Folded Buddha, Susan Rothenberg, 1987-88, Oil on canvas. Courtesy Mrs. and Mr. Robert Meltzer.
Folded Buddha, Susan Rothenberg, 1987-88, Oil on canvas. Courtesy Mrs. and Mr. Robert Meltzer.

In 1254 the Franciscan friar William of Rubruck, a missionary in Mongolia, became the first Westerner to describe a reincarnate Buddhist teacher. In the report of his mission to King Louis IX of France he recounted the following episode:

A boy was brought from Cataia [China], who to judge by his physical size was not three years old, yet was fully capable of rational thought: he said of himself that he was in his third incarnation, and he knew how to read and write. (Peter Jackson’s The Mission Friar of William of Rubruck, Hakluyt Society, 1990.)

Seven hundred and thirty years later, the same phenomenon was reported in the heartland of Christian Europe:

On February 12th, 1985, in the State Hospital of Granada, Spain, Osel Hita Torres was born. He came into the world without causing his mother any pain, his eyes wide open. He didn’t cry. The atmosphere in the delivery room was charged—very quiet and yet momentous. The hospital staff was unusually touched. They sensed that this was a special child.

This passage from Vicki Mackenzie’s book, Reincarnation: The Boy Lama (Bloomsbury, 1989), describes the birth of a young boy who was shortly to be recognized by the Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of Lama Thubten Yeshe, a charismatic teacher and founder of numerous Tibetan Buddhist centers throughout Europe, Australia, and America, who had died in Los Angeles eleven months earlier of heart failure at the age of forty-nine.

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