I’ve been thinking about the dalai lama, and the idea that he’s the rebirth of the last and the next will be the rebirth of him. There are really only two options when it comes to this, maybe three. Either it’s actually true, or the higher ups who find the successor really believe it but it’s really false, or it’s false and they know it. Unfortunately, I’m prone to thinking it’s the third choice. I’m still struggling with rebirth, but I’m getting there. This though, unless you are insanely advanced in your practice, I do not think there is a way to know where a person is reborn, and not only that, but wouldn’t they be born in a deva realm by now? The higher members of Tibetan Buddhism must know this, they must know that their techniques to finding the next successor don’t actually work, well maybe they don’t. I guess this is an important distinction, because if they do know, then they are all lying, to everybody, which is pretty rough for the higher ups of a Buddhist tradition. Although, I guess Tibetan Buddhism is unfortunately known for some pretty shady things happening in the higher levels of their sects. My real problem with this is that I think it scares a lot of people away from Buddhism. Rebirth is difficult enough for new and curious Buddhist, but if they happened along Tibetan Buddhism before any other tradition, then they may turn and run. Hopefully I’m not being too hard on them, but it seems like it’s a far cry from the teachings the Buddha actually taught.
Don’t forget that despite such issues they have lasted thousands of years and may offer something on an emotional level that their supporters find nourishing.
I suspect that whether the lamas themselves really believe or not, the reason the institution persists is money. As long as it is the monks deciding who will be the next lama, the monks maintain control over the institutions and the vast material and political power.
I think some of them really do believe it. I personally wasn’t turned off by my encounter with Tibetan Buddhism because the emphasis on compassion is very comforting, and are quite practical and helpful in life. It is an extremely rich tradition, with multiple lineages and tons of practices/ideas. The Tulku thing can be hard to stomach - but there is plenty of information about rebirth in Tibetan Buddhism that has nothing specifically to do with reincarnate lamas. Every being is subject to rebirth - according to their karma - I think they believe that advanced (realized) beings can sort of direct themselves towards such and such destination (because they have mastered the bardo teachings/practices?) , and that they stay around (in the human world) mostly out of compassion.
They definitely think its a case of the first choice, not the third choice. So I suppose that would constitute, for you, the second choice being actually substantiated: “or the higher ups who find the successor really believe it but it’s really false”, if we are to stick to only suggestions in the OP.
I think it’s worth noting that the concept of spiritually advanced reborn individuals the tulku institution is based on has its parallels with the EBTs’ concept of kolankola individuals.
If you are interested in finding more about it I suggest checking this topic:
On a broader sense these other topics may prove interesting read as well:
‘Sometimes the magic works and sometimes it doesn’t’. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche expressed this much in one of his books - that sometimes they could not find the reincarnation of someone so they would go and grab somebody and say ‘OK, now you are his reincarnation’. But in other cases they did feel they got the right one.
I get the sense that the people that go out and do the searching are very advanced. As I recall there are suttas where there were monks who would knock on the skulls of others that have died to know where they were going to be reborn. The realm one is born into has to do with ones mind state and whatever karma is ripening? These tulkus I believe would all be considered Arahants or the mahayana equivalent.
I will probably get in all kinds of trouble for saying this but:
I think it is entirely possible that an arahant could take on another birth - if they chose to. If the arahant cannot be bound by anything then they cannot be bound by notions of what they can and cannot do at death. The physical world and samsara are not the same thing. I don’t see why an Arahant could not take on another physical birth - it does not mean they would be being reborn into samsara.
The universe is really, really weird so I don’t know - I think it is possible.
Yeah I don’t know about that… and Trungpa was a shady dude too, so I don’t know if he’s a trustworthy source.