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Statement by H.H. Penor Rinpoche Regarding the Recognition of Steven Seagal
as a Reincarnation of the Treasure Revealer Chungdrag Dorje of Palyul
Monastery


rinpocheseagal.jpg (20351 bytes)


In February of 1997 I recognized my student, Steven Seagal, as a
reincarnation (tulku) of the treasure revealer Chungdrag Dorje. Since there
has been some confusion and uncertainty as to what this means, I am writing
to clarify this situation.  Traditionally a tulku is considered to be a
reincarnation of a Buddhist master who, out of his or her compassion for
the suffering of sentient beings, has vowed to take rebirth to help all
beings attain enlightenment. To fulfill this aspiration, a tulku will
generally need to go through the complete process of recognition,
enthronement and training

Formal recognition generally occurs soon after a tulku has been identified,
but only after other important lineage masters have been consulted

The newly identified tulku does not take on any formal responsibilities at
the time of recognition

The next step of enthronement may or may not occur for a tulku, depending
on the circumstances. Enthronement formally invests the tulku with the
responsibility of furthering the activities associated with their
particular tulku lineage. Thus, if there are specific teachings and
practice traditions associated with their lineage, and if there are perhaps
monks, nuns, monasteries, retreat centers, lay communities and so forth for
which the tulku traditionally takes responsibility, then the tulku is
formally vested with those responsibilities at the time of enthronement. In
the event that an enthronement ceremony is conducted, it may take place
soon after recognition or some years later. If the tulku is too young to
assume their responsibilities upon enthronement, others may be entrusted to
take on those responsibilities until the tulku is ready

Finally, a tulku needs to complete a formal course of training which
includes years of study and meditation. This training reawakens the tulku's
powers of insight and compassion and develops their skillful means for
helping others. It is only after such training that a tulku is ready to
take on the role of a teacher

In the case of Steven Seagal, he has been formally recognized as a tulku,
but has not been officially enthroned. He has also not undergone the
lengthy process of study and practice necessary to fully realize what I
view as his potential for helping others. When I first met him, I felt he
had the special qualities of a tulku within him. According to the Great
Vehicle (Mahayana) of the Buddhist tradition, all beings have within them
the potential for becoming Buddhas. With Steven Seagal I perceived this
potential to be particularly strong as accords with being a tulku. In the
past, whenever I have met someone that I feel is a tulku, I have always
consulted with other masters of the Nyingma lineage such as Dudjom
Rinpoche, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and other senior lineage holders.
Similarly, after my experience of meeting Steven Seagal, I consulted with
another important Nyingma master and with his concurrence, recognized
Steven Seagal as a tulku. With regard to the particular circumstances of
Steven Seagal's recognition, while it is generally the case that tulkus are
recognized young in life, this is not always so. For example, the great
master Jamyang Khyentse Ch?kyi Lodr? remained unrecognized for many years
while he was an ordained monk at Kathok Monastery. He was over 30 years
old, perhaps 35, and had completed his monastic education when he was
recognized and enthroned as the first reincarnation of Jamyang Khyentse
Ch?kyi Wangpo. In his case, he had devoted his life to study and practice
and was thus prepared for taking on the full responsibilities of being a
tulku at the time of his recognition

Prior to my recognition of Steven Seagal I myself recognized another tulku
late in his life. Kalsang Yeshe Rinpoche, a monk originally from the Palyul
branch monastery of Shibo in Tibet and later at Namdroling Monastery in
India, was recognized and enthroned in 1983 at the age of 51. He too had
spent his life studying Buddhism and meditating before he was recognized as
a tulku. Because he had cultivated his potential through many years of
diligent study and meditation, he was able to become a teacher and is
currently the head of our Palyul Center in Singapore. So, in short, in the
Tibetan tradition there is nothing unusual about recognizing a tulku late
in their life. In fact, the recognition of a tulku who has been born in the
West is especially likely to occur later in their lifetime because it will
generally take much longer for all the conditions that are necessary for
such a recognition to come together

Steven Seagal has been recognized as a reincarnation of the 17th century
hidden treasure revealer (tert?n) Chungdrag Dorje (khyung brag rdo rje) of
Palyul Monastery. Chungdrag Dorje founded a small monastery called Geg?n
Gompa near his native village of Phene in the Kutse area of Derge in
Eastern Tibet. Though there are no monks there now, the small monastery
building still exists and is well known in the area for its beautiful
religious wall paintings

As a tert?n, Chungdrag Dorje rediscovered teachings and sacred objects
hidden by Padmasambhava in the eighth century. Such treasures (terma) were
concealed with the intention that they would be discovered and revealed at
a later date when the circumstances were such that they would be of
particular benefit to sentient beings. Texts of the teachings discovered by
Chungdrag Dorje have apparently not survived the Chinese Cultural
Revolution. Sacred objects discovered by Chungdrag Dorje include an
unusually shaped bell, a phurba (ritual dagger), the syllable 'A' carved in
stone and pigments used to create the sacred wall paintings in his
monastery mentioned above. Several of these objects have been preserved and
are still kept at Palyul Monastery today

In the Nyingma tradition it is said that there are a hundred main treasure
revealers and an even greater number of secondary treasure revealers. Among
the latter it is not uncommon for the line of their teachings to eventually
lapse

Though they were beneficial during the time they flourished, for various
reasons some tert?n teaching lineages have ceased. This would seem to be
the case with Chungdrag Dorje

Now with regard to Steven Seagal, he was born centuries after the death of
Chungdrag Dorje. It is not uncommon for there to be a lengthy span of time
between the death of a master and the appearance of his or her subsequent
reincarnation. My own tulku lineage is an example of this. There was a 130
years hiatus between the death of the First Pema Norbu in 1757 and the
birth of the Second Pema Norbu in 1887. This is common in all the
traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. As for how these gaps come about, while
tulkus are understood to have vowed to be continually reborn to help
beings, it is not necessary for them to take rebirth in a continuous
sequence of lives in this world. It is believed that they can be reborn in
other world systems where they continue their compassionate activities,
returning only later to this world system. This is how such lapses in tulku
lineages are understood in Tibet

As for Steven Seagal's movie career, my concern is with the qualities I
experienced within him which relate to his potential for benefiting others
and not with the conventional details of his life which are wholly
secondary. Some people think that because Steven Seagal is always acting in
violent movies, how can he be a true Buddhist? Such movies are for
temporary entertainment and do not relate to what is real and important. It
is the view of the Great Vehicle of Buddhism that compassionate beings take
rebirth in all walks of life to help others. Any life condition can be used
to serve beings and thus, from this point of view, it is possible to be
both a popular movie star and a tulku

There is no inherent contradiction in this possibility. As the head of the
Palyul lineage of the Nyingma School and more recently as the Head of the
Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, I have had the responsibility of
recognizing numerous tulkus. The first time I recognized a tulku, I was ten
years old. This tulku was the incarnation of the great Khenpo Ngaga. He is
still living in Eastern Tibet and continues to strive, to this day, to
promote the welfare of others. Since that time until now I have recognized
over one hundred tulkus. In addition I have overseen the training and
enthronement of over thirty khenpos (learned scholars) and I am responsible
for the welfare of the many thousands of monks belonging to the Palyul
tradition. My concern in seeking to nurture these tulkus, khenpos, monks,
as well as sincere lay people, has been to benefit all sentient beings. It
is out of this intention that I have recognized tulkus in the past and will
continue to recognize them in the future as appropriate. In the case of my
student Steven Seagal, I initiated the decision to recognize him as a tulku
based on my own feelings about him. Neither I nor any of my monasteries
have received or sought any sort of substantial donation from him. What is
important to me are the qualities I have seen in my student. For this
reason I feel confident that recognizing him as a tulku will be of benefit
to others as well as to the Buddha dharma. Whenever there is a new
incarnation born or recognized, I personally feel very happy because it is
like you have one more brother or sister. I take delight in such occasions
as they seek to further compassionate activity for others. Being recognized
as a tulku is an acknowledgment of one's potential to help others. Such
recognition does not mean that one is already a realized teacher. The
degree to which tulkus have been able to actualize and utilize their
potential depends upon how they have been able to use their past
circumstances and how they currently use their present circumstances to
develop their potential. Each tulku must work to develop themselves to the
best of their ability. The essential point is that a tulku should strive to
help others in whatever life situation they find themselves. It is out of
such an aspiration to help all sentient beings that I have recognized many
tulkus in my life and it is with this motivation that I recognized Steven
Seagal as a tulku. If all beings seek to have this motivation, what need
will there be for controversies and confusion over the motivations of
others?

Penor Rinpoche

His Holiness Penor Rinpoche Web site http://www.palyul.org

        3 October 1997



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