Join 3,438 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Turning one's back on Buddha
June 1, 2009 9:05 AM   Subscribe

At 14 months, Spanish infant Osel Hita Torres was brought by his parents to Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama decreed him to be the reincarnation of the recently deceased Lama Yeshe. Torres became Lama Tenzin Osel Rinpoche, and spent most of his life growing up in a gilded cage in the Tibetan exile capital, venerated as a living deity and isolated from the corrupting influences of the world. But then he escaped.

Torres is now 24, is studying film in Madrid and has little love for the Tibetan Buddhism which deprived him of a normal childhood and adolescence. "They took me away from my family and stuck me in a medieval situation in which I suffered a great deal," he says. Among things he grew up with no experience of were football, television, dancing, or any movies other than Eddie Murphy's The Golden Child.
posted by acb (66 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
You just pretty much posted the whole short article here. Also, it's surprising to me to see that the Tibetan authority-in-exile somehow thinks that "The Golden Child" is a good movie.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:08 AM on June 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, did it not occur to the Guardian that we might wonder how he came to be studying film in Madrid and not being the reincarnated whoosit?
posted by Naberius at 9:19 AM on June 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Another example of how despite the best of intentions and high minded idealism, religion manages to ignore fundamental developmental needs.
posted by gallois at 9:19 AM on June 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm about that guy's age. Maybe the fact that I loved The Golden Child as a kid means I should actually have been the Lama Tenzin Osel Rinpoche. It's nice to have a dream.
posted by penduluum at 9:20 AM on June 1, 2009


I-I-I-I want the knife.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:25 AM on June 1, 2009 [6 favorites]


Another example of how despite the best of intentions and high minded idealism, religion manages to ignore fundamental developmental needs.
To put it mildly. I think there's a child abuse case to be made here.
posted by acb at 9:25 AM on June 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


He's going to end up in Dalai-wood.
posted by spicynuts at 9:31 AM on June 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Birth of Lama Tenzin Osel.
A Telegraph story from 1996, "Man's Work.
And Wikipedia.
posted by Floydd at 9:34 AM on June 1, 2009


Only the true Lama would deny his divinity!
posted by Mister_A at 9:36 AM on June 1, 2009 [7 favorites]


To put it mildly. I think there's a child abuse case to be made here.

I can't tell if you're being facetious, but how is his case substantively different from wealthy parents who send their precious children to the most expensive prep schools, shield them from pop culture, and forbid them from socializing with the untermenschen?
posted by Burhanistan at 9:38 AM on June 1, 2009 [6 favorites]


What fundamental developmental needs were ignored? Doesn't sound like he was starved or abused to me. In fact, he turned out to be a whiny film studies major like all the other angsty teenagers at university. Poor kid didn't have a television and didn't get to go to the zoo like other little kids wah wah wah. He can blame his fundamentalist parents like all the other kids who escaped Mormonism, cults and extreme Christianity. Sounds like he had it okay. He never saw people kiss? Yeah, well, welcome to India.

Also, it sounded like his parents gave him away.
posted by anniecat at 9:42 AM on June 1, 2009 [13 favorites]


I would have crapped on their holy book on my way out the door.
posted by Slenny at 9:42 AM on June 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yesterday he bemoaned the misery of a youth deprived of television, football and girls.

In that order??
posted by asusu at 9:45 AM on June 1, 2009


You know, most people go their whole lives trying in vain to get people to listen to them. This guy had power and influence handed to him on a bejeweled platter, and he tossed it aside to be an average Joe.

Hey, wait a minute! Maybe he is reincarnated from Thubten Yeshe!
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:56 AM on June 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


From one of Floydd's links, a reporter writes that he had a huge Lego set, books like The Hobbit, and a laptop computer linked to the Internet (and note the article is dated 1996).
posted by Houstonian at 9:58 AM on June 1, 2009


Here's a photo of him geared up for soccer/football. I'm having a hard time reconciling the article with Floydd's articles.
posted by Houstonian at 10:01 AM on June 1, 2009


Expanding on Civil_Disobedient's post
From the wikipedia on Thubten Yeshe
He received full ordination at the age of 28 from Kyabje Ling Rinpoche. Jeffrey Paine reports that Lama Yeshe deliberately refused the geshe degree, despite having studied for it:
Many years later, when pressed why he had shunned this prestigious degree, he would laugh: "And be Geshe Yeshe?"
Sera Monastery did award him an honorary geshe degree in the early 80s. He also used to joke that he was a Tibetan hippie: "I dropped out!"
posted by forforf at 10:08 AM on June 1, 2009



To put it mildly. I think there's a child abuse case to be made here.

right, and the Dalai Lama thus being one of the most socially dysfunctional people we know?
posted by infini at 10:09 AM on June 1, 2009


I can't tell if you're being facetious, but how is his case substantively different from wealthy parents who send their precious children to the most expensive prep schools, shield them from pop culture, and forbid them from socializing with the untermenschen?

It's a degree of magnitude. Here the isolation (one Eddie Murphy film notwithstanding) was pretty much total.

Having said that, there would be instances where an upbringing by wealthy, authoritarian parents would be abusive.
posted by acb at 10:14 AM on June 1, 2009


If I were him, I'd be using my combination of divine power and hatred for an organization to tear that religion apart.

"Hey, did you hear? The new Lama said we now have to burn all our holy books and stop visiting our temples. Guess we have to listen to him. "

I mean, really, what could they do about it? Either they accept who he is and follow his subversive ideas, or accept that their Dalai Lama was wrong, weakening their faith. He can't lose.

Anyone have his contact info?
posted by razdrez at 10:15 AM on June 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Having said that, there would be instances where an upbringing by wealthy, authoritarian parents would be abusive.

It may seem abusive to you, but there's no way that it would qualify as "abuse" in a legal sense.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:19 AM on June 1, 2009


right, and the Dalai Lama thus being one of the most socially dysfunctional people we know?

The vaguely Californian peace-and-love shtick the Dalai Lama preaches to gullible westerners differs from the stern, conservative dogma he lays down to his Tibetan followers (and never says in English).

There seems to be this almost Rousseauvian romanticisation of the old Tibet, which completely neglects the fact that it was an absolute mediaeval theocracy.
posted by acb at 10:22 AM on June 1, 2009 [29 favorites]


I can't believe he's not Buddha!
posted by jquinby at 10:23 AM on June 1, 2009 [27 favorites]


Meh, give him a couple years. He'll realize what a good gig he had.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:24 AM on June 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


Ok so question - if he escapes, does he stop being the reincarnation of the Lama Yeshe or basically he's on Rumspringer and he can go back whenever he wants and they will be like "Oh Lama Yeshe we missed you!"
posted by spicynuts at 10:43 AM on June 1, 2009


Sorry...since he's escaped, not if.
posted by spicynuts at 10:44 AM on June 1, 2009


Isn't Buddhism about renunciation? Seems they've taught him too well...
posted by yeloson at 10:46 AM on June 1, 2009


By 18, he had never seen couples kiss. His first disco experience was a shock. "I was amazed to watch everyone dance. What were all those people doing, bouncing, stuck to one another, enclosed in a box full of smoke?"

Heh.
posted by delmoi at 10:49 AM on June 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


To put it mildly. I think there's a child abuse case to be made here.

Parents who don't raise their children to have the same cultural norms as me are abusive!

This kid wasn't isolated, he was just cut off from western culture. No different then the hundreds of millions of kids raised by strict Muslim parents (who also wouldn't let their kids watch movies or kiss).
posted by delmoi at 10:57 AM on June 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Turns out that buddhists are just as creepy as other religious people when it comes to indoctrination of children.
posted by monospace at 11:01 AM on June 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


But was he deprived of golf? I hear the Lama is a big hitter...long.
posted by Chuffy at 11:02 AM on June 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


> The vaguely Californian peace-and-love shtick the Dalai Lama preaches to gullible westerners differs from the stern, conservative dogma he lays down to his Tibetan followers (and never says in English).

Can you cite or link? Interested.
posted by fcummins at 11:02 AM on June 1, 2009


On balance, this is a really not a good post. Almost half of the article linked is quoted in the text of the post, others have added much more substantial and informative links that seem to contradict the idea that this kid was kept in some kind of "gilded cage", and then acb is modding the thread and seems to have an agenda. Flagged.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:05 AM on June 1, 2009


and then acb is modding the thread...

Excuse me?
posted by acb at 11:21 AM on June 1, 2009


Child abuse based on having lived isolated from mainstream consumerism? That is crap, at least half the world lives like that.

Now, being taught that reincarnation is real? That is worse than Santa Claus, and that is one of my issues with the Dalai Lama.

This highly intelligent, educated and enlightened man claims to believe in reincarnation. Either he does not, and is a hypocrite fooling his followers, or he does in the face of overwhelming evidence, which makes him an idiot or willfully ignorant. My other issues with the Dalai Lama are filed under "Why Theocracies Suck", in the "Irrationality Causes Misery" file cabinet.
posted by dirty lies at 11:26 AM on June 1, 2009


Have you ever seen video of the Dalai Lama? He reminds me of Charlize Theron's character on Arrested development. He spouts the most asinine nonsensical platitudes I've ever heard. How the Chinese gov't came to see this moron as a threat is beyond me.
posted by orville sash at 11:27 AM on June 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Interesting. We don't watch TV, nor do our kids play sports at the moment (homeschooled). I'm not trying to derail here, but--honestly--how are we any different and if we're not, what would make it "better"? Is it denying TV here that's the problem, or some other facet, or them all together--what?
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 11:29 AM on June 1, 2009


El Mundo has photos: El niño lama se hace agnóstico.

I'm not sure I understand where the criticism is coming from. This seems like a brave choice to me, even if he is, as the article states, muy hippie.
posted by kanewai at 11:30 AM on June 1, 2009


I was in Tibet years ago, and visited several Buddhist monasteries. They all struck me like Medieval fiefdoms - with the lamas and the monks being the lords over the Tibetan serfs.
posted by Flood at 11:44 AM on June 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Someone could do a great article on people reared in religions to be leaders who figured out that their teachers had missed the point. One example for the list: Jiddu Krishnamurti.

But then, all of the world's great prophets figured that out: Zoroaster and Buddha both rejected the teachings of their day, Moses rejected the Egyptian ways, Jesus rejected the Jewish ones, and Mohammad rejected the faiths that were common in Mecca.
posted by shetterly at 12:27 PM on June 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


That Guardian article is just awful; the El Mundo piece is a little better. I'd like to see a long-form interview with him, but I am not turning up any linkies.

I don't think it's appropriate for parents to place toddlers in ascetic religious orders, and I'm a little confused as to why that seems even remotely controversial to folks here.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:39 PM on June 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


imho, it seems to me that there's a strong filter through which you are perceiving, evaluating and judging another culture

feels reminiscent some how
posted by infini at 1:09 PM on June 1, 2009


I was in Tibet years ago, and visited several Buddhist monasteries. They all struck me like Medieval fiefdoms - with the lamas and the monks being the lords over the Tibetan serfs.

While there could be some truth to that, it's clear that you are viewing their culture through your own biases. A similar scenario could be put forth in the US and Europe. The suits that work in the top floors of the shiny office buildings are the lords and the guys driving trucks, pushing papers, making cars, etc are the serfs. An alien observer might note little effective difference. Who is to say that the Tibetan system is inherently worse than your system.

But anyway, I recall the current Dalai Lama saying words to the effect that the previous generations of the Tibetan leadership had become too attached to the ceremonial/material aspects of their lama system and strayed from the inner aspects, and that this was why their karma was such that allowed the Chinese invasion to take place.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:23 PM on June 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


orville sash at 11:27 AM
What exactly is it about what the Dalai Lama says that makes you claim he is a 'moron'?
The Dalai Lama is more than just a few platitudes about death and life. I would note that comparing him with a TV character says more about you than him.
posted by Rashomon at 1:27 PM on June 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


met him at cannes last year. bonded over a love of hashish and lean, muscled brown boys. somehow, he never coughs when he smokes. lama trick?

kept telling me how his picture was going to "really do it, man; just shake the tree, brother..." but he wouldn't elucidate. wouldn't explain the plot or the themes he might work with or even who would be editing.

over tequila, a surprisingly not-so-vile tarantino promised to put both of us in his next flick. i didn't believe him, but "i'm really not a lama" seemed totally taken in. i left him with the tarantino having grown bored with all their talk about the RZA.
posted by artof.mulata at 1:54 PM on June 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


I don't think it's appropriate for parents to place toddlers in ascetic religious orders, and I'm a little confused as to why that seems even remotely controversial to folks here.

Oh, you're one of the non-initiates here, aren't you? One of those who lives outside the metafilter compound, what we call a non-virtual participant? Most of us posting here belong to an esoteric monastic order, and are busily typing from within a single room while wearing blue robes.
posted by ornate insect at 2:01 PM on June 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hey folks: Did you know that a commitment to evidence and empiricism applies to not only world religions, but soft jourrnalism you read on the internet?
posted by mobunited at 2:56 PM on June 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


Can you cite or link? Interested.
Christopher Hitchens on the Dalai Lama.
posted by acb at 3:05 PM on June 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


News flash, acb. Christopher Hitchens is an asshole. You should get out more.

For a slightly wider (read: adult) perspective, try Pico Iyer's new book The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama (or even this recent lengthy CBC Radio interview about it. Or one of the Dalai Lama's many books. Or possibly the web site of the Mind and Life Institute.
posted by namasaya at 3:43 PM on June 1, 2009


Imagine would have happened if Jesus, at the Last Supper, had said, You know guys, I don't think I'm the messiah after all. Gabriel had it wrong. Sorry.
posted by kanewai at 3:44 PM on June 1, 2009


Have you ever seen video of the Dalai Lama? He reminds me of Charlize Theron's character on Arrested development. He spouts the most asinine nonsensical platitudes I've ever heard.

So wait, are you saying that his plan to build a new Tibet on the ocean is a bad one?
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:02 PM on June 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Christopher Hitchens is an asshole.

It's interesting that you think that sentence is a refutation of his article.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:04 PM on June 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


kanewai, if jesus had said that they probably would have killed him.
posted by artof.mulata at 4:05 PM on June 1, 2009


Pope Guilty, it's much more interesting that you think 11-year-old spew by someone like Hitchens is credible enough to be in need of refutation.
posted by namasaya at 4:06 PM on June 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


For a lengthy, specific, articulate, thoughtful and informed refutation of the claims the Dalai Lama "spouts nonsensical platitudes," give a listen to the CBC Radio link I posted above.
posted by namasaya at 4:09 PM on June 1, 2009


Hey folks: Did you know that a commitment to evidence and empiricism applies to not only world religions, but soft jourrnalism you read on the internet?

Are you suggesting that this man wasn't placed in an ascetic religious order at the age of fourteen months? Because I'm pretty sure that part is correct, given the large number of different respected news-gathering organizations that reported it over the years in a number of different contexts (and the Tibetan Buddhist newsmagazines and other publications that reported it as well).
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:05 PM on June 1, 2009


Pope Guilty, it's much more interesting that you think 11-year-old spew by someone like Hitchens is credible enough to be in need of refutation.

Ah, because it's 11 years old and it's by Hitchens it needs no refutation. How convenient for you!
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:33 PM on June 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


It is not as unusual as you might think. I knew a family of white Tibetan Buddhist practitioners in Montreal whose son was "recognized" as a reincarnate lama, although not someone as high-profile as Lama Yeshe. He too was brought to Dharamsala and given a formal monastic education in Tibetan. He also chose not to continue in the role – last I heard he had a job and a girlfriend, although I think he may have used his knowledge of the language and culture to some academic advantage.
posted by zadcat at 8:08 PM on June 1, 2009


Christopher Hitchens is an asshole, but in this case, he's an accurate asshole. I suppose people get tired of me linking to Michael Parenti's "Friendly Feudalism" essay, so here's an interview with Parenti instead.
posted by shetterly at 9:28 PM on June 1, 2009


Wait, Steven Segal is a tulku?

I think I need to lie down. Could I get some water?
posted by neat-o at 10:47 AM on June 2, 2009


This is not the only Western educated adult child, given over to being a supposed reincarnate lama who is examining their situation with critical eyes.

TULKU is a documentary film by Gesar Mukpo, son of Trungpa Rinpoche.

Clips from the film.

In 16th century Tibet a tradition originated whereupon the passing away of an enlightened Buddhist master a young child would be recognized as their reincarnation. This child would assume leadership of their predecessors' monastery as well as the surrounding villages. They called these children "tulkus."

For hundreds of years this tradition remained unchanged.

In the 1970s something interesting started happening, tulkus were being discovered in the west. I know because I was one of them.


From the trailer: "The monastery there was basically a cesspool of jealousy, of gossip, of ... hate. Very un-Buddhist in a lot of ways."

I am also of the opinion that putting a very young child into a monastery is a form of abuse. Not least the loss of life with their family but there is the agenda that the child must renounce their biological family and take on the role of a monk, of celibacy, before reaching any understanding of their own sexuality. The child must dress as a monk and only learn scriptures, almost always by rote. There was no almost no secular literature in Tibet, almost no secular art of any kind so the child is force-fed scriptures from their earliest years, often with little comprehension of what they mean, cut off from ordinary life and society.

Sexual abuse by Buddhist Monks l Child Abuse In Tibetan Buddhist Monasteries l Beatings are nothing new l Osel Tendzin infected several of his gay followers with HIV l Buddhism's pedophile monks l 'NOBODY'S PERFECT' Buddhist monk confesses 'intimacy' with boy. l Senior Buddhist accused of molesting junior colleagues.
posted by nickyskye at 12:47 PM on June 2, 2009


From what I understand, escape or no, he's still the re-incarnation of Lama Yeshe, since you can't exactly be un-reincarnated.

I guess Lama Yeshe would just rather study film than hang out in another monastery. Can't say as I blame him on that one.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 4:13 PM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Are you suggesting that this man wasn't placed in an ascetic religious order at the age of fourteen months? Because I'm pretty sure that part is correct, given the large number of different respected news-gathering organizations that reported it over the years in a number of different contexts (and the Tibetan Buddhist newsmagazines and other publications that reported it as well).

Your phrasing reveals your mistake. A Buddhist monastery is generally not a hellhole of ascetic privations because, well, the Buddha said that sucked. I highly doubt that he was forced to fast in a cave as a toddler to develop siddhi or anything.

You can of course read an opinion from Osel himself at http://www.fpmt.org/Teachers/Osel/
posted by mobunited at 8:29 PM on June 2, 2009


Osel speaks
posted by homunculus at 9:49 PM on June 2, 2009


Well, this item ran out of steam and before I remembered to follow up, but I'll take a crack at it for posterity, and in response to Rashomon.

-He has the politician's habit of not answering questions posed to him, rather manipulating the question so it suits his answer. More often than not, this has the effect of making his answers come off like non-sequitors.
-To take a thread from Hitchens' article, he seems quite enamored of his own celebrity.
-I have seen plenty of tape rolled on the guy, and I've never seen him do or say anything profound.
-A lot of people seem enamored of his goofy, smug, playfulness, which comes off as buffoonery to me.

As for your attempt to get at me for comparing him to a television character, I actually think that reflect much more on him than it does me. There are plenty of celebrated people in the world whose opinions and ideas I am legitimately interested in pursuing and understanding. This clown comes off as completely two dimensional, not unlike (wait for it) a character on TV. Color me unimpressed.
posted by orville sash at 1:02 PM on June 3, 2009


To that end - the fact that he can't even convince his spiritual successor to stick around speaks volumes to me about the profundity and legitimacy of his message.
posted by orville sash at 1:03 PM on June 3, 2009


« Older At long last, Pringles have joined the family of p...  |  Bleeding Cool, the new comics ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments