Clarifying the Dalai Lama’s Remarks on Reincarnation

The Dalai Lama. Photo from

The Dalai Lama. Photo from

Robbie Barnett, a professor at Columbia University, writes about the recent reporting that the Dalai Lama’s current incarnation — the 14th — might be his last one. Barnett shows convincingly how the Dalai Lama’s words were misunderstood by various news agencies. He also points to the irony of China insisting that the Dalai Lama follow traditional Tibetan systems of recognizing reincarnations — a process the Chinese government would seek to control — instead of innovating a new way of choosing his successor, as the current Dalai Lama has said that he will do.

I’ll devote another blog post to the topic of reincarnation in Tibetan Buddhism and the unique role of the Dalai Lama within this system, but I did want to pass along this thoughtful article in the meantime.

One last tip: be sure to read about Her Excellency Mrs. Doring in the article! The bawdiness and irreverence of 19th Century Tibetan humor…who knew?

“Did I Miss Anything?” by Tom Wayman

Did I Miss Anything?

Nothing. When we realized you weren’t here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours

Everything. I gave an exam worth
40 percent of the grade for this term
and assigned some reading due today
on which I’m about to hand out a quiz
worth 50 percent

Nothing. None of the content of this course
has value or meaning
Take as many days off as you like:
any activities we undertake as a class
I assure you will not matter either to you or me
and are without purpose

Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
a shaft of light suddenly descended and an angel
or other heavenly being appeared
and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
to attain divine wisdom in this life and
the hereafter
This is the last time the class will meet
before we disperse to bring the good news to all people
on earth

Nothing. When you are not present
how could something significant occur?

Everything. Contained in this classroom
is a microcosm of human experience
assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
This is not the only place such an opportunity has been

but it was one place

And you weren’t here

Mindfulness and the Marketplace

Tricycle magazine has an excellent article entitled “From Monastery to Marketplace” that explores the ways in which the term “mindfulness” is being used to sell soap, books, and apps — to name only a few.

The author, Jeff Wilson, ultimately argues that what is being sold is a particular type of lifestyle — one that requires its own material accoutrements (new clothes, eco-friendly shampoos, maybe a Prius) and perhaps some self-branding as well.

I hope to write more about the increased presence of mindfulness in contemporary culture in the months ahead. (In the interim, I’m just trying to get through the opening weeks of school!) Some of this increased prominence may be for good — such as mindfulness programs in schools and prisons — and some of it may be less so.

The article is here:

“The History Teacher,” by Billy Collins

The History Teacher

Trying to protect his students’ innocence
he told them the Ice Age was really just
the Chilly Age, a period of a million years
when everyone had to wear sweaters.

And the Stone age became the Gravel Age,
named after the long driveways of the time.

The Spanish Inquisition was nothing more
than an outbreak of questions such as
“How far is it from here to Madrid?”
“What do you call the matador’s hat?”

The War of the Roses took place in a garden,
and the Enola Gay dropped one tiny atom
on Japan.

The children would leave his classroom
for the playground to torment the weak
and the smart,
mussing up their hair and breaking their glasses,

while he gathered up his noted and walked home
past flower beds and white picket fences,
wondering if they would believe that soldiers
in the Boer War told long, rambling stories
designed to make the enemy nod off.

by Billy Collins