Tulku


Tulku

A tulku (bo|t=སྤྲུལ་སྐུ|w=sprul sku|z=Zhügu, also tülku, trulku) is a Tibetan Buddhist lama who has, through "phowa" and "siddhi", consciously determined to be reborn, often many times, in order to continue his Bodhisattva vow. The most famous example is the lineage of Dalai Lamas; the current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is held to be the fourteenth incarnation, the first being Gendun Drup (1391–1474). It is held in the Vajrayana tradition that the oldest lineage of "tulku"s is that of the Karmapas (spiritual head of the Karma Kagyu lineage), which began with Düsum Khyenpa (1110-1193).

Meaning

The term "tülku" is the Tibetan translation of the Sanskrit philosophical term "nirmanakaya". According to the philosophical system of "trikaya" or "three bodies of Buddha", nirmanakaya is the Buddha's "body" in the sense of the bodymind (Sanskrit: "nāmarūpa"). Thus, the person of Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha, is an example of nirmanakaya. In the context of Tibetan Buddhism, "tülku" is used to refer to the corporeal existence of enlightened Buddhist masters in general.

History

The institution of the tulku as reincarnate lama developed during the 12th, 13th, and 14th centuries, as various Tibetan schools of Buddhism began to accept the possibility that exemplary figures might remain within the human world as institutional teachers, manifesting from one lifetime to the next out of compassion. At this point, the notion of "nirmanakaya" became linked to a notion of regular re-manifestation (bo|t=yangsi|w=g.yang-srid|lang=yes). The most dramatic—and, at the time, controversial—innovation here was the idea that a tulku could inherit the estate ("labrang") of their previous incarnation. This rule of inheritance allowed for the rise of hugely wealthy estates belonging to the lineages of reincarnating tulkus.

The first recognized tulku of this kind within the Vajrayana traditions was the Karmapa, the head of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism; precisely, the first to be recognized as a re-manifestation was the second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi (1204-1283). The Karmapa is now in his 17th incarnation.

By far the most politically powerful tulku lineage for the past several hundred years have been the Dalai Lamas, which has seen a total of fourteen incarnations beginning with Gedun Drub. Note that the title "Dalai Lama" was not applied to this line from the beginning: the second incarnation was seen simply as the rebirth of Gedun Drub. The same was true of the third incarnation, Sonam Gyatso, until he was dubbed "Dalai Lama" as an adult, after which he applied the title posthumously to his predecessors and declared himself the 3rd Dalai Lama.

It was Lobsang Gyatso (1617–1682), the 5th Dalai Lama, who established the Dalai Lamas as Tibet's predominant political power. After their control was consolidated, recognition of some of the most important tulkus was vetted by the government at Lhasa, and could on occasion be banned if its previous incumbent fell out of favour. A notable example of this penalty was the Shamarpa, once the most powerful subordinate of the Karmapa, whose recognition of reincarnation was banned by order of the Dalai Lama in 1792. This ban remained in place until after the Dalai Lama lost power in Tibet during the 1950s, although it was later revealed that the Karmapa had recognized reincarnations of the Shamarpa secretly during the intervening period.

Characteristics

Tibetologist Françoise Pommaret estimates there are presently approximately 500 tulku lineages found across Tibet, Bhutan, Northern India, Nepal, Mongolia, and the southwest provinces of China. The vast majority of tulkus are men, although there are a small number of female tulku lineages.

Lineages of tulkus may be interlinked—for example the Panchen Lama traditionally recognizes the new incarnation of the Dalai Lama and vice versa. In most cases there is no such relationship, but the potential candidate is always vetted by respected lamas. This often involves tests such as checking whether the child can recognize acquaintances or possessions from his previous life or answer questions only known to his former life-experience. According to the book "Magic and Mystery in Tibet" by Alexandra David-Neel, “A number of objects such as rosaries, ritualistic implements, books, tea-cups, etc., are placed together, and the child must pick out those which belonged to the late "tulku", thus showing that he recognizes the things which were "his" in his previous life. [David-Neel, Alexandra. "Magic and Mystery in Tibet". New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1971 (ISBN 0-486-22682-4)] This process was portrayed in the movie "Kundun".

As a tulku nears death, the people around him listen carefully for clues which may help in finding his reincarnation. Sometimes, a tulku will leave a prediction letter or song describing where they will be found. Prophecies, which may date forward or backward many generations, also play a role.

While most tulkus historically have been Tibetans, some have also been born among various other peoples with whom the Tibetans have had contact, such as the Mongols. In modern times, as Tibetan Buddhism has attracted followers across the world, a small number of tulkus have been found among Western people. Perhaps the most religiously significant such tulku is Tenzin Ösel (born 1985), the child of Spanish parents, who has been recognized as the reincarnation of Thubten Yeshe, an influential Tibetan lama.

Another Westerner who has been recognised as a tulku is Lama Shenphen Rinpoche, who was officially recognised by the board of Kharnang Monastery, and the Jhadrel Khangtsen of Sera-Jhe Monastic University. [ [http://www.dharmaling.org/content/view/37/37 Buddhist Congregation Dharmaling - Recognition documents] ]

The American film actor Steven Seagal, while already an adult, was recognized by Penor Rinpoche, the head of the Nyingma school, as the reincarnation of a 17th century tertön from eastern Tibet, "Chungdrag Dorje". Penor Rinpoche notes that "such recognition does not mean that one is already a realized teacher"; Seagal has not been enthroned and has not undergone the extensive program of training and study that it is customary for a tulku. [ [http://sangyetashiling.dk/kt/seagal.htm Statement by H.H. Penor Rinpoche Regarding the Recognition of Steven Seagal as a Reincarnation of the Treasure Revealer Chungdrag Dorje of Palyul Monastery] ]

International terminology

In addition to Tibetans and related peoples, Tibetan Buddhism is the traditional religion of the Mongols and their relatives. The Mongolian word for a tulku is "qubilγan", though such persons may also be called by the honorific title "qutuγtu" (Tib: "'phags-pa" / Skt: "ārya"), or "hutagt" in the standard Khalkha dialect.

A recent Chinese word for tulku is "huófó" (活佛), which literally means "living Buddha". Thus, the term Living Buddha is sometimes used to mean tulku, although this is rare outside of Chinese sources. Also, modern Chinese sources typically refer to a young incarnation of a (presumably male) tulku as a "soul boy" (zh-tp|t=靈童|p=língtóng).

List of tulku lineages

*Arjia
*Bardor
*Beru Khyentse
*Chagdud
*Dalai Lama (bo|w=Tā-la’i Bla-ma)
*Demo
*Dhardo
*Dilowa Gegen
*Drikung Rinpoche
*Dudjom
*Dzigar Kongtrul
*Dzogchen Rinpoche
*Dzogchen Pönlop
*Goshir Gyaltsab
*Gungthang
*Gyalwang Drukpa
*Jamgon Kongtrul
*Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo
*Jamyang Shêpa
*Javzandamba
*Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo
*Kalu
*Karmapa (bo|w=Karma-pa)
*Khamtrul
*Khandro Rinpoche
*Khenpo Shenga
*Kirti Tsenshab
*Kundeling
*Kyabje Gelek
*Mipham
*Lawudo
*Noyon Hutuktu
*Panchen Lama (bo|w=Pan-chen Bla-ma)
*Pawo (bo|w=Gnas-nang Dpa’-bo)
*Patrul
*Reting
*Ringu
*Samding Dorje Phagmo (bo|w=Bsam-lding Rdo-rje Phag-mo)
*Samdhong
*Shabdrung (bo|w=Zhabs-drung)
*Shamarpa (bo|w=Zhwa-dmar-pa)
*Shenphen
*Sogyal
*Sönam Dragpa
*Tai Situpa (bo|w=Tai Si-tu-pa)
*Taktra
*Taktser
*Tenzin Delek
*Thrangu
*Thubten Yeshe
*Traleg Kyabgon
*Trungpa (bo|w=Drung-pa)
*Trungram Gyaltrül
*Tsem Tulku (bo|w=Tshems Sprul-sku)
*Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche
*Yongey Mingyur
*Zurmang Gharwang

In Popular Culture

*The TV series "" uses a similar concept, where the Avatar Spirit is continually reborn into human form with new incarnations picked by selecting the objects of previous Avatars.
*In the "King of the Hill" episode "Won't You Pimai Neighbor," Bobby Hill is believed to be a reincarnation of a Buddhist lama.

ee also

* Kumari - a Nepalese Hindu goddess lineage with similar selection processes
* Rebirth
* Reincarnation Application
* Avatar

Notes

References

* Logan, Pamela (2004). [http://www.asiaquarterly.com/content/view/143/ "Tulkus in Tibet"] . "Harvard Asia Quarterly" 8 (1) 15-23.
* Ray, Reginald A. 1986 "Some aspects of the Tulku tradition in Tibet." in "The Tibet Journal" 11 (4): 35-69

Further reading

* [http://www.berzinarchives.com/web/en/archives/e-books/published_books/spiritual_teacher/pt1/spiritual_teacher_02.html#n6 Reincarnate Lamas: Tulkus and Rinpoches] - section from Berzin, Alexander. 2000 "Relating to a Spiritual Teacher."
* [http://mypage.direct.ca/w/wattj/jw/Tulku.htm Tulkus: Incarnate Lamas of Tibet - An Interview with His Holiness Sakya Trizin] - An excerpt from "Testimonies of Tibetan Tulkus; A Research among Reincarnate Buddhist Masters in Exile" by Danial Barlocher, Opuscula Tibetana, Rikon-Zurich, August 1982
* [http://mypage.direct.ca/w/wattj/jw/Tulku-2.htm Tulkus: Incarnate Lamas of Tibet 2 - Interview with Sakya Gongma Dagchen Rinpoche] - excerpted from "Testimonies of Tibetan Tulkus; A Research among Reincarnate Buddhist Masters in Exile" by Danial Barlocher, Opuscula Tibetana, Rikon-Zurich, August 1982. (Interview translator: Cyrus Stearns).
* [http://www.wisdom-books.com/FocusDetail.asp?FocusRef=11 Tulkus : Masters of Reincarnation] - focus article at WisdomBooks.com


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