A little while ago, Venerable R. D. asked me:
A bit of curiosity as to what shedra classes “look like.” Do you memorize the texts, study them, them go to class for commentary and teachings? Make notes in the text? Or is it anything like in the West with students trying to write down most everything the teachers says in lecture?
Let me paint you a word picture… At eight-thirty in the morning, Monday to Friday, the bell rings and we go to class. Our teacher enters the classroom first (our classroom is really small) and prostrates to the throne before sitting down. Then we enter, prostrate to our teacher, and sit on cushions in front of him.
We start class by reciting a confession prayer and the Vajrasattva mantra, then a praise to Manjushri and his mantra. Then our teacher recites some prayers to the lineage gurus and asks us to listen with the motivation of bodhichitta.
During class we take notes, either directly on our texts (in pencil of course) or in notebooks. We don’t have any tables or desks, so note taking can be a bit tricky. Some students like to record their classes on cassettes or mp3 recorders and listen to them again later. We can also listen to recordings of the same subjects being taught by famous teachers such as Khenchen Pema Sherab and Khenchen Namdrol.
At the end of class we can ask questions and sometimes our teacher will also quiz us.
We conclude with dedication prayers and prayers for the swift rebirth of His Holiness Penor Rinpoche.
After class we have time to read and reread the text which was taught as well as relevant commentaries by other masters. At five in the afternoon we debate on the morning’s lesson as well as anything else we have covered so far. We keep studying in the evening, usually until 9:30 pm.
As for memorization, we can’t memorize the entire text, but we do memorize parts of it. We like to find quotes from the root text which epitomize the main points.