“Unmistaken Child” -Documentary Review

While I have traveled to many Buddhist countries, and my faith is grounded in Buddhist thought and philosophy, I understand that many people find the religion to be allusive, mystical and far-fetched.  Yes, the teachings are powerful in their simplicity to lead all sentient beings out of suffering.  But reincarnation?  This notion is often rejected by Western schools of thought and monotheistic religions.  Indeed it is a very hard concept even for Buddhists to comprehend, as, contrary to Hinduism, Buddhists do not believe in a soul… so what exactly is being reincarnated?  The basic idea is that it is the consciousness that moves from life to death, continuing moment-to-moment through death and into a new life much the way we continue through our own daily lives, or from being awake to sleeping to dreaming to waking again.

Having said that, the “Unmistaken Child” documents the path of finding reincarnate lamas (the most famous is the head of the Tibetan School, the Daila Lama).  Filmmaker Nati Baratz followed the search for the new incarnation of a lama called Geshe Lama Konghog, who died in 2001. In the film, viewers see the search for and the discovery of the baby who becomes Phuntsok Rinpoche.  The documentary begins with the death of Lama Gonghog, his un-decayed body burning in the stupa.  Pearl relics are drawn from his body, (PEARLS?!! yes PEARLS!)  The Lama’s closest deciple, Tenzin Zopa, travels through the Tsum valley looking for a incarnation.  High preists have performed dinivination which has told Tenzin the baby will probably be 1-1.5 years old, have a father whose name starts with an A, reside in an area with a “ts” syllable.  Over a four year process, a child is found, tested, and finally approved by the Dalai Lama as the “unmistaken incarnation.”

Perhaps the most compelling footage is of the youngster choosing “his” belongings from the past life from a table of toys, prayer bells and beads.  He correctly identifies the bells and beads he used in a past life, as well as other personal objects.  He points at pictures of the dead lama and cries, “ME! ME!”  It is compelling, and for me, very convincing, but even if you don’t believe in reincarnation, you can’t deny that the little boy is ADORABLE.  So you can hand it to the Buddhists for some good PR in choosing such a quiet, intelligent, compassionate little actor 😉

Beyond this touching story, the landscape is beautiful and gives insight to the living conditions of the oppressed Tibetan people.  I found the documentary to be interesting and well-made, insightful and intriguing.  My friend who watched it with me IS NOT BUDDHIST and still found it enjoyable and said, “wow, this like really shows reincarnation.”  Whatever your beliefs are, it’s a passionately made film on a relevant subject in history and religion.  It’s not trying to convince anyone to believe in Buddhism, but instead is a wonderful film on pain, loss, humanity, and suffering, as well as finding the compassion, acceptance and love to move on from pain.

Read more about Buddhism, reincarnation, the tibetan/chinese conflict …..  http://www.unmistakenchild.com/reincarnation.php

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2 Responses to ““Unmistaken Child” -Documentary Review”
  1. Thomas says:

    reincarnation is a concept I particularly struggle with for reasons you mentioned, however, after reading “Music in the Sky” I have to afford value to the possibility. It is an account of H.H. the 17th Karmapa’s life thus far and details his own discovery and enthronement. For almost one millennium the Karma Kagyu lineage has preserved itself by passing letters. The Karmapa writes and passes a detailed description of where to find his next human manifestation to his four regents, before death. Also the regents and the Karmapa maintain the sanctity of practices by alternating the role of teacher (as generations permit), in what seems to be, a perfectly sustainable system preserving knowledge. Surely, commonsense would predict that in over 800 years any institution (especially in education) would show signs of decay and revitalization, if we assume conditions which seem appropriate in the west. I am not convinced by this argument nor by the multitude of better stated and better evidenced arguments put forth by Tibetan Buddhists (Erin you must see the doc on the life of the 16th Karmapa “The Lion’s Roar” I think; also the account of his death in a Chicago hospital). However, it is unavoidable to allocate proper respect and awe at such amazing cultural mechanisms. But, this is not the point.

    It is inescapable fact that the Tulku system (of consciously choosing ones next body to inhabit) was invented by Tibetan Buddhists after 1500 years of Buddhism existing and flourishing. It is neither essentially Buddhist nor essentially Vajrayana. What we can observe, with relatively more certainty, is that outstanding, exceptional and extremely rare young Tibetans (and now many westerners) are hand picked in ways I do not begin to understand (The present Dalai Lama blessed thousands of Tibetans, for hours, by placing both hands on their heads before his 2nd birthday). They are then given an unrivaled and extremely rigorous education to assume their well-deserved cultural role. They may be called figureheads, albeit loosely.

    Yet again this does not matter, because the Tulku system is one based on faith (for all relevant purposes) and should not be held against logic or evidence (think about how faith would suffer in the west). No, faith serves a purpose only to the individual. If it is beneficial for you to believe your root-guru’s consciousness has manifested again in an act of supreme generosity, to continue to shepherd you from the realms of suffering to those of great bliss, then no argument appealing to logic is worthy of repeating.

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