The Westernization of Tulkus

Elijah Ary

in Little Buddhas

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780199860265
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199979929 | DOI:

Series: AAR Religion, Culture, and History

The Westernization of Tulkus

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The Tulku (sprul sku) tradition, i.e., the tradition of recognizing young children, predominantly boys, as the reincarnations of defunct Tibetan masters and subsequently educated to become a sort of spiritual elite, has become one of Tibetan Buddhism’s defining characteristics. Over the years, the tradition has come to count among its members a small handful of Westerners. Contrary to tradition, many, if not all of these Western Tulkus, have chosen to lead lives outside the monastic communities of their predecessors, prompting mixed feelings from within the Tibetan Buddhist community. This chapter looks briefly at the history of Tulku institution, and at the development of recognizing Western children as re-embodiments of Tibetan Buddhist masters. Particular attention is paid to the education and upbringing these children receive, and to their subsequent choices to leave the monasteries and continue their activities in Western societies. It reflects on the implications of such an education and on the future of Westerners within the Tulku tradition.

Keywords: Tulku; children; monastery; parent; Western buddhists; Tibet; master; education; reincarnation; bodhisattva

Chapter.  16046 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism

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