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Your Assignment: Whose Soul?

Meditate on the most difficult spiritual question of our time.

Practice

Illustration Credit: His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama by Ellen Rooney

Freedom from the wheel of existence, from the tyranny of our bodies and our passions, from the cycle of birth and death and rebirth, from desire and delusion . . . One need not be born a Buddhist to think wistfully of the abolition of selfish selfhood through union with the divine. But for a Buddhist monk whose whole long life has been a strenuous, selfless meditation, the prospect of further reincarnations should seem an admission that meditation has fallen short of its goal or its goallessness.

But perhaps not for every Buddhist. Seventy-seven years ago, a synod of senior Tibetan lamas embraced one particular infant as the reincarnation of his predecessor and the conduit for the wisdom and spiritual gifts of an ancient tradition. Few Tibetans now would dispute that revelation. The current Dalai Lama, 14th in a more or less direct line of reincarnation, serves as the polestar for much of the Tibetan people. Living in exile or under colonial occupation, clinging precariously to their centuries-old culture, they instinctively recognize the Dalai Lama’s enormous spiritual and political legitimacy as too rare and precious a resource to lose.

The Dalai Lama, however, has made clear his uncertainty whether there will or should be a 15th Dalai Lama after him. He is far from alone in fearing, with sad historical precedent, that Tibet’s imperial masters would not allow his spiritual legacy to be transmitted without interference, that the new Dalai Lama might become the pawn of forces alien to Tibetan belief and practice. Hence his declarations that his reincarnation is for the Tibetan people, not himself, to decide.

The Dalai Lama offers an extreme, exemplary test of our sense of spirituality in relation to self and society. Does his soul belong first to his people? Does it belong to anyone? 

We welcome your meditations.

Write your thoughts in 250 words or less and send them to [email protected]. We’ll print our favorites in March. 


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