Buddhists believe that a person is “involuntarily reincarnated.” However, a Buddha can actually choose what form to be re-born into. “Unmistaken Child” is a film about the search for a re-incarnated lama. This particular lama’s closest disciple is chosen to find the newly re-incarnated lama. The whole process takes close to two years before being completed.
First, after being chosen to find the new lama, Tenzin Zopa first has a dream about the lama coming back to life in the form of a “fat” child. Also, the burial pyre remains contain several pearls and a “footstep” pointing east in the ashes. These are considered very strong signs. Next, these signs and the dream are written down in a letter, which is then considered by someone familiar with reading signs. This man says that the child will be born to a father whose name starts with “A.” Also, Tenzin should look in the valley where the previous lama spent time praying.
Tenzin begins his journey, traveling from village to village seeking a child between the ages of 1 and 1 ½ years old. Tenzin has some rosaries from the lama’s life in which to “check” to see if the child might be the right one. However, the search is futile for several months. Finally, Tenzin finds a young boy born to Ahpe in the Tsum Valley. The boy refuses to take off the beads or give them back. Tenzin takes this to be a strong sign, which he then reports to his superiors.
The other lamas send for the child to check out the possibility of the re-incarnation. The child is told to choose several things from a lineup (i.e. bells, beads) that he used in his past life. The child chooses all three objects correctly. This, then, is reported to the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama responds by issuing a letter confirming the child’s identity as the re-incarnated lama. As such, the child must go to a monastery away from his home to be trained as a monk.
The parents, although extremely difficult for them, decide that they must let their child go train. Tenzin becomes the caretaker for the young boy and begins teaching and training him for his life as a Buddha. The event is a significant one for the people that follow the teachings of the Buddha.
Overall, I thought it was interesting seeing the process of finding the lama re-incarnated. In some ways, the selection seemed rather arbitrary. Yet, at other times, some of the things that occurred were astounding. For instance, the boy picking the right items was uncanny. One might think that the boy’s father helped him choose the items, yet it would be odd for the father to actually know which items were used in the past. Picking three items out of a mound of other distractions was intriguing, to say the least.
I think that one of the things that I learned from this film was that Buddhists are very patient in their pursuit of something. Also, their treatment of others is extremely kind. They seem to treat everyone, high or low, with a certain dignity. And, finally, there is a quiet joy about Tenzin as he journeys through the valley. Although he dearly misses his friend, he still manages to find wonderment in nature and in others. It was a slow moving film, but I’m glad to have learned something about the process involved in finding re-incarnated lamas.