As my readers know, there is no such thing as “Buddhism” — there are multiple kinds of buddhisms, some of which eschew spirits and deities while emphasizing consciousness and compassion, whereas others are highly ritualized and enthusiastically enjoin the supernatural realm of gods and souls.
I was reminded of this the other day while reading Electa Draper’s story in the Denver Post about a 17-year-old Tibetan boy named Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche who recently visited Boulder’s far-out Buddhist center. Rinpoche supposedly is the reincarnated “emanation of beloved and revered master Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, who died in 1991 at the age of 81.”
The young Rinpoche has no memory of his “past life” and seems none too happy about being chosen or “recognized” as the incarnation of the recently deceased Rinpoche. With refreshing honesty, Rinpoche said several things that might have dampened the enthusiasms of the adoring and credulous Boulderites who came to revel in the presence of his greatness. The honest Rinpoche pours some cold conceptual water on the whole conceit:
“I can’t really say I enjoy being a rinpoche,” the robe-clad teenager told the mostly youthful audience of 250 to 300. “It’s a big job.”
“Supposedly I am the incarnation of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. It doesn’t mean I have all his knowledge. I am the same as a normal boy.”
A young boy asked Yangsi Rinpoche, “How does it make you feel knowing you’re a big past-life guy.”
“I don’t really think about that,” Yangsi Rinpoche said. “[The Dalai Lama and my] teachers chose me. I sometimes wonder why they chose such a weird boy. I’m not saying I hate my life. There are some things I like about my life.”
“But there’s not one thing in my life I can point to as really, really enjoyable.”
When the children asked for tips on meditation, he said, “I’m not such a big fan of meditation.” He said he wasn’t disciplined.
“I’m just a cloud,” he said. “I’m just a laid-back, boring boy.”
Yangsi Rinpoche said that to be known as the incarnation of a great teacher yet not have any of that teacher’s qualities sometimes makes him feel ashamed.
Unsurprisingly, none of this seemed to bother the parents who brought their kids to witness his holiness: “Julia Hellerman, a 38-year-old Boulder mom, is not Buddhist, she said, but she wanted her two children to have this experience with a great person.”
Rinpoche sounds like a normal American kid who wants to do his own thing, but is guilt-ridden because father enthusiastically expects him to carry on the small-town, fourth generation family hardware business after dad passes away. If anything, Rinpoche seems more like the Tibetan incarnation of Holden Caulfield.