104 THE TIBETAN BOOK OF LIVING AND DYING 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
EVOLUTION, KARMA, AND REBIRTH 105 Tibetan tradition. Yet the whole world knows him as a being of direct simplicity and the most practical outlook. The Dalai Lama has a keen interest in all aspects of contemporary physics, neurobiology, psychology, and politics, and his views and message of universal responsibility are embraced not only by Buddhists, but by people of all persuasions all over the world. His dedication to nonviolence in the forty-year-long, agonizing struggle of the Tibetan people for their independence from the Chinese won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989; in a particularly violent time, his example has inspired people in their aspirations for freedom in countries in every part of the globe. The Dalai Lama has become one of the leading spokesmen for the preservation of the world's environment, tirelessly trying to awaken his fellow human beings to the dangers of a selfish, materialistic philosophy. He is honored by intellectuals and leaders everywhere, and yet I have known hundreds of quite ordinary people of all kinds and nations whose lives have been changed by the beauty, humor, and joy of his holy presence. The Dalai Lama is, I believe, nothing less than the face of the Buddha of Compassion turned toward an endangered humanity, the incarnation of Avalokiteshvara not only for Tibet and not only for Buddhists, but for the whole world—in need, as never before, of healing compassion andof his example of total dedication to peace. It may be surprising for the West to learn how very many incarnations there have been in Tibet, and how the majority have been great masters, scholars, authors, mystics, and saints who made an outstanding contribution both to the teaching of Buddhism and to society. They played a central role in the history of Tibet. I believe that this process of incarnation is not limited to Tibet, but can occur in all countries and at all times. Throughout history there have been figures of artistic genius, spiritual strength, and humanitarian vision who have helped the human race to go forward. I think of Gandhi, Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, of Shakespeare, of St. Francis, of Beethoven, of Michelangelo. When Tibetans hear of such people, they immediately say they are bodhisattvas. And whenever I hear of them, of their work and vision, I am moved by the majesty of the vast evolutionary process of the buddhas and masters that emanate to liberate beings and better the world.