentary and dialectical debate. Committing a large amount of textual material to memory is a practice that Tibetan monks engage in extensively and that helps them store, organize, and retrieve the content of the whole curriculum. The author's own encounter with the intense training in memorization on which traditional scholarly training is founded took place at the Buddhist School of Dialectic, which he entered in 1973. He first examines the wide regional and even local differences in the literacy rate in Tibet, as well as the formal and informal channels through which literacy has spread. He then provides a short ethnography of Tibetan monastic practices of memorization, describing the methods used by monks and the types of texts memorized. Because Tibetan schools differ little in their approaches to memorization, the author focuses on the tradition with which he is most familiar, the Ge-luk.

Keywords: Tibet; monastic education; memorization; literacy; commentary; dialectical debate; monks; monastic practices; Ge-luk; curriculum

Chapter.  8403 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism

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