Philanthropic in Tibet

sduncan post on January 28th, 2013
Posted in Central Asia Tags: , ,

by Jason Guay

What is the most you have willingly given to charity? One Hundred Dollars? Five Hundred Dollars? How about giving half of your hard working income such as famed fifty percent club. By most Canadian standards, the 50% club is deemed very unique, and if it were an I.Q test they would no doubt be at least 3-4 standard deviations above the norm or 99.999 percentile. Other charitable acts might take the form of teaching a skill to those whom lack it, or volunteering, acts that we all consider very noble. Recently, I began studying eastern Buddhism and I found that their sense of giving to be a bit different than the westerns prototypical views. We have all had visitors coming to our door asking for donations and most Canadians are a hospitable bunch and normally are willing to bestow when feasible. Let me pose this proposition to the reader. What if someone came to your door and did not ask for any monetary funds, your time, skill, but rather asked for your 1 ½ year old male child? I envision the reader at this point would most likely have a knee jerk response, and would either slam the door, alert the police or outright laugh! That would be the typical Canadian response and would be mine as well. I will explain this tradition no matter how odd we might consider it, and hopefully help the reader understand that giving the child to a complete stranger is not by Buddhist traditions out of the ordinary (Williams, 2005).

According to Buddhist teachings, we are involuntary reincarnated back into existence. A being who has reached a level of enlightenment, a Buddha, can choose their next life form willingly. The great Tibetan masters called Lamas continue to reincarnate to guide their followers and all beings to enlightenment (Smith & Novak, 2003). What is unique about Buddhism is that for 700 years Buddhists have witnessed the tradition of seeking out their reincarnated masters. Their “heart disciples” often go on a quest in search of the reincarnate. Great effort is given to spiritual guides who provide an area of land that the enlightened being is said to have reincarnated. The heart disciple’s goal is to locate the correct reincarnate through a series of tests that attempt to ascertain with certainty the authenticity of their master who is now a child. Once the child is found and passes the tests, the parents are then asked to forfeit their biological imperative of keeping the child. They are asked to relinquish their child and abruptly stop forming an attachment, and give up their child to the monastery for the greater good of humanity. If the parents refuse to do so, their wishes are honored and the blame is placed reincarnated Lama for not choosing a suitable family that would relinquish the child, not on the family itself. Most would agree that charity is best when it is a choice not forced.

Imagine giving up a male child in China or India, as an act of charity. I find myself culturally conditioned to oppose this very premise on a both limbic biological state and on a rational state. So it would seem that while we have our Western charity hero’s such as the fifty percent club, Eastern Buddhist have their own form extraordinary club. If the knowledge of Eastern charity was better known, maybe Canadian’s would open their pocket books and give more liberally?

Works Cited

Smith, H., & Novak, P. (2003). Buddhism: A Concise Introduction. . SanFrancisco.: Harper.

Williams, P. (2005). Buddhism: Critical Concepts in Religious Studies. London: Routledge.


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