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This was one of the unusual experience during a recent custom tour which I arranged for an American visitor, Ben is very interested in Buddhism Culture and it was so interesting that we were able to meet a Tibetan Lama in Shanghai – who just happened to revisit this city after 5 year, isn’t that amazing?

To have a better understanding about Tibeten Buddhism, you have to know the following:

Lama is a title for a Tibetan teacher of the Dharma. The name is similar to the Sanskrit term guru. Historically, the term was used for venerated spiritual master or heads of monasteries. Perhaps due to misunderstandings by early western scholars attempting to understand Tibetan Buddhism, the term Lama has historically been erroneously applied to Tibetan monks generally. In Tibetan Buddhism, the lama is often the tantric spiritual guide, the guru to the aspiring Buddhist yogi or yogini. As such, the lama will then appear as one of the Three Roots (a variant of the Three Jewels), alongside the yidam and protector (who may be a dakini, dharmapala or other Buddhist deity figure).

A basic Buddhist belief is that our bodies are made up of the 5 elements (water, fire, earth, air, and space – the Chinese label this one metal). And they also think that the whole universe is impermanent. The Buddhists believe that there are ‘subtle elements’ as well as the denser elements that we can see and feel. If a spiritual practitioner is compassionate and wise enough, they believe that they can dissolve their body into a “rainbow body” made up of the very subtlest level of the elements. After someone’s death the Buddhists practice something called Shi-Tro for the next 49 days(7 days a cycle).

Also a core Buddhist belief is that of the Bodhisattva or the wise one who can choose whether to come back to Samsara (earth where all life is suffering) or go on to Nirvana (where there is no longer suffering). The Boddhisattva intentionally chooses to return to Samsara “for the benefit of all sentient beings.” 

The reincarnation system for the Living Buddhas is the main point distinguishing tibetan Buddhism from other forms of Buddhism. ACCORDING TO TIBETAN BUDDHIST teaching, while reincarnation is inevitable for everyone, there are certain beings who have so trained their minds through intensive study and meditation that they can influence the conditions of their next birth. These tulkus, as they are known, are bound by their vow to return to lead others to enlightenment. The Dalai Lama, whose lineage can be traced through 14 successive rebirths, is the best known. But within Tibetan Buddhism at large there are many such tulkus. Sera monastery alone accommodates some 25 of them.

Lama Osel is the best known of these, and his story was the inspiration for Bernardo Bertolucci’s film about a Western reincarnate, Little Buddha – Lama Norbu comes to Seattle in search of the reincarnation of his dead teacher, Lama Dorje. His search leads him to young Jesse Conrad, Raju, a waif from Kathmandu, and an upper class Indian girl. Together, they journey to Bhutan where the three children must undergo a test to prove which is the true reincarnation. Interspersed with this, is the story of Siddharta, later known as the Buddha. It traces his spiritual journey from ignorance to true enlightenment.

The process of finding the “soul boy” usually happens 49 days after the death of a Lama, there are high monks who know where to search and they usually bring the dead Lama’s old things during the process. There are unbelievable stories like a boy select the Lama’s toy from 100 other toys and shouting “this is mine!”