Buddhist nonsense given front-page treatment in the Strib

The StarTribune used this teaser headline on the homepage of their website yesterday:

4-year-old believed to be first Minnesota-born lama-reincarnate

The actual headline and by-line for the front-page story: The little lama from Columbia Heights – "Tibetan Buddhists see the extraordinary in this Columbia Heights boy — a reincarnated guru."

003buddha12181111Jalue Dorjee, you see, is believed to be no ordinary boy. According to the highest authorities of the Tibetan Buddhist order, he is the reincarnation of the speech, mind and body of a lama, or spiritual guru, who died in Switzerland six years ago. Jalue is said to be the eighth appearance of the original lama, born in 1655.

There’s a lot to like about Buddhism, just like other religions, but a human-interest story based on goofy literal beliefs about reincarnation should not be given front-page treatment but relegated to the Variety or a local section, just like the newspaper did with its story a year ago, A little chapel in Wisconsin draws pilgrims seeking Mary. Likewise, this article published in July: Communion wafer turns red in S. St. Paul — is it miraculous?

In five more years, I hope to see a follow-up article about Jalue Dorjee with a headline like:

Columbia Heights family to ship their 10-year old to study in a monastery in India – is this good parenting?

38 thoughts on “Buddhist nonsense given front-page treatment in the Strib”

  1. I found it a lovely story. I get tired of front page “who killed who” or “whose fault it is that we are going to hell in a hand basket” I always come away from reading the paper feeling bad. I don’t find the notion of reincarnation any more difficult than many Christian beliefs. At least this story wasn’t another depressing story about the abuse of….everything.

    1. It may be a lovely story, Jim, but so would a story about someone returning from the Virgin Mary site in Wisconsin having been cured of some disease. Or a story of someone who prayed for a miracle at a casino and hit the jackpot and now they’ll have a happy Christmas.

      There are plenty of other lovely stories out there, even ones with helpful religious themes, without having to pander to the nonsense.

  2. I read it and felt sorry for the mother who has to give up her only child since, after all, they COULD be mistaken and oops, there goes her only child for all her life.

    1. I felt sorry for both parents, Susan. They’re being duped, not ‘honored.’ And it’s easy to see how all of this could contribute to a unhealthy emotional/social life for the kid, not unlike parents who send their young kid off to a distant boarding school so that they can become terrific hockey/tennis/soccer etc players.

    2. Susan,

      Or, she could be like the mother who gave up her son, now known as the Dali Lama, so that millions could have a shining example of how to live.

      1. Well, I just know I would never “give up” my only daughter no matter what (despite how saintly she may be). And where is the child’s “free will” in this?

  3. I agree that this isn’t a front-page story. Stick it, and other articles like it, in the lifestyle or other more appropriate section of the paper.

  4. For someone who is actually interested in the subject matter (children as reincarnated Buddhist leaders), Independent Lens has a pretty intriguing film about one such story. I’ve seen it a couple of times on TPT over the past year or two: Unmistaken Child

    “After world-renowned Tibetan master Geshe Lama Konchog passed away in 2001 at age 84, the Dalai Lama charged the deceased monk’s devoted disciple, Tenzin Zopa, with the task of finding the reincarnation of this spiritual leader. Plagued by doubt, Tenzin knows his discovery is awaited by thousands of followers. UNMISTAKEN CHILD is the story of his four-year search.”

    Whether or not such things belong as local news headlines in the States, who knows. It’s certainly front-page news in Tibet! 😉

      1. That’s definitely not shocking. It strikes me as no different (less in magnitude, perhaps) as when children raised in other strong religious (or cultural, or whatever) traditions decide they want nothing to do with it. It’s more of a bummer when the hopes of millions of people are resting on your shoulders though, huh. 😉

        Maybe there will be a follow-up to the film I mentioned in 15-20 years. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to renege on your “chosenness”, though… in all seriousness. It’s never easy to turn your back on your upbringing, yet alone when you’re in THAT kind of public and/or influential position.

    1. David,


      … he is the reincarnation of the speech, mind and body of a lama, or spiritual guru, who died in Switzerland six years ago.

      That’s goofy, ie, personalities that die but come back as other personalities. The parents are totally missing the metaphorical power of what reincarnation is actually about.

      1. Griff-

        …the metaphorical power of what reincarnation is actually about.

        Specifically, what is that?

    2. Griff,

      My guess is that the journalist lost something in the translation. The writer attributed the quote you gave to “the highest Tibetian authorities”, not the parents.

  5. Grif,

    Essential Tibetan Buddhism by Robert Thurman may provide some insight into the language described. I think some aspects of description in Buddhism are lost when moving to english. This may be a reason for the “personality” concerns you raise.

    1. Such a leading question, Counselor! But I’ll bite. Sure, I’ve got a perspective/opinion that differs than the Dalai Lama on this. The Pope, too. They’re just regular guys and sometimes blinded by the institutional cultures that surround them. Mistaken ideas can infect any human being, no matter how lofty.

      That’s true of you and me too, of course. Which is why we need people on LoGro who are willing to gently whack us upside the head occasionally.

    2. Griff,

      The Dalai Lama and the Pope may be regular guys, but they are also experts in their fields, just like lawyers, doctors, dentists, and computer geeks are experts in their fields. Plus, the Dalai Lama and the Pope have given their lives in furtherance of their beliefs. Joseph Campbell wrote books and made money.

    3. David,

      What you wrote about the Dalai Lama and the Pope (highest level religious leaders who are experts in their fields, gave their lives in furtherance for their beliefs) would also apply to the Ayatollah Khomeini.

      Would you not have me criticize some of his actions either?

      1. Griff- I think it is interesting that all the religious leaders listed above have or will go to their grave. A hundred years from now, they will still be there. We are going to celebrate the birth of the only One who rose form His grave. That is the difference between Christianity and every other religion in the world.

      2. John,

        I think you overstate the “difference between Christianity and every other religion in the world”.

        For one thing, as others have pointed out, the difference between reincarnation and resurrection—leaving entirely aside the question of whether either actually occurs—seems pretty minor to me in the context of various ways of avoiding or transcending physical death.

        For another, although Christianity is certainly the only religion founded on that particular resurrection, the idea of resurrection appears in a lot of religions. A little Wikipedia-surfing reveals resurrection stories in various “non-Abrahamic” settings, including ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Ugaritic.

        Again, I’m not commenting here on the plausibility of any of these myths, legends, or beliefs — just pointing out that they recur in various cultures.

      3. Paul Z.- Perhaps I was not clear in my comment above. My point is that Jesus is the only founder of a religious sect who has already risen from His grave, at least to my knowledge. There are references to a resurrection in the future in other religions, ans almost always an afterlife, but I was referring specifically to the individual founders. All religions that I know of refer to an afterlife, but that is not necessarily a bodily resurrection. I would consider reincarnation an afterlife, since the belief is that a person’s spirit returns as something other than that person.

        There are some interesting stories in the Bible about bodily resurrection from the dead. One is in 1 Kings 13:31, and then there is the story of Lazurus in John 11:43. Also, Matthew 27:52 & 53 tells of multiple resurrections on the day that Jesus arose. All these instances were witnessed by many. This is different from reincarnation and the afterlife in other religions.

      4. John,

        You might want to check, say, Wikipedia’s discussion of resurrection myths in various religions. Osiris and Baal and Aesclepius and Achilles, for example, are all apparently supposed to have risen from the dead.

        Again, I’m not addressing the plausibility or implausibility of any these stories. I’m on about your assertion about the uniqueness of Christianity in this one respect.

      5. Paul- I suppose those who believe in these “myths” will put their faith in them. Still, back to my original premise, which of the major contemporary religions claims to have a “risen” founder? Do not the followers of these religions pay homage at the graves of their founders?

    4. Griff,

      I cannot effectively criticize the Dalai Lama’s beliefs because I do not have an understanding of the intellectual framework in which the belief originates. But, I have to believe that the Dalai Lama does possess that framework, especially given that he is considered, and has considered himself to be the reincarnation of previous lamas.

      My guess is that the Dalai’s understanding of reincarnation is not as goofy and literal as it may appear to the uninformed, and to the empiricist. The Dalai’s (and the Pope’s) lived life is enough to convince me that they speak the truth.

  6. The Tibetan monks have a way of proving if the child is the chosen one. I wouldn’t hazard a description here, but it is an involved process. Kind of like the Catholics go thru a long and involved process to see if someone is a saint.

    We know that dogs can help cure ill people by lowering stress and raising endorphins. Now, I guess that doesn’t work for people who are allergic to or have been bitten by a dog.

    Griff, you could be a curmudgeon that was maybe bitten by an antheist dog so this kind of stuff doesn’t work for you, unless you are really playing the devil’s advocate. Either way, happy holidays!

  7. Regardless of where this story should have been placed, or whether it should be in the news at all, I wonder who any of us are to declare someone else’s religious beliefs goofy?

    The discussion sort of reminds me of Dave Barry’s notion that, “People who want to share their religious views with you almost never want you to share yours with them.”

    Just saying…

    1. Pete,

      Religious beliefs drive a considerable amount of human behavior. I’ve been outspoken about the positive force that religion plays in society but some religious beliefs drive behavior that is considerably problematic.

      Designating a 5-year old kid as a reincarnated spiritual leader is goofy and arguably not good for the kid nor his parents.

      1. Griff- You might look up the life of Samuel the prophet, beginning in I Sam. 1:19-28. It appears that singling out a youngster at an early age was not out of place in that Biblical time. I suppose that this Buddhist family could do the same thing with their child. It just isn’t real common in this day and age, especially in the US. Usually, a young person completes at least a secondary level of schooling and then chooses for themselves what direction their life will go I can understand that a different culture might do things differently..

      2. OK, in your culture. Who is to say whose culture has value though? And, I can’t imagine Joseph Campbell saying anyone’s tradition is goofy. I don’t care how this goes, I’m a deist at best, but it is interesting.

        Christopher Moore’s “Lamb, The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal” is pretty good about all this.

      3. Griff,

        I will go one step further than Pete. The concept of a reincarnated spiritual leader is obviously a concept that many Buddhists hold near and dear. It has been proven through leaders, such as the Dalai Lama, to be a source of “positive force” in society, especially the Tibetian society. I applaud the parents for having the courage to do what they think is best for their child.

      4. Pete,

        There was a long tradition of selling indulgences in the Catholic Church a while back. Pope Leo X raised it to a fine art when he was trying to pay for the reconstruction of St Peter’s Basilica. “Get your dead relatives out of purgatory!” was the marketing campaign.

        Martin Luther thought that that particular cultural/religious tradition enforced by an infallible Pope was goofy and maybe even FUBAR and one of the long term consequences of his saying so is that we have St. Olaf College here in Northfield where you have a darn good job. 😉

        See the importance of ‘goofy’?

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