I watched a documentary recently entitled Unmistaken Child about the search for the reincarnation of a deceased Buddhist lama named Geshe Lama Konchog. I thought it would be an interesting and informative journey through Buddhism with great scenery of Nepal and surrounding area.
It left me feeling much worse about Buddhism than I had previously.
As anyone who reads this blog knows, I am no fan of religion of any stripe. Buddhism seems fairly benign overall, but this film laid bare the silliness and tremendous superstitious nonsense ubiquitous in Buddhism - like mold veins in cheese.
Firstly, the older lama who dies is cremated in a pyre and the other monks inspect the smoke direction and then the ashes. They find "relic pearls" and a footprint - although said print is undetectable by me upon a close up. This information along with a drawing of all four directions from the roof is sent to an astrologer in Taiwan for interpretation.
In case you were keeping track, that is at least four things that are nonsense compressed into one paragraph.
This - I hesitate to call it "information" - is used to aid the deceased monk's disciple in finding the reincarnation of Lama Konchog. After searching for a bit, a child is located in a poor farming village that fits the bill (that is, a kid whose father's name starts with "A" and whose village starts with "TS"). After further testing and a head shaving, the kid is brought before the Dalai Lama himself to be declared the reincarnation or not.
Now, I am not a fan of the Dalai Lama. His answers to questions seem simplistic and childish. When he was interviewed on Barbara Walters' Heaven special his answers did not impress me. Essentially they boiled down to, "Be nice and you'll get to Heaven and be reincarnated as something better, if you're a dick, you'll go to Hell and be reincarnated as one of those 'lower' animals, like a dog or something."
After checking in with the other monks about the "pearls", smoke, "footprint, and astrological reading, the Dalai Lama says that, yes, the kid is the reincarnation of Konchog. The disciple then has to ask permission from the kid's parents to take him to live at the monastery. It's heartbreaking to watch. Roger Ebert says this about it:
I know I am expected to believe the tenets of a religion on the basis of faith, not common sense, but during this film, I found that very difficult. How reliable are wind directions, the interpretation of ashes and astrological readings? Would you give over your son on such a basis? Would you trust such a chosen one as your spiritual leader?Exactly. It was hard knowing that this was presented as if to say, "Wow, look at this amazing faith and how it works", but it only depressed me. All I could think of was that this was what would it would have been like in Gone Baby Gone if Morgan Freeman had gotten to keep the kid. Sure, the kid's going to likely have a better life, but at what expense? He's not around his family and his faculties for critical thinking and reason are going to never be fostered.
Maybe that isn't a big deal, but I liked the ending to Gone Baby Gone, and there's something to be said for being right regardless of what's supposedly "better".