The following article is from the Summer, 1994 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.

The Emerging Saga of Tatanka Changlochen Rinpoche

by Steven McFadden


In a curious parallel of fiction and fact, just as Bernardo Bertolucci's new film Little Buddha is opening in movie houses across the nation, an eleven-year-old boy from the Green Mountains of Vermont has stepped forward to acknowledge that his life has much in common with the scenario depicted in the film.

Little Buddha interweaves the historic story of Buddha's life with the fictional story of a contemporary American youth from Seattle who is identified by Tibetan monks to be the reincarnation of a revered lama Meanwhile, an American Indian boy named Tatanka Ywahoo-True has in fact been recognized by many Tibetan Lamas as a reincarnation of Changlochen Rinpoche, a highly realized yogi who lived in Tibet at the time of the Chinese invasion in the 1950s.

Tatanka's mother is the Ven. Khandro Dhyani Ywahoo, founder and Director of the Sunray Meditation Society in Bristol, Vermonta center that combines Native American teachings with those of Tibetan Buddhism. Dhyani is a member of the traditional Etowah Band of the Eastern Tsalagi (Cherokee) Nation, and the 27th generation of her family to carry forward impfor tarttf Xrifeestral teachings about crystals and sounds.

Dhyani recalls that Tatanka began making a dramatic impression even before his birth. When I first realized I was pregnant I was in a Sundance Ceremony in South Dakota. It was the third year of the Sundance for me; when you commit to Sundance you commit to dance for four years. Usually I fast easily, but I was very thirsty that year. There were 144 dancers, and such grace. Every time the Sundance leaders would move their eagle-feather wands, all the dancers would move together, like different stars and constellations. And then I noticedand this was in daylighta white disk in the sky in which there was a buffalo bull standing up. He was regal, and he radiated incredible light and energy.

I looked at the buffalo bull. Many others were looking up also, and then looking at me strangely. And then it came down in the top of my head while we were all still dancing, and I became so thirstyso thirsty, I've never been so thirsty in my life. I realized then that I was pregnant After we took a break I kept pouring water over my head to cool it off, And I realized that the baby I was pregnant with was to be named in relationship to Sitting Bull, and that the Buffalo we saw was a symbol for us to walk with, and to understand.

So, that was the beginning. Soon after many of our Lama friends, Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche and Khenpo Konchog Gyaltsen Rinpoche in particular, indicated that this was an extraordinary child I was carrying. The child, Tatanka, was born March 23, 1983 in Burlington, VT. His mother recalls that he was a happy baby. He didn't cry. He just looked at me as if he were more concerned about me than himself. At his birth he made the sound Hung, one of the seed syllables of Sanskrit.

As an infant, Tatanka would sleep sitting up rather than lying down, and often would wake and chant in Tibetan in the middle of the night. He began to speak English at the age of six months.

Tatanka was recognized and formally acknowledged by H.H. the late Dudjorn Rinpoche, head of the Nyingma tradition, as the third, or highest level of tulku. At the age of four he was further recognized by H.H. Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche, who identified him as the 11th reincarnation of Changlochen Rinpoche.

Chetsang Rinpoche invited Tatanka and his mother to Dehra Dun, India in November, 1992 for a ceremony in which the nine-year-old tulku was enthroned as Changlochen Rinpoche. He was given the Dharma name Konchog Tenzin Namkai Dorje (Three Jewels Doctrine Holder Sky Lightning).

In a telephone interview, H.H. Chetsang Rinpoche spoke of his fond memories of Changlochen, who visited him frequently in Tibet He also spoke of the present incarnation, Tatanka, with great warmth and affection. It will be different for Tatanka to complete his training, he observed, because of the distance, and also because of the cultural differences of East and West . . . The most important thing for Tatanka, as for all tulkus, is to continue the vow of the Bodhisattva: to come into the world and to work for the people, to serve all sentient beings until all are enlightened.

Tatanka is now in fifth grade in a private school near his home in Vermont's Green Mountains. He is a confident and independent youth. As with many boys his age, he has a passion for comic books, football, baseball, video games (including Super Mushroid), and also Dungeons and Dragons. At the same time he is unmistakably charismatic, compassionate, and complex. Tatanka is determinedly resistant to the expectations of other people that he is here on earth to be some kind of living saint or savior. He insists that people accept him as he is, not as they may think he is, or should be.

The young Tulku has strong feelings about having been identified as a reincarnated master, and about the path he will walk. I'm not sure why they singled me out, he observed. I mean, they could have just come to anyone else's door. I don't feel like really, really privileged, but if that's how people see me, then they can see me that way if they want to. I don't see myself as anything special . . . it can feel uncomfortable. Sometimes people expect me to do too much, they misinterpret me and think that I can like fix everything that's wrong in the world.

And another thing that bothers me is that the monks say that I should be just like the stereotype of a traditional tulku or whatever, and live only in a monastery in India, and not have any contact with my parents. They want me to fit a traditional idea of what I should be like . . . But people are how they are, and I am how I am. 1 can't fit a stereotype. That's just not how life is.

Tatanka is indeed very independent, his mother agrees. He has shown that independence from an early age, and 1 support him in it as long as he's respectful. He generally is quite kind and respectful.

Dhyani recalls that after the enthronement ceremony in India in 1992, many people were asking, isn't he going to stay? Shouldn't he stay here at the monastery and study? When they asked those questions, she said, Tatanka told them the same thing he had told the Dalai Lama earlier: 'I'm American now and I'm doing it differently.' One of the very old, revered monks nodded his head and smiled, and said, 'Oh yes, he's always been like that.'

H.H. Chetsang Rinpoche will be reunited with Tatanka this summer, and will offer teachings in Boston August 6-14, and in Vermont August 19-21. For information call 1-617-232-6053.

Steven McFadden is Director of The Wisdom Conservancy at Merriam Hill Education Center in Greenville, NH.