Most Tibetans are poor when it comes to standards of knowledge. Speaking from the religious point of view, there are in our society of six million Tibetans people with astonishing degree of genuine faith in Buddhism. Buddhism is profound, became widespread and has been propagated from generation to generation and has therefore progressed and flourished.
As a result, today too, the Snowland of Tibet is almost the only place where on the world stage the entirety of the Mahayana, Hinayana and Tantric teachings of Buddhism could be fully preserved, and where in this world the religious heritage of the Great Nalanda University could be fully kept, defended and spread without a whiff of contamination.
In particular, in terms of keeping, defending and spreading the teaching and practice of Buddhism in an integrated manner, Tibet has the most profound tradition and curriculum. Taking the Tibetan society as a whole, the Snowland of Tibet has, through generations over a millennium, been a race of people who preserved Buddhism by keeping, defending and spreading it. Nevertheless, among the general public, it is obvious that knowledge of Buddhism is extremely poor.
In terms of the religious activities in our ecumenical monasteries in Tibet, the main consideration should not be given to the numerical strength of the monks and nuns in them; what is more relevant is that it is extremely important to ensure good qualities of training and discipline in them. Otherwise, if the standards of study and training are poor and the state of discipline too is nothing to talk about, large populations of monks and nuns would only mean too large numbers of such monks and nuns, which is of no help. Good quality is extremely important.
I sometimes see in the Tibetan community big efforts being seemingly made to enlarge the numbers of monks and nuns. I do not see this as particularly important. To speak bluntly, we do raise protests over the existing dangers of Tibetans becoming a minority in our own land. The danger is real. We also have considerable international support on this. In a period of such great change, when the Tibetan population is dangerously small, we ourselves would seem to be contributing further to the declining number by raising the population of monks and nuns to the point that there would be too many of them. Therefore, if despite the fact that the Tibetan population is already too small, the number of monks and nuns is raised further, the result will surely be a further decline of our population.
We also need to think about the situation in places like Ladakh. It is a failure resulting from extreme short-sightedness that there is an impression that in the ecumenical monasteries both in and outside Tibet great attention is being paid to an imperative to raise the number of monks and nuns, with seeming shortage of focus on the training and discipline of the monks and nuns.
Therefore, unless we think by paying attention to all aspects of the situation today, this is definitely not an era of progress for us. We all should think on the basis of having looked in all directions, to our back and front, and to our left and right. It is certainly not a period in which we can make decisions solely on the basis of what we actually see before us. In any case, it is extremely important to uphold the quality of training and discipline as more important than the number of monks and nuns.
When teaching on Choejug (Bodhisattva way of Life), being familiar with the Sutra and Tantra texts alone won’t do. Ritualistically beating drums, striking cymbals and performing cham (religious dance) in supposed displays of religious practice, but remaining unable to recognise the Three Jewels (The Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) in reality would put us in danger of performing self-blessings. We must be very cautious about it. Buddhism is not revealed merely by beating drums and striking cymbals, and there is no way such rituals can enhance devotion. On the other hand, there is a danger of it becoming a system of ideas without foundation.
So it is extremely important for everyone not to lose touch with his or her roots. Within the Tibetan community one can see many instances everywhere of people who had lost their roots and go about clinging to branches. To sum up, the noble tradition of the learning of the Tibetan Buddhist philosophy extant in the time of our ancestors should primarily be maintained by our monasteries.
On that basis, the monks and the nuns in the monasteries should ensure high quality of study and training as well as discipline, and thereby must be able to maintain the faith in both teaching and practice. Everyone needs to make efforts to bring progress within the general public in terms of modern knowledge, and, on that basis, enable people to gain in-depth understanding of Buddhism and thereby find devotion in it. This is one of the important points on which I routinely make appeals.
This is the first of a two-part article.