Buddha taught us that Anatta, non self, is a key concept of the Dhamma, one of the 3 marks of existence. Basically we have a mind, not a soul, that differentiates from other minds by the kamma-vipaka it will experience, not by any inherent or intrinsic quality

In Tibetan Buddhism, there is this common search for the Tulku, reincarnated Lamas, such as HH Dalai Lama, but if we are all the same thing and there is no self, What is the meaning and the benefit or finding an reincarnation of someone?

This is a curiosity, not doubting the process or questioning the reasons, I'm sure there are good ones. I don't mean to be disrespectful.


2 Answers 2


Let's be clear on the meaning of the teaching of Anatta. All schools, both the Theravada school and Mahayana forms of Buddhism teach that there are two kinds of truth, conventional and ultimate. The teaching that there is no self is a teaching that applies on the ultimate level only, so on the conventional level there is a self.

In other words, even though on the ultimate level all you have is a collection of mental and physical phenomena rapidly arising and ceasing without any kind of core or permanent substrate, it still makes sense to point to point to such a particular collection and call it "Joe" for example, because there is causal continuity between these phenomena. One individuals life will affect their next life of course, with much of their qualities rolling over into the next one, so even we Theravadins have to admit that finding the rebirth of our teachers makes sense.

(Added latter)

The reason why it would make sense to find their rebirth (assuming that their rebirth would be human and that you could find them which is the only real objection in my opinion from a Theravada perspective) is that because their qualities developed in their previous life carry over, they would probably be more spiritually developed from the beginning than someone who was not the rebirth of an advanced practitioner.

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    Not necessarily all schools: "There's a point where the perceptions have done their work and you put them aside. ... The incorrect use is to say there is an ultimate view of reality and there are conventional views of reality and what we're trying to do is get the ultimate view which describes things as they really are. ... you hold on to it as if you could hold reality in words. But if you hold on to it with words, what are you doing with it? You're stuck with that view." -- dhammatalks.org/Archive/y2009/…
    – Caleb Paul
    Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 0:39
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    Good answer but I am not sure if this answers the above question. Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 2:36
  • @Wideshanks I don't think in that talk the Ven. Thanissaro's point was that there is no distinction between conventional and ultimate truths, but rather that when talking about ultimate truth we shouldn't grasp at how ultimate truth is formulated in words, simply seeing them as tools. In other talks I think it is clear that the Ven. Thanissaro accepts the distinction. For example, in one he says that even though ultimately there is no self, conventionally a self makes sense as a practical tool such as knowing which mouth you are supposed to put food into.
    – Bakmoon
    Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 13:15
  • @SumindaSirinathSalpitikorala I've updated my answer to more clearly answer the question.
    – Bakmoon
    Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 13:16
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    Yes, but Prasangika Madhyamaka does not reject self as a mere designation.
    – Bakmoon
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 20:01

As far as anatta vs tulku, I answered this three times already: here, here and here.

As far as benefits, the idea is to have these children be raised by Enlightened masters from the very beginning. This way the entirety of the teaching, with all its subtleties is passed on from generation to generation. These people then serve as hubs, spreading the Dharma to regular people, and as "vision holders" (vidyadhara) that can pass the Dharma to the next generation.


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