Interview of an English Ambassador with a Reincarnated Buddha

A singular account of the personal interview of an English ambassador in 1783, with a reincarnated Buddha — barely mentioned in volume i. — an infant of eighteen months old at that time, is given in the Asiatic Journal from the narrative of an eye-witness himself, Mr. Turner, the author of The Embassy to Thibet. The cautious phraseology of a skeptic dreading public ridicule ill conceals the amazement of the witness, who, at the same time, desires to give facts as truthfully as possible. The infant lama received the ambassador and his suite with a dignity and decorum so natural and unconstrained that they remained in a perfect maze of wonder. The behavior of this infant, says the author, was that of an old philosopher, grave and sedate and exceedingly courteous. He contrived to make the young pontiff understand the inconsolable grief into which the Governor-General of Galagata (Calcutta) the City of Palaces and the people of India were plunged when he died, and the general rapture when they found that he had resurrected in a young and fresh body again; at which compliment the young lama regarded him and his suite with looks of singular complacency, and courteously treated them to confectionery from a golden cup. "The ambassador continued to express the Governor-General's hope that the lama might long continue to illumine the world with his presence, and that the friendship which had heretofore subsisted between them might be yet more strongly cemented, for the benefit and advantage of the intelligent votaries of the lama . . . all which made the little creature look steadfastly at the speaker, and graciously bow and nod — and bow and nod — as if he understood and approved of every word that was uttered."*

As if he understood! If the infant behaved in the most natural and dignified way during the reception, and "when their cups were empty of tea became uneasy and throwing back his head and contracting the skin of his brow, continued making a noise till they were filled again," why could he not understand as well what was said to him?

Years ago, a small party of travellers were painfully journeying from Kashmir to Leh, a city of Ladahk (Central Thibet). Among our guides we had a Tartar Shaman, a very mysterious personage, who spoke Russian a little and English not at all, and yet who managed, nevertheless, to converse with us, and proved of great service. Having learned that some of our party were Russians, he had imagined that our

* See Coleman's "Hindu Mythology."

protection was all-powerful, and might enable him to safely find his way back to his Siberian home, from which, for reasons unknown, some twenty years before, he had fled, as he told us, via Kiachta and the great Gobi Desert, to the land of the Tcha-gars.* With such an interested object in view, we believed ourselves safe under his guard. To explain the situation briefly: Our companions had formed the unwise plan of penetrating into Thibet under various disguises, none of them speaking the language, although one, a Mr. K--, had picked up some Kasan Tartar, and thought he did. As we mention this only incidentally, we may as well say at once that two of them, the brothers N--, were very politely brought back to the frontier before they had walked sixteen miles into the weird land of Eastern Bod; and Mr. K--, an ex-Lutheran minister, could not even attempt to leave his miserable village near Leh, as from the first days he found himself prostrated with fever, and had to return to Lahore via Kashmere. But one sight seen by him was as good as if he had witnessed the reincarnation of Buddha itself. Having heard of this "miracle" from some old Russian missionary in whom he thought he could have more faith than in Abbé Huc, it had been for years his desire to expose the "great heathen"

jugglery, as he expressed it. K--was a positivist, and rather prided himself on this anti-philosophical neologism. But his positivism was doomed to receive a death-blow.

About four days journey from Islamabad, at an

* Russian subjects are not allowed to cross the Tartar territory, neither the subjects of the Emperor of China to go to the Russian factories.

insignificant mud village, whose only redeeming feature was its magnificent lake, we stopped for a few days' rest. Our companions had temporarily separated from us, and the village was to be our place of meeting. It was there that we were apprised by our Shaman that a large party of Lamai'c "Saints," on pilgrimage to various shrines, had taken up their abode in an old cave-temple and established a temporary Vihara therein. He added that, as the "Three Honorable Ones"+ were said to travel along with them, the holy Bikshu (monks) were capable of producing the greatest miracles. Mr.

K---, fired with the prospect of exposing this humbug of the ages, proceeded at once to pay them a visit, and from that moment the most friendly relations were established between the two camps.

The Vihar was in a secluded and most romantic spot secured against all intrusion. Despite the effusive attentions, presents, and protestations of Mr. K--, the Chief, who was

Pase-Budhu (an ascetic of great sanctity), declined to exhibit the phenomenon of the "incarnation" until a certain talisman in possession of the writer was exhibited.} Upon seeing this, f These are the representatives of the Buddhist Trinity, Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, or Fo, Fa, and Sengh, as they are called in Thibet. J A Bikshu is not allowed to accept anything directly even from laymen of his own people, least of all from a foreigner. The slightest contact with the body and even dress of a person not belonging to their special community is carefully avoided. Thus even the offerings brought by us and which comprised pieces of red and yellow pou-lou, a sort of woollen fabric the lamas generally wear, had to pass through strange ceremonies. They are forbidden, 1, to ask or beg for anything — even however, preparations were at once made, and an infant of three or four months was procured from its mother, a poor woman of the neighborhood. An oath was first of all exacted of Mr. K--, that he would not divulge what he might see or hear, for the space of seven years. The talisman is a simple agate or carnelian known among the Thibetans and others as A-yu, and naturally possessed, or had been endowed with very mysterious properties. It has a triangle engraved upon it, within which are contained a few mystical words.*

were they starving — having to wait until it is voluntarily offered; 2, to touch either gold or silver with their hands; 3, to eat a morsel of food, even when presented, unless the donor distinctly says to the disciple, "This is for your master to eat." Thereupon, the disciple turning to the pazen has to offer the food in his turn, and when he has said, "Master, this is allowed; take and eat," then only can the lama take it with the right hand, and partake of it. All our offerings had to pass through such purifications. When the silver pieces, and a few handfuls of annas (a coin equal to four cents) were at different occasions offered to the community, a disciple first wrapped his hand in a yellow handkerchief, and receiving it on his palm, conveyed the sum immediately into the Badir, called elsewhere Sabait, a sacred basin, generally wooden, kept for offerings.

* These stones are highly venerated among Lamaists and Buddhists; the throne and sceptre of Buddha are ornamented with them, and the Taley Lama wears one on the fourth finger of the right hand. They are found in the Altai Mountains, and near the river Yarkuh. Our talisman was a gift from the venerable high-priest, a Heiloung, of a Kalmuck tribe. Though treated as apostates from their primitive Lamaism, these nomads maintain friendly intercourse with their brother Kalmucks, the Chokhots of Eastern Thibet and Kokonor, but even with the Lamaists of

Several days passed before everything was ready; nothing of a mysterious character occurring, meanwhile, except that, at the bidding of a Bikshu, ghastly faces were made to peep at us out of the glassy bosom of the lake, as we sat at the door of the Vihar, upon its bank. One of these was the countenance of

Mr. K--'s sister, whom he had left well and happy at home, but who, as we subsequently learned, had died sometime before he had set out on the present journey. The sight affected him at first, but he called his skepticism to his aid, and quieted himself with theories of cloud-shadows, reflections of tree-branches, etc., such as people of his kind fall back upon.

On the appointed afternoon, the baby being brought to the

Vihara, was left in the vestibule or reception-room, as K--

could go no further into the temporary sanctuary. The child was then placed on a bit of carpet in the middle of the floor, and every one not belonging to the party being sent away, two "mendicants" were placed at the entrance to keep out intruders. Then all the lamas seated themselves on the floor, with their backs against the granite walls, so that each was separated from the child by a space, at least, of ten feet. The

Lha-Ssa. The ecclesiastical authorities however, will have no relations with them. We have had abundant opportunities to become acquainted with this interesting people of the Astrakhan Steppes, having lived in their Kibitkas in our early years, and partaken of the lavish hospitality of the Prince Tumene, their late chief, and his Princess. In their religious ceremonies, the Kalmucks employ trumpets made from the thigh and arm bones of deceased rulers and high priests.

chief, having had a square piece of leather spread for him by the desservant, seated himself at the farthest corner. Alone,

Mr. K--placed himself close by the infant, and watched every movement with intense interest. The only condition exacted of us was that we should preserve a strict silence, and patiently await further developments. A bright sunlight streamed through the open door. Gradually the "Superior" fell into what seemed a state of profound meditation, while the others, after a sotto voce short invocation, became suddenly silent, and looked as if they had been completely petrified. It was oppressively still, and the crowing of the child was the only sound to be heard. After we had sat there a few moments, the movements of the infant's limbs suddenly ceased, and his body appeared to become rigid. K--

watched intently every motion, and both of us, by a rapid glance, became satisfied that all present were sitting motionless. The superior, with his gaze fixed upon the ground, did not even look at the infant; but, pale and motionless, he seemed rather like a bronze statue of a Talapoin in meditation than a living being. Suddenly, to our great consternation, we saw the child, not raise itself, but, as it were, violently jerked into a sitting posture! A few more jerks, and then, like an automaton set in motion by concealed wires, the four months' baby stood upon his feet! Fancy our consternation, and, in Mr. K--'s case, horror. Not a hand had been outstretched, not a motion made, nor a word spoken; and yet, here was a baby-in-arms standing erect and firm as a man!

The rest of the story we will quote from a copy of notes written on this subject by Mr. K--, the same evening, and given to us, in case it should not reach its place of destination, or the writer fail to see anything more.

"After a minute or two of hesitation," writes K--, "the baby turned his head and looked at me with an expression of intelligence that was simply awful! It sent a chill through me. I pinched my hands and bit my lips till the blood almost came, to make sure that I did not dream. But this was only the beginning. The miraculous creature, making, as I fancied, two steps toward me, resumed his sitting posture, and, without removing his eyes from mine, repeated, sentence by sentence, in what I supposed to be Thibetan language, the very words, which I had been told in advance, are commonly spoken at the incarnations of Buddha, beginning with 'I am Buddha; I am the old Lama; I am his spirit in a new body,' etc. I felt a real terror; my hair rose upon my head, and my blood ran cold. For my life I could not have spoken a word. There was no trickery here, no ventriloquism. The infant lips moved, and the eyes seemed to search my very soul with an expression that made me think it was the face of the Superior himself, his eyes, his very look that I was gazing upon. It was as if his spirit had entered the little body, and was looking at me through the transparent mask of the baby's face. I felt my brain growing dizzy. The infant reached toward me, and laid his little hand upon mine. I started as if I had been touched by a hot coal; and, unable to bear the scene any longer, covered my face with my hands. It was but for an instant; but when I

removed them, the little actor had become a crowing baby again, and a moment after, lying upon his back, set up a fretful cry. The superior had resumed his normal condition, and conversation ensued.

"It was only after a series of similar experiments, extending over ten days, that I realized the fact that I had seen the incredible, astounding phenomenon described by certain travellers, but always by me denounced as an imposture. Among a multitude of questions unanswered, despite my cross-examination, the Superior let drop one piece of information, which must be regarded as highly significant. 'What would have happened,' I inquired, through the shaman, 'if, while the infant was speaking, in a moment of insane fright, at the thought of its being the "Devil," I had killed it?' He replied that, if the blow had not been instantly fatal, the child alone would have been killed.' 'But,' I continued, 'suppose that it had been as swift as a lightning-flash?' 'In such case,' was the answer, 'you would have killed me also.' "

In Japan and Siam there are two orders of priests, of which one are public, and deal with the people, the other strictly private. The latter are never seen; their existence is known but to very few natives, never to foreigners. Their powers are never displayed in public, nor ever at all except on rare occasions of the utmost importance, at which times the ceremonies are performed in subterranean or otherwise inaccessible temples, and in the presence of a chosen few whose heads answer for their secrecy. Among such occasions are deaths in the Royal family, or those of high dignitaries affiliated with the Order. One of the most weird and impressive exhibitions of the power of these magicians is that of the withdrawal of the astral soul from the cremated remains of human beings, a ceremony practiced likewise in some of the most important lamaseries of Thibet and Mongolia.

In Siam, Japan, and Great Tartary, it is the custom to make medallions, statuettes, and idols out of the ashes of cremated persons;* they are mixed with water into a paste, and after being moulded into the desired shape, are baked and then gilded. The Lamasery of Ou-Tay, in the province of Chan-Si, Mongolia, is the most famous for that work, and rich persons send the bones of their defunct relatives to be ground and fashioned there. When the adept in magic proposes to facilitate the withdrawal of the astral soul of the deceased, which otherwise they think might remain stupefied for an indefinite period within the ashes, the following process is resorted to: The sacred dust is placed in a heap, upon a metallic plate, strongly magnetized, of the size of a man's body. The adept then slowly and gently fans it with the Talapat Nang, + a fan of a peculiar shape and inscribed with

* The Buddhist Kalmucks of the Astrakhan steppes are accustomed to make their idols out of the cremated ashes of their princes and priests. A relative of the author has in her collection several small pyramids composed of the ashes of eminent Kalmucks and presented to her by the Prince Tumene himself in 1836.

f The sacred fan used by the chief priests instead of an umbrella.

certain signs, muttering, at the same time, a form of invocation. The ashes soon become, as it were, imbued with life, and gently spread themselves out into a thin layer which assumes the outline of the body before cremation. Then there gradually arises a sort of whitish vapor which after a time forms into an erect column, and compacting itself, is finally transformed into the "double," or ethereal, astral counterpart of the dead, which in its turn dissolves away into thin air, and disappears from mortal sight.*

The "Magicians" of Kashmir, Thibet, Mongolia, and Great Tartary are too well known to need comments. If jugglers they be, we invite the most expert jugglers of Europe and America to match them if they can.

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