Feb 20, 2024
Feb 20, 2024
Given my lassitude, it was to be a non-starter, my research on twin suns in the sky, their simultaneous rise. Some friends, more importantly.Shamar Rimpoche among them, were all agog with enthusiasm. As if to commit myself to the esoteric enterprise, we gave it a tantalizing title, Buddha is not Laughing. When indeed was Buddha laughing?
As far as we know, Avalokitesvara was not a self-involved prophet of laughter, at least not so much as a philosopher of sorrow and carnal temptation, that is, an eight-fold path leading out of primordial human misery. The prince of Kapilavastu had lived too long to spare himself life’s essential ennui. Possibly Buddha’s portrait as an amused man came into circulation when someone produced an artifact, a statuette, of a laughing man with a bald pate and christened him accordingly. So incongruity, there. When we had our prestigious nuclear test, we chose for it a three-word announcement, ‘Buddha is laughing!’
Buddha never dies, nor is ever born. Gita enthusiasts are apt to bind him with a line from Krishna’s gospel, na jayate mriyate etc, though we are not sure whether the charioteer preceded or succeeded the mendicant. Till his ultimate return to nothingness, Buddha keeps happening. It is a perpetual experience of rebirth, Rinpoche being the honorific of the soul in pursuit. That holds good for everyone, not excluding our most famous contemporary Bodhisatva, Dalai Lama. And, Dalai Lama, who combines spiritual and temporal power in a heady measure, is always the cause or the consequence of one controversy or another.
The current controversy is not over reincarnation or relapse into the ultimate void. For a ridiculously mundane act, like asking a little devotee to suck the blessed tongue, Dalai Lama has been caught napping. A shrewd observer of the ways of the world and beyond, he knew everyone would not take kindly to the egregious ritual, he has apologized for any hurt caused to the boy or his kin. It seems it is no furore that will die down soon. The civilizational order headed by Dalai Lama is itself under severe stress. Nothing may please Beijing more.
Tenzin Gyatso, which is Dalai Lama's given name, reached where he has by winning friends, influencing the powers-that-be and astutely balancing the wheel of dharma through the past half century and more. No politician or religious power broker has accomplished his kind of acrobatics. He fled his native land, set up home in a different land and won global laurels with other big players in world politics. The government of the country of his adoption, from where he trained his cultural guns with unerring marksmanship against his native land and its communist commissars, had no role to play in his anointment as the quintessential prophet of peace. India could not but watch with dismay or delight Dalai Lama’s rise in the firmament of freedom. That China was not too pleased to see its neighbour harbouring and honouring someone whom it had roundly treated as a fugitive became agonizingly clear in a few years after the Tibetan diaspora had its fateful trans-Himalayan trek in the late fifties.
The communist upsurge in China which swept through the Tibetan Autnomous Region was feared to become a cultural invasion, a clash of civilizations. It was fashionable to debunk the unabashed aggrandizement from Beijing. New Delhi’s foreign office was right from the beginning infatuated with Dalai Lama and his entourage. It held His Holiness in awe and reverence, never summoning courage to tell the spiritual savant that he should avoid taking positions that would embitter Sino-Indian relations. As an aside, we had through the diplomatic grapevine a bit of news that foreign office luminaries insisted on a bullet-proof BMW for His Holiness’s use though India’s prime minister could make do with a fortified Ambassador.
What was being endangered in Tibet was a life module frozen in time. Dalai Lama was at the pinnacle of a social order in which a nameless populace saw in its leader god and man all at once. The system worked so ferociously that it provided scope for total command at the top and absolute obeisance at the bottom. Birth, death and rebirth came to be maladroitly manipulated for the benefit of the power elite. Reincarnation politics was what has since come to be known as the bane of life and religion in Tibet.
Tenzin Gyatso, current Dalai Lama, could not have been here now but for certain accidents of life and politics. Another boy had been identified as the new Dalai Lama in the late forties but he died in a road accident preparing the ground for the ascent of a newly chosen cleric. Reincarnation was the principle of succession in three other sects of Tibetan Buddhism as well but that did not unleash a widespread tug of war since they had no temporal authority to invoke in times of stress. If senior monks had perfected their plans to install a teenager as a sect’s head, they would have their way with no questions asked.
The identification of a reborn Bodhisatva had a time-honoured tradition to follow. In spite of our reincarnation mythology, India has not evolved a system to explore the progress of a dead guru. Fifty years ago, H N Mukherjee, a professor of Parapsychology in Rajasthan University, had toyed with the idea of research on reincarnation and trans-migration of soul. Nothing significant was reported about it later. Tibetan tradition of identification followed the ancient pattern. When a fairly important person was dead, his confidantes would have an inkling of the arrival of the new soul.
If there was rivalry, more Rimpoches than one would be identified, revalidating a hackneyed theory of one becoming two or more. The newborn, as soon as he was able to follow or issue instructions, would identify his prototype, so to say, by recognizing his sandals, clothes, other articles of personal use. When a rebirth takes place, divine signals will ensue. There may be a constant clink in a kitchen vessel, a revelation to a trusted monk through his meditation or, hold your breath, twin suns in the sky.
One becomes two or more depending on the need or for the convenience of those who are in a position to leverage political power with spiritual claims. For instance, my friend Shamar Rimpoche, a high lama of the Karma-Kagyu sect, which claims an antiquity even beyond Dalai Lama’s Gelugpa order, had a running feud with another disciple of his guru, the late Karmapa. Through his meditation, Shamarpa identified a boy in Tibet as his venerable guru’s reincarnation, while his rival came up with his counter claims. So it was that a dead man may well come up as two or three or more. In a few years of tutoring, the young fellow will mature as a perfect guru, handing down homilies and commands.
Coming back to the obsessive apparition of twin suns in the sky, Shamar Rimpoche and I had extended conversations about signals from the sky and the revelations through meditations. Over a generous glass of Black Label, I argued that one sun could be seen as two or three because of some discrepancy in the cognitive system. Either when one has a brain in trouble or one drink too many, one can be assailed by double visions, not otherwise. Hallucinations are part of a pathology, not any divine epiphany. Heartily guffawing, Shamarpa would dig his teeth into a large chicken leg and observe that he was a meat-eating monk while I was a tame or timid vegetarian tiger. Before he could follow up his visions or help me to put together our promised volume, Buddha is not Laughing, Shamarpa was gone.
Such belief systems as those that stultify faith and reason in our times do not contribute to the growth and glory of a sub-Himalayan society. Beijing has long been playing its cards cleverly, bludgeoning Dalai Lama’s hopes for a return to his throne in Potala Palace. It knows its rebirth politics only too well. As and when time is up, Dalai Lama, who is braving his eighties, may well be replaced by a requisitely amiable monk in China. The savant of Dharamsala is not unaware of various possibilities. He has even threatened to close the route of reincarnation, saying, in an after-me-the-deluge tone, “there would be no more Dalai Lama.” That does not preclude the possibility of a comradely monk coronated with revolutionary greetings.
More by : K Govindan Kutty