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The unlikely scientific support to the tulku system?
October 31st, 2018
The unlikely scientific support to the tulku system?

In Tibetan Buddhism, tulkus (i.e. identified rebirths of high-level practitioners) tend to be identified… among (spiritually) 'high' families.

Because political power was linked to spiritual power in Tibet, there definitely was a political dimension to this identification, thus keeping most of the tulkus, hence most of the political power, within a tiny circle of a few 'noble' families… Power was thus 'inherited' within political and spiritual lineages, even if it went through cross-inheritance between a few families (rather than the more usual model of a unique 'royal' bloodline).
This tainted the whole notion of tulkus as a simple attempt to cling to power… to the point that even some tulkus (like Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse rinpoche) have criticised the system and called for its abolition. China, to this day, denounces the feudalism it 'freed' the Tibetans from, when it invaded.

Of course, an alternative explanation could be that, as tulkus supposedly keep some agency in the bardo, some capacity to choose an appropriate rebirth, it makes sense they would elect an embodiment which will support the spreading of the Dhamma, thanks to political protections…

But maybe there's more, based on the attached scientific reporting!

If you consider that spiritual attainments are related to neural plasticity (to be able to correct, or relinquish, wrong views), or to an ability to 'connect' apparently disparate aspects of reality into a grander "Harmony of Difference and Equality" (to reuse, slightly out of context, a Zen expression)…
i.e. if you consider that indeed the mind about to be reborn picks a body (among those available thanks to its karmic merit) that will support a constructive body-mind practice, a body that will support a wholesome (neural) embodiment of mental/spiritual qualities…
then tulkus appearing in families of tulkus apparently makes scientific sense! If particular connectomes are more (easily) 'adapted' to spiritual work, and if particular connectomes happen to be partially passed down through genetics, then 'bloodlines' of people highly capable in spiritual matters would be a natural consequence.

And this would not prevent individual exceptions, with great achievements in unlikely families;
this would not prevent all families ('noble' or not) from gradually evolving towards more wholesome connectome (in relation with buddha-nature?);
this would not prevent "bad apples" in noble families either ;-)
Related-ness is not a warranty, nor a determinism. So, as always, one ought to pay attention, to choose a teacher carefully and without overly caring about reputation, and to avoid bad apple gurus regardless of their credentials…
But this might nonetheless give a more rational explanation to the familial bias among rebirths of tulkus than initially, and reasonably, expected!

#Buddhism #Tibetan #tulku #Dharma