Debate is an integral part of a Tibetan monk’s training, and is an effective means of expanding the mind, increasing mental sharpness, developing analytical capacity, and gaining internal clarity.
There are two parties to the debate: a defender and a questioner, each with clear roles and strict rules of behavior which assure an orderly exchange of questions and answers.
The style of the debate follows a precisely choreographed routine beginning with a ritual invocation of Manjrushri, the boddhisattva of wisdom, in a loud high pitched tone.
Then the questioner, who is standing, begins the questioning in a very low and barely audible voice. He bends gently forward toward the defender, who is sitting, as a sign of humility and respect. At this point, the questioner is wearing his robe in the customary style, with the left shoulder covered, and the right shoulder bare. These initial gestures and soft speech are part of a skillful strategy designed to bring about a false sense of security in his opponent.
The defender presents his thesis. The questioner raises doubts. As the back and forth exchange of questions and answers progresses, the debate grows increasingly animated, impassioned, and physically intense, with plenty of forceful clapping and spirited verbal exchanges.
If the questioner has been able to draw the defender into making errors and contradicting himself, the questioner wraps his upper robe around his waist, as a sign of his understanding and control. No longer bending forward, he stands tall and makes forceful sweeping gestures, clapping his hands loudly to stress the power and decisiveness of his arguments.