Said Dagyab Rinpoché in 1992…

Written by Rob Hogendoorn

In 1992, Dagyab Rinpoché cautioned against the ‘Tulku Boom’ among exiled Tibetans

‘In this context let me give you another example of a phenomenon which has been creating great astonishment among Tibetans for the last few decades—the so-called Tulku Boom. The number of reincarnated lamas in exile has increased like inflation. Now, the system of reincarnation has been in existence in Tibet for centuries, and the benefit of it is undisputed among almost all Tibetans and many Westerners. But obviously many people in exile have become aware of the fact that the title of a Rinpoche is a capital with considerable value in the Western market. And nowadays, among the Tibetans there is an ironical saying: ”Each cook of a monastery has to reincarnate.” Well, even this would not cause any problems according to the principles of reincarnation. But trying to control one’s own reincarnation is indeed a very subtle process. That it “works” does not only depend on the desire of the disciples but on the capability of the teacher too. In Tibet it was more or less taken for granted that at least three quarters of all rinpoches were real tulkus. But nowadays, if we get more and more ”tulkus by declaration,” a deterioration of the quality of teachers and a degenerated presentation of the teachings will follow.

Let me remind you that there is no reincarnations of the great masters Marpa and Milarepa, and of the Five Great Sakya masters and of Je Tsongkhapa, not to speak of Buddha himself. But this has never been an obstacle for their veneration and guru practice. So why on earth, one may ask, is there this tulku-hysteria? The motives are a curious mixture, which is evident, for instance, in the strange titles for lamas created in the West. I have read things like ‘Lama XY Tulku Khenpo Rinpoche.’ And of course, there is a swarm of eminences and holinesses. If you follow the biographies which are edited by the students of some so-called lamas, you can see how they become more and more baroque from year to year. After being called ”His Holiness” will there be a “His Divinity” next? It is true that the Tibetans themselves laugh at this. But there are also Tibetans who are supporting these tendencies in the West. Why and to which purpose?

I could now start lamenting and say that such conducts threaten the pure Buddhist tradition and in the long run will destroy Tibetan Buddhism. This is undoubtedly true but, unfortunately, such moralizing views are not very effective. But there is also a practical aspect to it, and I may ask all administrators of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition to consider the following:

Westerners are not at all stupid. On the contrary, they are generally very critical and reflective people. Their common psychological knowledge is far higher than one may imagine in the East. And more important, they have already shown in the past that they are able to get rid of a religious system which in their eyes seems to have proven contradictory, untruthful and arrogant, and whose priests seem to lack integrity. Now, longing for quality and inner development, many new Buddhists may, for a certain period of time, try to ignore the uneven points of their new religion. But no Tibetan lama should feel too safe on his throne, performing the great show of his own omniscience and the uniqueness of his lineage. The day will come when people will realize what kind of show it is and then retire—just like many of the young Tibetans in the West, who already know too much and cannot be bound to the old system anymore. Thus, we Tibetan lamas have to be aware of the fact that where the spread of Dharma in the West is run with inadequate motivation and inadequate means it is doomed to failure.

And the Westerners should know that the maintenance of the same clear, critical attitude which they try to use in their daily lives is necessary in Dharma too. A healthy common sense is not only a prerequisite of the spiritual practice but also a good protection against drastic misdevelopment.’

Source: Dagyab Rinpoche. (1992). ‘Religion: Problems in the development of Tibetan Buddhism in the West’. (Tibetan Review 27 (10) October 1992. (pp. 15-17).

About the author

Rob Hogendoorn

Investigative reporter and academic researcher Rob Hogendoorn (b. 1964) began researching the reception of Buddhism in Western society and culture in the early 1990s. His modus operandi remained the same ever since: independent, inquisitive and provocative.