A Son Rises in the West
February 10, 2016 9:11 PM   Subscribe

Twenty years ago a Seattle boy moved to Nepal after being recognized as the reincarnation of a revered Tibetan lama. The public’s reaction to his mother’s decision to let him go says as much about our understanding of parenting as it does about Buddhism.
posted by Slarty Bartfast (21 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
A beautiful article. Although the article briefly mentions it, I'm surprised the author didn't dwell on the similarities between Little Buddha and this story. The movie was clearly inspired by these events.
posted by mokin at 9:43 PM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


Reminds me of the movie "Little Buddha".
posted by HuronBob at 4:01 AM on February 11, 2016


Or, what mokin said up there... (sheesh).. And, if you haven't seen Little Buddha, it's an interesting movie.
posted by HuronBob at 4:02 AM on February 11, 2016


The thing with the mole made me tear up.
posted by Omnomnom at 4:08 AM on February 11, 2016


I remember the Rinpoche well. He was a fixture on the UW campus and saw him often there. I knew someone who was a grad student in Japanese language and literature whose advisor had an office in Thomson Hall and the Rinpoche -- I always heard him referred thus at the time -- had an office nearby in which was built a platform on which he would sit and chant when he was there. It made for quite an atmospheric visit when he was in. I was really sad when I heard he died.
posted by y2karl at 4:30 AM on February 11, 2016


The picture of Tulku Ogyan Kyab in his Buddhist robes and the Lightning McQueen crocs is heartbreaking.

I imagine the somewhat reverent tone of this article would be received differently if these parents were sending their four year olds off to join Sea Org.
posted by mpbx at 6:07 AM on February 11, 2016 [8 favorites]


I get respecting other's beliefs and all, but this reminds me of why I distrust all faiths equally.
Even if you unequivocally proved to me that my son was Jesus, Buddha, Brahma, Grob, Gob, Glob and Grod reincarnated in a single body, there is no fracking way I'd send him off with a bunch of monks at 4 years old.
When faith is so strong it overrules stuff like, I don't know, "raise your 4 year old son", it stops being cute and worthy of respect and starts being dangerous.
posted by signal at 6:12 AM on February 11, 2016 [5 favorites]


Ugh. I have complicated feels about this.

I typed a few things out but they seem condescending. I think all I can really say is that stuff like this is why the Tibetan tradition of Buddhism and Vajrayana and all that is Not The Buddhism For Me.
posted by selfnoise at 6:32 AM on February 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


We all had a good chuckle a few years ago when China outlawed reincarnation, but when you recognize it as a way of security continuity of authority for the priesthood as a political class, rather than some divinely mandated ride on the wheel of karma, this whole thing starts to look very different.
posted by mhoye at 7:05 AM on February 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


When faith is so strong it overrules stuff like, I don't know, "raise your 4 year old son", it stops being cute and worthy of respect and starts being dangerous.

Even if all that you believe deep in your heart, and really all available objective evidence about Tibetan Buddhism, says that your son will be very well cared for and go on to live a life of deep spiritual fulfillment, and will go on to inspire others to live lives of spiritual fulfillment? Some might call this an act of unfathomable generosity. That's what struck me, is this woman supremely self-sacrificing or is she selfish, lazy, and opportunistic? Presumably, the monks who take the reincarnation of their lama pretty seriously looked at this question with some care.

Interestingly, my four year old is the Devil reincarnated and I'm still waiting for some Church of the Black Arts to recognize this and swift him away but I guess they are trusting me to lead him on his path of destruction and anti-enlightenment.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:06 AM on February 11, 2016 [19 favorites]


Even if all that you believe deep in your heart, and really all available objective evidence about Tibetan Buddhism, says that your son will be very well cared for and go on to live a life of deep spiritual fulfillment, and will go on to inspire others to live lives of spiritual fulfillment?

Yes. There is nothing that could make me voluntarily send my son away to be raised by other people. And I could honestly give 2 figs about hundreds of thousands of other people's 'spiritual fulfillment' versus raising my son.

I'm not judging the mom, nor do I think she's selfish or lazy, etc., I'm just appalled when people's beliefs short circuit what to me are basic human instincts, like caring for and raising their children.

I see the same basic mechanics at work in a lot of the atrocities of the past 10 or 20 centuries, and I'm not saying that they're morally equivalent to sending your kid to be raised by monks, but it's incredibly alien to me to even consider doing something like this.
posted by signal at 7:19 AM on February 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


I imagine the somewhat reverent tone of this article would be received differently if these parents were sending their four year olds off to join Sea Org.

It is possible that there are some subtle differences between Tibetan Buddhism and Scientology.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 7:21 AM on February 11, 2016 [18 favorites]


I couldn't do it.
Then again I couldn't send my kid to boarding school (I went.)
My mother-in-law can't believe our kids are in school until three pm some days (when she grew up school ended at lunchtime.)
Are you allowed to quit? after you've been declared the re-incarnation of so-and-so? Because if you were to stay within that culture, then what the mother did was spot on.
But if he decides he wants to be a DJ on Ibiza… there's gonna be some feelings to work through.
posted by From Bklyn at 7:40 AM on February 11, 2016


You can definitely quit.

I believe this kind of practice is a violation of Right Action and I'll leave it at that.
posted by selfnoise at 7:49 AM on February 11, 2016 [4 favorites]


(by this kind of practice I mean sending kids off to be lamas)
posted by selfnoise at 7:52 AM on February 11, 2016


Before I read the article I was thinking of "Little Buddha" also, but it's not quite the same. In that movie, both parents are white and neither is Buddhist at all. Here in this real story, both parents were Buddhist, and the father was even ethnic Tibetan. So the family was much more involved with this tradition to start with - it's not really that startling to me that she let her son go. She sounds like she felt he'd get a better life than she was likely to be able to provide for? Other parents have made choices like that for non-religious reasons.

But yeah, I'm with Stephen Batchelor on things like reincarnation. I read one of his books recently, and I remember a bit where he describes being at some outdoor ceremony in India with the Dalai Lama and he sees up on a hillside a monk doing chants and casting spells to ward off an approaching storm. The world of Tibetan Buddhism does seem a complex mix of thoughtful philosophy and poetic superstitions.
posted by dnash at 8:07 AM on February 11, 2016


I'm going to qualify my statement about never ever sending off my kid to be raised by monks : if he was the last member of a group that could manipulate air, let's say "bend" it, I'd think about it.
posted by signal at 8:59 AM on February 11, 2016 [7 favorites]


Given that many parents essentially allow their children to be raised by computers and Disney Inc., this doesn't seem that bad to me.
posted by crazylegs at 9:59 AM on February 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think all I can really say is that stuff like this is why the Tibetan tradition of Buddhism and Vajrayana and all that is Not The Buddhism For Me.

Yup. I've known a few Caucasian American "converts" to Tibetan Buddhism who had been previously burned out or badly hurt by or simply alienated from whatever version of Christianity they were raised in, and nothing was quite so astounding as witnessing them smugly sneering at Catholic grandmas with their (meditative chant practice) rosary beads and belief in immaculate conception and Resurrection.
posted by blue suede stockings at 10:21 AM on February 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


...but they are trusting me to lead him on his path of destruction and anti-enlightenment..

Well, they quite likely are authorities who in this case recognized expertise.
posted by y2karl at 12:10 PM on February 11, 2016


Throughout history, parents have sent children away in hopes they could have a better life. I'm sure there are parents in Syria, for example, doing this right now.

_Personally_ I would find that easier to accept than this, but thats more a matter of perspective/belief.
posted by thefoxgod at 3:01 PM on February 11, 2016


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