I’ve been considering one thing for a while and I’m not sure I have a definitive opinion, I’ll put some of my thoughts on paper in order to clarify them.
It’s about what happens with a failed tulku.
I won’t go into details of what a tulku, or an avatar, is. You can go look that up. Basically, it’s defined as incarnated motivation by a Purusha or a Buddha, depending on the belief system. In mahayana buddhism, a bodhisattva‘s compassion when perceiving the suffering of the world causes a metaphorical “teardrop” that falls onto the Earth and is born as a human being whose purpose is to alleviate ignorance and suffering. Essentially, it’s not the God or Bodhisattva who is incarnating, but a more complex, sophisticated thing. Christianity is on the right track with its Trinity concept, where God’s intent regarding the world causes God to become a different “person” – if he remains in the original form he is the Father, if he becomes a man in order to redeem humanity he is the Son, and if he is the uplifting spiritual force he is the Holy Ghost. Essentially, God can be many things at once without actually ceasing to exist in his original state. All those manifestations, however, are completely and fully God, they are not something of a lower quality or inferior.
So, a tulku is something akin to the Son in the concept of Trinity – it is something that is both fully man and fully Buddha, and also a process of man trying to “reattach” to Buddha, to self-realize by both manifesting the Buddha’s mission of compassion and re-connecting with his own true nature.
The problem is, those tulkus usually state that buddhahood is everyone’s true nature, because it is their true nature. They see the path from being a Buddha in ignorance to being a Buddha in realization, but that’s more a description of what a tulku is, than a description of a normal human’s spiritual path. To a human soul, a realization of his true nature would look more like an NDE experience – you realize that you are in your true nature a spiritual being, you understand that you are more than you thought but there’s much that you need to learn. For a tulku, it’s the realization of that lower bird from the tree from the upanishads – it understand that the godlike bird above the tree is its true nature. This causes a slight problem in teachings, because to assume that something that applies to you applies universally for everyone else is a potential problem. It also opens us to my original dilemma – what happens if a tulku never actually attains self-realization, if he never actually completes the process of reuniting with the spiritual entity that cast it. If that tulku becomes deluded and attached in the world, is the original spiritual entity trapped, like a boat with an anchor that refuses to detach from the seabed, and the chain cannot be cut?
The main questions are, is it possible for a tulku to fail, and, second, if a tulku can fail, what is the exact nature and extent of the failure? Is it just failure to attain full realization of one’s nature while incarnated, or does it go further, into formation of attachments that bind it to samsara? If a tulku is bound to samsara, does it detach into an entity that is truly separate in both nature and destiny from the entity that had cast it, or does it bind that original entity to its fate?
So, that’s the question I’m dealing with. Let me try to find the answer.
The important aspects are “what is binding”, and “what is attachment”. An attachment forms when you are deluded enough to seek something in places where it is not. The classic example is to go after a mirage in a desert, thinking it to be a lake. You are attracted by the promise of a lake, but you are lured deep into the desert where you die of thirst. However, you can be attracted to a mirage, but realize its promise is false and you change your direction. Attachment is when you are so invested in your attempt that you refuse to acknowledge that it doesn’t work and will never work. Bondage, however, is when you are not allowed to leave due to some external influence, for instance you are in debt to a caravan leader who then sells you into slavery. So, it’s not always a simple matter of realizing the error of your ways and changing direction. You can get entangled into something that won’t let you go, and that’s where the serious problems start.
Then we get the aspect of “how are desires of a tulku different from ordinary human desires”. The main difference is the vector – the direction and magnitude. The direction of a tulku‘s every single desire is to reunite with the spiritual entity that cast it, and to fulfill its mission. You can delude a tulku into thinking that something is something that it is not, but there is no persistence to such attachments, and the illusions are very quickly tested and rejected, because a tulku doesn’t have neither time nor energy to waste on things that don’t contain what he’s looking for, and the magnitude of his desire to return to his true nature, having accomplished his mission, is such that it simply overpowers intensity of anything else. A tulku is like a honeybadger, he doesn’t give a fuck and just takes what he wants, completely ignoring or overpowering anything that might stand in its way. It eats bears, lions or cobras if they stand in its way, and you can shoot it but you can’t change its mind. Read about Milarepa’s life, you’ll see what I mean.
If tulku is killed while dedicated to his mission, he reunites with the casting entity. If he is deluded by something effective, persistent and deadly, lead to believe that his destiny is to go into a desert, where he fails in his mission and dies, we have a question: what if the illusion survives death? What if attachments of binding character were formed under the influence of that illusion? What if something effectively presented itself as his Master and offered fulfillment of his nature and mission and that resulted in failure? What if a combination of bad training, bodily weakness and poor judgment resulted in failure? What if a tulku has been seriously contaminated and compromised by wrong beliefs and wrong choices, and is that actually possible? If it’s possible, can it be undone after death, in full clarity and retrospective? I don’t know.
I’ve seen high spiritual beings bound to Earth, as by a thread, with obligations formed in a state of ignorance, that proved to be permanent and binding, and couldn’t be dissolved after death. I therefore know that it’s possible for a high being to be caught in such a trap, caught in the world like a bear or a wolf by its foot; can’t tear it off, can’t force it to let go. The danger seems to be quite real and this seems to answer at least a part of my question. The other part is, how to avoid this kind of entrapment. My personal solution is never to be human, always be a shadow of God. Follow the will of God in all things, and renounce any opinion, belief or a course of action if it is not sanctioned by God. Complete surrender to the will of God, which amounts to being God. You cannot threaten something that doesn’t care if it dies. You cannot bribe it if it wants only one thing, and that’s the one you don’t have to offer. You can’t convince it that it committed sin, when it doesn’t even believe that it exists, because only God is, and in Him there is neither sin nor impurity. So that answers that question.
The question that remains is, do other tulkus conform to this pattern? Will another of my kind respond to being trapped in bear trap not by trying to outpower the trap, not by trying to break off his leg, but by understanding that there is no bear to be caught, and it’s not a God trap, but a bear trap?
I’m still considering all this and my answers are by no means final.
I think I know of a way for a tulku to really, really fail.
It would need to recognize Sanat Kumar as God and pledge itself fully to him, initiate itself into his resources and basically become his servant. I think such a tulku would be absorbed by Sanat Kumar and would be permanently lost to its original caster; it would share Sanat Kumar’s fate.