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Ganden Dheling
Buddhist Temple, Inc.

In the last 30 years or so, in America and elsewhere there is a growing interest in the form of Buddhism from Tibet and Mongolia. The interest in this form of Buddhism is increasing at an impressive rate, with large credit going to H.H. Dalai Lama's humanitarian efforts around the world. In addition, it is also due to the many great Rinpoches, Geshes, Lamas, Yogis, and monks who have graced our country with their teachings, their humor and their enduring presence. Lavishing us with their love, compassion and altruism based in the unbroken lineages that have come to us from Lord Buddha. One interesting aspect of this is that more and more Americans are finding out unofficially and a few officially that they are incarnations of Mongolian and Tibetan Lamas.

To fully appreciate this question of a Hothogthu as a Tulku or Emanation Body of a Buddha, there are certain points to be examined in order to acquire a basic level of comprehension. First we need to look at the basic Buddhist teaching on reincarnation, to see that all people are reincarnations of someone. Then we need to exam how a Tulku is different from all beings who are reincarnations. Then we need to understand that the power or ability of a Tulku comes from the Tantra. The question then arises, are all Tulkus of equal stature? How does a Hothogthu fit into this structure? As well as what are the origins of the Hothogthu? Then the next question that arises is, how relevant are incarnations to the development of American Buddhism? Tulkus are the repository of Buddha's Lineages, as such, what should be done with this information? By approaching these questions in a logical manner, we will see that what we need is to have a training school for Americans who are true incarnations of past Lamas.

According to Lord Buddha's teachings, all beings in existence each have an indeterminate amount of previous incarnations and each being has been our mother at least 500 times. The determining factor in all of these 'incarnations' is each being's state of mind particularly at the time of death, as well as the preponderance of merit/karma positive or negative they generate in any given life. This is basically what drives all beings between the six realms of existence, which are: human, animal, hungry ghost, hell, god, and demi-god. There is no one making judgments or directing one's rebirths, it is totally under the control of the individual and his or her own virtuous or non-virtuous choices, i.e. personal responsibility. Buddha shows us the way, but we have to do the work. Otherwise, we are like a leaf blown by the winds of karma.

Then the question arises as to what separates a Tulku (Tibetan) from all the other 'incarnated' sentient beings? A Tulku is "literally an emanation body; a term used for the incarnations of Buddhas, Arya Bodhisattvas and Bodhisattvas, as well as for the reincarnations of spiritually achieved practitioners or Lamas"i. Tulkus are beings who through a few to many lifetimes have achieved high states of realizations through an evolving process of study and meditation. They have trained and developed a strong motivation based on an all encompassing love, compassion, and bodhicitta or altruism. Their unique motivation lifetime after lifetime is focused on being of complete benefit to all sentient beings. However, given this basis the practice that propels the Tulku to highest realizations is the Tantra.

The Tantric Vehicle is what gives the Tulku his or her unique powers. The Tantric Vehicle originated with the esoteric lineages taught by Lord Buddha. Once one understands, then experiences and then has profound realizations on this path, one then has developed Kye.chi Rang.wa! "Kye.chi Rang.wa is literally freedom (over one's own) birth and death ..."ii. When one has achieved this level, they literally pick the time of their death and the family of their next incarnation. This is only achieved through an individual's very profound Tantric practice, and is where the system of recognizing reincarnations has its basis. The second karmapa was the first Lama in Tibet to be recognized as an incarnation.

Some people then assume that all Tulkus are at the same level, which is not true. First the realization of emptiness or non-self/egolessness attained by an Arhant, a Bodhisattva, and a Buddha is the same. What distinguishes them is the amount of remaining karma one has left to purity. An Arhant has the most karma, a Bodhisattva has a middling to a small amount of karma and a Buddha has purified all past karmic stains. In effect, this is a sliding scale of ability to benefit sentient beings, with a Buddha having the absolute ability to benefit all sentient beings. Since there are ten Bodhisattva (one whose sole purpose is to work for the benefit of all mother sentient beings) levels, then as a result there are ten levels on the bodhisattva path before achieving Buddhahood.

The previous Kanjurwa Hothogthu (Tibetan) / Khutughtu (Mongolian) stated in his biography, "As I recall from history, at the beginning of the Ch'ing Dynasty (1644-1911) the Manchu lord-emperor (ejan khan) instituted four Nom-un Khan (Dharma King) incarnations and four Pandita incarnations (one learned in five types of Buddhist canons). Above them in rank there were also instituted eight Khutughtu. According to Ch'ing dynasty regulations these positions were carefully distinguished in three different ranks. In our Mongolian religion, however, there was no clear division among them.... In addition to these official high-ranking, famous incarnations, there were in nomadic areas of Mongolia many other Panditas and Nom-un Khans and a few Khutughtus."iii In regard to the Ch'ing Dynasty, these levels of rank usually had to do with the level of service they performed for the Manchu Emperor, i.e. being the Emperors Lama, performing feats of magic, translating important texts, stopping armed conflicts, etc.

So then we are probably asking ourselves what does this have to do with the people living here in America? Well the answer to this is that Buddhism has a lot to offer the world, especially in the area of peace of mind, happiness, human kindness, compassion, altruism, etc. all attainable for 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. Not that Buddhism has the corner on these methods, however, since the Buddhism of Tibet and Mongolia has had centuries of isolation, they have had much time in the laboratory so to speak and have perfected ways of achieving these states of mind. The living repositories for these methods are the Tulkus.

Kyabje Gelek Rinpoche states: "In the Tibetan tradition you can take so many initiations.... When we were young, we had to take many of them because we had to continue the lineage. Somewhere sometime somebody may need to be connected with a certain yidam/Tutelary Deity, so in order not to deprive that person of the opportunity, we try to carry the living tradition and continue it. That's the job of the incarnate Lamas. We still have a number of young incarnate Lamas, so that is what they will do. And that is also a very good reason to support young incarnate Lamas through their study and difficult periods."iv However, the difference in America is that there is no system set up at this time to train Tulkus either young or old. As such the ones being trained are older, but it is very irregular and infrequent training.

As true incarnations have Kye.chi Rang.wa, what is to stop incarnations from being reincarnated in the West? Nothing at all. Some Lamas have stated that in their teaching tours around the USA, they have seen Americans at their teachings who are incarnations of Lamas mainly from Mongolia and a few from Tibet. They are taking teachings on Buddhism and practicing, however, are not being trained at the level of ability they had achieved in previous lives.

Kyabje Gelek Rinpoche said in an interview, " a certain extent a few will hold [the linage] and it will remain alive (as it was traditionally). But the majority of the people in the world should be helped and [taught] ultimately in their own [American] way."v As there are Americans who are Tulkus, should something be done about this? Also, how will this effect the American Buddhist environment?

Of course something should be done with this, otherwise it will always be Tibetan/Mongolian Buddhism and will not eventually become American Buddhism. Tibetan and Mongol life, culture, traditions and even sentence structures are different than ours. With this, no matter how good the translators are, enough is lost in the translation to make it difficult for Americans to totally understand, especially when you are only receiving training on an occasional basis. In addition the pace of American life makes it impossible to study and practice enough to gain the level of realizations needed for enlightenment much less to become a competent Lama.

What then is the remedy to this? The antidote to this problem is to create a sacred and protected environment where women and men will be nurtured and trained to be fully qualified incarnate Lamas with programs that last 20 - 25 years. This training will be in the framework of the American psyche, lifestyle, and idiom, and will cover all the areas of training that one would need to become a Lama suitable to the American way of understanding. This American Lama, will be fully prepared to give teachings and initiations as well as perform all the rituals of our tradition. As such, this is the short and long term goals of Ganden Dheling Buddhist Temple.

i Barlocher, Daniel. '"Testimonies of Tibetan Tulkus, A Research among Reincarnate Buddhist Masters in Exile'; interview with Nyare Khentul Rinpoche Ngawang Gelek Demo." Opuscula Tibetana. Arbeiten aus dem Tibet-Instiut Rikon-Zurich; Fasc. 15 a, August 1982 Volume II: Page 181.
(Nyare Khentul Rinpoche is how he is known amongst the Tibetans and amongst Americans he is known as Kyabje Rimpoche Gehlek)

ii Ibid, pg 148.

iii Hyer, Paul and Sechin Jagchid. A Mongolian Living Buddha, Biography of the Kanjurwa Khutughtu. State University of New York Press; Albany, 1983; page 16.

iv Kyabje Gelek Rinpoche. Series: Vajrayana Teaching - 2: "Solitary Yamantaka Teachings, On the Generation Stage" Oral Teaching. USA 1993-1995, Malaysia 1985, India 1980; A Jewel Heart Transcript; pages 231-232.

v Barlocher, Daniel. "'Testimonies of Tibetan Tulkus, A Research among Reincarnate Buddhist Masters in Exile'; interview with Nyare Khentul Rinpoche Ngawang Gelek Demo." Opuscula Tibetana. Arbeiten aus dem Tibet-Instiut Rikon-Zurich; Fasc. 15 a, August 1982 Volume I: Page 544.
(Nyare Khentul Rinpoche is how he is known amongst the Tibetans and amongst Americans he is known as Kyabje Rimpoche Gehlek)