On the recommendation of another mindful parent (thanks DH!) my husband and I watched the wonderful documentary "Unmistaken Child" last night, about the search for the reincarnated tulku of Geshe Lama Konchog, a highly realized master in the kadampa tradition of Tibetan buddhism. It is a beautiful film, full of devotion. We were extremely moved by the journey undertaken by Geshe Lama Konchog's heart disciple and student, Tenzin Zopa, and by the family of the child recognized to be Geshe Konchog's reincarnation.
The film was shot in Nepal and India, and gives a real "insider" view into the arcane processes of tulku identification and confirmation. The Dalai Lama makes an appearance, as do other great lamas. You don't need to know much about Tibetan Buddhism or the tulku system to become engrossed in a very human story about dealing with loss, and ultimately, about finding meaning in one's life.
The tulku tradition is unique to Tibetan Buddhism, and has often proven controversial. Whatever one thinks of the tradition, it cannot be disputed that whether these children are indeed the reincarnations of a lama or no, the majority grow up to be great teachers who benefit countless beings. As a mother watching this, I was very challenged and moved by the sacrifice made by the discovered tulku's parents. How does one give up one's child? I felt so much pain and resistance when the request was made to the parents that they allow their little son (only two years old) to be taken to a far-away monastery to be raised. These are poor people with great devotion to the buddhist teachings and great respect for the lamas. Being named a tulku means that their son will be raised in relative comfort and receive a wonderful education. A certain level of prestige and community esteem comes to the family of a tulku. But as his father says, "no one would give up their child for nothing". They agree to do so ultimately because of their belief that their son will help many many suffering beings in his role as an enlightened teacher. And their son's life will have its own hardships, as we know from studying the lives of any of the lamas. To be separated from his parents at so tender an age is just the beginning.
This sacrifice is in accordance with the mahayana view of enlightened generosity and the bodhisattva vow, but what a sacrifice to ask. The devotion shown by these humble people is truly amazing. And my heart quickened every time Tenzin stroked a little baby's cheek, looking for his teacher. Those beautiful little babes - part of me could not bear to think of them separated from their parents' loving arms. I am still contemplating this movie. It is a teaching on non-attachment, enlightened generosity, and love.