The Tulku Test

The Tulku tradition comes from Tibetan Buddhism.  The Tulku, most often a young child, is considered to be the reincarnation of a previously self-actualised and revered person – a ‘holy man’ within the Buddhist tradition. The logic behind the system is that an accomplished being reincarnates as a Tulku to continue the dissemination of knowledge from his previous lives.  As an accomplished being he is able to access experiences from previous lives, which are retained in his ‘mindstream’

We ordinary mortals are considered to be unable to access information from past lives because we are stuck in the cycle of rebirth according to the karma of our unenlightened lives.  Hindus get multiple rides the wheel of birth, death and rebirth too. But if you are a Christian, Jew or Muslim you only get one go, before getting ‘judged’ and summarily dispatched to eternal heaven or hell.  All religions have nicely constructed control mechanisms to make us follow a set of rules with the promise of reward or retribution after death. If there was no ‘after life’ of any kind they would have had to invent it, because there is no evidence of a consistent reward system for good behaviour or punishment for the horrors that many humans inflict on each other and other living creatures every day.

However, the tulku test provides some evidence of reincarnation. This is one description of how a tulku is identified:

“The identification of a tulku was portrayed in the film Kundun, where monks disguised as peasants arrived at the future Dalai Lama’s home when he was a child of three years old. The monks were following clues provided by the thirteenth Dalai Lama — dreams, or information provided by oracles to find candidate children. Once children are identified they are examined for special marks or signs and their parents interviewed in regards to their moral character. Finally, a test is provided where the young child must identify items that belonged to his predecessor, picking them out from similar items. If he can do this correctly, he will be designated a tulku.”

The Quest for the Dalai Lama by Arnie Kozak, Ph.D.

For hundreds of years tulkus were always Tibetan, but since the 1970s they have been showing up on the west. According to Andrew Rawlinson, a former lecturer in Buddhist Studies at Lancaster University in the UK, writing in Global Buddhism  there are now about a dozen fully recognised western tulkus. One result of this expansion is that what goes on in the monastery no longer remains in the monastery and credible accounts of sexual abuse and corruption are emerging from Buddhist citadels, just as they are from other religions. See Kalu Rinpoche’s story here:

What if there are many tulkus in the world, but we just haven’t known to look for them or recognise the signs? I don’t think the Buddhists have any monopoly on tulkus or reincarnation. We are all animals on this planet after all. Our puppy Tulku, also passed the tulku test. His predecessor Dexter, an enlightened master for sure, guided us to him when he was less than three weeks old and even gave us his name. Dexter didn’t have any possessions, being a dog, but on the first day after we brought him home, when he was 6 ½ weeks old, Tulku ran straight over to Dexter’s grave, grabbed a pebble and brought it to me and dropped it at my feet. A couple of weeks ago, Izzy lost her collar playing out in the food forest. I went went out there with Izzy, Riley and Tulku to look for it and I said to Riley, “Go find Izzy’s collar.” Riley started looking around, but she didn’t know what she was looking for and barely was the though formed in my head, “If Dexter was here……..” because Dexter was the finder. He would find lost balls on the common, lost keys, even lost souls it turned out.  And then Tulku ran up with the collar in his mouth.

But I was still grappling with the issue of how could Tulku here now be Dexter reincarnated, while I am still talking to the Dexter who was here? I asked Dexter to answer this question for me and he came up with the answer, “We all have doubles.”  I’ll be exploring that issue in a later post.

 

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