From the thread about Ole Nydahl.
But frankly, all this makes me understand that the family lineage holder model has certain strengths that the other two models, i.e. Tulku succession, or nominated abbotships, as in the throne of Ganden, somewhat lack. While all are subject to manipulation, the family lineage thing has more resistance to external manipulation, at minimum. On the other hand, the Gelug model is appealing too because the head of the Gelug school is nominated on the basis of their scholarship and practice rather then money and power. So, of the three, I think the Tulku system is the weakest. However, it has the most appeal because it allows cults of personality to extend through time in an unprecedented way.
What exactly made the Khon family the only family lineage that lasted past a century while the other Nyingma family lineages from the same period (Gnubs, Zur etc) basically spread out while the original families were lost? (One might say from kula to kaula traditions)
I suppose the most important link was Sa chen? His father didn't live long enough to pass on the teachings to him and he made an effort to find Zhang ston himself. He had almost wanted to ordain because of the will of his relative Sgyi chu ba who also presumably passed on the family lineage of Vajrakilaya and Heruka to him (which his father apparently rejected?) but ultimately chose not to because of advice from his surviving guru.
Maybe similar things happened to the other Nyingma family lineages but their descendants ended up either ordaining or not continuing the family line. There seems to be little information in general about these early Nyingma families. Many of them had consorts, like Zhang ston himself, but no note is made of any children he had, at least in the Sakya biographies (just based on Cyrus Stearns' Luminous Lives). We also know that Milarepa had a Gnubs teacher once.
Not sure if I am right, but all other mainstream Buddhist traditions (Mahayana, Therevada) does not have the tulku and family lineage system in place. I think these two systems are only present within the Tibetan tradition of Buddhism.
If you ask my honest opinion, I would tend to slide towards the scholarship system, as the person selected will be based on his merits and learning, and not because of his family lineage or some other factors which does not effect upon his learning. Even if someone is a tulku or from a family lineage, but does not study or contemplate upon the scriptures, then his benefits to others will not be great. Then, what would be the purpose of installing the person on the throne when he does not have enough Dharma knowledge to teach?
Buddha has explicitly mentioned in the Kamala Sutta:
"Of course you are uncertain, Kalamas. Of course you are in doubt. When there are reasons for doubt, uncertainty is born. So in this case, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture,
by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering' — then you should abandon them.
Furthermore, it was mentioned in Dezhung Rinpoche's biography, "A Saint in Seattle":
He also said there were three ways to be recognised as a great lama. The first was by familial descent, which was worst. The second was as an "incarnate lama" ( or tulku ) which also was very imperfect. The third way was through recognized merit and saintly achievement, which was best. In this connection, Dezhung Rinpoche also repeated the view: "How much better it would be to test prospective tulkus for their knowledge after they grew up than to test them as infants for their abiliy to dientify various objects!"
( pg 259 )
Of course, I do not mean to criticise or say that all teachers from the family lineage or tulku systems are to be frowned upon. There are indeed many amazing masters and scholars under this system, such as HHST, HH Penor Rinpoche and HE Garchen Rinpoche. But ultimately, as students, the idea is that one should investigate the teacher very carefully before taking any teachings from him. It does not imply that being a tulku or son of some family lineage would mean he is qualified as a spiritual teacher.
Just my two cents worth.
Homage to the Mother of Buddhas as well as of the groups of Hearers and Bodhisattvas
which through knowledge of all leads Hearers seeking pacification to thorough peace
And which through knowledge of paths causes those helping transmigrators to achieve the welfare of the world,
And through possession of which the Subduers set forth these varieties endowed with all aspects.
- Ornament of Clear Realisation