Been reading the Autobiography of the Diluv Khutagt. Here is the Foreword to his autobiography:
Reincarnation = the Vehicle and the Passenger
Religion is not limited to knowledge of the scriptures. A man may be immensely learned, and still lacking in buyan (punya), or religious merit. Conversely, an ignorant and humble man may be deeply religious. It is here that time, circumstance, and transmigration interact. A man in unfavorable circumstances may still be carried forward on the religious path by the merit of his previous incarnations in various forms, just as a man in apparently favorable circumstances may be held back by lack of merit in previous lives.
Moreover there is an interaction between the individual, the community, and indeed the whole universe of living, sentient beings. This helps us to understand the changes and differences between saintly incarnations, whom you Westerners call Living Buddhas. When the Chinese began to use the expression Huo Fo, literally Living Buddha, they must have been trying to make a crude distinction between an image or statue of Buddha and a human reincarnation. Our Mongol term is khuvilgaan, from a root meaning “to change, to transform”, and so to be reincarnated; but this, of course, is also a translation that does not carry over the full inner meanings of the original Tibetan and Sanskrit terms.
Putting it very roughly to give a general idea to people who have not studied Buddhism, there are two classes of khuvilgaan or reincarnation. Those of the higher class, to which I belong, are reincarnations of Buddha. This does not mean that Buddha is divided up, with one part of Buddha manifest in one reincarnation, and one in another. Buddha is indivisible and pervasive. The fact of several reincarnations of Buddha does not diminish the unity or totality of Buddha.
Bodhisatvas are Souls that, by accumulation of buyan or merit could become Buddha, but elect to remain in the material world, contributing to the acquisition of buyan by all Souls until all souls become Buddha.
Now we come to the process of reincarnation. Here I think it will help laymen to understand if I say that on one hand there is the Soul, and on the other the body, which is like a vehicle in which a man travels. This helps to explain many mysteries. The body is material, and is bound up with the material world. That is why a reincarnation can act very differently in the different bodies in which it is reincarnated. It is as if a man should say, “this time I will take an express train, going straight to Washington and stopping nowhere;” but on the next journey he may say “I will take a slow train that stops at many places, or I may take a side trip.”
As an example, the body of my last incarnation was a worldly person who drank, but the body of my incarnation before that was a learned and pious lama who was everywhere revered and invited far and wide to visit monasteries and Banners and Aimags, because of the religious benefit of his presence. In the lives of human generations we must always remember the interaction between the individual and the totality of the community. We may also live in times that appear on the surface to be good and happy, but materialism, ignorance, and error are accumulating below the surface and will break out later. It may be that in my incarnation of two generations ago, when religious merit was accumulating elsewhere, partly because of the visits and prayers of my incarnation of that time, ignorance and error were accumulating in the monastery territory itself, and there, as far as our mortal eyes can see, the vehicle of my next incarnation was inferior to the one that had gone just before.
We must remember that illusion, the distortion of our understanding by material things, is always about us. To speak of “good” and “bad” incarnations is a very gross way of speaking. There are manifestations within manifestations. Take another example. In the time of my learned and pious incarnation of two generations ago, the body of the Diluv Khutagt was much senior in years to that of his parallel incarnation, the Narvanchin Khutagt. From the time he was about 16, this Narvanchin showed no inclination for the clerical life. (Eventually he lived like a layman, taking a wife and having children. He was even very fond of hunting, which means the taking of life, which is a breaking of one of the fundamental vows of a lama. There was much concern about his manner of life, not only among the clergy but among the laity.) The Diluv Khutagt counselled that, in order to bring the Narvanchin Khutagt back to the religious life, he should be sent to study in one of the great monasteries in Amdo [the part of Tibet included in the Kokonor territory, now the province of Chinghai], such as Kumbum. As the Diluv stood to the Narvanchin in the relation of teacher to disciple, this advice was authoritative. The Diluv began a religious ceremony of several days of prayer to confirm the decision; but immediately there broke out a deadly epidemic of stomach sickness. The Narvanchin had left the monastery territory and was living in Sain Noyon Khan Aimag, but when he heard of the epidemic he returned to the monastery. All that he did was to slaughter oxen and invite everybody to feast on beef—hardly a religious approach to the exorcising of sickness; yet everybody who ate of the beef was cured and the epidemic was at an end.
Moreover, the Sain Noyon Khan, the senior prince of Sain Noyon Khan Aimag1 in secular matters, had approved of the decision to send the Narvanchin to Amdo. He was in Uliastai at the time. When the epidemic (perhaps it was cholera) had ceased in the monastery territory, the Narvanchin announced that he would go to Uliastai. No sooner had he reached the town than both the Sain Noyon Khan and his princess were stricken by the dreaded sickness. The Narvanchin announced that he would hold the religious ceremony called Sor, in which there is a burnt offering of food: a sort of pyramid, moulded out of flour with water or butter, and sometimes with small pieces of raw meat stuck into it, is placed on the fire. The Sain Noyon Khan was unable to attend, because of his sickness. “That’s all right,” said the Narvanchin. “We’ll have you lifted up, so you can see it from afar.” So they lifted him up.
But then there was another strange thing. The priest who carried out the Sor ritual should carefully prepare himself, trying to purify himself of all material desires and lusts. But the Narvanchin said to the Sain Noyon Khan, “I can’t carry out this ceremony unless I get good and drunk.” The Sain Noyon Khan was sick, and could not but consent. So the Narvanchin, after drinking heavily, carried out the ceremony—and immediately the Sain Noyon Khan and his princess recovered.
Indeed, the Narvanchin of that incarnation, for all his worldly life, had the healing touch and worked wonders. He could use gun-magic, a kind of magic that I will mention later, and he could cure madness. He once cured a woman who was violently and uncontrollably mad. It took a number of men to drag her before him, but when he spoke to her, firmly but kindly, the madness was exorcised.
So we are made aware that there are mysterious things. In that generation the Diluv Khutagt was incarnated in a body that was of pious learning and pure life, and the Narvanchin in a body that led a profligate life; yet it was the Narvanchin who worked the wonders, and it was the Narvanchin’s decision not to go to Amdo that prevailed over the Diluv’s counsel that he ought to go to Amdo; and the fact that the epidemic broke out when the Diluv prayed, and was stilled by the Narvanchin, left no doubt about the matter.
Of myself in this incarnation I will say only this: I am not a man of great learning. On this journey through life my course has been in the main one of religion manifested in action, rather than in learning; and moreover the time in which this journey has been made has been one of great wars and much violence and evil.