Feature

The reluctant lama

Ashoka Mukpo was 8 months old when his stepfather announced that Mukpo was the reincarnation of a famous Tibetan lama.

Ashoka Mukpo never wanted to be a reincarnated Buddhist master, said Joseph Hooper in Details. Mukpo was brought up in Colorado by his British mother and her Tibetan husband, Chögyam Trungpa, the founder of a hippified Buddhist movement. Mukpo wasn’t Trungpa’s child—his mother became pregnant after a fling with Trungpa’s physician—but the holy man raised him as his own son. And when he was 8 months old, Trungpa declared that his stepson was the reincarnation of the great Tibetan lama Khamnyon Rinpoche. Growing up, Mukpo thought this meant he was marked for great things, but it also made him feel like a freak. “When you’re 15, you can’t say, ‘Dude, I’m a reincarnated spiritual master from the hills of Tibet’ without people thinking you’re weird as f---.” He visited Tibet at age 22 and was treated like a saint. “I had old ladies coming up to me and crying. Someone put a sick baby in my face and asked me to blow on it. I did. I’m not going to be the guy who says, ‘This whole thing doesn’t make sense for me, sorry!’” Mukpo, 31, eventually stepped off the spiritual path, and now works as a human-rights campaigner. The Tibetan community hasn’t pressured him to resume his old role. “It’s easy for them to write me off. I’m the white guy.”

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