The concept of the Tulku is very exotic. It originates in Tibet. Spiritual masters give some clues before their death, to where they will reincarnate. A reincarnated master is called a Tulku. HH. Dalai Lama, is one of them. The master gets the title of Rinpoche, which means jewel or precious.

The timeline of such multiple incarnations, is called a lineage. Tenzin Gyatso, the current Dalai Lama is the 14th in a row of incarnations. Sometimes a line is infinitely prolonged towards the past – a process of mythification – towards one or the other Tibetan Deity.

Gesar Mukpo, one of the first tulkus to be born outside Tibet, son of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and his British wife Diane Pybus, made a film about being a Tulku, where he comments on his own life while following 4 other tulkus born outside Tibet.

the trailer of this film can be seen here under:

the personal insight of a friend

A tulku leads a lonely life. Being named as the incarnation of someone you might never have heard of leads to an identity crisis. You are recognized by other tulkus when as a child there are certain objects you recognize and some habits you retain, according to them, from your former incarnation. There are some crazy thoughts you utter about having to let you go to where you belong, so they recognize you, take you away from your family and finally you are enthroned. During that enthronement you do everything according to the ritual, which is extraordinarily to say the least.

video of the Enthronement ceremony of Tulku Rinpoche Jamyang Wangpo:

However your childhood is taken away and you see your decade long prodigal education as a prison. This is definitely traumatic at a certain level and will leave its scars. With the exception of those far away memories from childhood and of that enthronement, you feel as normal as anybody else. There are moments when a transmental thing comes out of nowhere, like giving an appropriate name to your new born cousin, but then don’t we all have these moments? Do we only fail to recognize these events when they happen to us?

Then you are released to the world as a rinpoche.

Your dressing as a Tibetan lama scares people unknown with your culture.

Your position leads some people who know what you stand for to also be afraid of you. You might see what they think, isn’t it? How could they know that you don’t read minds? They cannot read your mind either.

Your position leads some people who know what you stand for to revere you so much that no real conversation is possible. You become a bodhisattva to them. A living saint.

It is difficult to have any conversation with anyone, your education has been exotic and above many people’s level, but on the other hand how could you connect with them when you can’t follow a discussion about football.

my own interpretation

His clear light takes care of the growth on the spiritual level. Often unconscious to him, he evolves. And, when the conditions are right, sudden breakthroughs lead him to a realization of who he has always been to fulfil his role in the spiritual development of some inhabitants on this crazy world we call Earth.

17 thoughts on “tulku

  1. Wow – this was a lovely post. Never considered the subject of Tulkus from this point of view. I vaguely remember the Dalai Lama saying many years ago that in future the Lamas would be chosen democratically rather than through the Tulku system. I am going to try and find the entire documentary and see it…

    • I saw this documentary when they broadcasted it on national tv, a couple of years ago. A very authentic documentary. You can order the DVD I think, but I always postpone these things myself when I think of the administrative jumble.
      The Dalai Lama was the leader of the Tibetan state in exile, till 2 years ago. Since then the leader is a president that is indeed elected (http://tibet.net/2011/04/27/tibetans-elect-dr-lobsang-sangay-as-kalon-tripa/). Whether the Dalai Lama will really reincarnate another lifetime is a sure thing (for him), but whether he wants to be found and recognized remains to be seen. If I were a bodhisattva, I would prefer to be anonymous.

  2. Very Good. “I am Spartacus…..er,….Tulku!!” Seriously now. This is very good and very informative. I’ve wondered before if a Buddist Spiritual Master would ever reincarnate in the Materialistic Western World? Would he consider it heaven or hell? Would he view our socieiy as living in abject Spiritual poverty? Would it just be another lesson in Spirituality? Although my questions may seem flippant I am actually very sincere. It’s too big to think about it but I have to think about it. Am I surrounded by French Revolutionaries? Can I reincarnate to the French Revolution time since time is an illusion?

    Anyway, have you ever seen the movie “The Little Buddha” with Keanu Reeves, Bridget Fonda, and Ruocheng Ying. It’s a great movie about this very topic of an American child chosen as the possible New Buddha reincarnation. It’s very good. It tells as part of the story the life of the Buddha which is very interesting. See Here:



    • Well, you made quite an intro Mr. Spartacus.
      I don’t know anything about reincarnation. I’m a non believer you see, that means that I don’t know. It can be yes, it can be no, there could be heaven, there could be hell, you name it. This knowledge is not attainable by our own minds while here on Earth. Metaphysics is this bag full of ‘perhaps’, invented by humans on earth.
      Whatever it is that might reincarnate, has no physical memory, no mental remnants, no emotional and no physical remnants of the past. So a tulku cannot think that he is a tulku, cause thoughts and opinions come from our present memory in this life. That’s why the tulku before his death gives indications of his next birth, and asks his friends to find him and to inform him that he is a tulku. (that’s the theory)
      Unfortunately, I never saw the film ‘Little Buddha’ so here I cannot connect with you.
      About the french revolution … I remember that while they celebrated 200 years of this revolution in 1989, I was then thinking that perhaps in 2176 they will celebrate Pol Pot in Cambodja. The french revolution was not better than what happened in Rwanda 15 years ago, or what happened on a smaller scale in Ceylon with the Tamil minority, as recent as 2009 (http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/justice-crushed-in-sri-lanka-20130305-2fiv4.html). History is often manipulated by politics, and real historian evidence is transmitted on tv after 11pm when nobody is watching. Not on the history channel – history channel is only about aliens and nazis.

  3. I think my little brother is an incarnation of a Tibetan Lama, when we were young, he would touch my third eye and then touch his third eye and say to me: “I’m a Buddha and you’re a Buddha.”
    No one around us talked this way so it was not something he was parroting and he was only three years old when he said that to me.
    I was seven, still remember it vividly.

  4. When I saw the title, I was already reaching for my Tarthang Tulku book. It has been a while since our last journey. I did not expect the film to be on American Tulku. How is an American child that is not accustomed to the Tibetan – or any Eastern Buddhist – way, supposted to live up to a task that their Tibetan equivalents get groomed into? And then for one teacher to claim to be ‘waiting for him to do what he is supposed to do’? As his statement got met with silence, he repeated it. If he teaches in the same way the American Tulku remain confused, which would make them perfect pawns. Great post.

    • thx. Perhaps tulkus should remain anonymous, in the west as well as in the east. When time is ripe they will do what they have to do, regardless of the rituals or conventions.

  5. Well, from one perspective, I will say that this is a clear example of religious slavery. The child is not treated with respect and not regarded as an independent human being with choice. That aspect makes me VERY sad and angry.

    • Unlike what most people think, Tibetan society anno 1950 must be looked upon as feudal-conformist. If we go back to rural Europe 1750, I don’t think there would be much of a difference. So if we look upon this society with these eyes, we see our own problems reflected through history.
      This Tibet does not exist anymore and will never come back due to the unfortunate Chinese invasion and assimilation. The French revolution must have been equally devastating to my forefathers and foremothers. Tibetans never got the opportunity to become post-conform on their own pace. We got 10 years of revolutionary rule, 120 years of imperialism, 10 years of world-war and 60 years of real parliamentary democracy to come to terms with the present.
      To come back to the core of this comment: the tulku system is disappearing, since its modern version as depicted by Gesar Mukpo doesn’t work and is counterproductive to Buddhism on a larger scale.
      These days, the new generation of tulkus are building schools and universities to continue the wisdom in their lineage in a way adapted to post-modern times.

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