Reincarnating in non-Buddhist West?

So, if you think of reincarnating in non-Buddhist West, think twice. You maybe very soundly criticized hehe

Because your eyes and nose are of none exotic variety?


In the flow of the social media today we have this fickle nature of fits and starts, coming to a holt and then suddenly galloping forward.

And it is totally up to us to pick a point to go into a post, some one’s time line or an existing thread to start making comments, take stands.

The basic question begs, why this issue, post, discussion and not some other?

Now, narrowing it down to the topic at hand.

Over the years I have encountered quite a bit of hostility from a range of people that just heard about this, to people that claim to be close students of Buddhism. And somehow very few people are actually speaking up. And I somehow always maintained that it not really any of my business, to which many like to object by stating their quite extreme opinion.

So, is it the best to just “sweep it under the rug”?

Recently I have seen this long post shared on the facebook and I re-shared it and had no comment.

Some one came in and said: I see phony all over this.

I responded: That is what you see.

Then that person told me they are posting on my thread because they wanted to know more about something and surprisingly it turned into a “by-comment” that they made in a way of a “hello” landing on my page.

From that there is clearly an understanding arises that social media communications are not treated seriously by way too many people. Yet these people manage to spend hours upon hours of any given day on “social media”.

Then a person that I have not met in person to a level of conversation, but have sat in the same temple with but recently got to know on social media and for a long time too, they enter into a communication and say “Why could you not post on the process of recognition of reincarnations without mention of this controversial case?” To that I reply: “Perhaps because I do not feel it is controversial?” and “Have you actually read the article?”

That person unfrended me and told me something along the lines that this issue stirred up a negative reaction on many blogs. To that I could not resist but plan a blog post, thinking “I should have written on this years earlier!”

Now, these things do not just come about because some high lama wants a controversy started. Even better, some observers always want to pin it to the money! Look the Money! If all these issues were managed in western understanding of likes of a PR campaign and a business of likes of a “mega church” that could hold true. But to your disappointment they are not. I have seen it first hand there is no tangible money in this process. All these donations go to food for countless monks and erection and upkeep of temples for any and all visitors. No one in person really profits, there are not bank accounts, personal wealth, fleet of limos. There is international travel and often eaten restaurant meals sure, but one has to eat, even when no home meal is available.



So, years ago I was editing page on wiki dedicated to 3rd Drubwang Pema Norbu, in the comment section there was two people asking why Stephen Seagal recognition something… No one feels like answering, maybe it is too complex? Here is my answer published there:


Why does this article not mention Penor Rimpoche’s annointing of Steven Seagal as a tulku? It has had a serious effect on his reputation among some westerners, and (so I understand) among many tibetans.

I notice that the Seagal article also lacks any mention of this startling decision (although the article is tagged ‘Tulku’).

Has there been a policy decision to sweep this event under the wikicarpet? MrDemeanour (talk) 17:24, 21 July 2012 (UTC)

I was about to ask the same question. – (talk) 16:58, 30 July 2012 (UTC)

And here comes the long and windy, my incoherent comments to the above:

Well, Hello there.

I was in attendance in the Upstate NY retreat temple when Kyabje Penor Rinpoche told us that he himself has no doubt that his disciples are following him and his advice. In other words it is an issue of common sense and goes along these lines. If you are a Westerner or not a follower of Late Penor Rinpoche your esteem of this Lama is up to you. If you are a follower of this Lama, then it is highly likely that everything is just fine, in your understanding. So, yes everyone is entitled to their opinion. And my personal opinion is that recognition of Stephen Seagal as an incarnation may have benefited Stephen Seagal and in the same time unlikely changed anything, it is not like it actually changes anything. As it is said, it is not important what you did, did not do, might have done in a previous life. It is however very important what you do in this life. One of the obvious things that many know is that Stephen Seagal is a famous actor who made many entertaining movies to a tune of a few million dollars, out of which he supported a lot of Dharma activities and it is great. There are so many people that never get to make a few million dollars and then also so many that did and never spend a dime on any Dharma activity. So, not even sure why so many people like to point in direction of this, then have nothing to say. If you think something is wrong with this, it is just fine to think that. Is it a big deal for followers of Late Penor Rinpoche, what some one may think? no. All that this recognition did on some level is it welcomed Stephen Seagal into the Palyul Tradition in this life, and no one was responsible for the Palyul Tradition at that time but Penor Rinpoche. Kyabje Penor Rinpoche had to find and recognize hundreds of incarnations. -With a wish for benefit of every one and best wishes, may our connection through wiki be auspicious! Sherabgyatso (talk) 05:25, 4 April 2015 (UTC)

And then recently  on the facebook page it looks like I was drawn into a conversation so here was one of my reply comments:

Sherab Gyatso Alex Hundreds of incarnations recognized in the Asia, no problem. A handful is recognized in the west, big talk, huge confusion. All I can do is share the facebook message on this one and go offline for a bit. My personal reaction is as important as how much water I drunk and how much I pee out. In other words, pretty much irrelevant..

 Now instead of educating ourselves, practicing Dharma of study, contemplation and meditation. To inform our life’s view, meditation and conduct. We can easily become paranoid judges of what others are and are not. So, the choice is ours, be a human being with idea of application of the Dharma within the space of this fleeting life experience. Or become a relentless judge of things that we often do not know or understand that have to do with others….



Here is the statement issued in time before social media and cell phones, so please read as much as possible, back then writing was more explanatory and detailed.

Statement by H.H. Penor Rinpoche Regarding the Recognition of Steven Seagal as a Reincarnation of the Treasure Revealer Chungdrag Dorje of Palyul Monastery

In February of 1997 I recognized my student, Steven Seagal, as a reincarnation (tulku) of the treasure revealer Chungdrag Dorje. Since there has been some confusion and uncertainty as to what this means, I am writing to clarify this situation.

Traditionally a tulku is considered to be a reincarnation of a Buddhist master who, out of his or her compassion for the suffering of sentient beings, has vowed to take rebirth to help all beings attain enlightenment. To fulfill this aspiration, a tulku will generally need to go through the complete process of recognition, enthronement and training.

Formal recognition generally occurs soon after a tulku has been identified, but only after other important lineage masters have been consulted. The newly identified tulku does not take on any formal responsibilities at the time of recognition.

The next step of enthronement may or may not occur for a tulku, depending on the circumstances. Enthronement formally invests the tulku with the responsibility of furthering the activities associated with their particular tulku lineage. Thus, if there are specific teachings and practice traditions associated with their lineage, and if there are perhaps monks, nuns, monasteries, retreat centers, lay communities and so forth for which the tulku traditionally takes responsibility, then the tulku is formally vested with those responsibilities at the time of enthronement. In the event that an enthronement ceremony is conducted, it may take place soon after recognition or some years later. If the tulku is too young to assume their responsibilities upon enthronement, others may be entrusted to take on those responsibilities until the tulku is ready.

Finally, a tulku needs to complete a formal course of training which includes years of study and meditation. This training reawakens the tulku’s powers of insight and compassion and develops their skillful means for helping others. It is only after such training that a tulku is ready to take on the role of a teacher.

In the case of Steven Seagal, he has been formally recognized as a tulku, but has not been officially enthroned. He has also not undergone the lengthy process of study and practice necessary to fully realize what I view as his potential for helping others. When I first met him, I felt he had the special qualities of a tulku within him. According to the Great Vehicle (Mahayana) of the Buddhist tradition, all beings have within them the potential for becoming Buddhas. With Steven Seagal I perceived this potential to be particularly strong as accords with being a tulku. In the past, whenever I have met someone that I feel is a tulku, I have always consulted with other masters of the Nyingma lineage such as Dudjom Rinpoche, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and other senior lineage holders. Similarly, after my experience of meeting Steven Seagal, I consulted with another important Nyingma master and with his concurrence, recognized Steven Seagal as a tulku.

With regard to the particular circumstances of Steven Seagal’s recognition, while it is generally the case that tulkus are recognized young in life, this is not always so. For example, the great master Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö remained unrecognized for many years while he was an ordained monk at Kathok Monastery. He was over 30 years old, perhaps 35, and had completed his monastic education when he was recognized and enthroned as the first reincarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Wangpo. In his case, he had devoted his life to study and practice and was thus prepared for taking on the full responsibilities of being a tulku at the time of his recognition.

Prior to my recognition of Steven Seagal I myself recognized another tulku late in his life. Kalsang Yeshe Rinpoche, a monk originally from the Palyul branch monastery of Shibo in Tibet and later at Namdroling Monastery in India, was recognized and enthroned in 1983 at the age of 51. He too had spent his life studying Buddhism and meditating before he was recognized as a tulku. Because he had cultivated his potential through many years of diligent study and meditation, he was able to become a teacher and is currently the head of our Palyul Center in Singapore. So, in short, in the Tibetan tradition there is nothing unusual about recognizing a tulku late in their life. In fact, the recognition of a tulku who has been born in the West is especially likely to occur later in their lifetime because it will generally take much longer for all the conditions that are necessary for such a recognition to come together.

Steven Seagal has been recognized as a reincarnation of the 17th century hidden treasure revealer (tertön) Chungdrag Dorje (khyung brag rdo rje) of Palyul Monastery. Chungdrag Dorje founded a small monastery called Gegön Gompa near his native village of Phene in the Kutse area of Derge in Eastern Tibet. Though there are no monks there now, the small monastery building still exists and is well known in the area for its beautiful religious wall paintings.

As a tertön, Chungdrag Dorje rediscovered teachings and sacred objects hidden by Padmasambhava in the eighth century. Such treasures (terma) were concealed with the intention that they would be discovered and revealed at a later date when the circumstances were such that they would be of particular benefit to sentient beings. Texts of the teachings discovered by Chungdrag Dorje have apparently not survived the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Sacred objects discovered by Chungdrag Dorje include an unusually shaped bell, a phurba (ritual dagger), the syllable ‘A’ carved in stone and pigments used to create the sacred wall paintings in his monastery mentioned above. Several of these objects have been preserved and are still kept at Palyul Monastery today.

In the Nyingma tradition it is said that there are a hundred main treasure revealers and an even greater number of secondary treasure revealers. Among the latter it is not uncommon for the line of their teachings to eventually lapse. Though they were beneficial during the time they flourished, for various reasons some tertön teaching lineages have ceased. This would seem to be the case with Chungdrag Dorje.

Now with regard to Steven Seagal, he was born centuries after the death of Chungdrag Dorje. It is not uncommon for there to be a lengthy span of time between the death of a master and the appearance of his or her subsequent reincarnation. My own tulku lineage is an example of this. There was a 130 years hiatus between the death of the First Pema Norbu in 1757 and the birth of the Second Pema Norbu in 1887. This is common in all the traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. As for how these gaps come about, while tulkus are understood to have vowed to be continually reborn to help beings, it is not necessary for them to take rebirth in a continuous sequence of lives in this world. It is believed that they can be reborn in other world systems where they continue their compassionate activities, returning only later to this world system. This is how such lapses in tulku lineages are understood in Tibet.

As for Steven Seagal’s movie career, my concern is with the qualities I experienced within him which relate to his potential for benefiting others and not with the conventional details of his life which are wholly secondary. Some people think that because Steven Seagal is always acting in violent movies, how can he be a true Buddhist? Such movies are for temporary entertainment and do not relate to what is real and important. It is the view of the Great Vehicle of Buddhism that compassionate beings take rebirth in all walks of life to help others. Any life condition can be used to serve beings and thus, from this point of view, it is possible to be both a popular movie star and a tulku. There is no inherent contradiction in this possibility.

As the head of the Palyul lineage of the Nyingma School and more recently as the Head of the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, I have had the responsibility of recognizing numerous tulkus. The first time I recognized a tulku, I was ten years old. This tulku was the incarnation of the great Khenpo Ngaga. He is still living in Eastern Tibet and continues to strive, to this day, to promote the welfare of others. Since that time until now I have recognized over one hundred tulkus. In addition I have overseen the training and enthronement of over thirty khenpos (learned scholars) and I am responsible for the welfare of the many thousands of monks belonging to the Palyul tradition. My concern in seeking to nurture these tulkus, khenpos, monks, as well as sincere lay people, has been to benefit all sentient beings. It is out of this intention that I have recognized tulkus in the past and will continue to recognize them in the future as appropriate.

In the case of my student Steven Seagal, I initiated the decision to recognize him as a tulku based on my own feelings about him. Neither I nor any of my monasteries have received or sought any sort of substantial donation from him. What is important to me are the qualities I have seen in my student. For this reason I feel confident that recognizing him as a tulku will be of benefit to others as well as to the Buddha dharma.

Whenever there is a new incarnation born or recognized, I personally feel very happy because it is like you have one more brother or sister. I take delight in such occasions as they seek to further compassionate activity for others. Being recognized as a tulku is an acknowledgment of one’s potential to help others. Such recognition does not mean that one is already a realized teacher. The degree to which tulkus have been able to actualize and utilize their potential depends upon how they have been able to use their past circumstances and how they currently use their present circumstances to develop their potential. Each tulku must work to develop themselves to the best of their ability. The essential point is that a tulku should strive to help others in whatever life situation they find themselves. It is out of such an aspiration to help all sentient beings that I have recognized many tulkus in my life and it is with this motivation that I recognized Steven Seagal as a tulku. If all beings seek to have this motivation, what need will there be for controversies and confusion over the motivations of others?

Penor Rinpoche



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