The Lower Quote, As If You Didn't Know, Is By Richard Dawkins, Son.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Unmistaken Child

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".

4 Barbaric Yawps:

At 18/1/11 4:19 pm, Anonymous Yojimbo said...

"his faculties for critical thinking and reason are going to never be fostered"

To be fair, they probably weren't going to be anyway. Still, this sort of coopting a child's life, especially based on such a poor excuse for reasoning, is appalling.

The Dalai Lama impressed me in one way, when he said that if science and religion are in conflict, religion must change, but at the end of the day his is still about superstition and curtailing critical thought.

 
At 18/1/11 9:56 pm, Blogger Heathen Mike said...

Yes, I agree, with your point re: his critical thinking faculties. That's why I went back and forth so much - and still do - with my opinion of what happened.

I remember that quote from the Dalai Lama. My problem is that he clearly doesn't mean it when he uses such piffle to make life-changing decisions for others.

Basically I agree with everything you said. :)

 
At 13/7/13 1:23 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The film is based on reincarnation which you probably don't believe, so why did you watch it?
If all the processes of finding the reincarnation child had been "perfectly" reasonable, would you believe in reincarnation? I bet you still would not.

Albert Einstein accepted that only Buddhism has charasteristics of a cosmic religion. It's a phlisofical thing which most people do not understand. There are some questions that science will NEVER be able to answer. Your existence and happiness are simply some atoms/chemical reactions, what's the point of living?

 
At 14/7/13 8:45 pm, Blogger Heathen Mike said...

I'm not supposed to watch movies about things I don't believe in? If there was good, actual repeatable, testable evidence regarding reincarnation, yes, I'd seriously consider it.

Albert Einstein was an amazing physicist, but reincarnation and theology was outside of his scope of practice. Isaac Newton was the greatest mind of all time, and yet he believed in alchemy. So who cares?

Some questions will never be able to be answered by science, so what's your point? Don't keep trying? Stop applying reason and logic to problems? Get over yourself.

My life has purpose and joy and happiness in spite of being chemical reactions and the banging together of atoms. Life is what you make of it. Science is awesome and it shows where people are making mistakes - reincarnation seems pretty plainly to be bullshit. The end.

 

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