Reincarnated Lama goes off the rails

Jun 1, 2009
Rachel Helyer-Donaldson

Osel Hita Torres, aka Lama Tenzin Osel Rinpoche, now a film student, says he was forced to live a lie

The Spanish boy handpicked by the Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of a spiritual leader has renounced his monastic life and spoken out against the monks who worshipped him.

Osel Hita Torres was a 14-month-old toddler when the Dalai Lama recognised him as the reincarnation of a recently deceased spiritual teacher, Lama Yeshe, in 1986. The "peaceful, meditative" baby - as his biography on the website of the Foundation to Preserve the Mahayana Tradition, which has 130 teaching centres around the world, describes him - was chosen over nine other candidates and "enthroned". Renamed Lama Tenzin Osel Rinpoche, the boy guru was taken away from his family in Granada and installed in a monastery in southern India. Growing up, he was only allowed to socialise with other reincarnated souls - although for a brief period he lived next to the actor Richard Gere's cabin.

Now 24, Torres - who is one of only a handful of Westerners to be recognised as a Tibetan Buddhist tulku, or reincarnation - has rebelled against his spiritual upbringing. While still revered by the Buddhist community, Torres now lives in Madrid where he studies film.

A Jimi Hendrix fan who sports long hair and wears baggy trousers, Torres performed at last year’s Burning Man Festival, the annual avant-garde art event held in the Nevada desert.

Torres said his childhood was "like living a lie", in an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Mundo. "They took me away from my family and stuck me in a medieval situation in which I suffered a great deal," he said.

His monastic upbringing meant an adolescence deprived of television, football and girls, he said. His first disco at 18 was a shock, he said. "I was amazed to watch everyone dance. What were all those people doing, bouncing, stuck to one another, enclosed in a box full of smoke?"

Movies were also forbidden, bar one film - The Golden Child starring Eddie Murphy, about a kidnapped boy lama who has magical powers. "I never felt like that boy," he said.

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