Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Lama Osel and Jiddu Krishnamurthy

Lama Osel Courtesy of FPMT
Just last Friday (May 29), I was talking with a group of women about the case of infants who are dramatically identified as the re-incarnations of some Buddhist Lamas and groomed to mature as adult Lamas. And today (June 1) I accidentally came across the heading “El niño lama se hace agnóstico” in the Spanish newspaper El Mundo. The Lama in question is Lama Tenzin Osel, who was chosen by Lama Zopa and the one and only Dalai Lama, as the reincarnation of the well-known Lama Thubten Yeshe. Lama Zopa is the direct disciple of Lama Yeshe, the founder of FPMT [Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition], who died in 1983, aged 49.

Lama Zopa temporarily succeeded Lama Yeshe and was on the look out for the reincarnated Lama Yeshe. He first set his eyes on the Spanish toddler Osel Hita Torres (born on 12 February 1985, in Granada, Spain) in the fall of 1985 and immediately recognized him to be the incarnation of Lama Yeshe, based on several dreams and signs. Osel’s mother Maria, a fervent disciple of Lama Yeshe, is supposed to have given birth to Osel painlessly, and Osel himself seems to have exuded excellent qualities highly suitable for a Lama. After being enthroned officially as the reincarnation of Lama Yeshe, the new Lama Osel, received the respect and obeisance of even senior Lamas although he himself was still a child.

Lama Osel’s formation seems to have been very strict and cloistered, but at the same time reasonably liberal as he was given opportunities to learn languages like English and Spanish and to engage in secular studies. What triggered a change in the young Lama is not clear, but according various news reports yesterday, the Lama has explicitly disowned his Lama-ness and confessed to having become an agnostic. The Guardin of May 31 says that “he bemoaned the misery of a youth deprived of television, football and girls.” Interestingly, the Lama had no exposure to movies other than the Eddie Murphy action thriller The Golden Child, which deals with an infant Lama trying to escape from ruthless villains. Lama Osel’s comment: "I never felt like that boy."

OselToday_Courtesy FPMT
Lama Osel’s case reminds one of the dramatic break that Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895–1986) made with the Theosophists in the late 1920s. Krishnamurti too, like Lama Osel, was discovered when he was still very young and was expected to become the undisputed spokesman for the Theosophical Society and a “World Teacher.” After a highly programmed education, however, Krishnamurti received the enlightenment of disillusionment, and eloquently uttered memorable sentences like the following:
I maintain that truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or coerce people along a particular path.

Krishnamurti, as may be clear, confronted the Society that groomed him, not only because of disillusionment but also because of his sincere quest for Truth. After leaving the Theosophists, JK lived for many years as a much admired philosopher, spreading his message around the globe. In accordance with his own teachings, he ordained no disciples--though it won't be a surprise if many claim to be his disciples--and established no monasteries. "I do not want followers,” he had said.
The moment you follow someone you cease to follow Truth. I am not concerned whether you pay attention to what I say or not. I want to do a certain thing in the world and I am going to do it with unwavering concentration. I am concerning myself with only one essential thing: to set man free. I desire to free him from all cages, from all fears, and not to found religions, new sects, nor to establish new theories and new philosophies.

Not much is known—at least as of June 1—about Lama Osel’s formal reasons for snapping his ties with the Buddhist tradition that formed him. He is currently in Madrid studying mass media. According to reports, he seems rebellious and critical of the Buddhist circle that elevated him to a position of sanctity and authority: "They took me away from my family and stuck me in a medieval situation in which I suffered a great deal." Looking back on his monastic education, he has said, "It was like living a lie."

Until June 1, the FPMT site ( had many pages dedicated to Lama Osel, giving an account of his birth, selection, enthronement, education, and activities. On June 2, all the links to Lama Osel were inactive.

Although the stories of Krishnamurti (Hindu) and Osel/Torres (Buddhist) are different, they raise the same questions about human reliability, trustworthiness, freedom, and the meaning of Truth, Commitment, Permanence, etc. It may be insignificant if an individual changes his/her mind arbitrarily, say, with regard to which ice-cream s/he prefers. When the individual holds a position of authority, however, there are all sorts of implications. Supposing the Dalai Lama or the Pope were to assert tomorrow in public that they would give up their current status of teaching others and go humbly in search of Truth… Although no such dramatic events have occurred—as far as I know—history seems to have enough number of cases of authorities who have misused their power or have lived a double life, essentially conceding that they could not reconcile their life with their stated beliefs. There have been also cases of respectable theologians and less well-known religious leaders who have made an about-turn. The case of an Australian Jesuit Provincial who left the Jesuits and wrote a book on “searching for truth” comes to mind. So, perhaps, we are forced to reflect along with Pilate, Mahatma Gandhi, Herman Hesse, and others, “What is Truth?”

Follow-up (June 5, 2009)
The FPMT site currently shows the pages related to the birth, selection, and activities of Lama Osel. Also, there is a page of explanation from Osel himself on his current status and state of mind (See Although he says that "certain media find ways to sensationalize and exaggerate an unusual story," he doesn't point out any significant media errors. He seems to confirm that he is no more a Lama, but also asserts that he keeps his friendly ties with FPMT. In a few phrases, he does sound like J.Krishnamurti, of whom he must have surely heard during his long education in India: "Personally, my job is to find new ways in which to discover the true nature of our being."

(References, in no specific order)
1) El niño lama se hace agnóstico
2) The Birth, The Search, & The Enthronement of Lama Tenzin Osel Rinpoche
3) Rachel Helyer Donaldson, Reincarnated Lama goes off the rails.
4) Fuchs, Dale. Boy chosen by Dalai Lama turns back on Buddhist order.
5) J. Krishnamurti Online
6) J. Krishnamurti in Wikipedia

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