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.