To think independently is more important than dogma

In his biography of Mila Repa, Tsangnyon Heruka (1452-1507) wrote:

When one of his disciples asked Mila Repa whose reincarnation you are, the great yogi said, “I don’t even know myself whose reincarnation I am. That you believe in me as a reincarnation of a Bodhisattva is your superstition. In fact believing in reincarnation is the worst form of heresy.”

Mila Repa’s above comment is enlightening. It testifies the corruption of the Tulku system and the dangers of theocracy to human liberation. And Mila Repa is absolutely right.

As we all know, foreign powers fully exploited Tibet’s Tulku system. The Chinese continue to exploit it, as we saw in the case of the selection of Panchen Lama and the Karmapa. Today, we have two Panchen Lamas, two Karmapas, and if we do not move to real democracy and abolish the whole Tulku system, we will have multiple Dalai Lamas.

If such a scenario occurs, it will be a serious setback for our struggle and will cause serious confusion and split within our society.

It is high time Tibetans realize that democracy is necessary for our survival. Democracy is not just participating in elections and voting for the favorite candidates, although these rituals are important. True democracy is possible only when there is freedom to think and speak without fear or embarrassment, to question everything — especially the most sacred and divine things.

Such freedom to think, scrutinize and speak freely comes only in an open society. And an open society is possible only when we learn to speak truth to the powers that be — whether they are the lamas, government leaders, parents and elders, school authorities, activists or intellectuals. So we must question the powers that be, especially our government, rather than follow them blindly in the name of “patriotism” and thus letting them steal our independent spirit and thoughts.

Today, our government is attempting to seal our fate by negotiating Tibet’s right to exist — not as a sovereign nation but as an autonomous part of China. Negotiating for autonomy is no problem, but the danger is that our government believes it is the only way forward. In other words it has some acute problems when it comes to tolerating other views. However, if we are to learn anything from Mila Repa it is that thinking independently is more important than dogma.


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There are 8 comments for “To think independently is more important than dogma”

  1. I am surprised by all the negative replies to this post, but I think it shows that Tibetans have difficulty noticing how the tulku system has mixed religion and politics. For instance, look at the ’two’ Karmapas: one by Shamar Rinpoche the other backed by China. While the Dalai Lama did back China’s candidate, I have always thought the Dalai Lama was trying to point China in the wrong direction, so that they would leave Karmapa alone. While there would be nothing wrong with recognizing reincarnations if politics were not a factor, we would still need to follow Milarepa’s advice and think for ourselves. After all, we can meet full Buddhas, but if we do not recognize the nature of our mind, how will it help?

    As Trungram Gyaltrul Rinpoche points out, “From my perspective, Buddhism is not a religion that demands blind faith in dogmatic beliefs” ( Of course, Rinpoche was recognized (!) as a Milarepa emanation by the 16th Karmapa, so there is obviously some help in recognizing reincarnations. However, we still have to look at our minds for ourselves and question deeply the ultimate nature of reality.

  2. Tenzin Nyinjey la,

    I just happened to come across your article while browsing through the Internet and could not help writing a few a words expressing my personal thoughts. I think, independent thinking is also a dogma. There is nothing wrong with the Tulku system of Tibet in itself. Although it may not be perfect, there is no system in the world so far that is said to be a perfect system. There may have been some bad
    Tulkus or wrongly chosen Tulkus but that is not the fault of the system. Just as there are bound to be some rotten apples in an orchard so are there some bad Trulkus or may be a few wrongly chosen Tulkus whose personal conducts are un-becoming of the social status they enjoy among our
    society, but you cannot blame this on the system.

    However I think your argument against the Tulku system is not so much out of concern of the system being misused or abused and exploited, but is actually an insinuation against the power of persuasion and influence the Tulkus, particularly that of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, has over the mind set of almost all the Tibetans in Tibet and in exile all over the world. So if you have a problem with that
    you should say so clearly and openly without beating around the bush.

    Your dragging of the highly respected Yogi Milarepa in this argument is of bad taste. You are also mixing politics of our government with the Tibetan people’s belief system. Calling it a dogma and a hindrance to true democracy is not tenable and does not hold water. The majority of the Tibetan refugees live in India and we know for sure it is truly a well-functioning democratic country in spite of so many religious faiths, beliefs and Gurus, Maha Gurus, Mullhas and priests of all kinds who have
    equal hold on the mind sets of the Indian people. Then there are the non-believers or the free and independent thinkers as you like to call. Actually free thinking is in itself a dogma. Your hesitation
    to speak freely because of fear and embarrassment is a poor execute and an affront to the democratic institution we have now in exile.

    Your call for the abolition of the Tulku system is a bad one. I hope the Tibetans inside Tibet will not read or hear of your call as they are giving up even their life to have a glimpse of the Dalai Lama
    and the Chinese authorities under CCP are using every conceivable means including brute force to change the mind set of the Tibetans under their control, but without any success. Today what little we have to be proud of being Tibetans and hold our head high in the world is because of the devotion, dedication and tireless hard work of all those Tulkus, Geshes and Khenpos in preserving and promoting the Buddha Dharma for the benefit of all sentient beings. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is at the top of this list. So you should come up with a much better idea than this as a free and independent thinker to win the hearts and mind of the Tibetans.

    I would say, right now you are barking at the wrong door with a wrong idea.

    — Wangchuk Tsering

  3. Nyinjey la, after i read your article, I just had a sudden impulse to correct you … albeit i appreciate your guts to express your opinion freely and independently on this page, however, I totally reject your opinion when you talk about such topic. I think that one has to have abundant knowledge and wisdom when it comes to profound topics like tulku system and reincarnation… I think that you need to scrutinize and dig out more on it…

  4. Nyinjey lak, will the abolition of Tulku system help for the betterment of Tibetan Democracy? I don’t think so. Try to write an article with much more sense. You, Jamyang Norbu la, and the other Tibetan writers are writing silly things like a child talk. So, I am requesting to you all to write some meaningful and better article.

  5. I do not support your view of blaming the Tulku system as a problem. Please study a bit about Buddhism and the reason why Tulkus are taking reincarnation rather then thinking only about politics. Taking a line from a Milarepa book to support a point isn’t just a right way to write some big things without a detailed study behind.

  6. Every system has some fraud, and nothing is perfect as far as we trace back to the world history.

    I am neither an activist nor a regular writer, but after reading the your article it made me to write a response to your article. Re-incarnation and Tulku system is not the core causes of our social problems and conflict. yeah it is true that there had been few bad incidents of Tulku but overall Tulkus have held a very good and firm position in our society and they have guided us in a well-disciplined manner. As a result of their great contribution we are able to reach the world platform on which we can show off our precious culture and tradition. You can’t criticize the existing dogma which is rooted in our society without giving an alternative way which is supposed to be much better.

    Also I wonder why you are so eager to abolish the Tulku system without having a proper understanding of it.

    PS: Today we are enjoying the democracy system, and it is because of the result of the reincarnation.

  7. Nyinjey-la, while I agree that speaking truth to the powers that be is important for a healthy, free society, I think you have misinterpreted or misunderstood Milarepa’s statement there. It needs to be seen in context of his life, his example and his beliefs. For me, this statement is referring to blind belief or attachment to one’s beliefs, such as reincarnation. For example, not all such statements should be taken literally. Once the Buddha said: ’Kill all Buddhas’ but I don’t think he meant people should literally go out and kill Buddhas.

    There aren’t two Karmapas either, certainly not that are recognised by the Kagyu labrang, the Dalai Lama, and most Tibetans and Western followers.

    Nonetheless, there are some valid criticisms to be made of the tulku system without a doubt, such as its sexism/male domination and nepotism. However, the Dalai Lama has pointed out the faults of the tulku system advising people to choose their teachers wisely and that perhaps 50% of tulkus are not genuine. So the tulku system is not complete dogma as your article suggests.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I am just bringing out another approach of freeing oneself in Buddhism, which has been generally suppressed — the concept of crazy wisdom espoused by great souls like Milarepa.

      The tulku system, despite its greatness and historical legacies, is a hierarchical institution. True freedom is possible only when there’s no heirarchy, as Milarepa says here…

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