Some incarnations need to practice or study less than others.

This was the case with my own master, Jamyang Khyentse.

When my master was young he had a very demanding

tutor. He had to live with him in his hermitage in the mountains.

One morning his tutor left for a neighboring village to

conduct a ritual for someone who had just died. Just before he

left he gave my master a book called Chanting the Names of

Manjushri, an extremely difficult text about fifty pages long,

which would ordinarily take months to memorize. His parting

words were: "Memorize this by this evening!"

The young Khyentse was like any other child, and once his

tutor had left he began to play. He played and he played, until

the neighbors became increasingly anxious. They pleaded with

him, "You'd better start studying, otherwise you'll get a beating."

They knew just how strict and wrathful his tutor was.

Even then he paid no attention, and kept on playing. Finally

just before sunset, when he knew his tutor would be returning,

he read through the whole text once. When his tutor

returned and tested him, he was able to recite the entire work

from memory, word perfect.

Ordinarily, no tutor in his right mind would set such a task

for an infant. In his heart of hearts, he knew that Khyentse

was the incarnation of Manjushri, the Buddha of Wisdom, and

it was almost as if he were trying to lure him into "proving"

himself. The child himself, by accepting such a difficult task

without protest, was tacitly acknowledging who he was. Later

Khyentse wrote in his autobiography that although his tutor

did not admit it, even he was quite impressed.

What continues in a tulku? Is the tulku exactly the same

person as the figure he reincarnates? He both is and isn't. His

motivation and dedication to help all beings is the same, but

he is not actually the same person. What continues from life

to life is a blessing, what a Christian would call "grace." This

transmission of a blessing and grace is exactly tuned and

appropriate to each succeeding age, and the incarnation

appears in a way potentially best suited to the karma of the

people of his time, to be able most completely to help them.

Perhaps the most moving example of the richness, effectiveness,

and subtlety of this system is His Holiness the Dalai

Lama. He is revered by Buddhists as the incarnation of

Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Infinite Compassion.

Brought up in Tibet as its god-king, the Dalai Lama received

all the traditional training and major teachings of all the lineages

and became one of the very greatest living masters in the

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