Traveling from Jakar to Wangdhu we passed a column of Toyoto sedans. They were parked by the roadside. A car labeled “Police Pilot” was at the head of the column. The policeman made sure traffic kept moving, albeit slowly. In a nearby clearing someone had set up a picnic table and a blue and white striped awning. Underneath the awning two monks sat, an older monk, probably in his mid-forties, and a young monk, twelve or thirteen years old. He was the reincarnation of Diego Khentse Rimpoche.
A cadre of monks scurried around, bringing food and mats for a picnic. The older monk was the grandson of the man who was reincarnated in the young monk’s body. In other words, the grandson of Rabjam Rimpoche was looking after his dead grandfather.
Traditionally, when a person of importance dies, a guru or a desi, he leaves a letter explaining where his next incarnation will be found. When a possible candidate emerges, he must pass several tests. One involves identifying artifacts from the time when the guru being reincarnated lived. Typically, one of the selected artifacts is genuine. All the others are decoys. If the candidate chooses the real one, he becomes a serious contender. The current Dalai Lama, now living in exile from Tibet, apparently failed the artifact test. The test came down to two artifacts. He couldn't make up his mind which of the two was real. It turned out that whoever set up the test had made a mistake. He had included two genuine objects. Naturally the Dalai Lama could not choose just one. It was an accidental trick question that lent great credibility to the claim that he was a genuine incarnation.
Recently the Chinese government has declared that it must give permission before a reincarnation of the Dalai Lama can be designated. The motive for this is obvious. The Chinese want the next incarnation to be their man. If, as it happens, the current Dalai Lama chooses his successor from among the 100,000 or so exiled Tibetans, we are likely to have a re-run of the Great Western Schism when, by the early 15th century, three popes claimed to be the Bishop of Rome.
Ashi Dorji Wango Wangchuck, the present Queen of Bhutan describes the part she played in discovering the present reincarnation of Desi Tenzin Rabgye Rimpoche, the fourteen year old monk who now lives in Tango Monastery. This is the monk who has a personal copy of my book of children’s poems, The Pond God and Other Stories, thanks to my friend, Ugyen Tashi, a monk at Tango monastery.
In 1998 the Queen was in eastern Bhutan to celebrate National Day at Kanglung. After serving lunch, she noticed a little monk who could not be more than four years old sitting by himself. She describes her encounter in her book A Portrait of Bhutan (pg. 94):
I took him by the hand and brought him to our enclosure, where the King was sitting on a folding chair. The little one let go of my hand and walked straight up to the King. Reaching up to grip the armrest of the chair he announced: ‘I have something to tell you.’
“I’m listening,” replied the King.
‘We have met before. You were very old, you had a long beard then, and I was very young,’ the child declared. Amused, the King let the little monk continue.
‘I built Taktsang on your orders,” he said, and added calmly, ‘and now I want to go to Tango.’
‘And why do you want to go to Tango?’ asked the King.
‘I’ve left my things there,’ he replied. ‘And besides, I have to meet my Norbu and my Ugay.’ (We later learnt that these were the names of Desi Tenzin Rabgye’s monk-attendant and close companion.)
‘So you have been to Tango already?’ asked the King.
‘Yes—a long time ago. It was I who built Tango.’
….‘What are your parents’ names? The King asked.
‘Tsewang Tenzin and Damche Tenzin,’ he replied. (These were, as we later found out, not his own parents’ names, but those of Desi Tenzin Rabgye’s parents.)
I haven’t the slightest doubt that Ashi Dorji Wango Wangchuck is telling the truth as she remembers it. I also cannot bring myself to believe in re-incarnation. The apparent contradiction doesn’t bother me in the least. I am delighted that the incarnation of Desi Tenzin Rabgye is sitting in Tango Monastery and that he can point out to its present occupants the room where he slept four hundred years earlier.
I wish the Chinese government felt the same.
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