04 July 2009


Mr B first mentioned to me a couple of weeks ago about a chosen monk who has decided to renounce. I didn't follow up on it, but stumbled on the »sensationalist Guardian article a week after. The unfortunate article was replicated in several other news sites.

The tulku system of identifying a reincarnated lama is a feature specific to Tibetan Buddhism (as opposed to being part of core Buddhist philosophy). I appreciate the criticisms out there of the tulku system; I too have personal reservations about plucking a child from their childhood* and anointing them a special status. Yet, despite the shortcomings of the tulku system or even Tibetan Buddhism as a whole, I think it is only fair to present a balanced view of the Osel story by offering the other side of it.

I have not researched in too much detail, but it seems that the Babylon Magazine in Spain was the first to have interviewed Osel and all the rest picked up the story. If you have read the Guardian article, take a moment to read the Babylon article below as well. I thought it was considerably more thoughtful, less black and white. Read also »what Osel himself says.

In all organized religions and perhaps organizations and systems in general, size breeds politics. Original intentions become forgotten and perfectly well-intended processes become blindly ritualized. Some people have advocated practising a Buddhism that not culture-specific. It is sound advice, but to the extent that organization exists as a necessary evil in every facet of human society (religion included), I am not sure if it is attainable in reality.

*A great deal has also been made of the harshness of monastic life and that Osel did not enjoy it. Indeed, monastic life in any religion is not an easy one. It perhaps should not be a decision that one makes on behalf of a child. Yet in Asia, poverty is also a reason (actually, probably the key reason) why children are sent to the monastery. Should abbots of monasteries then turn them away? I don't have the answer. The best we can do is not to make life difficult if they decide to renounce later. P.S. Buddhism does allow for renunciation of monastic vows.

Disclosure: I am a Buddhist. As a student in the midwestern US, I used to go to a small Tibetan Buddhist temple headed by compassionate and unpolitical people. I have been exposed to other Buddhist traditions as well. While I do not regularly go to any temples now, the Tibetan tradition remains the one I have most affinity with.


  1. Thanks for the article. I think the Guardian article was covered in the local press in a case of really bad judgement. This one is a lot more balanced.

  2. Glad you think so too. I'm happy to have helped bring out the other side of the story.