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The Speaking Tree: Born-again Bodhisattvas' Path Of Compassion

February 13, 2008

12 Feb 2008
Times of India
Swati Chopra

Reincarnation in Tibet is not only a matter of religious belief, it
has struck deep roots in its lived culture and led to a unique system
of spiritual and temporal leadership most popularly exemplified for us
by Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama. In reality, most high lamas and
teachers of Tibet — those who have attained spiritual eminence — are
believed to re- enter the world upon death to carry on their work.
Their rebirth is thought to be conscious and self-directed, as opposed
to others' who are drawn to a next life by the force of their karmic
imprints and debts.

These 'conscious reincarnations', called tulkus, are found through an
elaborate process that concludes with exami-ning the plausible
candidate's familiarity with the deceased's belongings and attendants.
The recognised child, who is three or four at this time, is installed
in his predecessor's position with much celebration. Then begins
rigorous training in spiritual disciplines, scriptures, philosophy and
practices. Once the tulku matures in age and understanding, he is
asked to take over his predecessor's responsibilities, such as
administering his monastery, advising disciples, and so on.

Little tulkus are usually observed to display a keen aptitude for
scriptural study, metaphysics and meditation, and a certain degree of
equanimity, balance and concentration, that may not be so common in
other children their age.

The Dalai Lama, who has an abiding interest in modern science and who
has said that he is willing to consider any valid scientific proof
that debunks reincarnation but that until then he would continue to
believe in it, shares the story of his tutor's reincarnation in his
autobio- graphy, Freedom in Exile. The 18-month-old child called his
predecessor's attendant by name, and at age two, found the Dalai
Lama's room on his own, crawled up the stairs, and laid a ceremonial
scarf (khata) on the bed!

Central to understanding conscious rebirth is the ideal of the
bodhisattva. The Buddhism of Tibet, Vajrayana, is in essence the way
of the bodhisattva. The bodhisattva is the Buddha-to-be, who has
chosen to delay her final release from samsara for the sake of
everybody else. Nirvana for oneself is unthinkable when countless
others continue to suffer, and the bodhisattva in her deep compassion,
chooses to return with only one motivation — to help as many beings,
in as many ways, as she can.

A prayer the Dalai Lama recites every day conveys the essence of the
attitude of the bodhisattva: 'For as long as space endures,/ And for
as long as living beings remain,/ Until then may I too abide,/ To
dispel the misery of the world'.

For the young tulkus, it is an inspiring focus to develop in life —
where one's reason for being is not rooted in personal ambition, a
high-flying career or even family and children, as is the case with
most of us. Every Vajrayana practitioner, and not just the tulkus,
attempts to cultivate this attitude of compassion and dedicates her
spiritual practice for the welfare of all beings, rather than engaging
in a solitary quest for self-nirvana.

The tulkus of Tibet carry a valuable message in this age of
materialistic frenzy and greed, encapsulated here by Shantideva: "For
all those ailing in the world,/ Until their every sickness has been
healed,/ May I myself become for them/ The doctor, nurse, the medicine
itself".
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