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On a path to liberation....
February 5, 2013 12:01 PM   Subscribe

Over a thousand monks and laymen are revered in Tibetan Buddhism as the incarnations of past teachers who convey enlightenment to their followers from one lifetime to the next. Some of the most respected are known by the honorific "rinpoche." For eight centuries, rinpoches were traditionally identified by other monks and then locked inside monasteries ringed by mountains, far from worldly distractions. Their reincarnation lineages were easily tracked across successive lives. Then the Chinese Red Army invaded Tibet in 1950 and drove the religion's adherents into exile. Now, the younger rinpoches of the Tibetan diaspora are being exposed to all of the twenty-first century’s dazzling temptations. So, even as Tibetan Buddhism is gaining more followers around the world, an increasing number of rinpoches are abandoning their monastic vows. Reincarnation in Exile.

Mentioned in the article: Osel Hita Torres, also known as Tenzin Ösel Rinpoche. He was profiled by the BBC with a 30-minute radio documentary this past September. Related article.
posted by zarq (16 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
“We don’t really understand the workings of reincarnation, only that there’s a continuity of consciousness. But it doesn’t happen that there’s an identical continuity, and perhaps some of Lama Yeshe’s followers expected that,” he explained. “They were puzzled, disappointed.”

With my (very limited) understanding of Buddhism, this seems right. There's reincarnation, but there isn't a soul in the westernized sense of the word soul (see Anatta). This tends to be completely incomprehensible to most people.
posted by ILuvMath at 12:25 PM on February 5, 2013


Their reincarnation lineages were easily tracked across successive lives.

I'm curious about this aspect of the story. How does that work?
posted by dubold at 12:30 PM on February 5, 2013


Often, when a well-known lama dies—even if he’s not a tulku—he may leave behind real wealth: temples, property spread across various countries, a treasure of donations. The late teacher’s devotees usually have a vested emotional and, at times, material interest in keeping things as they were. And so they search for his reincarnation.
I really favor buddhism over most religious philosophies, but I have severe problems with the reincarnation claims. This really sums it up nicely.
posted by mullingitover at 12:42 PM on February 5, 2013


This comes up in every thread about the subject, but the standard disclaimer: the beliefs concerning reincarnation (and everything else) and the idea of lineage very greatly between Tibetan Buddhism and other traditions. Blanket statements about "Buddhism" are generally untrue unless they incorporate something like the Four Noble Truths.

Also, I have always found Buddhism to be inherently methodological, and getting tripped up by odd beliefs is okay. It's something that you should try, and see if it works for you.
posted by selfnoise at 12:49 PM on February 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


Interesting. I've spent some time with HH Dalai Lama's brother, TC. He is, indeed, the spitting image of his brother. But angry and funny and cheeky and, according to some others that worked with him after his army days, "a bit of a bastard", as Australians say.

I liked him. And I like his brother. Who can also be angry... or frustrated.

It's a lot of pressure to be recognised as a child as someone's incarnation. I think HH has done a marvellous job in impossible circumstances. And TC is bloody good value. And a bit of a bastard.
posted by taff at 12:55 PM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


dubold: "I'm curious about this aspect of the story. How does that work?"

I'm not a Tibetan buddhist, but my limited understanding is that before a monk died, they would leave clues in their writings which would indicate how their next reincarnation would manifest. The other monks would use those clues and other tests to help determine which child might be 'the one.' With a limited population base to choose from (as opposed to the entire world,) it was easier to decide which child might be a specific reincarnation. The chosen one would then be brought to the monasteries, where they would reside. Records were kept of each person determined to have reincarnated. So in the Tibetan buddhists' eyes, each soul's successive lifetimes were recorded.
posted by zarq at 1:25 PM on February 5, 2013


You know who else is one o' them Rinpoche fellars? Yeah.
posted by basicchannel at 2:54 PM on February 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


Unmistaken Child is an excellent documentary about the process of choosing/discovering a reincarnation.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:28 PM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


on a recent snowy-sunday netflix binge, I watched Little Buddha.

it is a story about this same kind of search. and the monks believe that a possible candidate for reincarnation is this kid that lives in Seattle. So the monks find him, and the monks give him a book that his parents read to him about the story of Siddartha (with a slightly cheesy Keanu Reeves playing the role).

reading the fpp article, the movie was actually very close to a lot of the details about this type of thing.
posted by ninjew at 3:31 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Interesting. I've spent some time with HH Dalai Lama's brother, TC. He is, indeed, the spitting image of his brother. But angry and funny and cheeky and, according to some others that worked with him after his army days, "a bit of a bastard", as Australians say.

Funny and angry and cheeky are pretty good words to describe the Dalai Lama's (late) older brother, Takster Rinpoche. When people used to ask about his previous incarnations he used to say, "Don't ask me about my past lives; I can't even remember what I did yesterday."
posted by ecourbanist at 6:39 PM on February 5, 2013


That link is currently down... MetaFilter flooded?
posted by ecourbanist at 6:40 PM on February 5, 2013


Possibly. Just checked and it loads for me... I'd suggest trying to refresh?
posted by zarq at 7:33 PM on February 5, 2013


This article about a Jehovah's Witness in China in the same issue is also interesting.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 10:22 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


That link didn't work, but here it is: Leaving the Witness.
posted by klint at 10:49 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Interesting piece on tum-mo.
posted by homunculus at 4:01 PM on February 10, 2013




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