, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 71–92

Buddhist Narratives of the Great Debates


DOI: 10.1007/s10503-007-9077-4

Cite this article as:
Cabezón, J.I. Argumentation (2008) 22: 71. doi:10.1007/s10503-007-9077-4


Western scholars have written on the theory of Buddhist argumentation. They have also analyzed examples of arguments found in philosophical and polemical writing. However, little has been written to date about what might have transpired when Buddhists and their opponents met in face-to-face debates in classical India. Drawing on Chinese and Tibetan historical and biographical writings about famous Indian debates, this essay analyzes the structure and conventions of these accounts as a literary form. While it is difficult to assess the historicity of particular narratives, an analysis of this literature as a

whole gives us clues about what might have occured when Indian scholars faced their adversaries in live debates. These sources provide us with a picture of the etiquette, rules of engagement, and strategies that may have been used in such encounters. They also suggest what constituted defeat in ancient Indian verbal contests, and they point to some of the real-political and material benefits of victory. The essay ends by reflecting on the function of these narratives vis-à-vis Tibetan Buddhist scholastic identity.


IndiaTibetBuddhismDebateNarrativeArgumentationMagicScholasticismIdentity formation

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of California, Santa BarbaraSanta BarbaraUSA