There are days when the matter of deity feels settled and we function without confusion. There are other days when it becomes a little more complex and we start talking about panentheism and emanationist theory as the means of reconciling monotheism with polytheism and how there are 10,000 Catholic Saints alone, let alone people who have reached those spiritual levels but only their grandchildren even know it.
Well, I watched the movie Thor again, and that restimulated my ethnocentric religious tendencies. In truth, that is part of why the recent post at PaganPages.com addresses Christianity and paganism. As a whole body which has been alive the same way that the cultural traditions are alive today, the Catholic Church has dealt with a lot of events of confronting ethnocentric religions – the religions of the people wherever Christian missionaries went and there they were. I learned a few weeks ago thanks to an American Jewish Rabbi living in Brooklyn – which is ‘apt’ in this time in history…that Judaism was intentionally spreading around the time of Jesus’ life which supports his encouragement that ‘anyone with ears to hear, hear’.
What does that have to do with tulkus? Directly, not very much, but indirectly quite a bit. Just meeting them we face real cultural and religious difference. Jesus Christ taught that there is no such thing as reincarnation but tulkus are described as being successful intentional re-incarnations of spiritual trainees and practitioners. Their tradition is the complete opposite of the Christian teaching that there is no such thing as reincarnation – they tell each other and themselves that we are all ‘recycled soul’ and don’t have much chance of escaping the world…but, if we train properly we can change the quality of experiences of our lives and can help make it so that when we are born the next time, our lives can be halfway decent or even really good. Tulkus are people who did well enough to come back and help other people out with spiritual development. Now, Jesus Christ had one small teaching that resonates with all that when he explained that spiritual development helps people to ‘get off the wheel of rebirth’. We think he meant that bad habits can be broken. People can learn new ways when they need to and can transform in good ways. Most tulkus, I think, still use chop sticks: everyone reincarnates but there is no such thing as a self. I don’t handle chop sticks very well myself.