Cham 2








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I first heard of Tibetan debate a long time ago when I was reading the Dalai Lama's autobiography.  Debate is a big part of a monk's education, and it is the examination by which they receive their lama degrees.  During the cham, the interpreter was amusingly telling us that the object of a debate is to not make a person feel bad about an incorrect point of view, but to help them to see the right point of view.  

During a debate, one person stands "talking" and one person sits, responding.  Others also sitting, may get up and voice their views to the person sitting also.  I say talking, but it's more forceful sounding than that, we'll say "spirited talking" maybe or gentle yelling even.  When making an important point, the standing debater will often lunge forward and clap his hands toward the sitting debater.  In this action, one hand represents wisdom and one represents compassion (just like the dorje/moon symbol in the peace mandala), because a balance is needed in everything.  

The debate we saw started with one standing and three sitting (only one of the sitting was at first participating), but soon another of the sitting monks stood and joined in the spirited discussion complete with stamping and clapping.  Eventually another of the sitting monks stood to join in.  

Click here to download a very short video clip of a debate.



The last dance of the cham was probably my favorite.  It was Sha-Nak, the Dance of the Black Hat Magicians.  The Black Hat Dance usually lasts several hours and the dancers are in a trance while they perform it (this is probably true of all of the dances actually). We only saw an excerpt of the dance. I loved the robes the dancers wore because of the face of Mahakala on them (remember Mahakala from the heads of Avalokiteshvara?). The dance tells the story of Langdarma, a ninth century Tibetan king, who had conspired against Buddhism and wanted to help the Bön religion to come back into power in Tibet. Langdarma had Buddhists followed and killed. One day, the monk Pelkyi Dorje died his white horse black, rode to where some dancers were performing for Langdarma, and hid among them, posing as a dancer. In the wide sleeves of his costume he had hidden a bow and arrow with which, in the course of the dance, he killed the king. In the confusion that followed from that, he jumped on his horse and rode it through a river, which washed off the coal dust disguise and allowed Pelkyi Dorje to escape. 

During the Sha-Nak dance that we saw, three dancers entered the stage wearing enormous hats and colorful robes.  The hats obscured the faces of the dancers, and I think that added to the mysterious and frightening look of the robes with Mahakala's giant face on them.  (These are a few "artistic" pictures of the dance.  And remember that sometimes "artistic" can mean blurred.)



To close the cham, the monks performed Shijoe, which is a chanting prayer dedicating the merits of the cham to the well being of all living beings.  



The monk in the picture above here, Ven. Lobsang Norbu, became a favorite for my family.  During the dismantling of the peace mandala, he and my son were exchanging smiles.  Then a few days later on the day of the cham, he saw my son and reached out to greet him, smiling and talking.  Again in a crowded room he did the same thing.  This was wonderful really to me and I wanted a good picture of him so we wouldn't forget it.  At the end of the cham he was putting away the drums and I walked to him with my camera and asked if I could get his picture, he said yes and then saw my son coming to us and he smiled big and reached out gesturing for him to climb up on stage too.  I thought it a lovely thing and a connection to this year's visit by the Tashi Lhunpo monks that we'll remember for a long time.



TASHI LHUNPO MONASTERY (Taken directly from a handout we got at the cham)

Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, the principal monastery of U-Tsang province of Tibet, is one of the Great Six centers of the Gelugpa tradition.  Tashi Lhunpo was founded by His Holiness the 1st Dalai Lama, Gyalwa Gedun Drupe in 1447, and became the largest, most vibrant monastery in Tibet.

By 1959 there were more than 6,000 monks in residence at Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Shigatse, Tibet with another 2,000 monks affiliated to the monastery living outside Tibet.  Following the Communist Chinese invasion of Tibet and the Cultural Revolution, only 700-800 monks remaining in the monastery.  Many monks were killed or imprisoned.

During the 1960s many senior lamas and monks left Tibet and helped re-establish new monasteries in India, Nepal and Bhutan.  The 10th Panchen Lama was not able to escape into exile and consequently many of the senior lamas and monks form Tashi Lhunpo Monastery remained inside Tibet.  While other monasteries-in-exile have expanded and developed, without the guidance of senior lamas Tashi Lhunpo (which was re-established in the Southern Indian state of Karnataka in 1972, under the guidance of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama) is at a disadvantage and remains one of the poorest of the re-established monasteries.  The influx of refugees who escape Tibet because of difficulties (imprisonment or death) they face practicing Buddhism inside Tibet along with monks coming from the Himalayan regions of Spithi, Khunu, Ladakh, Ghashar and Sangkhar is putting a financial strain on the monastery.

Tashi Lhunpo Monastery is a non-profit charitable organization where monks from Tibet, Bhutan, India, Nepal and China live in harmony and are provided a community where they receive the best possible modern education along with a deep and intimate understanding of the heritage of Tibet.  There are over 250 monks including many Tulkus (reincarnate lamas) studying and performing various religious practices living at the monastery.  Tashi Lhunpo Monastery aims to become a contributing member in spreading the virtues of honesty, compassion and sacrifice, as taught by Lord Buddha.


Here are some good links to visit:

Tashi Lhunpo Monastery website

The Government of Tibet in Exile

Official Dalai Lama website

Tibetan Children's Village - Tibetan Children's Villages Tibetan Children's Village (TCV) is an integrated community in exile for the care and education of orphans, destitute and recently escaped children from Tibet. It is a registered, non profit charitable institution with its main organization based at Dharamsala-North India. TCV has many branches spread across India with over 11,000 children under its care. 

Awakening Buddha Foundation - To support programs and projects designed to assist in the relief of the poor and distressed and of the underprivileged, to promote the advancement of religion and education, including and especially that of the Tibetan Buddhism and its religious organizations located throughout the world.

To learn more about mandalas

and even more


© 2004 Bud Bennett