Family lineages vs tulku system vs "meritocracy"

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Family lineages vs tulku system vs "meritocracy"

Postby Sherlock » Thu Feb 27, 2014 1:36 am

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.
M


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.
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Re: Family lineages vs tulku system vs "meritocracy"

Postby jiashengrox » Thu Feb 27, 2014 5:44 am

Sherlock wrote: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.
M


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. :thanks:
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Re: Family lineages vs tulku system vs "meritocracy"

Postby Malcolm » Thu Feb 27, 2014 2:44 pm

Sherlock wrote: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.
M


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).


One, the Sakya branch of the Khon settled largely in the eastern limit of the former Shang Shung kingdom. Two, they were a family that had enjoyed close connections with the Yarlung dynasty. Three, they maintained the ancestral teachings of their clan, in fact Khon Konchog Gyalpo did pass Kilaya and Yangdag to Sachen directly. Four, they were wealthy traders and benefactors. Fifth, they were the chief promulgators of Lamdre, and so on. Sixth, the Sakya branch of the Khon family ruled Tibet for roughly a hundred years. Seventh, the first five Sakya founder Masters were all amazing scholars and practitioners.
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Re: Family lineages vs tulku system vs "meritocracy"

Postby kirtu » Thu Feb 27, 2014 2:51 pm

jiashengrox wrote: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 )


I don't remember that from "Saint in Seattle". I'll have to go back and reread parts for sure.

However the Sakya tradition is relatively skeptical (or at least quite conservative) concerning tulku recognition. Secondly this may be as close as Dezhung Rinpoche would come to open criticism.

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Re: Family lineages vs tulku system vs "meritocracy"

Postby Malcolm » Thu Feb 27, 2014 3:02 pm

kirtu wrote:
jiashengrox wrote: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 )


I don't remember that from "Saint in Seattle". I'll have to go back and reread parts for sure.

However the Sakya tradition is relatively skeptical (or at least quite conservative) concerning tulku recognition. Secondly this may be as close as Dezhung Rinpoche would come to open criticism.

Kirt



Correct, most Sakya tulkus come from East Tibet. But in reality, all the central Tibetan Sakya lineages are controlled by hereditary families.
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Re: Family lineages vs tulku system vs "meritocracy"

Postby theanarchist » Thu Feb 27, 2014 4:10 pm

I find it pretty unfair to put all the effort into the education of someone just based on family descendant and not based on actual talent of an individual, whereas others don't get this level of education.

That's just as with music. There have probably been 50 more Mozarts out there, that simply never got the education so they could never develop to their great potential.

If those members of this family are so above average "talented" for dharma practice then they should clearly show that in a normal monastic iducation. So, put all reasonable candidates into a proper education and then choose the best ones as lineage holders.
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Re: Family lineages vs tulku system vs "meritocracy"

Postby jiashengrox » Thu Feb 27, 2014 6:37 pm

kirtu wrote:
jiashengrox wrote: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 )


I don't remember that from "Saint in Seattle". I'll have to go back and reread parts for sure.

However the Sakya tradition is relatively skeptical (or at least quite conservative) concerning tulku recognition. Secondly this may be as close as Dezhung Rinpoche would come to open criticism.

Kirt


It is the last paragraph of Chapter 22, Arrival and First Months in America. Hope it helps! (The exact paragraph is on page 259).
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.

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Re: Family lineages vs tulku system vs "meritocracy"

Postby Jikan » Thu Feb 27, 2014 7:29 pm

theanarchist wrote:I find it pretty unfair to put all the effort into the education of someone just based on family descendant and not based on actual talent of an individual, whereas others don't get this level of education.


One solution is to establish a training system that is extraordinarily rigorous, especially at the start, but not allowing anyone to really begin training until they are at an age to be able to cultivate the bodicitta &c to get through such a program. This is where the family system and a kind of meritocracy can come together advantageously. For instance: in the Tendai school, you have children who grow up in temple families and learn the Dharma from their parents and siblings and people in the village. They understand the basics of how to do the smells and the bells and make the temple trains run on time. But when it comes time to actually authorize someone to teach and perform other functions, the student is recommended to a centralized temple for a systematic program of training (someone has to put their name on your candidacy for this training), starting with 90 days of hell on Mt Hiei. Those who aren't serious, are stupid or incompetent, or who are badly motivated, just don't make it. I don't know how often this happens, because those who send students to Mt Hiei for this purpose have every incentive NOT to send someone who will fail. Anyway, someone who isn't suitable will either crack up or wash out early in this process, perhaps well before they even get to the mountain. Training proceeds apace after this, of course.

I bring it up because I think it offers one way (maybe not the best or the only way) to get at something like a meritocracy. It has the disadvantage of being very centralized and hierarchical. It has the advantage of being very centralized and hierarchical. :shrug:
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Re: Family lineages vs tulku system vs "meritocracy"

Postby ngodrup » Thu Feb 27, 2014 7:32 pm

Well the Mindrolling Nyingma lineage is mainly a family lineage for about 350 years.
Repkong ngakpa dratsang seems continuous at lest that long.
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Re: Family lineages vs tulku system vs "meritocracy"

Postby Malcolm » Thu Feb 27, 2014 8:16 pm

theanarchist wrote:I find it pretty unfair to put all the effort into the education of someone just based on family descendant and not based on actual talent of an individual, whereas others don't get this level of education.

That's just as with music. There have probably been 50 more Mozarts out there, that simply never got the education so they could never develop to their great potential.

If those members of this family are so above average "talented" for dharma practice then they should clearly show that in a normal monastic iducation. So, put all reasonable candidates into a proper education and then choose the best ones as lineage holders.



Fortunately the Khon, Ludings, Thartses and so on are not subject to your "political correct" and "egalitarian" notions of fairness.

I personally think that the Sakya masters have done a fantastic job of maintaining the lineage just as it is for the past 1000+ years. If it works, don't fix it.
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Re: Family lineages vs tulku system vs "meritocracy"

Postby jiashengrox » Thu Feb 27, 2014 8:32 pm

Probably that is one method that could ensure that those who sit on the throne will be more qualified, but what i was trying to say in my earlier posts regarding this issue (pardon me if i really sounded one sided earlier!) is not whether it is fair. In fact, the main reason why i would be in favour of scholarship system is because of the fact that whoever is selected is based on his merits and learning, and in that way that will further give assurance that the teachers are qualified. This is also in accordance with the Therevada tradition, where the person selected to be an abbot is one of age and learning (correct me again if i m wrong). There are also many examples within the tibetan community: the abbots of the three great seats and the two tantric colleges of the gelugpas, and subsequently the ganden tripas, and namdrolling monastery of palyul (such as khenchen tsewang rinpoche).

We need to acknowledge that there is no way to avoid a hierarchical system without abolishing the family lineage or the tulku system, but that will be not probable, because firstly, these systems have also produced a wealth of amazing and incredible scholars and masters, and secondly, it ensures the continuity of the teaching lineage. Furthermore, it will not be our authority and position to be able to change these systems, and since it is deeply rooted within the community, it will also be difficult to abolish these systems. So what i m putting forward is to be more skeptical when we want to take someone as our teacher, and who happens to be a teacher because of these two systems. Because in this way, it will prevent tragedies of relying on an unqualified teacher from happening. It is more towards the idea of "if you cant change the environment, change yourself".

Again, just my two cents worth. Hope it helps! :thanks:
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Re: Family lineages vs tulku system vs "meritocracy"

Postby Sherlock » Thu Feb 27, 2014 9:11 pm

Malcolm wrote:One, the Sakya branch of the Khon settled largely in the eastern limit of the former Shang Shung kingdom. Two, they were a family that had enjoyed close connections with the Yarlung dynasty. Three, they maintained the ancestral teachings of their clan, in fact Khon Konchog Gyalpo did pass Kilaya and Yangdag to Sachen directly. Four, they were wealthy traders and benefactors. Fifth, they were the chief promulgators of Lamdre, and so on. Sixth, the Sakya branch of the Khon family ruled Tibet for roughly a hundred years. Seventh, the first five Sakya founder Masters were all amazing scholars and practitioners.


OK, that explains how the Khon survived and prospered. But why did the other Nyingma family lineages not survive?

Some historical Nyingma masters such as Longchenpa and Jigme Lingpa seem to have had children but never publicly acknowledged them as their heirs (which seems to be the same case as with Khon Konchog Gyalpo and Sachen; Sachen was the one who really took the initiative to seek out the full Lamdre for example). More Nyingmapa teachers tended to be laypeople than in the other schools.

Also, why didn't the other Sarma lineages become family lineages in the same way as the Khon did? I can think of Taranatha, who was said to be a descendant of Ra Lotsawa and holder of his translations, but was his family as important to the Jonang as the Khon was to the Sakya?
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Re: Family lineages vs tulku system vs "meritocracy"

Postby kirtu » Thu Feb 27, 2014 11:57 pm

ngodrup wrote:Repkong ngakpa dratsang seems continuous at lest that long.


This is a model to look at. But this is basically family based too, no?

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Re: Family lineages vs tulku system vs "meritocracy"

Postby theanarchist » Fri Feb 28, 2014 1:10 am

Malcolm wrote:
Fortunately the Khon, Ludings, Thartses and so on are not subject to your "political correct" and "egalitarian" notions of fairness.

I personally think that the Sakya masters have done a fantastic job of maintaining the lineage just as it is for the past 1000+ years. If it works, don't fix it.



Dharma as a private elite club. Great, now THAT surely is what the buddha had in mind 2500 years ago.... As I can see it, the buddhas son didn't get a VIP treatment back then.
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Re: Family lineages vs tulku system vs "meritocracy"

Postby Malcolm » Fri Feb 28, 2014 2:08 am

theanarchist wrote:
Malcolm wrote:
Fortunately the Khon, Ludings, Thartses and so on are not subject to your "political correct" and "egalitarian" notions of fairness.

I personally think that the Sakya masters have done a fantastic job of maintaining the lineage just as it is for the past 1000+ years. If it works, don't fix it.



Dharma as a private elite club. Great, now THAT surely is what the buddha had in mind 2500 years ago.... As I can see it, the buddhas son didn't get a VIP treatment back then.



To be a lineage holder in the Sakya lineage requires training from early childhood.

The families involved in these lineages preserve not because they are private clubs but because it is what these families do and have done for many centuries. It is one thing to be a practitioner, it is quite another to be lineage holder.

Attitudes like yours come from not understanding the requirements needed to be a lineage holder.
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Re: Family lineages vs tulku system vs "meritocracy"

Postby ngodrup » Fri Feb 28, 2014 3:26 am

kirtu wrote:
ngodrup wrote:Repkong ngakpa dratsang seems continuous at lest that long.


This is a model to look at. But this is basically family based too, no?

Kirt


Correct, Kirt. Both sanghas I mentioned are family lineages of significant size and continuity.
But it is also common for tulkus to appear in such families.
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Re: Family lineages vs tulku system vs "meritocracy"

Postby kirtu » Fri Feb 28, 2014 5:56 am

ngodrup wrote:
kirtu wrote:
ngodrup wrote:Repkong ngakpa dratsang seems continuous at lest that long.


This is a model to look at. But this is basically family based too, no?

Kirt


Correct, Kirt. Both sanghas I mentioned are family lineages of significant size and continuity.
But it is also common for tulkus to appear in such families.


But originally in the mid/late 1600's the Repkong ngakpa dratsang was started when a recognized yogi (who was apparently a former monk) empowered a large group of ngakpas by passing out 1900 phurbas. So it didn't start as a family lineage. And in this case also, don't the tulkus come from many different families related now historically and not by blood lineage?

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Re: Family lineages vs tulku system vs "meritocracy"

Postby JKhedrup » Fri Feb 28, 2014 6:19 am

I would vote for a meritocracy any day. The tulku system has produced and continues to produce some remarkable masters but also a fair amount of lamas who simply ride the coattails of their titles. Many older lamas have indicated to me that some of the younger tulkus do not want to complete the study and retreat training required to be qualified lineage holders but still want to keep the trappings of the title and the lavish and in many cases jet-set lifestyle that entails these days. The sad reality is the substance of the teachings a lama gives often takes a back seat to their charisma in many settings.

Fortunately with the Sakyas it has gone well for the last few generations as a family lineage. I do remember reading an interview with HE Dagchen Rinpoche, though, where he indicated that his sons might not necessarily be interested in training as fully qualified lineage holders. I think this interview was from the now defunct Cho-yang magazine.
What would happen if Dagchen Rinpoche's sons indeed were not interested in such a role. Would the back and forth between the Phuntsok and Dolma Phodrangs necessarily have to continue, or could one Phodrang keep the lineage seat for two or even three generations if the other Phodrang did not produce a suitable heir?
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Re: Family lineages vs tulku system vs "meritocracy"

Postby theanarchist » Fri Feb 28, 2014 10:58 am

Malcolm wrote:
To be a lineage holder in the Sakya lineage requires training from early childhood. .



Sure. But in the Tibetan monastic tradition a lot of young monks join a monastery at under 10 years of age.
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Re: Family lineages vs tulku system vs "meritocracy"

Postby Malcolm » Fri Feb 28, 2014 3:01 pm

theanarchist wrote:
Malcolm wrote:
To be a lineage holder in the Sakya lineage requires training from early childhood. .


Sure. But in the Tibetan monastic tradition a lot of young monks join a monastery at under 10 years of age.


Yes, and other Kagyu and Nyingma lineages, generally only tulkus are cultivated for lineage holder training, unless, in the case of Nyingma familiy lineages, you are trained in the terma ritual cycle specific to your family.

In Gelug, however, you have to study for years and years, then you have to study some more in tantric college, then you have to study some more. By the time you are a qualified lineage holder you have spent 30+ years as a scholar/practitioner and are at least in your early forties if not fifties, having only started serious Vajrayāna training in your early thirties or forties.

Even in Sakya however, even if you belong to the Khon or one of the Ngor palaces, you are not automatically selected for such training, you have to show aptitude and interest from a very young age. For this reason, none of HH Dagchen Rinpoche sons were selected for/chose to undergo such training, but his grandson is being trained to succeed HE Ratnavajra at some point. In Ngor, the abbotship traditionally shifted every few years between Khenpos from that family. However, circumstances have lead to the Abbacy of Ngor being defacto in the hands of the Luding family at this point, the senior Luding Khenpo being the uncle of the junior Luding (who is the son of HE Jetsun Kusho). The Tshar lineage however has, as far as I know, been more of a meritocracy since it is based out of Nalendra Phenpo, which was the toughest academic school in Pre-modern Tibet. It still has family connections, but also some important Tullkus, like the Zimog Tulkus. In Derge, the Sakya school depends mostly on tulkus for succession, as that is the eastern Tibetan preference or so it seems. But they send them to Ngor for their education, for the most part.
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