Beware Of Fake ‘Reborn Masters’ (False ‘Tulkus’)

Only fools and Bodhisattvas
rush into Samsara –
the latter to save the first.
Sometimes, we are in-between.

Stonepeace | Books

Some people might carry the name tag of “tulku,” [recognized reborn masters] but they are false tulkus. In the past, and especially in today’s world, we frequently encounter people who claim to be tulkus, even tulkus of the highest lamas [teachers, including monks and nuns] ever known. If we check carefully, though, most of them have not been recognized or enthroned in a traditional way, not have they gone through any serious training. Even more shockingly, many of them manifest very few real tulku qualities – peace in the heart, love for all, and realization of the true wisdom. (Even if lamas are real tulkus of virtuous lamas, unless they have reached higher stages of attainments, they must work hard at their studies, trainings, and attainments. If they don’t… they might gradually fall by exhausting what spiritual attainments they had accomplished in the past, because elementary attainments are reversible. This happens when the spiritual realization is not yet high and… they still carry negative mental, emotional, and karmic deposits in their mind-stream.)

In some cases, the lamas who recognized such false tulkus are not equipped for such a task. They lack the enlightened power and extraordinary capacity that is necessary for recognizing the rebirths of other lamas. Relying on some simple signs, such as dreams, they might honestly believe in what the dreams predict, but they may just be fooling themselves and others. Sometimes the recognition and training process of young tulkus are run by smart bureaucrats with special interests and agendas in their hearts, who lack either honesty or true care for traditional values or spiritual wisdom. Sometimes people may witness simple miracles happening around certain young children that impress them. Yet some unhealthy spirit forces may have orchestrated these happenings in order to fool people.

As a safeguard against such problems, the followers of a deceased lama usually seek the prophesies and visions of not just one but a number of highly respected lamas before making the final recognition. It is always important to consult a highly competent lama, or a number of them. The main cause of corruption, however, is not the lack of merit of the tulku tradition in general or the lack of enlightened lamas who are able to recognize them. Rather, it is the greed for material or social gain that drives the parents, relatives, or other interested people to fabricate stories and manipulate the process in favor of their own candidate. In the past, institutions such as monasteries and nunneries mostly maintained strict and vigilant safeguards against such improper influences. But today, in many cases, the institutions themselves are powerless at best.

Another factor is the greed of the young people themselves. Today, many well-intentioned institutions that would be capable of offering watchful guidance have little control over what goes on. So individuals with little merit are often free to proclaim themselves tulkus. Such tulkus or teachers, although they appear impressive, could hurt the Dharma in the end and ransack the true value of the thousand-year-old tulku tradition. Such possibilities were prophesised by Guru Padmasambhava in the ninth century:

There will come teachers who act as if they were me, although they are not.
They will claim to be my tulkus, but dismantle my tradition.
They deceive many with teachings of demonic and unknown entities.
Non-human forces prop them up and promote their celebrity.
Such teachers of erroneous paths cause the Dharma to decline.
They don’t practice (Dharma), but only talk and only intensify desire.
They contradict what they teach and what they do, and indulge in corrupt activities.
Without gaining any confidence, they are zealous to teach others.
They lack any intention of benefiting others, but focus on self-interest.
They lack moral discipline. Dharma will be left just as a shadow.

… A tulku can easily succumb to the effects of unhealthy external influences, emotional attractions, and unhealthy activities if proper safeguards such as caring teachers, alert guardians, supportive friends, and a healthy environment are not available at times of need. Also, many times, unfortunately, the companions and fellow students, and the institutions that are supposed to be safeguarding the welfare of young tulkus themselves may become the culprits that have hazardous effect on the lives and missions of the young tulkus, causing them to fall from the hard-earned path before they can stand on their feet.

– Incarnation: The History And Mysticism Of The Tulku Tradition Of Tibet
Tulku Thondup


  • Fair comment. One must look at the Dharma not the personality behind them.

  • IMHO – Another think to probably watch out for is if they (a false tulku) makes money, promote books or increase their ego power; dharma is always free from genuine masters, although some has to be made available for the sangha/group to survive.

  • It is sad that in general, buddhists do not support their Sangha or temple more generously than christian their churches. In spite of this, I still agree that Dharma is best promoted free. Once it is paid for, it is a service or product purchased, not taught with compassion in mind. 😀

  • If, as you mentioned, Buddhists do not support their centres more, how can we demand centres that already have less funds to offer everything free? As long as not unreasonably priced, it is only fair.

  • Even if it is sold for one cent, the Dharma is paid. Any person giving a Dharma advice or talk is a Dharma teacher. Supporting a temple or ordained monk is a merit gained.

  • Is the Dharma ‘sold’ anywhere at exorbitant prices? If so, those are the ones to be avoided. Some cults price courses and materials highly. ‘Selling’ means for wholly worldly profit, versus for sustenance as fair exchange of time, effort, utilities for propagating the Dharma… A fair exchange is a fair exchange.

    Centres and individuals that can afford totally free offers should, while those that cannot should be reasonably priced. Simple as that. We need to support Dharma efforts in all its forms for its very practical survival. Centres’ bills don’t pay themselves.

  • Back to support/donations from buddhists and dharma protectors.
    Opening business ventures and investing collected funds in stock market is also one form of support.

  • Business ventures and investments can be potentially gambling with sincere donations of devotees. The Buddha discouraged gambling. Decent fees are still decent.

Please Be Mindful Of Your Speech, Namo Amituofo!

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