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The Sound of Two Hands Clapping: The Education of a Tibetan Buddhist Monk Hardcover – Jan 28 2003


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 460 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (Jan. 28 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520232593
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520232594
  • Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 15.7 x 3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 907 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #3,130,884 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents


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First Sentence
To contextualize Tibetan scholasticism, I here sketch Tibetan Buddhism, presenting its main elements, describing its lines of evolution, and introducing its main figures. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Format: Paperback
Georges Dreyfus is a scholar of truly prodigious learning. In this book he reflects on his unique experience studying in various Ge-luk-ba monastic education centers in the Tibetan exile community in India, particularly at Drepung Loseling and the Institute of Dialectics. Dreyfus displays his great erudition in a fashion that is illuminating and not pedantic.
Most of the book is occupied with a historical and philosophical analysis of the Ge-luk scholastic approach to Buddhism. In particular, he focuses on two tensions within Ge-luk-ba. The first is the tension between exegesis and debate. The second is the tension between doctrinal allegiance to canonical texts and free and open inquiry into ideas. The picture of Ge-luk-ba scholasticism that emerges from Dreyfus' careful analysis of these twin tensions is a conservative institution that produces brilliant, and sometimes daring, thinkers.
This work is extremely valuable to scholars and dedicated practitioners alike, because it provides a unique insider's view of Tibetan Buddhist monastic education. Dreyfus is not only well steeped in the tradition he analyzes; he also maintains his scholarly rigor and critical acumen.
Dreyfus explains many practical aspects of Tibetan Buddhism that are not frequently discussed in Western scholarship. For example, I found it very illuminating to learn that, for scholars, Lam Rim texts and the related "Grounds and Paths" Prajnaparamita literature are not typically treated as literal, programmatic instructions on meditation courses. Rather, they are regarded as presenting systematic, overarching depictions of the Buddhist philosophical universe. This book is filled with important observations of this type.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 5 reviews
47 of 47 people found the following review helpful
Extremely Valuable Inside Look at Ge-luk Monasticism April 30 2003
By Barnaby A Thieme - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Georges Dreyfus is a scholar of truly prodigious learning. In this book he reflects on his unique experience studying in various Ge-luk-ba monastic education centers in the Tibetan exile community in India, particularly at Drepung Loseling and the Institute of Dialectics. Dreyfus displays his great erudition in a fashion that is illuminating and not pedantic.
Most of the book is occupied with a historical and philosophical analysis of the Ge-luk scholastic approach to Buddhism. In particular, he focuses on two tensions within Ge-luk-ba. The first is the tension between exegesis and debate. The second is the tension between doctrinal allegiance to canonical texts and free and open inquiry into ideas. The picture of Ge-luk-ba scholasticism that emerges from Dreyfus' careful analysis of these twin tensions is a conservative institution that produces brilliant, and sometimes daring, thinkers.
This work is extremely valuable to scholars and dedicated practitioners alike, because it provides a unique insider's view of Tibetan Buddhist monastic education. Dreyfus is not only well steeped in the tradition he analyzes; he also maintains his scholarly rigor and critical acumen.
Dreyfus explains many practical aspects of Tibetan Buddhism that are not frequently discussed in Western scholarship. For example, I found it very illuminating to learn that, for scholars, Lam Rim texts and the related "Grounds and Paths" Prajnaparamita literature are not typically treated as literal, programmatic instructions on meditation courses. Rather, they are regarded as presenting systematic, overarching depictions of the Buddhist philosophical universe. This book is filled with important observations of this type.
If there is a weakness to this book (other than its rather unfortunate title), it is admittedly one-sided in its sphere of interest. It struck me as highly significant that the word "compassion" scarcely appears in this book. I believe it can be read in part as an apology for a style of monastic engagement, which places an enormous emphasis on study and debate, while not formally encouraging meditative praxis. This book focuses on the development of prajna on the basis of study and reflection, but strongly underemphasizes the soteriological aspect of Buddhism.
Of course, it is the author's prerogative to focus on their area of interest, and Dreyfus has done so with a magisterial understanding of the issues in question, carefully honed by decades of research.
A wonderful book.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Incisive look at the Gelugpa monastic training June 8 2010
By P.J. Neastroem - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Dreyfus is to be congratulated for having written a very readable and penetrating look into the training in the Gelugpa tradition. It portrays a fascinating journey deep into the worldview and mind of a very different culture, which unveils some interesting, fundamental assumptions of both his own Western culture as well as that of the Tibetan. It is an honest and balanced account, which sometimes identifies painfully troubling aspects, sometimes wonderful features of this most profound tradition. He also makes enlightening and relevant reflections, based on Western thinkers, which sheds refreshing perspectives on the monastic life. The book is of particular interest to those who have done some reading, and perhaps practice, in the Tibetan tradition and who are interested in getting a better look at, for instance, debate in practice.

Thank you Mr. Dreyfus!
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Fabulous... Aug. 28 2010
By book addict - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Wonderful book providing factual insights into a seemingly mysterious world. I thought that I would look at just a few pages but now I don't want to miss any of it. The book makes it easier understand the rigorous scholastic training that enables the Dalai Lama to speak fluently and logically on any given topic to any audience - without written notes.

Minor details: the Western reader could use a map of Tibet's various regions and the locations of the major monasteries, Also useful for the non-Tibetan scholar would be notes reminding the non-Buddhist scholar of the meaning of terms such as Theravada, Hinayana, Mahayana and Vipassana.

Overall totally captivating.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Clap! Clap! Jan. 20 2013
By toronto - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is something more or less unique, I don't remember anything quite so detailed on the daily practice and world of a Tibetan student, mixed with a very substantial meditation on scholarship and debate in Tibetan Buddhism. There is also a lot of good information on what a traditional Gelugpa student is supposed to begin with, and know -- very helpful for someone trying to pierce the Tibetan complexity.

The book has some dull bits: we didn't really need a whole pile of pages on some of the debating issues, they could have been edited down.

The ironic aspect of the book, I suppose, is that after reading it, I can't imagine anyone being that interested in becoming a Tibetan monk -- ShangriLa appears to be indescribably boring and narrow-minded, with endless years of memorizing commentaries on Nagarjuna, etc. The fad for all things Tibetan would probably die out if everyone was given a copy of this book. Simply sitting and meditating and becoming enlightened under a spreading bo tree seems to be a long, long way away from all this vast medieval Vajrayana scholarship (the caves never looked so good!).
3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
A very enlightening book. Jan. 17 2007
By The Agile Minds - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I cannot agree more with the previous reviewer.

This truly is an edifying book for those who want to reach out the vast realm of spirituality, education, and human experience. I have read the Dalai Lama's books and been wondering what kind of education would create a creature of intellect and spiritual with unfathomable wisdom? This book helps me to sneak preview the 'mistery' yet it challenges my own perceptions about rituals and religions, as well as my belief systems. Religious disciplines and devotions are always inspiring, but in this book, they are taken to the next level because they are narrated through a man from the other side of the hemisphere, then in his early 20s, whose soul-searching quest took him to this incredible journey.

Moreover, Georges Dreyfus was raised in the west - French speaking region in Switzerland - which makes his ardent spiritual transformation through the Ge-luk scholastic approach to Buddhism (let me say it) much more prevalent. He has crossed the threshold of west and east in a pious way, many would have thought it is impossible, and yet, when he returns to our mundane world, he can see that there is, for instance, humor in debate practices in monastery scholastic tradition. Unquestionable, not all of us can take the risk of being defeated in a harsh and thought-provoking debate lightly, with humor!

This is not a `how to' book, yet the description of such a strenuous 'memorization tradition' as part of the scholastic curriculum is more than didactic. I am tempted to say that those Monks will score very high in GRE and SAT tests. Yes, this book is not a self-help one, but it is definitely the one that I will take out of the bookshelf every so often.

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