"Others before self" : Tibetan pedagogy and childrearing in a Tibetan children's village in the Indian Himalaya
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This anthropological study examines ontogeny of ideas about self and others and approaches human capacity for intersubjectivity as emergent in the course of life, by looking at how it is shaped through mediation of the world by others and by processes at the group level. The empirical focus is the ecology of concepts used by Tibetan children and adults in their daily life in a Tibetan residential school in India, where people’s conduct and children’s upbringing and schooling are informed by the Tibetan and Buddhist models and theories of self, mind, learning, causation and history. The aim of this study is to identify - through a close ethnographic description and analysis - the core aspects of learning as conceptualized and lived experience within contemporary Tibetan Buddhist education system, derived from one of the oldest wisdom traditions in the world and crystallizing within a modern nation-state Asia. Tibetan Children’s Villages (TCV) was one of the first Tibetan school networks aiming to provide formal lay education for children that sprang up in exile following the fourteenth Dalai Lama’s flight to India in 1959. Chapter 1 outlines the theoretical and methodological aspects of the study and sets forth the research agenda that shaped the study design and kinds of engagement that were possible with the study participants and the field. A short description of the geographical and climate conditions in the field site is complemented by a snapshot of the social topography of the direct neighbourhood of the school, where fieldwork was conducted over 11 months (February – December) in 2013 and 3 months (June – September) in 2014. A brief review of debates and sources from different bodies of anthropological literature bearing on the ethnographic material has been added to clarify the orientation of the analysis and the research findings. Chapter 2 explores the phenomenon of Tibetan lay education in exile and the concept of education that developed as a result of a shift from monastic centres of learning towards contemporary Tibetan lay schools in India. Through an ethnographic exploration of the theoretical model of learning and pedagogical devices such as Tibetan debate, the chapter shows the mind as the locus of schooling practices. It also demonstrates how, through daily ritual practices and debate, this becomes a lived experience in a contemporary Tibetan school in the Indian Himalaya. The chapter discusses ethnographic categories of mind, mind stream and mental karmic imprints, based on interviews focusing on the Tibetan policy document detailing education strategy and goals. These are shown to be informed by Tibetan Buddhist theory of learning and an understanding of the inner subjective experience as the source of knowing. To contextualize the understanding of mind in a contemporary Tibetan school in India, the chapter provides an ethnographic description and analysis of the Tibetan dialectical debate (riglam) classes in TCV. Riglam is an ancient debating tradition developed in India and preserved and further developed in Tibet and Tibetan monasteries and now also in schools in exile. Chapter 3 is an exploration of the ethnographic category of ‘history’ in the school. ‘History’ is shown to emerge out of the continuum of time – the un-tensed present. Drawing on the notion of the mind imprints, patterning and habituation, and the imagery of the seed, coming ‘alive’ and bearing fruit in the right circumstances, the chapter describes how the making of ‘history’ is inscribed in the bodies of TCV inhabitants through daily bodily practices - bodily discipline, or conduct (chöpa). Chapter 4 focuses on TCV as a place and on the embeddedness of TCV within other places. Through the discussion of the use of space and space-enabled operations, such as e.g. spatio-temporally co-located sport games, the chapter outlines conceptualisation of a TCV-place as expressed through the idioms of ‘floating’ and ‘going out of bounds’. This also leads to a discussion of transgressions involving the use of electronic devices, tattoos and hairstyles, leaving school, and the discourse and practices around the concept of ‘pure Tibetans’. The ethnographic material highlighting an ontogenesis of space opens the way to discuss the embodied practice of interdependence among TCV inhabitants, the practice that challenges the usefulness of analytical categories of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ for an anthropological analysis of the experience of growing up and living in TCV. Chapters 5 and 6 look closely at the idea of others being essential in the ontogenesis of beings. Chapter 5 is based on examples of teasing and games that involve directing attention of infants and children to other people, and bringing other people’s ‘gaze’ (seeing you) to bear on the decisions made for self. In this way it draws an outline of a particular kind of pedagogic effort directed at infants and toddlers, and traces this pedagogy in other, later stages of the schooling experience in TCV. Chapter 6 focuses specifically on grammatical constructions that seemed to be salient in the interactions between TCV inhabitants (adults and children). These included: 1) addresseebound verb use, and, specifically, I-for-you inversion in questions; 2) the use of honorific forms for others (multiplicity and gradation of terms) and its proscription for self-referential statements; 3) evidentiality markers denoting direct or indirect experience and the salience of personal connection to the subject/object/action. Such ethnographic exploration of the perspective inversion in everyday language use and everyday interactions leads to the review of some tacit assumptions about the ‘subject’ in subjectivity and intersubjectivity used as heuristic devices. The chapter also explores the utility, feasibility and implications of including the dialogical dimension of being in the anthropological inquiry. The conclusion of the thesis focuses on the question of intersubjectivity not as given, but as ‘teased out’ and formed through practices involving both the constitution of self and the simultaneous and inevitable constitution of others. It also posits the necessity of ethnographic exploration of different practices that might be involved in bringing forth intersubjectivity, and questions about the resulting ‘intersubjectivities’. Discussion of different aspects of the experience of living and growing up in a TCV campus developed in the previous chapters, i.e. the theory of learning and understanding of “mind”, inner subjective experience and karmic imprints; discipline and temporal frameworks predicated on the ideas of karmic causation; dependent arising; training of awareness, attention and ethical judgement and the ideas of self, leads to a particular reading of the TCV slogan “Others Before Self”. The analysis, which starts with an exploration of the ideology of education expressed through a policy document building upon particular Buddhist premises, is thus brought full circle, with lived Buddhist experience animating the ubiquitous TCV formula for a human being.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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