Reincarnation lineages, their traditions, and their institutions have been central to Tibetan religion, culture, society, and politics since the 13th century. They developed incrementally, dependent on doctrines from India and local precedents. From their Indian-Buddhist forebears, they took the tradition of past-life storytelling, the belief that celestial bodhisattvas constantly manifested to aid beings, and the practice of guru-yoga, which encouraged them to see their teachers as nirmāṇakāya (“creation bodies”; trülku [sprul sku] in Tibetan). From the 10th century in Tibet, they recognized an increasing number of beings as either bodhisattva emanations or prominent beings’ rebirths. Claiming rebirth status was particularly evident in the Nyingma school’s treasure tradition, whose visionaries claimed to be the rebirths of the 8th-century mahāsiddha Padmasambhava’s students. Treasure texts also contended that the celestial bodhisattva, Avalokiteśvara, constantly manifested in Tibet. During the 11th century, Kadam and Kagyü yogis made themselves jātaka protagonists, and the number of beings from all schools claiming to be emanations of celestial bodhisattvas increased. The Nyingma visionary Nyangrel Nyima Özer (Nyang ral nyi ma ‘od zer, 1124–1194) became the first to describe a series of his previous lives. The second and third Karmapas (13th century) developed on these precedents, adding future-life prediction and child recognition and linking rebirths to monasteries and inheritances. They combined the two ideas of rebirth and incarnation, claiming that the reborn Karmapas were a series of Avalokiteśvara’s emanations. After the Mongol emperors became the Karmapas’ students, their model was copied across Tibet. In the 16th century, the Dalai Lamas, aided first by Mongol rulers and then the Manchu-Qing Emperor, gained political supremacy in Tibet. This also enabled their school, the Geluk, to proselytize widely in the Mongol world and establish further guru-patron relationships. After an argument between two aristocratic reincarnates led to the Sino-Gurkha War in the late 18th century, the Qianlong Emperor mandated that Geluk reincarnates be chosen by drawing lots from a Golden Urn. The Geluks used the Golden Urn to establish many new reincarnation lineages but resisted its use to decide the Dalai Lamas or other highly ranked reincarnates. The Manchu-Qing had little influence on the non-Geluk lineages, who developed strongholds in the Himalaya and Kham in Eastern Tibet. After the Qing Empire fell, the thirteenth Dalai Lama declared Tibet independent. He did not live to see its dissolution into the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the 1950s. During the Mao period in Tibet and the Soviet period in Mongolia, reincarnates were first co-opted and then outlawed. They became refugees, and several became famous internationally. When the Soviet Union fell, and China opened, some reincarnates re-established their monasteries, but the PRC retained the authority to recognize reincarnates, including the next Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama, whose reputation underpins the entire reincarnation system, has refuted this claim. But as he single-handedly defends his institution against the PRC state and attempts to deal with a series of abuse and corruption scandals involving reincarnates—as perpetrators and victims—it appears certain the Dalai Lama’s next interregnum will challenge the entire reincarnation system.
Juan Carlos Moreno García
The ancestor cult was a common feature of pharaonic society, aiming to provide social cohesion to extended families as well as close intermediaries with the netherworld. As active members of their respective households, ancestors were objects of veneration and care but were also subject to social obligations toward their kin. However, the continuity of such cults was not exempt from threats, from gradual oblivion to destruction of tombs. Furthermore, tensions between individual strategies and customary duties toward one’s kin were another source of instability, especially when officials sought to create their own funerary services and to transfer them to their direct descendants. Such tensions are particularly visible in social sectors close to the king. The assertion of royal authority depended on the elimination of potential sources of political counterweight, and also on the weakening of kin solidarity among members of the elite. As such, the promotion of the cult of royal ancestors, granting individual rewards to selected members of the court and developing personal contact with gods, was part of this strategy. In other cases, “cultural ancestors” provided prestigious links with golden ages of the past, for instance when authorship of sapiential texts was attributed to famous officials of the past or when scribes wrote graffiti in their tombs. Finally, ancestors and ancestral memories were also invented and manipulated for ideological purposes, such as providing legitimacy in periods of political division or prestigious links with the royal palace and the values it promoted. Ancestor worship thus appears as an active, multifaceted social activity, operating at different levels (individual, domestic/family, community, palace), whose distinctive idiosyncrasies depended on the context in which it operated. Tensions but also mutual influences permeated all these spheres, thus making ancestor cults a dynamic manifestation of social values, political practices, and religious beliefs in pharaonic Egypt.
Huineng (d. 713), widely known as the 6th Patriarch of Chan Buddhism, was mostly an invented person, a symbol of the Sinification of Buddhism. The only reliable facts known about him were that he was a pupil of Hongren and taught “Chan” in the far south of China. A propaganda campaign elevating him to the 6th patriarch of Chan was launched in 730 by Shenhui, who almost alone fabricated “Huineng” out of a lack of information as the leader of the Chan School. However, Shenhui’s role was completely forgotten until the late 1920s when long-lost manuscripts from the caves of Dunhuang were discovered. Shenhui’s claim to being Huineng’s sole legitimate successor was overshadowed in the late 8th to 9th century by rivals claiming to be the only true disciples of Huineng. Thereafter, the Huineng legend became firmly fixed and gradually grew and remains popular. Huineng is seen as the founder of the Southern School of Chan, the only form of Chan to survive after the 10th century, and as the author of the Platform Sutra, a core Chan authority.