A Second Opinion: Reincarnation Intrigue in Spain

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Osel Hita Torres: I was always saying that I was a Buddhist, but then
I realized I really didn’t understand what that meant

by Mary Foran

Do you believe that you’ve somehow, somewhere, lived before? Do you have flashes of insight that you can’t account for from you life experiences? Were you considered “an old soul” from childhood?

Then perhaps you should look into the Eastern belief in reincarnation–the soul’s return to rebirth into another time and body…

A mysterious philosophy indeed! But Spanish Buddhists exist, and have even been written up in El Pais, that major Spanish newspaper.

In an article in Believermag.com in February of 2013, by Tim McGirk, titled “Reincarnation in Exile”, McGirk tells the tale of how he sought out a reincarnated Spanish Buddhist lama for an interview.

The three villages in the Poquiera Valley, Granada: Pampaneira, Bubión, Capileira

As the story goes, writer Tim McGirk traveled to the mountains above Granada with his photographer Derek to see this lama for himself. The four-year old Spanish boy lived in Bubion, a village in the Alpujarras Mountains near Granada. The boy, Osel Hita Torres, had been recognized as the reincarnation of a famous Tibetan lama.

McGirk had been posted in Madrid as a foreign correspondent in the late 1980’s when Spain was still very much a Roman Catholic country. The article which piqued McGirk’s interest in the subject had appeared in the Spanish newspaper El Pais.

Bubion was hard to reach, with snow and black ice glazing the road. The two stopped at a mountain inn for espresso and cognac (a typical Spanish breakfast at the time) and Derek pulled out a matador’s cap which he intended to pose the boy with to prove he was a Spanish child.

A villager directed the two foreigners to two stone cottages that Western followers of the late Lama Thubten Yeshe, including Osel’s parents, had turned into a Tibetan Buddhist retreat. There was Osel, age 4, and dressed in burgundy lama robes, tussling with a Spanish nun, who wanted him to put his mittens on instead of trying to save a cabbage plant in the garden from snow by brushing it off the leaves with cold, bare, blue little hands.

McGirk, to stall his photographer friend from taking the matador picture, said to the little boy: “Vamos! Come on! I’ll race you!” and the two ran along the mountain ridge in the powdery snow, laughing and having a grand old time.

Wars intervened in McGirk’s life as he covered conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kashmir, Sri Lanka and the Middle East, and became “exhausted from writing about how people were shot, tortured, and blown up in the name of religion.” He still wondered what had happened to the little laughing boy, who was by then a young man of 27. ‘Had he fulfilled his promise as a rinpoche (also known as a tulku), a “precious one”, an enlightened being who continues his teaching from one lifetime to the next?’

The Sera Monastery at Bylakuppe, Mysore, India

According to Buddhist lore, there are over a thousand other monks and laymen, along with Osel, who are revered as the incarnations of past teachers, such as the supreme teacher of all, the Dalai Lama. When the Chinese Red Army invaded Tibet in 1950, the lamas had to live in exile, “exposed to all of the twenty-first century’s dazzling temptations.”

Life wasn’t easy for Osel, either. He was shipped off to a monastery in Nepal, then to Sera Je Monastery, near Mysore, in southern India. His parents divorced, and Osel left the Monastery and his robes, and went to a boarding school in Canada. He went on to study filmmaking at the Complutense University in Madrid. He frequented the island of Ibiza, had a girlfriend, and taught once at an Italian retreat center, saying he could no longer call himself a Buddhist. He said: “I was always saying that I was a Buddhist, but then I realized I really didn’t understand what that meant.”

He preferred to think of himself as an “agnostic-scientific-spiritual.”

Osel became press-shy after a sensational interview in a Spanish magazine in 2009, and since then has politely refused  McGirk’s requests for further interviews.

Buddha teaching the Four Noble Truths

McGirk did speak with Nicholas Ribush, director of the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive, who said,”We don’t really understand the workings of reincarnation, only that there’s a continuity of consciousness.”

Meditate on that conundrum for a while, and wonder at the possibilities that life has to offer!


Featured image (Osel Hita) by Anouk Burel, PD via Wikipedia*
Bubion by Berjerie, CC BY-SA3.0
Sera Monastery by Tar-ba-gan, CC BY-SA 3.0 cropped
Buddha, PD

*Wikipedia: “This work is free and may be used by anyone for any purpose. If you wish to use this content, you do not need to request permission as long as you follow any licensing requirements mentioned on this page. The Wikimedia Foundation has received an e-mail confirming that the copyright holder has approved publication under the terms mentioned on this page.”


About Mary
Born in Seattle, WA, U.S.A., and a graduate of the University of Oregon in Spanish and General Literature, Mary lived in Madrid, Spain during the 80s, a period in Spanish history which became known as “The Transition”. She taught English as a Foreign Language, and worked as Managing Editor of the Guidepost when it was still a weekly print publication. She did a stint on Spanish Foreign Radio and Radio Cadena, and corresponded for a Financial Times of London newsletter. She still has ties to Spain, loves the people and the country, and has great hopes for the future!