I was very excited about seeing this movie,Unmistaken Child, this week. It is the story of a young Tibetan Buddhist monk whose deeply, deeply beloved master has died. The master is a highly revered Rinpoche and it is the Buddhist belief that he can choose to be reincarnated as a human. Eventually, it falls to his disciple to find his reincarnation, the new lama. The movie shows footage of the next 5 years in which the monk travels to many, many villages and spends time with babies or children of the correct age and attempts to determine if the child could possibly be the reincarnation.
I cannot recommend this movie highly enough, even if you have no interest in Buddhism. It is gorgeous in every way. The scenery of Nepal, the spectacle of Tibetan Buddhist ritual, the monk himself who shows all of his love, devotion and deep sense of duty on his handsome young face, the baby lama’s fierce intensity and then joyful smiles, the look in the eyes of his parents (a very stoic couple amongst a stoic people) as they decide if they will be able to give their son up to the monastery forever.
One of the things that I became aware of as I watched this movie, is that I wasn’t doubting that the lama had been reincarnated. There was never a point at which I questioned whether or not this was some hocus pocus. On some level I was accepting this as true. True for Buddhists? True for me? What was that about? Did I believe in reincarnation? I don’t think that I do. As I have pondered on this since, I have become aware that it just doesn’t matter to me. I don’t know what comes after death. I have always hoped and believed that there is something and in recent years I am most likely to agree with my son, Tim, when at age 5, he talked about where we go after we die. He thought about it for a minute and then he said, “I think that we must go back into the heart of God.” Whatever that might mean, I hope that it is true.
There is either something or nothing that comes after this life and many religions base their expectations of its adherent’s behaviors on a promise of that next life. Do this set of things and you’ll be rewarded. Do this other set of things and you’ll be punished. I realize that as I look back over my life that neither the promise of heaven nor the threat of hell ever really motivated me enough to transform my life, to see real change in terms of becoming a more loving, joyful and compassionate person. I chose the path of becoming and transformation because of how it effects me, my family, and my world today.
Have you ever heard people worry that at the moment of death they will find out that they were wrong? That they lived their whole life based on the wrong religion or philosophy or ideals? I have no fear of that. No matter where I find myself or don’t find myself that moment after I die, I have already witnessed that any efforts that I make that might lead to even a little more kindness or love matter and are worth it.