Tibetan Buddhist Tulku Privilege – a Cultural Clash

Conversations with people who have spent time in Tibetan society and been close to lamas have made me realise that, in general, Tibetan people accept unethical and even abusive conduct in their reincarnated masters (tulkus) without question or censure. But ‘tulku privilege‘, which essentially places tulkus above the law, conflicts with modern Western values where equality is the very basis of our democratic and legal system. Also the Tibetan injunctions against criticism and requirements for subjugation to one’s teacher are in direct opposition to Western values of freedom of speech and choice.

‘Human rights recognise the inherent value of each person, regardless of background, where we live, what we look like, what we think or what we believe. They are based on principles of dignity, equality and mutual respect, which are shared across cultures, religions and philosophies. They are about being treated fairly, treating others fairly and having the ability to make genuine choices in our daily lives.’ https://www.humanrights.gov.au/about/what-are-human-rights

Tulku privilege in action

In the West, sex between a student and teacher is considered unethical due to the power imbalance, and coercion into sex is considered sexual harassment at the least and sexual abuse at the worst. But Tulkus see nothing wrong with coercing women into sex through such things as threats of hell and promises of a fast path to enlightenment for the woman and/or her family members.

Sexual misconduct is very common amongst high level lamas,’ Dr Nida Chenagtsang Karmamudra: The Yoga of Bliss, Sexuality in Tibetan Medicine and Buddhism.

Tulkus are brought up believing that they are ‘holy’ and by right of that designation are not subject to the same ethical restrictions as normal beings. They grow up in a religious culture where coercing women into sex is the acceptable norm and under the tutelage of role models who take full advantage of tulku privilege. I expect this is why so few of them have made statements denouncing abuse perpetrated by other lamas.

‘Once you have completely and soberly surrendered, you may not interpret certain manifestations and activities of the guru as the abuse of power. If you want to be fully enlightened, you can’t worry about abuse.’ Dzongsar Khyents, page 19, The Guru Drinks Bourbon?

In other words, after you’ve taken a vajrayana initiation with a teacher, that teacher can do what he wants to you and you can’t complain. In Tibetan Buddhist thinking, Tulkus have a free pass to treat people any way they wish because it’s all seen as ‘enlightened action.’

This attitude can be clearly seen in Lama Zopa’s response to Dagri Rinpoche’s inappropriate behaviour. He uses a lot of words to basically say that since Dagri Rinpoche is a ‘holy being’ anything he does is a ‘holy action’ and therefore not ordinary action which shouldn’t be held to the same standards as the actions of those who aren’t ‘holy.’  

Lama Zopa is so completely ignorant of how ridiculous his kind of thinking appears to the majority of Westerners—excluding those who swallow such beliefs without examination—that he doesn’t hide his views. This is a good thing, because it’s certainly time for some transparency on this.

Clearly Dagri Rinpoche didn’t take the FPMT code of conduct as having any relevance to him, and due to tulku privilege, I expect all tulkus will think the same way—Rigpa’s special category for Vajrayana and Dzogchen in their code of conduct certainly upholds that idea.

In the West, all are equal before the law. A crime is a crime, no matter who commits it. Cardinal George Pell, the Catholic equivalent of a very high lama was convicted for sexual abuse in Australia. Western law sees abuse by spiritual figures as crimes, not ‘holy actions.’ In fact, the very fact that the abuse was perpetrated by a spiritual figure makes it all the more abhorrent.

Not only is the idea of spiritual leaders being above the law not accepted in the West, as James R. Lewis explains in his book Cults in America, probably the most important characteristic of a dangerous cult is that ‘The organization is willing to place itself above the law.’ (See http://abuse.wikia.com/wiki/Cult_checklist )

If Tibetan Buddhism wants to be seen as a reputable religion in the West, instead of a religion comprised of dangerous cults, the lamas have to give up their tulku privileges. I’m not holding my breath waiting for that, though, but we could at least get some transparency around the issue. Westerners should be under no illusions about their Tibetan Buddhist teachers.

Celibacy? Nah. Even the monks do it.

One of the things that really shocked me on my journey of discovery of tulku privilege is that even the tulkus who are monks have sex, and they have it with multiple partners. One Western woman teacher of Tibetan Buddhism with decades of experience around lamas and their communities told me that sometimes tulku monks have sex with many women while looking for a wife, and once they’ve found their wife, they give up their robes. Why, I wonder, don’t they give up their robes before looking for a wife?

She also told me that having a wife does not necessarily stop them from continuing their multiple partners, and some do not give up their robes, even if they do have a wife. So they appear to be a monk, but they aren’t.

Another woman told me that she heard HHDL on two separate occasions saying that a monk could penetrate a woman without breaking his vow of celibacy so long as he didn’t ejaculate! I couldn’t find any scriptural authority on this, but the woman assures me that he shared this fact in Kalachakra teachings she attended.

The fact that ample numbers of Western women have appeared all too keen to have sex with a tulku, robed or not, hasn’t helped the lamas to recognise the reality of the situation—that in the West, as a spiritual teacher, they are expected to behave ethically in all areas. And having sex with a student is considered highly unethical for any teacher no matter whether the student wants it or not.

Teachings or a way to cover their asses?

‘Capitulation to the teacher’s wishes is [seen as] virtuous and defiance has dire consequences as does breaching the secrecy that typically surrounds such encounters.’ Holly Gayley (Department of Religious Studies, University of Colorado) ‘Revisiting the “Secret Consort” (gsang yum) in Tibetan Buddhism.’

The biography of Lingza Chökyi, Travels in the Nether-worlds, includes the story in of a 16th Century women who refused to be the ‘secret consort’ of ‘a master of esoteric teachings’ and complained about his inappropriate conduct. In the story, ‘Yama declares, “It is a greater sin to denigrate and slander lamas and teachers than it is to murder a thousand living beings,” and condemns her to suffer the torments of the hell realms.’ Lama Zopa’s response mentioned above is really just a more subtle way of saying the same thing.

Teachings that do nothing more than maintain the power of the lamas should be thoroughly questioned, not simply accepted as an integral part of the Buddhist teachings. Some lama some time made up the teachings on how to follow a teacher, but did they do it for the sake of the students or to provide themselves with slaves for their own gratification? Given the abuse enabled by these teachings, the latter purpose seems most likely.

And yet these teachings are now seen as integral to the religion. But are they? Really? Isn’t some openness and respect towards a lama enough? Why accept behaviour from our Tibetan Buddhist teachers that we would not accept in any other area of our life?

A huge cultural clash

Western culture has taken a very long time to develop the idea of equal rights for all human beings. Are we going to throw all that away because Tibetan Buddhist teachers expect us to play the serfs in a system that places them in the role of a feudal lord? Didn’t we get rid of that way of thinking back in the time of the French Revolution? Wouldn’t accepting Tulku privilege be a huge step backward for is both individually and collectively? And how does giving up our right to recognise abuse as abuse contribute to our spiritual development, anyway?

Tibetan Buddhism has a lot of offer, but tulku privilege is not something we should import along with the teachings.

A call for transparency

On the issue of unethical conduct, I’ve seen no willingness in tulkus to move an inch from their exalted position where they feel they can ignore ethical guidelines with impunity. Since they appear unwilling to even consider that their beliefs in this area may be needing some revision, then they should at least do us the decency of being transparent about their behaviour.

Isn’t it high time that a lama sat down with a panel of Western students and answered a few core questions such as:

  • Is there any behaviour that would be considered unethical for a tulku?
  • Are tulkus who wear monks’ robes celibate? If so, what does celibacy actually mean for a tulku? Does it mean no sexual contact as it does in the West?
  • The teachings on How to Follow a Teacher in The Words of my Perfect Teacher benefit lamas by providing them with compliant slaves, how do such teachings benefit the students?
  • Do tulkus think that having sex with a woman is beneficial for the woman regardless of whether the woman wanted it or not?
  • Do tulkus see anything wrong with threatening a woman or promising her something in order to get her to have sex with them?
  • Tibetan Buddhist values and Western ethical values clash where tulkus are not held to the same standards as the rest of society, why shouldn’t tulkus behave in accord with Western ethics if they want to teach in the West?

What questions would you like to ask to bring some transparency to the issue of tulku privilege?

For further perspectives on this see the article Why I Quit Guru Yoga by Stephen Batchelor.

Image by lanur from Pixabay

54 Replies to “Tibetan Buddhist Tulku Privilege – a Cultural Clash”

  1. Thank you for shading ligh on this important issue.

    At the core of the matter lies the question, if these tulkus are really more „enlightened“ than other human beings. Their legimiticy as a tulku rests solely on the assumption that they are supposed to be reincarnations of great masters.

    However, as Dagyab Rinpoche (himself a learned and high rank Gelugpa Tulku) states, due to very human temptations of wealth, fame and power, the system of identifying tulkus „actually in practice never works properly. Nepotism and corruption are always present. Stretching from the Dalai Lama government to small tulkus, there is no proper behaviour.“ Dagyab Rinpoche therefore strongly pleads for abolishing the whole tulku system and prohibits his own students searching for his reincarnation after he will have passed away.

    Dagyab Rinpoche´s very comprehensive examination of the tulku system can be found here (only in german):

    https://info-buddhismus.de/Tulku-System_Dagyab-Rinpoche.html

    1. Show me one sutra wher the buddha claims this kind of privelege, there is none!
      So the Tibetan claims are not in accordance with the Buddha’s words. It is a cultural abberation. And an abberation in the minds of these so called lama’s. Therefore I dont believe any word of DKR, no matter how much bourbon he drinks.

    2. Even if they were enlightened, that shouldn’t be seen as a free pass to do what they want. A genuinely enlightened person wouldn’t behave in a way that hurt others anyway, so the very fact that they act badly, such as coercing women into sex, proves that they lack awareness of other people’s feelings.

  2. As far as I know Vajrayana is a vehicle of skilful means. Skilful ways to recognise the buddha in everybody. It contains many practices and each practice is like a finger pointing at the moon. The danger of using fingers is that (ignorant) people consider the finger as the moon. Devotion for a teacher can help you to recognise your own and everybody elses buddhanature. But for me the Tibetan Tulku privilege is a way of mistaking the finger for the moon. Devotion as a goal instead of a means. It’s the same foolishness as George Orwells “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” How can we begin to recognise and trust our buddanature if we are made to believe that someone elses buddhanature is holier? For me the Western idea of equal rights is a more accurate finger pointing at the moon.

  3. In western culture we have human rights and we fortunatly we don’t have the tulku system … but unfortunatly we also have religions with the same problems with christian church : children and nuns raped by priests !!!!

  4. It’s important to realize that the Charter of the Tibetans-in-Exile has no special provision for tulkus. Neither does the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which the Central Tibetan Administration subscribes. Likewise, the Constitution of India, the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, the Constitution of the United States of America, or that of any other nation of which tulkus are citizens. So, the assumption that tulkus are above the law, violates not just Western thought, but Eastern thought as well: we’re all equal before the law in the West as well as the East—at least in principle.

    In all, I think, it’s safe to say that tulkus are not believed to really be above the law except, perhaps, in the wildest imagination of some of their staunchest devotees. Tulkus themselves generally avoid testing the proposition that they might be above the law in a court of law. They consistently demonstrate a definite preference for staying out of prison, and for avoiding the payment of damages and the retrospective collection of taxes and fiscal fines. All of this strongly suggests that they don’t actually believe it themselves.

    In all, I think that the question that faces Tibetan Buddhists who live in democracies governed by the rule of law is this: Can they continue to compartmentalize their lives as if they’re law abiding citizens in every respect, except in their religious life, which has them act as if they themselves are above the law. Enablers can be criminally liable too, as well as liable to damages or the retrospective collection of taxes and fiscal fines. It comes down to this: are Tibetan Buddhists willing to lie, to act as coconspirators, to undermine the rule of law and risk everything to uphold a medieval and feudal pedagogy?

    1. Good point Rob. It’s not just Western law, it’s Eastern law as well. Perhaps I should have said Western-style law. Either way, it’s not that the law thinks tulkus are above it, it’s that traditional Tibetan society turns a blind eye to tulkus’s bad behaviour, and that allows them to get away with it. Would a Tibetan ever take a tulku to court? Historically no. Now, however, we have Tibetan women speaking out, but these are woman who are no longer restrained by Tibetan society. Traditionally, this would never have happened.

  5. Addressing Lama Zopa’s recent communications adressed at the students of Dagri Rinpoche, researcher Miriam Anders wrote:

    “Beyond the question as to whether the dominant hierarchies in buddhist centers in western countries should eventually be replaced by democratic processes, dialogues and votes, it is a minimum requirement for anyone claiming leadership as a buddhist teacher or meditation master to behave according to human rights and the law of the country. Besides, it is time for every person to take on their own individual responsibility instead of handing it over to any master. This means thinking for oneself, maintaining the freedom of self-reflection instead of being manipulated by strange, distorted concepts, joining together and sharing instead of merely assuring one’s own little profits.
    In times of crisis, the qualities of leadership clearly appear. It reveals whether a person wants to engage in dialogue and implements his nice sounding words. Therefore, a crisis is also always a chance for individuals themselves to take on self-responsibility and to encourage democratic processes in their groups.”

    (Source: https://www.en.transtibmed.ethnologie.uni-muenchen.de/publications/current-issues-responsibility/index.html#top)

    At present, Anders conducts research into abuse by Buddhist teachers in Germany: https://buddhism-controversy-blog.com/2018/10/10/research-on-abuse-in-buddhist-communities/

  6. Your leading assumption that “in general, Tibetan people accept unethical and even abusive conduct in their reincarnated masters (tulkus) without question or censure” runs counter to my travel experience in eastern Kham. For example, a video of SR dancing Western style was considered to be scandalous behavior for a lama. My interactions were admittedly limited, but I would find a more informed perspective on Tibetan viewpoints of interest.

    1. Yes, I made a generalisation which always has limitations, and yes, a Tibetan perspective would be good – in fact I would love to talk to a tulku about this (but it’s unlikely any of them would deign to talk to an ordinary being about such things), but I based this article on a long talk I had with a woman with decades of experience around tulkus and their communities. Your experience indicates that Western dancing is not acceptable to the people you saw, but Would those people have felt the same way about Sogyal coercing women into having sex with him? Would they be scandalised or would they see it as a great opportunity for the woman? And how would they feel about the woman if she complained? This is the central issue to which I’m referring here.

    2. Sure Joe, that’s fair enough, but Kham is a long way from the Tibetan refugee diaspora! Even the Tibetan they speak is apparently much purer than what you find in the refugee settlements. I wonder what the exiled Tibetans who’ve been exposed to decades of westernised culture, and a more hip eastern culture in Nepal & India, would think of Sogyal groovin in the temple.

  7. There’s something else to consider: Buddhists who believe that they are capable of recognizing and enthroning the fully enlightened Buddhas living among them are quite alone, even among Buddhists. Following a recent demographic analysis of Peter Harvey, let’s assume that there are 18 million adherents of Vajrayana Buddhism who all believe that this is possible and desirable. That’s 3,6 percent of Pew Forum’s recent estimate of the total number of 488 million Buddhists.

    And then there’s this: The International Commission of Jurists cited estimated that there were 2,770,000 Tibetans in Tibet in 1953, while the most conservative estimate reckons that there were some 3,000 tulkus . Do the math: apparently, one in every 900 Tibetans was a tulku. In exile, ever so briefly, a moratorium precluded the recognition of new tulkus. Soon enough, however, the moratorium was broken and a ’tulku boom’ began, which was boosted by the nascent Western interest in Tibetan Buddhism. Being a tulku—or posing as one—became a very profitable revenue model. Estimates vary, but if there are 500 tulkus living among 130.000 Tibetans in exile today, one in every 260 Tibetans is a tulku now.

    It’s just highly unlikely that all of them are spiritually gifted, never mind (somewhat) enlightened. I’m pretty sure that all other Buddhists think that it’s plain silly to think otherwise.

    So, statistically speaking, Tibetan Buddhists have every right to feel unique in holding these types of beliefs. At the same time, though, the patterns of abuse within their communities are highly similar to those among all other ethnic, religious, cultural, professional communities. The terminologies and metaphysics may vary, but the abuse of power—of which sexual, physical, and financial abuse are special cases—and the excuses and justifications to explain such abuses away, are highly similar across all kinds of societies everywhere: in this respect, Tibetan Buddhism is no exception to the rule at all.

    We know this, because most of us live in democracies that have been governed by the rule of law. This empowers us to see religiously inspired abuse precisely for what it is: common abuse hidden by a guise of holiness. Religious believers, whether they like it or not, are now fully accountable to non-believers. The free press, the judiciary, the government, the tax office, politicians, opinion leaders, education and health care professionals: none of them grant moral and legal exemptions to abusers and enablers who argue that their religion made them do it. This is the legacy of the European Enlightenment, and Tibetan tulkus as well as the organizations that host them better get used to it.

    Investigative reporters, academic scholars, the judiciary, health care professionals, are now being alerted to the presence in their midst of yet another cast that imagines itself to occupy a privileged and unassailable position. It is only a matter of time before the first Tibetan tulku ends up in prison. Sooner or later some tulku or organization that hosts him or her will end up paying damages, taxes and fiscal fines. This can happen any moment in any country anywhere in the world. Tibetan Buddhists can’t shield tulkus, lamas and themselves from this much longer—they just don’t have the votes.

    Patrick Gaffney just found out the hard way: https://apps.charitycommission.gov.uk/trusteeregister/result.aspx?namepart=Gaffney

  8. Where is the compassion so pridefully trumpeted to the masses? There is no real kindness in this system, as far as I can tell. We Western “snowflakes” value kindness not just as a facade to attract the gullible, but as an actual practice.

  9. I’m copying my comment on Tenpel’s blog here, because I believe this warning bears repeating:

    In recent years, Sogyal-devotee Michael Ritman, the chairman of the Dutch Buddhist Union (BUN), depicted the FPMT-centre Maitreya Institute and the Insight Meditation Foundation (SIM) in the Netherlands as exemplary in media because of their safeguarding policies. Ritman even suggested that the BUN as a Buddhist umbrella organization is ahead of the curve internationally as far as transparency and safeguarding policies are concerned. When reporters asked Ritman questions about Sogyal, however, he consistently refused to answer them citing ‘conflicts of interest’.

    In actual fact, SIM-teachers kept the sexual abuse of children and young men by their spiritual leader Mettavihari, as well as his financial abuse, secret for decades. SIM continued to do so after ‘implementing’ their lauded safeguarding policy. Even now, the Maitreya Institute lists Dagri Rinpoche as one of its teachers, without any reference to his suspension or the recent communiqués of the FPMT and Lama Zopa.

    Some 45 percent of the BUN’s member organizations have or have had spiritual leaders who have been accused of sexual abuse. The majority of these cases have remained unpublished so far, so that—perhaps for this reason—they have been not been addressed by the BUN at all.

    The Dutch Buddhist community is tiny and fragmented. It numbers no more than some 50,000 adherents, most of whom are ethnic Buddhists who have little interaction with other sanghas. In effect, even now—with all the talk about abuse—Dutch Buddhists hold each other hostage in a conspiracy of silence, precisely because so many sanghas are hiding past and present abuses. Adding to this dynamic is Buddhist sanghas’ compulsive tendency to put safeguarding policies in the hands of ‘insiders’ whose interests are conflicted, and whose loyalties are doubtful.

    All of this goes to show that having a discourse about safeguarding policy is utterly meaningless as long as the pervasive culture of silence remains intact. Indeed, cultivating a discourse on safeguarding policy under such circumstances can be more dangerous than having no safeguarding policy at all, because it gives uninformed, unexperienced participants and students—future victims and survivors, that is—a false sense of security.

    So, do bear in mind that the undistinguished face of a culture of silence is the sound of the unending chatter of Buddhists exchanging empty words. The perversion is this: much abuse is hidden in plain sight by some of the most vocal proponents of safeguarding policies.

    1. I totally agree. The new Rigpa code even has a special section for Vajrayana where making a formal request for ‘this level of spiritual guidance’ means that they are giving ‘consent’ for that level of spiritual guidance. So rather than their policy safeguarding students, it gives a false sense of security and is really just another means of silencing them if they find that that’level of spiritual guidance’ entails what we would call abuse. The response can simply be – but you can’t complain because you consented to ‘that level of spiritual guidance.’ Until specific examples of abuse – including this very common sexual coercion – are denounced, their codes of conduct are meaningless, because they don’t even recognise what the word ‘harm’ means.

      1. Very well said Tahlia. I agree. People involved in this way will also likely not be aware that this ‘contract’ is on shaky ground, legally. According to a lawyer I spoke to about this, such a contract would not be legally binding in the case of abuse. Spiritually binding is another matter, and when caught up in that concept, is made doubly difficult by such a concept as this dubious ‘consent’. I hope that lawyers, psychologists and spiritual leaders will come forward and explain to people that pre-consent to whatever a person chooses to do to them is legally unsupportable and psychologically and spiritually damaging. Their advice may not be heard by some, but maybe others will find some support for that still small voice in themselves that says….this is not okay, and is not the dharma Buddha taught.

  10. Exactly, Tahlia. Meanwhile, Lama Zopa is doubling down on guru devotion, asking his students to study Lamrim teachings first and foremost: https://fpmt.org/lama-zopa-rinpoche-news-and-advice/advice-from-lama-zopa-rinpoche/advice-from-lama-zopa-rinpoche-in-regard-to-guru-devotion/

    Lama Zopa directly contravenes the Dalai Lama’s recent (dis)qualification of precisely such an approach during his last visit to Rotterdam (17 September 2018):

    ‘To sum up, His Holiness was saying that one thing that becomes very clear is that although for the followers of Dharma, one can approach the Dharma—and the tradition recognizes this—from the path of the approach of faith or devotion. But that is not really the ideal practitioner of Dharma. The ideal practitioner of Dharma is the one who approaches the Dharma from the approach of the intelligent one: by emphasizing understanding the nature of reality. And this is an important point that is made in the Buddhist texts. I often tell people that now, in our day and age, we should really emphasize the approach of the intelligent practitioner, with its emphasis on investigation, reasoning, and understanding. Because if we rely too much on the approach of the faith and devotion, it is doubtful whether the Buddhadharma can last for long in this day and age. But if we emphasize the approach of the intelligent using investigation and reasoning and understanding, then there’s a real chance that the Buddhadharma will last for a long time.’

    1. Lama Zopa strikes me as having led an imbalanced life as have many lamas who sound like the Christians who pick out passages from the Bible to support their fundamentalist views which are in contradiction to the essential wisdom. I am really quite shocked that in this day and age a Buddhist teacher is allowed to get away with such twaddle. This is such a dismally poor explanation of emptiness and non-duality that is bound to lead to instances like the Dagri case. Dagri is another hopelessly imbalanced proponent of the Buddhadharma. They seem to be getting lost in their own thick fog of holiness. Last Sunday I was listening to a BBC Radio 4 weekly church service. It was being led by a Canon who also practices Zen (I also know a priest who is a Dzogchen scholar and practitioner). The service was quite unlike the usual dull affair and again and again pointed to the vast openness of pure awareness indivisible with Christ’s presence. I found it wonderfully inspirational and brought the transcendent and worldly into harmony and a workable living reality. When I read the positions of some lamas I feel they are separating the two. They only want to lead their “holy” lives cocooned in a bubble with their students. I shall always remain a student of Longchenpa so I am not particularly advocating Christianity which has its own problems. I have long thought that Tibetan Buddhism was being taught very badly in the West by all but a handful of Lamas. I really hope a new vision materializes out of all the adverse publicity regarding the delusional behaviour of certain Rinpoches and I can be pleasantly surprised as I was by the BBC transmitting a Christian/Zen church service! Thank goodness for HHDL for giving such wise guidelines.

  11. Here is the Dalai Lama’s statement on the tulku system, published in his recent multi-volume series on the Buddhist path:

    “The system of recognizing incarnations of previous spiritual masters is a Tibetan cultural tradition. It is not a practice taught by the Buddha. In the 1960’s I discussed limiting the number of tulkus, but one advisor told me that would be difficult because it is the Tibetans’ custom. Nowadays being recognized as a rinpoche has become a position of social status, not one of religious import.

    “We should seek teachers who are well-educated in the Dharma, practice it sincerely, and have compassion for others. In looking at Tibetan society, I often see people ignoring learned geshes and khenpos but showing great respect to rinpoches who are not learned. I tell the young rinpoches that they should not rely on the reputation of their previous lives but should study diligently, practice sincerely, and be humble in this life. If they do, they will be an honor to their predecessor’s name. It they do not and merely use their social status to manipulate or deceive others, they are a disgrace, not only to their predecessor but to the Buddhadharma.

    “Nowadays, many people look for the incarnation of their deceased teachers, but letting a child speak for him or herself is better. A child may display obvious characteristics, such as clearly remembering a previous life or reciting texts not memorized in this life. In such cases, we cannot fail to recognize that the child is unusual. Only then could recognition as a talk possibly be beneficial .

    “I favor allowing children to grow up naturally and to develop their qualities in this life. Those who have gained spiritual realizations in the past will naturally progress in their own practice and benefit others in this life whether or not they are identified and given a role.” (The foundation of Buddhist Practice, pp.92-93)

  12. Correction of auto-correct of my last comment: last sentence of second to last paragraph should read: “Only then could recognition as a tulku possibly be beneficial.”

  13. I have to admit to mixed feelings about this issue. The tulku institution, as an institution, has certainly been corrupted in Tibetan society, and has been romanticized in unhelpful ways in the West for a very long time. But the recognition of tulkus is essential to the preservation of certain teaching lineages, and not every tulku is a fake. I don’t think that a practice or tradition has to have been taught by the Buddha to be considered authentic. But recognition as a tulku should probably confer no special privileges, and sometimes (not always, but sometimes) it would be better for a recognition to be made but not proclaimed.

  14. In 1982, Zong Rinpoche was recorded as saying:

    ‘These days there are some people who look out for kids, for children from big (well-to-do) families. And they say that they do all sorts of divinations, oracles, and then say: He is an incarnation of my teacher. Or (they pretend) that he is the incarnation of a certain Lama from whom they have taken teachings. And they take that child and enthrone him as an incarnate Lama. And without any reason they spoil him by giving all sorts of riches. And so, when that boy grows up into manhood, instead of doing good to the spread of the teachings he commits great mischieves.’

    Zong Rinpoche emphasized that such children should be thought of as the reincarnation of a deceased lama, rather than the incarnation of an enlightened being: ‘These days what we call Tulku is in reality Yangsi: Lamas who can not incarnate themselves in various forms (as the highly achieved or the enlightened beings), but who can take another life in this world in the human form—this we call Tulku these days.’

    Even if such children are recognized as being heir to the spiritual attainments of their predecessor’s lifetime, they are not enlightened beings themselves. The formal recognition may well inspire these children’s practice, Zong Rinpoche notes, but proper Buddhist training is crucial, to save them from lapsing into spiritual degeneration:
    ‘Since that person is the continuation of the life of a preceding Lama who has a certain spiritual advancement in his mind, it is very important that he is brought up carefully. He should be given proper care. And he should himself be nice and upright. Otherwise, (even though) his predecessor is a Lama it may be possible that instead of advancing in his spiritual training he would come down.’

    Like Zong Rinpoche before him, Dakpo Rinpoché remarked a few years later that the words ‘yangsi’ and ‘tulku’ are often confused in colloquial speech, and inferred that some persons called tulku are actually reincarnations of practicing Buddhists—not emanations of Buddhas. He also pointed out that the recognition of tulkus may involve ulterior motives:

    ‘Those responsible for a particular case (the Lama’s close environment or, in some cases, the government) try to protect themselves with all possible precautions and guarantees, of course. One can therefore assume that the majority of decisions and identifications are correct. It may also happen that the commission is wrong, however, be it accidentally or on purpose.’

    Dakpo Rinpoche cautioned that the assessment of a tulku’s conduct should never be based on “illusory outward appearances”—especially since such behaviour “is more dependent on the merits of his environment than on his own person”. Absent the right conditions, “a Master who is extremely active and educated in the present life accomplishes nothing obviously extraordinary in his subsequent life, and vice versa.” According to Dakpo Rinpoche, lamas who are not emanations must apply themselves diligently to Buddhist study and practice, to prevent their qualities—”especially compassion and intelligence”—from deteriorating rapidly. Dakpo Rinpoche’s observations at the time attest to a hesitation about the future of the tulku institution:

    “The search for tulkus is still common among emigrated Tibetans. This unique custom has been preserved in its purity until today. But how much longer?”

    Echoing these two lamas’ reservations, the present Dalai Lama remarked around the same time that ‘a Tulku is not meant for doing land-business; he is not meant to be a landlord or accumulate wealth.’ The Dalai Lama was strong on education too, insisting that he prefers Buddhist teachers who have studied, and whose qualifications have been tested, over ‘high beings.’ Like Zong Rinpoche and Dakpo Rinpoche, the Dalai Lama seemed to be acutely aware of the possibility of degeneration and abuse:

    ‘Among the Tulku group there are (also) people who are really qualified and who are really respected, who have world-wide respect (as scholars). And at the same time there are Tulkus who, even though they may not have the qualifications, can take advantage of certain things because of their name (and title) of Tulku.’

    (sources: Bärlocher, D. (1982). ‘Testimonies of Tibetan Tulkus: A Research among Reincarnate Buddhist Masters in Exile: Volume I: Materials.’ Universität Freiburg, Freiburg and Dagpo Rinpoche. (1984). ‘Die Reinkarnation. In Der Dalaï Lama: Weltliche und spirituelle Macht.’ München: Dianus-Trikont.)

    So, at least in the early 1980s, Tibetans like Zong Rinpoche, Dagpo Rinpoche, and the Dalai Lama, were quite capable of voicing their concern about corruptions of the tulku institution. This was long before widespread Western interest in Tibetan Buddhism turned being a tulku—or posing as one—into a highly profitable revenue model.

    Gullible Westerners hardly investigated the background of these tulkus at all, or course. Studies such as Bärlocher’s were hard to come by. But their naive gullibility was surely amplified by the Dalai Lama’s longstanding habit of publicly recognizing and endorsing tulkus—even dubious pretenders such as Sogyal Lakar—as if he’d all but forgotten his earlier reservation. You really can’t blame Western Buddhists for believing that openly ‘recognized’ and ‘endorsed’ tulkus were bonafide, while knowing that Tibetan leaders, for whatever reasons, undeniably refused to discriminate between bonafide and malafide tulkus.

    Just imagine doctors, scientists, or psychotherapists doing that: publicly endorsing or recognizing charlatans while being aware that they are charlatans.

  15. Rob, these are all very good points, and that’s very interesting about the difference between tulku (sprul sku) And yangsi (yang srid). I had never heard that before. Are you sure that’s correct? The current incarnations of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and Dudjom Rinpoche are also styled yangsi. Are they not also tulkus?

  16. All this inspires me to say my interest in TB is over. It’s corrupt, cruel, and a hierarchy with no democratic values. Why subject oneself to it?

    1. Dear Juna: One certainly doesn’t have to be a Buddhist to be a kind and decent human being with the qualities of wakefulness and insight and relaxed confidence that we often find ourselves admiring in others. My own experience is that those things are naturally present in us as well, no matter what we call ourselves, and that the less we struggle with ourselves, the more in touch we become with what we would like to be. Rightly or wrongly, some of us also feel connected to Tibetan Buddhism, and find ourselves (or at least I find myself) having to sweat through all this other stuff—the discouragement and disillusionment—to keep in contact with whatever it was that inspired us to begin with. It can be a bumpy road, for sure!

    2. For me, there is only one reason – dzogchen/Mahamudra. However, aiming to study and practice in order to get those teachings does not mean that you have to subject yourself too all the shit. We don’t have to take it all on board. If we take teachings with our eyes wide open and no illusions, we can do it on our own terms. The trick is not to swallow the tradition whole, to study and practice, but not actually ‘be’ a Tibetan Buddhist.I hope my book ‘Fallout’ will show how this can be done.

  17. Yes, I’m sure that this is correct, June. Ordinary beings are unable to ascertain whether a particular person is the (re)incarnation of an enlightened being, so I couldn’t say if the (re)incarnations of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and Dudjom Rinpoche are tulkus or yangsis.

    The views of Zong, Dakpo and the Dalai Lama are corroborated by many sources.

    The Tibetan word tulku (Wyl. sprul sku) literally means ‘the emanated body of a Buddha’. It is used to refer to the incarnation or emanation of a Buddha or Bodhisattva, that is, the physical form as perceived by ordinary beings. The Tibetan words yangsi (Wyl. yang srid) for ‘rebirth’, and yangtsé (Wyl. yang tshe) for ‘live again’, by contrast, mean ‘to exist again’. They are used for an ordinary reincarnation of a deceased Buddhist lama. Indeed, every human being is a yangsi or yangtse—a reincarnation of a deceased predecessor.

    A fundamental difference between the two is this: the (reincarnated) yangsi is still subject to the ordinary cycle of life and death, whereas the (incarnated) tulku escaped that cycle altogether by becoming enlightened.

    Citing Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, the present Dalai Lama explains the difference as follows: ‘Reincarnation is what happens when someone takes rebirth after the predecessor’s passing away; emanation is when manifestations take place without the source’s passing away.’

    (Source: Gyatso, T., the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. (2011). ‘Reincarnation.’ Retrieved 3 June, 2019 from https://www.dalailama.com/messages/retirement-and-reincarnation/reincarnation)

    Modern scholarship highlights the difference between the two as well, pointing out that incarnation and reincarnation should be seen as distinct but related phenomena:

    ‘There is an important difference between the incarnation of a bodhisattva or a tantric deity and the reincarnation of a historical figure. The former refers to the manifestation of a spiritual entity in a human being, whereas the latter implies the transmission of a principle of consciousness from one human being to another. The two are normally interlinked in the Tibetan context, as the reincarnating beings carry with them their divine attributes as emanations of the deity. Turrell Wylie, in his seminal article on the emergence of reincarnation lines in Tibet, points out: ‘The concept of incarnation, that is to say an emanation-body (nirmāṇakāya in Sanskrit, sprul-sku in Tibetan) dates from the early days of Mahāyāna Buddhism and is widely accepted in conjunction with the bodhisattva ideal. Reincarnation, however, is uniquely Tibetan in conceptualisation and late in origin, emerging for the first time in the fourteenth century. . . . [Terms for it include] Yang srid “to exist again”, yang sprul “again emanated”, also “skye ba” “birth, rebirth”‘.

    (Sources: Diemberger, H. (2007). ‘When a Woman Becomes a Religious Dynasty: The Samding Dorje Phagmo of Tibet.’ New York: Columbia University Press and Wylie, T. V. (1978). ‘Reincarnation: a political innovation in Tibetan Buddhism.’ In L. Ligetti (Ed.), Proceedings of the Csoma de Kőrös Memorial Symposium, Hungary, 24-30 September 1976 (pp. 579-586). Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó.)

    True to his esteem of nurture over nature, the Dalai Lama has consistently reacted against the institution of incarnation and reincarnation lineages, stressing that their formal recognition and instatement is not integral to Buddhism:

    ‘Buddha in all of his teachings has never mentioned any special status, only qualification. (…) Rebirth is there, reincarnation is there. But not the lineages.’

    (Source: Bärlocher, D. (1982). ‘Testimonies of Tibetan Tulkus: A Research among Reincarnate Buddhist Masters in Exile: Volume I: Materials.’ Doktor. Universität Freiburg, Freiburg.)

    If you know where to look for them, there are abundant sources that document and corroborate the perceived drawbacks and corruptions of the tulku/yangsi system before as well as after the Tibetan exile.

    It should be investigated more deeply than I did, but I’ve found that Tibetan lamas’ and Western Tibetologists’ assessment of the drawbacks and corruptions of the tulku/yangsi institution was much more public, thorough, critical and frank before Western hype turned Tibetan Buddhism into a commodity and mass entertainment, than after. Even the Dalai Lama held back on his vocal criticism of tulkus/yangsis for quite some time, I think.

    Tibetans and Tibetologists soon became so dependent on—and greedy for—Westerners’ financial, moral, institutional and political support that critical discourse on the risks of having unfit, untrained tulkus/yangsis serve as Tibetan Buddhist teachers was muted and downplayed to the point of having been almost completely forgotten—until the public exposure of abusive tulkus/yangsis in Western media began in earnest, that is.

    In due course, perhaps, the public critical discourse will resume so that the tulku/yangsi system once again will be seen less seen as a profitable revenue model, and more as a religious, moral and political liability.

  18. I don’t know why my first comment wasn’t approved. I’ll try again.

    My understanding is that “yangsi” just means “young incarnation”. You can find this on Mingyur Rinpoche’s website. It has nothing to do with the ‘realization’ of a lama. There is a difference between ‘reincarnation’ and ‘rebirth’ but “yangsi” just means a young tulku. A tulku can be realized or not, depending on the individual.

    Here is an example from the Terger website, (Mingyur Rinpoche). They say: “The yangsi (young reincarnation) of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, named Urgyen Jigme Rabsel Dawa, was born in 2001 as the son of Neten Chokling Rinpoche and was discovered in 2006 by Kyabje Trulshik Rinpoche, the late head of the Nyingma lineage.”

    The 14th Dalai Lama’s reincarnation might be called the “Yangsi Dalai Lama” but it wouldn’t mean the 15th DL isn’t considered realized. It just means he is the young 15th DL.

  19. Amy, I’m not the source of the tulku/yangsi distinction made by Zong and Dakpo Rinpoche—they and other scholars are. These lamas don’t use the distinction in a pejorative sense, and neither do I. So far, I’ve not come across explanations corroborating that the term yangsi means nothing but ‘young reincarnation’. This may well be one its actual uses, but it is by no means the only one.

    According to Tulku Thondup, for instance, most recognized Tibetan reincarnations are ordinary rebirths of deceased teachers:

    ‘First, there are the buddha manifestations (Skt., nirmanakaya), or the tulkus who appear to ordinary beings and serve them in infinite forms simultaneously through their fully enlightened power. Second, there are the tulkus or the manifestations of highly accomplished adepts,- who appear in many forms through the power of their highly realized wisdom. Third, there are the rebirths, or tulkus, of virtuous or meritorious teachers,- who are fulfilling their own spiritual goals and serving others through the beneficial effects of their virtuous deeds. Most of the tulkus of Tibet might belong to this third category, the rebirths of virtuous teachers or lamas. Originally, tulkus were manifested by the enlightened power of the buddhas, as well as by highly accomplished adepts. However, Tibetan Buddhists have also adopted the term and the concept of tulku for the rebirths of virtuous lamas.’ (Source: Tulku Thondup. (2011). ‘Incarnation: The History and Mysticism of the Tulku Tradition of Tibet.’ Boston: Shambhala.)

    Advancing a similar distinction, Jigdal Dagchen Sakya Rinpoch notes that in rare instances a single person might be an incarnation (that is, tulku) and reincarnation (that is, yangsi) at the same time, mentioning the fourteenth Dalai Lama as a case in point. (Source: Bärlocher, D. (1982). ‘Testimonies of Tibetan Tulkus: A Research among Reincarnate Buddhist Masters in Exile: Volume I: Materials.’ Doktor. Universität Freiburg, Freiburg.)

    Likewise, Tibetologist Paul Williams wrote: ‘In fact, in practice, in everyday contemporary Tibetan, the term ‘sprul sku’ (trulku) is ambiguous. It has come to have two uses. It is listed as such in the encyclopaedic ‘Great Tibetan-Chines Dictionary’, the ‘Bod rgya tshig mdzod chen mo.’ Along with the sense of (i) an emanation of a Buddha or a Bodhisattva, this second meaning of sprul sku, a separate though related meaning, is given as a derived expression for simply the yang srid. It is (ii) simply any reincarnation of a high-ranking lama. In order to preserve some distinction the specific sense of a Buddha or bodhisattva emanation is sometimes captured by another expression, the term sprul pa (pronounced ’trulba’). So we find that the great rJe Tsong kha pa, the late fourteenth-century founder of the Dalai Lama’s dGe lugs school, is held to have attained such an elevated state that although he has no reincarnation lineage (i.e. any yang srid-s), he still has emanations. He is thought to be still emanating as a Buddha in order to help others.’ (Source: Williams, P. (2005). Songs of Love, Poems of Sadness: The Erotic Verse of the Sixth Dalai Lama. London: I. B. Tauris.)

    Tulku Thondup further notes: ‘Some people might carry the nametag of “tulku,” but they are false tulkus. In the past, and especially in today’s world, we frequently encounter people who claim to be tulkusm even tulkus of the highest lamas ever known. If we check carefully, though, most of them have not been recognized or enthroned in a traditional way, nor have they gone through any serious training. Even more shockingly, many of them manifest very few real tulku qualities—peace in the heart, love for all, and realization of the true wisdom. In some cases, the lamas who recognized such tulkus are not equipped for such a task. They lack the enlightened power and extraordinary capacity that is necessary for recognizing the rebirths of other lamas. Relying on some simple signs, such as dreams, they might honestly believe in what the dreams predict, but they may just be fooling themselves and others. Sometimes the recognition and training process of young tulkus are run by smart bureaucrats with special interests and agendas in their hearts, who lack either honesty or true care for traditional values or spiritual wisdom. Sometimes people may witness simple miracles happening around certain young children that impress them. Yet some unhealthy spirit forces may have orchestrated these happenings in order to fool people. As a safeguard against such problems, the followers of a deceased lama usually seek the prophesies and visions of not just one but a number of highly respected lamas before making the final recognition. It is always important to consult a highly competent lama, or a number of them. The main cause of corruption, however, is not the lack of merit of the tulku tradition in general or the lack of enlightened lamas who are able to recognize them. Rather, it is the greed for material or social gain that drives the parents, relatives, or other interested people to fabricate stories and manipulate the process in favor of their own candidate. In the past, institutions such as monasteries and nunneries mostly maintained strict and vigilant safeguards against such improper influences. But today, in many cases, the institutions themselves are powerless at best. Another factor is the greed of the young people themselves. Today, many well- intentioned institutions that would be capable of offering watchful guidance have little control over what goes on. So individuals with little merit are often free to proclaim themselves tulkus. Such false tulkus or teachers, although they appear impressive, could hurt the Dharma in the end and ransack the true value of the thousand-year-old tulku tradition.’ Tulku Thondup defines ‘false tulku’ (‘trüldzün’, Wyl. sprul rdzun) as ‘one who has never been a tulku and has been designated as such falsely or by mistake.'(Source: ibid.)

    As I’ve mentioned before, an important difference between emanations/manifestations/incarnations and reincarnations is that a reincarnation is not a fully enlightened Buddha, but an ordinary being, still caught up in samsara or cyclic existence. Because his or her spiritual development hasn’t been perfected yet, he or she is susceptible to degeneration, especially if his or her training and education have been lacking. Zong Rinpoche, Dakpo Rinpoche, and the Dalai Lama, among others, are perfectly clear on that.

    Besides, Martin Mills points out an important practical difference between manifestations and reincarnations: ;This distinction is important, since whilst the ‘manifestation bodies’ of tutelary deities inherit substantial properties, clients, students, powers from their predecessor, mere recognized re-incarnations do not. Many monks and laity are recognized as the reincarnation of previous monks and so forth, and they are often held in high esteem if this is so; in certain cases, limited gift-giving relations have been set up between households if someone from one household is held to have been re-incarnated in another. But this is not the grounds for inheritance of a previous life’s household property. The incarnate’s inheritance of the labrang is located in his continued manifestation of divine power: mere karma is not the basis of this aspect of the tulku’s economic and ritual status.’ (Source: Mills, M. A. (2000). ‘Vajra Brother, Vajra Sister: Renunciation, Individualism and the Household in Tibetan Buddhist Monasticism.’ Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 6 (1), 17-34.)

    And Reginald Ray wrote: ‘One of the more interesting aspects of the “recognition” process is the way in which, particularly when higher Tulkus are in question, a number of rival claimants may be put forward. This touches upon another aspect of the political dimension of Tulku tradition: a great deal of wealth and influence comes to the family whose child is recognized as recognized as a high Tulku. This in turn means that recognition process itself can have considerable political implications.’ (Source: Ray, R. A. (1986). ‘Some Aspects of the Tulku Tradition in Tibet.’ The Tibet Journal, 11(4), 35-69.)

    In common parlance—particularly, but not only in the West, it seems—the term tulku is used as if its meaning were unambiguous and self-evident, obscuring some of these real differences and tensions. Since many rationalizations of the behaviour of abusive Tibetan tulkus rest on the presupposition that they’re ‘self-evidently’ emanations of fully enlightened Buddhas, retrieving such differences, while pointing out the room for fraud and corruption that authoritative Tibetan lamas themselves perceive, is pertinent, I think.

  20. Turrell Wylie juxtaposes tulkus and yangsis thus:

    ‘”Incarnation” is used for Tibetan ‘sprul-sku’ (Sanskrit: ‘nirmāṇa-kāya’), a term generally and better translated out side of this paper as “emanation body.” In contrast, “reincarnation” renders Tibetan yang-srid, literally “again exist, and is used to identify an individual who is considered to be the “rebirth” of an antecessor. By way of illustration, Tibetan tradition claims that the ancient king, Srong-brtsan sgam-po, was an “incarnation” (‘sprul-sku’) of the Bodhisattva of Mercy, Avalokitesvara; but it does
    not regard him as being the “reincarnation” (‘yang-srid’) of any earlier king. By comparison, the fifth Dalai is regarded as having been the “reincarnation” of the fourth Dalai Lama, who in turn was the “reincarnation” of the third, and so forth.

    The doctrine of “incarnation,” referring to a discrete phenomenal form emanated by a bodhisattva for didactic reasons, dates from the early days of Mahayana Buddhism and is widely accepted by various schools. On the other hand, the concept of “reincarnation” as defined here is unique to the Tibetan form of Buddhism. (…) Suffice it to say here that “reincarnation” was engendered in the Tibetan matrix by the political need to affect a transition from a hierocratic form of government based on “charisma of person” to an institutionalized one dependent on “charisma of office.”‘ (Source: Wylie, T. V. (1978). Influence of the Bodhisattvan Doctrine on Tibetan Political History. In L. S. Kawamura (Ed.), The Bodhisattvan doctrine in Buddhism (pp. 81-94). Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.)

    Wylie’s view corresponds with that of the Dalai Lama, who said that the formal instatement of recognized reincarnation lineages is not a Buddhist teaching or practice.

    The idea of institutionalizing reincarnation may have been born of a ‘political need’ during the late European Middle Ages, in thirteenth century Tibet, such ‘needs’ are impermanent too, and the erstwhile solution may have turned into a liability more than 700 years later. Tibetan Buddhists in the West have every right to renounce the tulku institution as obsolete and counterproductive if their ‘political need’ requires them to. After all, Tibetans don’t own Buddhism any more than Indians do.

  21. @Rob,

    As I said on the other forum, I can’t wade through very long posts. It is a limitation of mine, so I am sorry that I can’t keep up with it.

    The Dalai Lama has said that he may not be the “direct” reincarnation of all of his past incarnations, (although I think he believes himself to be the direct reincarnation of the 5th). I read his explanation of how his reincarnations work, but I don’t remember all the details because it was way over my head. It is true that “reincarnation” (in the Tibetan world) is very complex, and it would take forever to explore all of it here.

    I am not sure that Turrell Wylie understands Tibetan definitions the way Tibetans do, so I am not sure we can take everything he says as “gospel” when it comes to Tibetan definitions and meanings. I don’t claim to be an expert in Tibetan words and meanings either, but from what I understand, the label “yangsi” just denotes youth and the “new” reincarnation of a lama, (regardless of whether he is considered to be highly realized or not).

    All of these references to tulkus and their different levels that you are posting are interesting, and I am not saying they are necessarily incorrect, (although I wasn’t able to wade through all of it), but the definition of “yangsi” is all I was talking about.

  22. This blog has come a long way, and I’ve enjoyed reading some of the comments on this topic. As to the detailed qualifications and caveats about the Tulku system written by the Dalai Lama and other lamas: well, I’m afraid my reaction is: “And you’re telling us this…….now?”

    Setting that tactfully aside, it strikes me that these distinctions and categories are contingent on accepting that Rebirth, Karma and Enlightenment are real and in the absence of solid evidence this still implies complete faith in the teachings and more significantly: unconditional trust in those who teach.
    ( what could possibly go wrong?)

    The idea of keeping your critical discernment and choosing rationality over faith, as the Buddha advised, is fine but as we all know, in Vajrayana the exact opposite is actively and systematically promoted from the start, and it underpins the entire teachings, so for lamas to now try and play this down in the wake of all the scandals is gaslighting and it’s much too late for that.

    In terms of the students, everyone I ever met seemed to have begun with really good intentions; ( even the ones who later went on to become the ruthlessly indifferent enablers of Sogyal’s abuse started out like that ) Everyone was sincere and tried to have trust, devotion and pure perception, and then later on everyone tried hard to ignore the growing gap between what we were told and what we saw…..until for a lot of us the cognitive dissonance just overwhelmed us and we walked away.

    The institution of Tibetan Buddhism, the lamas themselves destroyed this trust by abuse, exploitation, dishonesty, hypocrisy, active endorsement of or silent complicity with abusers, they failed to live up to their own teachings and ideals, failed to prevent abuse, failed victims and failed all of us completely.

    And I think it’s possible that they’re still failing to understand the implications either.

    I know ( sometimes to my cost) that we all tend to prioritize believing and doing things that satisfy our emotional needs, often without applying too much rational consideration, we don’t always look for evidence or do any kind of cost/ benefit assessment.

    But at least we’ve got hindsight.

    So given all that’s happened, whether a lama is supposed to be a Tulku, enlightened, realized, a Yangsi, an Incarnation, a Reincarnation, an Emanation, or a Nirmanakaya manifestation and so on might seem to many people like a rather redundant discussion at this stage, like medieval scholars arguing about how many angels can stand on the head of a pin.

    1. You’re absolutely right, Pete. Debating over “tulkus/reincarnations/yangsis” and so on, really isn’t constructive conversation in view of what’s been happening in Tibetan Buddhism. I have no idea why I took part in such a conversation in a thread about the tulku institution. We should be talking about the corruption, not all the other trappings, etc.

      1. @ Amy

        Well, Amy, I intended to be facetious but on re-reading my comment, I sounded dogmatic and censorious. Anyway, I’ve also been involved in quite a few conversations here that I probably should have avoided, it’s easy (and occasionally fun) to get sidetracked. That being said, I’m often been surprised at the way these threads, even when appearing a bit inconsequential or even conflictual, can turn out to be really interesting and people’s comments throw a new light on issues.

        This comment of the Dalai Lama’s for instance….I’ve no idea if he said it……but it does describe what he and almost all other lamas have effectively done for years.

        I understand the cultural conditioning they have, ( or perhaps used to have ) but it seems to be an extraordinary collective abdication of moral responsibility towards the victims.

        If it’s really to do with some kind of reluctance to criticize because of the bodhisattva vows, then I wonder why the victims, who completely outnumber the abusive lamas, aren’t given priority. It seems to be a particularly contorted moral logic that judges harsh speech and giving offense to one abuser to be so much more important that the greater suffering of the far greater number of his past victims and the safety of his potential ones.

        And as a strategy it has also had disastrous consequences for Tibetan Buddhism itself.

        I’d be interested to hear how you understand that and in what context you see it.

        1. @Pete,

          You’re no more dogmatic than I am, so I wouldn’t have the right to criticize you for being dogmatic. 😀

          Do you mean what do I think of the whole “never criticize” strategy of Tibetan lamas? I really doubt bodhisattva vows have as much to do with it as foolish pride and their “saving face” obsession. The lamas don’t want to look bad, so they would rather remain silent about abuse than to shame their tradition by letting the scandals become public. So they try to hide everything under the rug, but they don’t realize that it makes it look worse if they try to hide it. I think they’re hoping that they can keep on hiding it and it will somehow all blow over.

  23. Meanwhile, a cultural clash by proxy on the same subject took place between myself and a Western Tibetan Buddhist at Diffi•cult, Tenpel’s blog. Spoiler alert: Yes, I was called a racist. And no, I’m not.

    To me, this very dynamic demonstrates that it’s important to distinguish between Tibetan lamas and some of their most vocal (self-declared) Western advocates. Some of the most inveterate Tibetan Buddhists in the West are even less amenable to reform than the Tibetan lamas they flock to, I think. They cling to the status quo so much, that they’d rather undermine their lamas’ adaptability and powers of discernment than empower them.

    The experience reminded me of poor old Brian, who tried to convince his followers that he was not the Messiah. They were not having it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DBbuUWw30N8

  24. Some person doubted that the following quote of the Dalai Lama was authentic. To put it in context, I put the alleged inauthentic part between * *s:

    ‘We wondered if His Holiness was aware that many lamas were hoping he would accept a position as head of all the lineages, like a pope. This would create a system of checks and balances that was lacking when Trungpa Rinpoche and other lamas started abusing their power. “I am a believer in nonsectarianism. I try to provide as much motivation tion as I can. I have no interest in promoting myself. There are no Dalai Lama centers, no Dalai Lama monastery. Wherever I can contribute, I am willing.” To our dismay, he continued, * “It is not the Tibetan way to confront front errant behavior on the part of the lamas. We prefer to let them learn about their mistakes on their own.” * Then Johnny asked him the big question. “You know about the situation within Trungpa Rinpoche’s community. Our teacher died of alcoholism after abusing his power with female students. His Regent transmitted AIDS in a similar abuse of power to a young male student. Many of us have experienced extreme heartbreak and a weakening of faith and devotion. Can you address this problem so that other students may avoid these pitfalls?” “I would say that if you are going to follow a teacher, you must examine his behavior very carefully. In your case, with Trungpa Rinpoche, you had a lama who was drinking alcohol. We say, in our tradition, that a lama is never supposed to drink. Now, occasionally there have been some teachers who drink alcohol and claim to turn it into elixir. If I were considering sidering following a teacher who drinks alcohol and claims to turn it into elixir, or excrement to gold, I would insist on seeing this happen. If I saw it happen, I may follow this teacher. Unless I see that happen, I would never follow him. The student has to take the responsibility of examining the behavior of the teacher very carefully, over a long period. You cannot be hasty about these things.”

    (Source: John Steinbeck IV; Nancy Steinbeck. ‘The Other Side of Eden: Life With John Steinbeck’ (Kindle Locations 4664-4675). Kindle Edition.)

    Not only was the quote allegedly inauthentic, this person argued, the Dalai Lama couldn’t have said it. So, it was deemed inauthentic because it was deemed inconceivable. No corroboration other than this person’s personal conviction that it doesn’t sound like him was offered, though.

    I happen to think that the quote is authentic precisely because it’s so conceivable. The words ‘It is not the Tibetan way to confront front errant behavior on the part of the lamas. We prefer to let them learn about their mistakes on their own’ are a pretty factual description of the actual state of affairs. Many lamas do prefer to let other lamas make mistakes on their own.’

    The Dalai Lama could have been indignant or sarcastic while saying it, or perhaps he thought it was off the record. It’s unclear if the Dalai Lama’s words were normative or descriptive, but there’s no disputing that he could have said it, I think.

    I’m interested in inquiring further. Has anyone come across information that might help corroborate or disprove the authenticity of the Dalai Lama’s quotes in the Steinbecks’ book?

  25. @Rob Hogendoorn,

    On the other forum, you took the Dalai Lama’s ONE sentence (“It is not the Tibetan way to confront front errant behavior on the part of the lamas. We prefer to let them learn about their mistakes on their own.”) and attributed it to him without placing it in context. It really doesn’t sound like the sort of thing he would usually say to the public, but if you had put it into context, and quoted the whole paragraph, it is much more believable. People were asking him to become the pope of Tibetan Buddhism and control all the lineages, (which is impossible because the other lineages wouldn’t have allowed that). Also, the request doesn’t make sense because asking a high priest to become the pope of a religion in order to be the overseer and moral authority of the entire religion is like like asking a government to oversee itself to ensure there is no corruption, lol! What he said was in direct response to that ridiculous, unrealistic request, which could never yield good results anyway.

  26. Actually, Amy, I gave the source as a reference, so that readers could look it up themselves. I’m not as confident as you that the Dalai Lama’s remark can be interpreted this way, though. Whatever the ‘request’ was, and whatever his ‘response’, it doesn’t quite follow that because he couldn’t be the be the highest hierarch, other lamas should let each other make their own mistakes. There’s also their responsibility and accountability towards the subjects of such mistakes to consider.

    I’ve investigated the Dalai Lama’s creation of a power base in exile quite deeply and extensively, and I’ll be reporting my findings in a later, much more elaborate publication.

    For now, pending further evidence, I think this quote can be safely read as an accurate factual description. I see no reason yet to doubt its authenticity, but I’d be very interested in further sources, e.g. audio and/or transcripts of the interview.

  27. “In an age where we are constantly fed an unlimited scrolling of information every minute of every day, we resort to an easy and flat deduction of our perspectives on the news items and the people that crowd our feeds. There are good and bad piles. And recently, the Dalai Lama has been pit into the burning of countless bad piles as evidenced by the comments left on news pages and facebook articles about him. Tibetan voices are not usually represented at all in well known Asian spheres, let alone the mainstream. The two primary concerns are his comments on the need for refugees to return to their home countries and his knowing of sexual abuse within the Tibetan Buddhist institution since the 1990’s.”

    (source: https://www.tibetanfeministcollective.org/2018/09/18/dalai-lama-statements-refugee-abuse/)

  28. ‘Press release: Charity Commission disqualifies trustee from Rigpa Fellowship’

    ‘A trustee has been disqualified from all charities for a period of 8 years as a result of an ongoing Charity Commission inquiry into the Rigpa Fellowship charity.

    Patrick Gaffney was serving as a trustee of the charity, which is based in London and has objects to advance the Buddhist religion.

    Evidence uncovered by the Commission shows Mr Gaffney had knowledge of instances and allegations of improper acts and sexual and physical abuse against students at the charity.

    Mr Gaffney failed to take appropriate action in response to this information and is therefore responsible for misconduct and/or mismanagement in the administration of the charity.

    He was entered onto the list of disqualified trustees on 12 April 2019.

    Amy Spiller, Head of Investigations Team at the Charity Commission, said:
    We are continuing to investigate concerns about this charity via our ongoing statutory inquiry. However, the safety and wellbeing of beneficiaries and those that come into contact with the charity, must always be a priority for the trustees and staff of a charity. This trustee has been disqualified with immediate effect for failing in his duty to protect those who came into contact with the charity.

    The public rightly expect charities to be safe places, where people are free from harm. Where we find charities that are failing in this essential duty, we will take action to remove those responsible.

    The Commission has been engaging with the charity since August 2017 over serious concerns about adult safeguarding. Concerns escalated during this engagement, prompting the opening of a statutory inquiry on 8 November 2018.

    It is the Commission’s policy to publish a report at the conclusion of the case.’

    (Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/charity-commission-disqualifies-trustee-from-rigpa-fellowship)

  29. Clearly, according to the Charity Commission, the norm for Buddhist administrators is that they must act on knowledge of instances and allegations of improper acts and sexual and physical abuse against students in order to protect them.

    Evidently, these administrators can’t claim an exemption for themselves because their guru is said to be a Vajra master. I, for one, certainly would have liked to have seen the faces of the investigators while hearing that ‘argument’ being made. But hey, I studied law.

    The Charity Commission’s remit is not criminal prosecution, of course, but it’s judgement may carry some weight in the event of a criminal prosecution of Sogyal or civil procedures against Rigpa and/or its administrators.

    Given this press release, it’s not far-fetched to think that the Rigpa Fellowship’s tax exempt status might be revoked retroactively, which may be followed by the retrospective collection of taxes.

    Patrick Gaffney, of course, is or was the administrator of other Rigpa charities too, as are Philip Phillippou and others. Given his age, the disqualification of Gaffney pretty much amounts to a suspension for life. It’s seems likely to me that, sooner or later, charity oversight charities in other countries will pick this drastic measure up and start their own inquiries.

  30. Guru Yoga is inherently unbalanced.

    The guru is free to do what he wants whenever he wants and the student must view all the gurus actions via pure vision.

    Tibetan culture is very misogynistic and guru yoga reflects this.

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