The Tibetan concepts of after-life


Nichiren Buddhism view on rebirth

Tibetan literature provides its explanation of the process of discovering the reincarnated Lamas. The process of “choosing a child” as the reincarnation of a deceased Lama is based on a judgement of a committee of monks - about how the examined child reacted to personal items of the deceased lama. The reaction of the child is considered as an indication of a “memory of himself” in a past existence:

Once the High Lamas have located the boy, they present a number of artefacts to the child. Among these artefacts are several items that belonged to the deceased Dalai Lama. If the boy chooses the items that belonged to the previous Dalai Lama, this is seen as a positive sign, in concert with the other indications, that the boy is indeed a reincarnation of the Dalai Lama”.

The described process is based on a belief that one’s soul repeats lifetime after lifetime. Repetition of a personal soul (or “eternity of a person”) - means that the soul of a particular individual is fixed over time (although the physical body changes), and that this permanent self would simply migrates to a new body of a child. 

Setting aside all the details of this process, the practical outcome here is that in Tibetan Buddhism a child is told to believe what the monks believe about him, and is raised as such.

From Buddhist point of view, however, one’s true spiritual identity and mission in life is self-discovered - it cannot be taught by others or implied by monks.

It appears here that the life mission of a Lama is not self-discovered (as being a karmic tendency of Bodhisattva) - but is a kind of an identity given by monks to a child.

In Nichiren Buddhism, one’s spiritual identity (or mission in life) has to emerge from within the individual, and cannot be allocated by others:

              “It is fundamental that you discover your mission on your own”.  Daisaku Ikeda

Example of Tibetan beliefs in Reincarnation:

Among the western followers of Lama Kharmtul Rinpoche, a British-origin Tibetan Buddhist nun: Tenzin Palmo, described the circumstances after his death in a well documented book “Cave in the Snow” :

According to the Bodhisattva rule, Masters of Khamtrul Rinpoche’s caliber are not meant to stay away for long, however. Consequently immediately after his cremation his disciples began to look for clues as to where his future might be found.....

Finally the [eminent Lama] Karmapa gave the name of the place where Khamtrul Rinpoche had been reborn - Bomdila, a Himalayan town close to Bhutan...the discovery of the ninth Khamtrul Rinpoche was in the bag.

The child was found, recognised and reinstated in Tashi Jong to take up his spiritual duties where his predecessor - himself - had left off”. (page 108/109)

As the mentioned passage explains, a quick decision about the reincarnation of a deceased Lama was taken “immediately after his cremation”.. This is not the privilege ordinary people can encounter, however, as it takes a long time to reach an enlightened state in their coming reincarnation. The Tibetan concept of the reincarnation of ordinary individuals teaches practitioners that they have to practice several lifetimes to reach enlightenment:

“ Enlightenment was plodding and exceedingly hard work. The Lamas said if you reached there in three lifetimes you were moving incredibly quickly...” page 115

This concept (of attaining enlightenment after many lifetimes) marks a fundamental difference between Tibetan and Nichiren Buddhism, which is based on the Lotus Sutra’s teachings of  attaining enlightenment in this life time and in one’s circumstances, as they are.

Another difference is about the enlightenment of women.  Tibetan Buddhism teaches that it is not possible to be enlightened in a body of a female:

The monks were kind, and I had no problems of sexual harassment or troubles of that sort, but of course I was unfortunately within a female form.  They actually told me that they prayed that in my next life I would have the good fortune to be born as a male so that I could join in all the monastery’s activities.”  Page 155

It is apparent that the view of attaining enlightenment over many lifetimes requires “the same person” to reincarnate again and again and again to complete the personal journey, which she or he could not make or achieve in one lifetime.  This claim, of course, cannot be verified by any proof.

The teaching which requires many life times to attain enlightenment is not consistent with the teaching of the Buddhanature.  If the Buddhanature is inherent in each individual (and potentially existing in this lifetime) then there is no reason why should one wait three or more lifetimes to express or experience this Buddhanature, already existing and available now, as a potential.

A powerful enough Buddhist practice is sufficient to enable practitioner of Buddhism to reveal one’s Buddhanature in this lifetime.

Author: Safwan Darshams

Tibetan and SGI Buddhism