Symposium on the Tulku System

Panel, Symposium on the Tulku System

Free and open to the public.  No registration required.

Conferences and Workshops Tibetan Studies Initiative

The Tulku (sprul sku) system has been an extremely important aspect of Tibetan society and Tibetan religious life for many centuries, and continues to this day to capture the imagination of people around the world. It is unique to Tibet, and to those cultures whose development has been influenced by Tibetan Buddhism, including Mongolia and the Himalayan states. While the notion of rebirth or reincarnation is found throughout the Buddhist world, nowhere else do we find this particular practice—of identifying young children as the rebirths of religious teachers and leaders who have recently passed away, and then installing them in their place—developed as thoroughly and as systematically as in Tibet. 

The symposium is intended to provide an opportunity for in-depth exploration and discussion of the Tulku system, with the three tulkus attending offering an insider’s perspective on this extraordinary historical phenomenon.  While the Tulku system can be considered from any number of aspects—historical, social, religious, political, psychological, educational, and so on—each participant will be addressing those features that he considers most important and interesting, while reflecting on his own experience. 

At this stage in the history of the Tibetan people the political aspect of the system is a particular focus of attention, with the question of the Dalai Lama succession being an issue of controversy and concern across the political spectrum. There are, however, other significant and contested lineages that also raise issues of control and authority.  At the same time, the system has broader implications in terms of religious leadership, identity formation, and cultural change, both on an individual level and in social terms, and we hope to use this occasion to address the future of this very distinctive Buddhist practice, both in the exile community and in Tibet itself.   


The three Tulkus attending will first speak for 20-30 minutes each on their own experience of being a tulku and/or their current thinking about the Tulku System, its past, and the challenges which now face it.   After a short break we will then move to a roundtable discussion of the issues, moderated by Professor Donald Lopez (University of Michigan) and bringing in Professor Paul Harrison and Mr Tenzin Tethong (Stanford University).  There will be some time for the audience to ask questions at the end.

Speaker's Bio

Venerable Arija Rinpoche was recognized at the age of two by the Panchen Lama as the reincarnation of Lama Tsong Khapa’s father and the throne holder and abbot of Kumbum Monastery. When he arrived in the United States, he started the Tibetan Center for Compassion and Wisdom (TCCW) in Mill Valley, California. In 2005, he was appointed director of the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center (TMBCC) in Bloomington, Indiana by His Holiness the Dalai Lama where he now resides.

Venerable Telo Rinpoche
was born in the Kalmyk family in the United States. In 1992, he was elected as “Shadjin Lama” (Head Lama) of Kalmykia by the Kalmyk people and was entrusted to lead the process of spiritual restoration of one of the three Buddhist regions in Russia. He initiated the first ever Mongolian and Russian Buddhist Festival that was successfully held in Dharamsala (India) in 2007.

Venerable Thepo Rinpoche was recognized as the 8th Thepo Tulku who entered the Gandhan Shartse Monastery. From 1975 to 1980, he worked at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives and served as a special cultural advisor for the Smithsonian Institution Tibetan Library. He is currently a board member for the Tibetan Association of Northern California.

Professor Donald Lopez is a graduate of the University of Virginia and currently teaches Buddhist Studies at the University of Michigan. He has written widely on Indian Mahayana Buddhism and on Tibetan Buddhism. His current projects include the translation (in collaboration with Thupten Jinpa) of a refutation of the Buddhist doctrines of emptiness and rebirth by the Jesuit missionary to Tibet, Ippolito Desideri (1684-1733) and a study of the influence of the Lotus Sutra, among others.

Professor Paul Harrison, a graduate of Australian National University, works on Buddhist literature, especially that of the Mahayana. His research interests also include the history of the Tibetan canon and the study of Buddhist manuscripts. His publications include a number of editions, translations and studies of Buddhist texts, such as The Samadhi of Direct Encounter with the Buddhas of the Present, and he is co-editor of the series Buddhist Manuscripts in the Schøyen Collection. Co-Director of HCBSS.

Mr. Tenzin Tethong, President of the Dalai Lama Foundation and Chair of the Committee of 100 for Tibet, is the former Chairman of the Kashag, the Tibetan Cabinet, and U.S. representative of the Dalai Lama. He has taught in both History and Continuing Studies at Stanford.

Saturday, April 28, 2012 | 1:00 pm — 4:00 pm
Building 200 - Room 002 (Basement), 450 Serra Mall Stanford University

Ho Center for Buddhist Studies at Stanford
Tibetan Studies Initiative