Blog Post 4 March 14, 2019

The Tibetan Buddhist institution of Tulku involves the stewardship of a reincarnated Lama’s holdings and possessions from one generation to the next. Once the reincarnation of a Lama or some other being worthy of identification, their steward confirms the validity of the reincarnation and then acts as a guardian for the young Lama until they come of age and can legally take possession of their belongings and responsibilities. This practice which is a crucial aspect of the Tibetan Buddhist power structure, especially in the role of the Tibetan head of state, the Dalai Lama. Tulku is a double-edged sword when it comes to establishing future cultural and political landscapes. In one sense Tulku is a way to prevent the entrenchment of wealth across generations and prevent the formation of any kind of landed aristocracy or nobility (Hirschberg ii).  By reincarnating throughout the Tibetan plateau into both rich and poor families alike Tulku is a form of social mobility unseen in the western world which is dominated by generations of wealth being accumulated in the hands of a few distinct family. While in Tulku this wealth is still accumulated into a central ownership, this ownership is not strictly governed by the social status of one’s birth. The unfortunate side of Tulku is the extent to which it stands to be manipulated by political or economic forces. In the case of influential Buddhist Lama’s, the Chinese government is attempting to intervene in the realization of their rebirth. With the occupying secular Chinese government taking an active role in the stewardship of reborn Lama’s education, possessions, and cultural responsibilities the best interests of the Lama and the Tibetan people may be waylaid by Chinese ambition for the region. This is of a particular issue in the rebirth of the Dalai Lama where the Chinese government wishes to use the reincarnated Lama to help legitimize Chinese control of the region and subdue resistance (China’s Tensions).

               Another issue with the concept Tulku beyond the secular realm of Tibet is it directly conflicts with the Buddhist ideal of emptiness in a theoretical sense. Given the idea that material possessions and wealth have no inherent meaning then why are vastly wealthy Lama’s and monks maintaining their extravagant wealth from generation to generation? The concept of the middle way does state that Buddhist monks should not need to live in poverty, but yet the consolidation of wealth into the estate of one Lama over the course of multiple lifetimes seems to conflict with the idea of giving up attachment to the physical and material concerns of our lives. The concept of a religious hierarchy dominated by the wealth of reincarnated Lamas and their stewards directly contradicts with the viewpoint that all physical things are empty of inherent meaning and power.

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