Reincarnation: The Boy Lama - The Search
Meanwhile, Lama Zopa had been conducting his own extremely diligent search over the past few months for the rebirth of his precious guru, who he was sure would honor his promise to return again to this earth to continue his great work of guiding sentient beings out of the wheel of uncontrolled birth and death.
In accordance with Tibetan tradition, which has its own precise procedure for tracking down reincarnated lamas, he'd consulted various oracles. There had been a variety of pointers. One had indicated a Western child born to a couple of Lama Yeshe's students living in Kopan itself. Another had actually predicted that the child would be born in Osel-Ling and that the mother's name was Maria, or the Tibetan equivalent. And a clairvoyant nun, a student of Lama Zopa's, had looked in a mirror and come up with the name Paco and seen the profile of the mother. At the time, it had meant nothing to her. Lama Zopa took note, but not too much notice. He said oracles were not always reliable and much stronger proof was required in this case.
He paid attention to his dreams. One poignantly vivid dream revealed Lama Yeshe declaring that he was about to take another human form. He'd heard the cries of his students calling out to him in need and suffering and could no longer stay in the realm of bliss, ignoring their plight. A later dream showed Lama as a small child with bright, penetrating eyes, crawling on the floor of a meditation room. He was male and a Westerner.
So Lama Zopa, in his new role as successor to Lama Yeshe and head of the rapidly growing FPMT, traveled around the world visiting the various centers, giving teachings, guiding meditations, bestowing initiations–and keeping a watchful eye for any baby who, to his clairvoyant mind, was in any way 'special.'
When Lama Zopa came to Osel-Ling in the autumn of 1985, he saw Osel crawling on the gompa floor. He had clear far-seeing eyes. He was a Westerner. His face was exactly the same as the child in his dream. Lama Zopa sat up. He brought Osel onto the throne with him to have a closer look. Yes, it was definitely the child of his dream. He noted the child's familiarity and liking for the dorje and bell. That could have been a coincidence. More subtly he recognized that Osel was leaning against him in a manner similar to the way Lama Yeshe had done when he was paralyzed with a stroke in California just before he died. He also watched the way Osel rubbed his head round and round, a habit Lama Yeshe had always had.
Interested, he called Maria to him. When had Osel been conceived? Maria thought back. It was the exact date when Lama Zopa had had his first dream of Lama Yeshe announcing he was going to be reborn. He asked Maria if she had had any notable dreams during that time. She replied that one had, in fact, stuck in her mind. She had been in a large cathedral where Lama Yeshe was giving teachings to a huge crowd. Many were Christians, and they were all kneeling rather than sitting cross-legged on the floor. With everyone else, she went up to Lama to receive his blessing, and when he touched her, she felt as though water, blissful golden-white water, was pouring through her, purifying her. Lama Zopa made no comment.
He asked when was the last time she had seen Lama Yeshe and whether he had said anything significant to her. Maria remembered the occasion well. It was a full year before he died, in February 1383. Lama had come to Spain, and she, Paco, and François had gone to him with practical questions about running the retreat center. He had given them advice on nothing else except Osel-Ling, as this was all they had talked about. But Lama Zopa could hear for himself what had been said, since they had videotaped the meeting for future reference. Lama Zopa replied that he'd very much like to see it.
Watching the video, he was struck by some fairly incongruous remarks Lama Yeshe had made in the context of giving practical advice. At one point, he had said, "Osel-Ling is such a beautiful place. It reminds me very much of the Himalayas. At some point in the future, I'd like to spend a lot of time there." More significantly he'd remarked to Maria and Pace, "I know how much you have done for the center, how dedicated you have been. I shall never forget you. Even if I die, I will never forget you. We have much business, much karma business between us." At the time, the words had meant nothing to Maria and Paco, and they had promptly forgotten them. Now Lama Zopa began to glean their true meaning.
In fact, Maria and Paco were ideal candidates for the job of parenting a reincarnated Tibetan lama–with all the demands and controversy it would inevitably bring. They were both down-to-earth, no-nonsense, stable, hardworking, honest people. They already had a large family, and so a fifth child who would be separated from them for long periods of time would not be the same wrench as if it were their only child. More importantly, Maria was not a clinging mother. Quite the opposite. While she was conscientious in looking after her children, she could quite happily let them go. Maria had openly stated to Lama Yeshe several times that she did not need children to fulfill her life. It was an ideal quality for the mother of a son who needed to get on with his mission in life, unhampered by maternal possessiveness. And then there was Paco–steady, strong, gentle, utterly devoted to the Buddhist path, and with a natural affinity for children, a quality that was to come in very useful.
The case for Osel Hita Torres was growing. At this point, Lama Zopa wrote to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who all this time had been doing his own prayers and observations for the rebirth of Lama Yeshe, with a list of possible candidates whom Lama Zopa had observed, all of whom showed favorable signs. There were ten children in all, including, amongst others, three Tibetans from Nepal; two children from Tibet who were born near the area where Lama Yeshe's family lived; and two Western children, one with an Indian father and a Western mother. After a while, the Dalai Lama replied that he had meditated on the names, and one of them definitely was Lama Yeshe's reincarnation, but he wanted more time to make sure. Two months later, the Dalai Lama contacted Lama Zopa again and said that the name that repeatedly came up was Osel's. The evidence now seemed conclusive. Lama Zopa's own convictions had been ratified by the person whom he, and 14 million other Buddhists, consider to be the most holy being on earth, a living buddha, His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
The call came at breakfast time on 18 April 1986. Maria, surrounded by the chaos and noise of her large family squabbling over the cereal packets, could hardly hear the soft voice of Lama Zopa calling from India. Would she please come to Delhi next week and bring Osel with her for some tests? The money could be acquired from the resident geshe at the retreat center who happened to be holding on to the exact amount for some unspecified purpose. Maria could hardly take it in. What was Lama Zopa intimating? Was Osel going to be tested along with other children to see if he was, after all, Lama Yeshe! With her mind in a complete whirl in the rush to get ready, she hardly had rime to think about the ramifications of her journey.
Their arrival in Delhi hardly seemed auspicious. The pre-monsoon heat was suffocating, and Osel, used to the fresh, spring air of the high Spanish mountains, began to wane visibly. And he was jetlagged into the bargain. The quarters they were living in were crowded. He got horribly bitten by mosquitoes, and then he fell down, cutting his eye.
Maria didn't feel too good either. She was anxious about what was happening (still harboring guilt feelings about the part her subconscious thoughts might have played in the matter) and her fourteen-month-old son was fractious. Then she was told that the reason they had come to Delhi was that the Dalai Lama was there and wanted to see Osel before he went overseas. They got ready: Lama Zopa, his secretary, Jacie Keeley; Yeshe Khadro, the Australian nun, Maria, and Osel. Bouquets of flowers were bought (Yeshe Khadro purchased a solitary white rose for Osel to give) together with traditional white scarves by way of offerings.
At the appointed hour, they were ushered into the hotel room where the Dalai Lama was staying, the traditional scarves were offered, and the bouquets of flowers were piled on a nearby table. The Dalai Lama took a long look at Osel and kindly took him up into his arms. Osel's face was transformed into a picture of pure rapture. He wriggled to get down and ran over to the table where, amongst the pile of flowers, he found his one white rose, pulled it free, ran back to the Dalai Lama again, and gently hit him on the cheek with it. The Dalai Lama laughed in delight. The others were amazed. No one had told Osel that the white rose was his gift, and certainly no one had prompted this spontaneous act. The Dalai Lama looked at Maria and told her that Osel would give further evidence of his identity as he got older.
Still nothing definite had been said. Instead, Lama Zopa announced that they were all going to get into cars and drive some 250 miles to Dharamsala. They drove for fifteen hours nonstop, Osel becoming increasingly testy. Maria had no idea what was going on. Unbeknown to her, the Dalai Lama had counseled Lama Zopa that announcing Osel's identity at this stage might be courting problems. Fourteen months was an exceptionally young age at which to recognize a reincarnated lama, most tulkus being officially instated at four or five years old. Lama Zopa was in a dilemma. Nothing on earth would induce him to bring trouble to his beloved Lama's life, yet he knew how badly his Western students needed not only the proof of reincarnation, but the living presence of Lama Yeshe in their midst once more. On that long car journey to Dharamsala, he was meditating on the right course of action.
When they arrived, his mind was made up. He called several of Lama Yeshe's students, monks and nuns who were studying or retreating at Tushita Retreat Center, dressed Osel in one of his own yellow shirts, placed him on Lama Yeshe's throne in Lama Yeshe's room, did three prostrations before him, and made a mandala offering to him. "Here is your guru," he said.
With that, Osel, who until then had been beyond exhaustion, flopped back against the cushions, threw aside his bottle, suddenly fired with energy. His whole demeanor changed. He sat bolt upright, wide awake, eyes shining, his face full of vitality He picked up the dorje and bell in his small hands, the correct hands, and with tremendous gusto waved them in the air as a Tibetan lama should. He put them down and repeated the action again, and again. Seven or eight times. And all the time laughing, laughing. People began to cry. It was so like Lama. He had come back to them. Maria felt paralyzed inside. Finally, she understood. The child she had carried and borne was being hailed as the reincarnation of the great Lama Yeshe–the man who had shown such extraordinary skill and dedication in guiding Westerners to enlightenment. How could this be?
Later, she spoke to Lama Zopa. Why hadn't he warned her beforehand? He replied he had to be completely sure and then asked if she believed. "I don't know. It's difficult. I think I want more proof," she answered honestly.
More proof was forthcoming. Osel still had to undertake the traditional tests, given to all reincarnate lamas. And so, as Tibetans have done for hundreds of years, Lama Zopa collected some of Lama Yeshe's possessions; he mixed them with others of similar type and asked Osel to pick out those that were rightfully his. Starting with a mala (rosary), a fairly ordinary one made of wooden beads that had been a favorite of Lama's, he placed it on a low table along with four others almost identical in style and one made out of bright crystal beads intended as a natural red herring for a baby of fourteen months.
Then, with Maria and a few Western disciples as witnesses, he requested Osel, "Give me your mala from your past life." Osel turned his head away as if bored. Then he whipped it back again and without hesitation went straight for the correct mala, which he grabbed with both hands, raising it above his head, grinning, in a triumphant victory salute. An Australian monk, Max Redlich, was ready with two cameras, a brand-new one and an antique device belonging to Lama Yeshe. "Use the old one," charged Lama Zopa. Max ignored him, reaching for the sophisticated camera instead. It jammed. Max missed the shot.
After a break, Lama Zopa set up the bells–there were eight of them. This time Osel dallied. He picked up the bells in pairs, ringing them and setting them down. Lama Zopa instructed again, "Give me your bell from your past life." Maria, watching the spectacle, never believed her child could perform the same miracle twice. He was so young. Such a feat must surely be beyond him. Osel continued to play with all the bells, picking them up and putting them down again. To the onlookers it looked as if he were teasing them all. Lama Zopa repeated the instruction. "Osel, give me your bell." Osel delicately, but with great determination, picked up Lama Zopa's hand and put it on the correct bell. This time Max was ready with the functioning camera.
Osel had passed the tests and could now be formally recognized as the legitimate incarnation of the late Lama Thubten Yeshe. The Western monks, nuns, and disciples in Dharamsala, who had all been intimately acquainted with Lama Yeshe, could not take their eyes off the fair-haired toddler running in their midst in diapers. Here again, they were told, was their great guru–but in such a different form. For most, it was hard to accept totally. They watched, looking for yet more signs. Osel gave them.
At the top of the mountain above Tushita Retreat Center is the house where the great Kyabje Ling Rinpoche, senior tutor to the Dalai Lama, and Ninety-seventh Throneholder of Je Tsong Khapa, once lived. He had passed away in December 1983, and in tribute to this eminent scholar and spiritual master, the Dalai Lama had decreed that his body be preserved according to the ancient Tibetan method. It exists to this day, placed in the drawing room of this rather unremarkable colonial house, sitting in the lotus position, the hands in the mudras (symbolic gestures) of giving teachings and with a look of utter serenity on the ancient, wise, and consummately compassionate face.
Osel was taken up there with Maria and Max Redlich. When he saw the figure, he threw himself on the ground in a full prostration. He got up and did it again. Three times. Maria and Max were astonished. Where had he learned such things! There was more to come. Later, he came across the stupa dedicated to his former root guru, Trijang Rinpoche. Without prompting, Osel set off at a trot around the stupa, circumambulating it in a clockwise direction as every good Tibetan pilgrim should. He stopped occasionally to do prostrations, and to make sure that the others were following and doing likewise. For a fourteen-month-old child his behavior was extraordinary, to say the least.
Perhaps the most touching scene of all was when Osel was taken to meet the reincarnation of Trijang Rinpoche, a four-year-old with a commanding presence and a wisdom far beyond his years, who was already receiving hundreds of Tibetans for blessing. Lama Yeshe had Seen devoted to his great teacher and had wept openly when he died, saying that everything he had been able to do had come from the kindness ofTrijang Rinpoche. Now Osel was told whom he was going to meet. The child could hardly contain himself–his whole body shook with excitement. Bearing gifts, they drove to the new Trijang Rinpoche's house–Osel still quivering with anticipation–and there, the two tiny figures met, beaming at each other with obvious delight. Osel then reached for some money that was meant as an offering and with great joy handed it over to Trijang Rinpoche who, with equal delight, handed it back again. This exchange went on for several minutes, the two participants clearly enjoying their game enormously. When Osel left, he was walking on tiptoe, his feet hardly touching the ground.
Those who were witness to Osel's behavior watched in wonder. They talked among themselves, musing on the strangeness of this small child who had suddenly come among them. Word rapidly spread about the extraordinary phenomenon of the baby Spanish lama