Reincarnation: The Boy Lama - The Birth
On 12 February 1985, in the state hospital of Granada, Spain, Osel Hita Torres was born. He came into the world without causing his mother any pain, his eyes wide open. He didn't cry. The atmosphere in the delivery room was charged–very quiet and yet momentous. The hospital staff were unusually touched. They sensed that this was a special child.
Outside, the heavens opened. Maria, the mother, lying with her newborn child, was scared. Lightning flashed, the rains poured down, filling the streets with so much water that they looked like a river in full flood. This was the first time she had been alone at a birth. Her four other children had been born at home, which was how she liked it, but for some strange reason she had been advised by a Tibetan lama to have her fifth child amid the gleaming technology of a modern hospital. In spite of all the apparatus and the cold formality of the hospital ward, the birth had been ridiculously easy. Just one contraction and the baby had been there. Now she was alone waiting for her husband, Paco, to come. When he arrived, he took one look at his son and said with some awe, "He's so serene, his face is full of light." Maria suggested he find a name for him. When he returned the next morning, he said he was to be called 'Osel,' which means 'clear light' in Tibetan.
This was the child who was destined to become one of the most unusual spiritual leaders of his time. For Osel Hita Torres was soon to be officially recognized by the Dalai Lama himself as the reincarnation of Lama Thubten Yeshe, who had passed away in California eleven months earlier. It was later said that it was typical of Lama to engineer both an archetypal Western death and an archetypal Western birth–just for the experience.
From the moment they took Osel home to their small house, which had been built by Paco himself in the simple, charming village of Bubión, high in the Alpujarra mountains, Maria noticed that he was not like her other children. He never cried. When she forgot to feed him because she was busy with her other children, she'd race upstairs to find him lying in his cot wide awake, looking and waiting. He let her sleep all through the night, every night, from the day he was born. It was as though his entry into the world was not intended to cause inconvenience or trouble to the family in any way.
In fact, from the time he was born, Osel seemed to bring them luck. For the previous six years, life had been tough for Paco and Maria–with so many mouths to feed and money extremely scarce. They were badly in debt, and the strain was beginning to tell. Theirs was a good marriage, but the relationship was beginning to crack under the strain. Now a new hotel was to be built in Bubión, and Paco found work as a builder. He worked all hours, and the money came in fast. Soon they were able to add more badly needed rooms to their cramped house. The strain lifted. Life suddenly began to improve. For a baby who hadn't been planned for, Osel wasn't doing too badly. But this unpretentious, hard-working Spanish couple had no idea of the galvanic changes their newborn son was about to bring to their lives.
Paco and Maria had met on the island of Ibiza in 1976. Paco, a shy, self-effacing man with a gentle, kind face and piercing blue eyes, came from a poor family and had left school at the age of nine to work in a factory. Later, seeking something more from life, he had thrown in his job, gone to Ibiza, and met François Camus, a Frenchman who had met Lama Yeshe and Tibetan Buddhism on his travels in the East. Paco listened to what François had to tell him, intrigued at first, then deeply interested. Maria, dark-haired, dark-eyed, vivacious, and extremely attractive, had taken a week off from her job buying and selling stamps to come for a holiday in Ibiza. She met Paco and François and never went home. Middle-class and convent-educated, she had no particular interest in Buddhism, but she certainly liked the people who practiced it. "They were so calm and peaceful, good to be around," she said. In particular, she liked Paco. Their relationship was soon established.
Their easygoing island existence lost much of its appeal when Lama Yeshe arrived in 1977 to teach a two-week course there. Maria had never met anyone like him. "We'd had some teachings from other more traditional lamas who had come with Lama Yeshe, and although I had an open mind, I thought all the adoration, the prostrations before them, a bit too much. Then Lama Yeshe came. More than twice the number of people turned up to see him–the excitement level was very high. He came in smiling at everyone, looking so kind. Then he started to laugh. He kept on laughing, laughing.
"I'd never seen anyone like him. His energy, the power coming out of him, was incredible. He was transmitting with his face, his hands, his whole body–every way he could to make us understand. I didn't understand a word that he said, but something happened inside me. I can't describe the feeling, but it was very strong. Spontaneously, I put my hands together. I knew this was a man I could dedicate my life to," she said.
And so Maria, Paco, and François approached Lama Yeshe with the idea of starting a retreat center on mainland Spain. Lama listened to their plans and agreed. Ibiza was good for initiating interest in Buddhism, but somewhere more 'serious' was needed to consolidate the practice. Lama contributed his own suggestion–the retreat center should be open to people of all religions who wanted time, space, and peace to develop their interior life. After a long, arduous search they finally found the right spot, a plot of land on top of Spain's highest mountain, Mulhacén, 11,407 feet above sea level in the Alpujarra mountains, south of Granada. The air was pure, the view sensational, there was no noise, no disturbance from human or machine. It was also totally remote and inaccessible. For six years, Paco and François put all their energy and money into making it habitable, building not only the retreat cabins and meditation house but also the road leading to it–by hand. It was a Herculean task, a creation inspired by their devotion.
Their efforts were rewarded by the sudden unsolicited arrival of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who went first to Bubión, where he made a point of meeting the local priest and celebrating Mass with him, and then to the retreat center which he named Osel-Ling ('Place of Clear Light'), meaning the clear light of the purest, most subtle mind, the final goal of meditation. No one was quite sure what had prompted the Dalai Lama to make this curious detour from his busy European tour to visit a remote Buddhist outpost run by keen, but utterly unimportant Buddhist students. Later, when Paco, inspired by the light he had seen in his son's face, came up with the name Osel, Maria initially hesitated. It seemed pretentious, too much to live up to. Here François stepped in. "You have put so much into the center, it's right that the center should now be part of you," he reasoned. Maria relented.
While Paco had physically made the center she had physically made the children, living across the mountain in Bubión where amenities were more suitable for bringing up babies. Her union with Paco had been remarkably fertile, much to her own alarm. She had never wanted children, her maternal instinct not being at all strong and her desire for independence enormous. She complained loudly to Lama Yeshe–bemoaning the fact that she wasn't free to engage in long spiritual retreats like her unattached friends. "Your children are your retreat," he answered. "You should relate to each one of them as though they are a buddha, because you never know who they are. Even if they are not buddha, it is good for your mind to think like that. Besides, it is true that everyone has the potential to become buddha, and so it is good for the children for you to treat them that way," he told her.
Nevertheless, when Osel was conceived, she was furious. She had four children under six: Yeshe, five years old; Harmonia, four; Lobsang, two; and Dolma, only five months. She was alone most of the time with the children (Paco being busy at the center) in an overcrowded small house, with no help and large financial worries. A new child was just what she didn't want. Ironically, a few weeks previously Paco had tried to persuade her to have an IUD fitted–the other methods of contraception having singularly failed–but the idea had been repugnant to her. She'd been to the doctor but had come away knowing she could not go through with it. Lama Yeshe had just died, and Maria, trying to think of some way to appease Paco, said to him, "Well, maybe Lama Yeshe is looking for a mother." Paco was not convinced. Three weeks later, she discovered that she was pregnant yet again (in spite of their usual contraceptive methods), and as she ranted at Paco, he acidly threw her joke back at her. "Maybe it's Lama," he sarcastically retorted.
The thought that maybe it could be Lama inside her was, however, the only thing that kept Maria from total despair. "It was a fantasy, the only thing that gave me energy to cope. I never believed it for a second," she said.
At this point, all the FPMT centers around the world got a letter from Lama Zopa saying there was no need for the students to continue to pray for the quick return of Lama Yeshe since a woman was already pregnant with him. Maria and Paco received the news with mixed feelings. On the one hand, they were delighted at the thought that they might see their beloved Lama again. On the other, they were naturally dubious about the whole issue of reincarnation. They had the intellectual knowledge, like so many of us, but no personal experience. On balance they considered this a golden opportunity to see how it worked. They didn't realize how close they were going to get.
Maria had well and truly dropped her fantasy about Osel being Lama Yeshe after he was born. She was far too busy with all her domestic chores to indulge in such daydreams. She did notice, however, that Osel continued to be a 'different' child. He didn't seem to need to be with her, or his siblings. He was very self-contained, almost meditative, and could spend long hours contemplating unlikely things. "He used to hold and look at subtle things, like a single hair, for a long time. Most children don't have the physical ability, nor the interest in such things," mused Maria. "He had strong powers of concentration, too.
When Osel was five months old, Paco and Maria took him to Switzerland in a small basket for the Kalachakra initiation being given by the Dalai Lama. Later, they all went to Germany to attend the FPMT meetings, now being presided over by Lama Zopa, who had succeeded Lama Yeshe as head of this rapidly growing organization. When Lama Zopa spotted the baby, he asked his name, and when told, "Osel, from Osel-Ling," he burst out laughing. Later, during a ceremony he was giving, he cryptically remarked, "Lama is very close to us at this moment. He might even be in the room with us." Maria spotted a pregnant woman in the audience and wondered. Or was Lama Zopa referring to the spiritual presence of Lama Yeshe which was close at this time! No one thought he was talking about the little figure in the basket.
Two months later, Lama Zopa came to Osel-Ling to give a course. During a tea-break Maria left the meditation room, and on her return found, somewhat to her astonishment, that Lama Zopa had lifted Osel on to the throne with him, and her child was busy playing with the dorje and bell–ritual implements used by Tibetan lamas. That lunchtime, Lama Zopa summoned Maria to him and questioned her thoroughly about Osel's conception and several other issues. He didn't pass any comment. Instead, just before he left, he held a long-life ceremony for Osel, explaining to the parents: "Osel is a very special child. He has the karma to benefit many, many sentient beings in this life. Thousands maybe. Look after him well. Don't put him in any polluted place. Don't let people smoke near him. Take great, great care of him." Then, he gave Maria Lama Yeshe's mala (rosary), the one he'd had with him when he died. Maria was nervous. Had she influenced Lama Zopa in some way by her crazy fantasies while she was pregnant! Had Lama Zopa somehow picked up on her thoughts and been subconsciously directed by them!
But then life proceeded in its domestic humdrum way, and Maria, surrounded by five small children, pushed the things Lama Zopa had said to the back of her mind.
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