|The following article is from the Spring, 1997 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.|
Enthronement: The Recognition of the Reincarnate Masters of Tibet and the Himalayas
This book began as an attempt to come to terms with an unusual event in my life: in 1991, the Dalai Lama announced that a child that I have known practically since his birth is the reincarnation of Kalu Rinpoche, the Tibetan meditation teacher and spiritual guide I had studied with from 1972 until his death in 1989. The announcement of his rebirth was good news, joyous news, incredible and wonderful news... but it signaled to me that the time had come to learn more about an aspect of Himalayan tantric Buddhism I had casually ignored — the rebirth of meditation masters who reassume their work — study, meditation, and teaching — and their thrones.
To understand the arrival in my world of a one-and-a-half-year-old little Buddha in diapers... I turned to the writings of Jamgon Kongtrul, a meditation master of the nineteenth century.
To understand the arrival in my world of a one-and-a-half-year-old little Buddha in diapers, who was about to inherit the place once occupied by the eighty-four-year-old man I had known and loved, I turned to the writings of Jamgon Kongtrul, a meditation master of the nineteenth century. His work, always reliable and authoritative, provided the authentic picture I was searching for. It offers a traditional view of the enthronement of reincarnate masters, with not the slightest attempt at interpretation for a modern audience.
I was unable to find any book by Jamgon Kongtrul on the related subject of how such children are recognized as reincarnate masters: I doubt that he wrote such a book or that one exists by any Tibetan writer. To answer some of my questions on that subject, I visited Tai Situpa, a Tibetan meditation master who is often asked by Tibetans of all schools to find reincarnate masters. He is not the only modern master who does this work, but I chose to interview him for two reasons.
First, the present-day Tai Situpa is, in the eyes of Tibetan Buddhists, the same person that we read of in Kongtrul's book. Kongtrul eagerly awaited the enthronement of the reincarnation of his teacher, the tenth Tai Situpa; the Tai Situpa who speaks of his work as a finder of reincarnate masters in the interview is the twelfth of the line. Second, as is mentioned in the course of the interview, Tai Situpa was the master responsible for first suggesting to the Dalai Lama the identity of my teacher's reincarnation. This is a connection that is significant to me personally, and I feel deeply grateful for that act.
Thus, Enthronement focuses on two aspects of the life of reincarnate lamas: their recognition and their enthronement. In making this text available in English, I hope it will contribute to an accurate picture of this crucial aspect of the spiritual life of the Himalayan region as it was and as it continues to be.
While I have wished to be as objective as possible in presenting this information, I cannot pretend to be impartial toward the reincarnate masters of Tibet. Since I began studying under the guidance of Tibetan meditation masters in 1972, I have met close to one hundred men and one woman (the remarkable Khandro Rinpoche) who are acknowledged as reincarnate masters.
The goal of Buddha's teaching and of Himalayan Buddhist culture is to produce not Buddhists but Buddhas, enlightened persons.
Whether one chooses to believe in reincarnation or dismisses the idea as nonsense, I believe anyone would be struck by these individuals. If the outstanding qualities they seem to share — uncommon compassion, patience, vigor, wisdom, humor, loving kindness, goodness, and often genius — are due to a selection system capable of recognizing prodigies before they are able to talk, it is a system that deserves serious study. If these impressive individuals are the results of education and environment alone, these are equally commendable; extraordinary, in fact, and probably unique.
The goal of Buddha's teaching and of Himalayan Buddhist culture is to produce not Buddhists but Buddhas, enlightened persons. It is this goal of enlightenment that I feel Tibet's great masters personify and it is with the wish that their wisdom be added to the sum of enlightenment in the world that this book is written.
It is this goal of enlightenment that I feel Tibet's great masters personify and it is with the wish that their wisdom be added to the sum of enlightenment in the world that this book is written.
The first part of this book contains an interview with Tai Situpa Rinpoche, a contemporary reincarnate master and leader of the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, who is often requested to find and recognize other reincarnate masters. He describes the fascinating process of recognizing reincarnations.
The second part contains a translation of a text by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Taye, one of the most outstanding writers and meditation masters of nineteenth-century Tibet, which offers a traditional view of the enthronement of reincarnate masters.