This weekend, New York City’s Rubin Museum of Art hosted the premiere of Unmistaken Child (mentioned in an earlier post), a wonderful film about a young monk in search of the reincarnation of his recently deceased master. On the advice of senior lamas, the young monk travels by foot from village to village in hopes of finding a toddler who fits the bill.

While the young monk’s joy at discovering his master again is quite moving, it is somewhat disturbing—at least for a Western audience—to watch the child taken from his consenting but seemingly ambivalent parents. At the end of the film, several of the audience wondered aloud about the wisdom of removing the child from his home (upon his parents’ leaving, the child wails, “Now I have no friends.”).

 It remains unclear whether the parents consider their child’s fate to be an honor or a loss—or both. Still, the separation is tough to watch.

Here’s another story about a tulku: a Spanish child recognized at infancy as the reincarnation of the late Lama Yeshe has recently publicly renounced his status.

“They took me away from my family and stuck me in a medieval situation in which I suffered a great deal,” says Osel Hita Torres, 24, now a film student in Madrid.

A sad outcome, to be sure. All the more reason to see Unmistaken Child, which provides an unflinching look into the traditional protocol for locating and recognizing incarnate lamas. The film makes no judgments but its Western audiences may. Perhaps one day the tulku-turned-film-student will tell a story of his own.

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