Nearly twenty years ago I saw a television programme details of which had a profound impact upon me. I think the subject of the broadcast was the fraught relationship between the Chinese Communist government and Tibetan Buddhism and how the Chinese rulers were attempting to control the selection of a high-ranking lama. Such lamas are each believed to be a reincarnation of a previous lama and it was the method of divining or determining the "correct" individual which struck me most vividly. Two or three monks set off on a journey through the kingdom carrying some of the deceased lama's personal possessions which appeared to be easily portable items. These were, in turn, presented to young boys- largely toddlers if I remember rightly- whose reactions to the objects were then carefully observed. On the basis of the appropriate reaction of apparent familiarity or interest the individual was deemed to be the reincarnated lama. He was subsequently taken away to train for the post.
It seemed to me at once bizarrely strange but also curiously "familiar". As the saffron-robed searchers reverently laid out the treasures before each little boy I felt myself witnessing something remarkably similar to events in Bethlehem some two thousand years ago. Of course there are people who argue that the Infancy narratives in the Gospels are merely the Evangelists mythologising!
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