Mind & Its World I – IV

These four classes can be described in terms of three traditional interlocking and mutually supportive disciplines in the Tibetan tradition. To speak in a broad manner using Western terminology, these could be described as:

  • Phenomenology, which is a description of the world as we experience it, primarily in reference to the objective side of experience. Studies for this aspect of the course derive from the “Collected Topics” (Dudra in Tibetan). It is based on the Abhidharma (“Higher Teachings”) of India.

  • Epistemology, which is an analysis of how we know – a systematic investigation of the types of mind that arise through knowing and experiencing ourselves and the world. This is primarily in reference to the subjective side of experience. Studies for this aspect of the course derive mainly from the “Classifications of Mind” (Lorik in Tibetan) and secondarily from “Classifications of Reasons” (Tarik in Tibetan). It is based on the Pramana (“Valid Cognition”) tradition of India.

  • Ontology, which presents systematic assertions with regard to what is real within the subjective and objective sides of our experience, both ultimately and conventionally, as well as with regard to what is completely unreal and non-existent, such as a permanent self. This aspect of the courses is derived from the Philosophical Systems (Thrumtha) literature for the Vaibhashika and Sautrantika schools.. (Texts on the philosophical systems generally present a range of teachings, not just on ontology, but also on virtuous conduct, the stages of realization on the path, the fruition of the path, and so on.)

As you can see from the descriptions above, these three disciplines of the Collected Topics, Classifications of Mind, and the Tenet Systems are closely related to each other. Thus, Collected Topics describes experience, particularly of the external world. The Classifications of Mind describe the types of mind that have that experience. The Tenet Systems clarify what within our experience is true or not.

Clear Thinking & Debate

This class focuses on teaching students the basic forms of Tibetan style logic and debate, and is conducted in English. The character of debate at Nitartha is that of gentle and precise dharma conversation rather than a rigid and stylistic formulation of concepts. The intent is the ultimate penetration of truth for oneself and others, not mere one-upmanship or display of logical skill.

The class inter-relates strongly with Mind and Its World, especially drawing from the Collected Topics, which is the subject one traditionally begins with in debate. However, we find that students developed greater understanding when they are also studying the Classifications of Mind and Philosophical Systems texts at this stage. Logical reasonings often show up in a wide range of texts, even in tantric texts, so it is extremely useful for students to learn the debate format. 

Two forms of debate are used at Nitartha:

1) formal Tibetan-style debate and 
2) what we refer to as Indian-style debate that is less formal.

We ask students to learn and use both forms of debate through the first two sessions of the curriculum. After that, students can choose to work with one or other or both of the two forms. Whatever the case may be, students will continue to use these forms to probe the class material throughout the Foundation courses and Advanced courses. Open-ended discussion groups are also used to help students explore the material.