Reluctant Lama: The Enthronement of Osel Hita
A Spanish toddler identified as the reincarnation of a revered Buddhist lama spent his entire childhood in an Indian monastery. But at the age of 18 he returned to his family in Spain. Still hailed as a teacher, he is more comfortable on the beaches of Ibiza.
When he was two, Osel Hita Torres was enthroned as a reincarnated Tibetan Buddhist lama.
He was dressed in robes and a yellow hat. Grown men prostrated themselves in front of him and asked for his blessing.
No-one was allowed to show him affection unless he initiated it. He had his own special cutlery.
"It must have been tempting to take advantage of that sometimes and act badly," I say to him now.
"Yes," he replies. "I was a tyrant and an obnoxious spoiled brat. I was pretty bossy, let’s say."
Even by Tibetan Buddhist standards, two was a young age for enthronement, and Osel was not even Tibetan - he is Spanish.
We are speaking in Ibiza, in the courtyard to his mother’s villa. Osel is 27 and no longer a lama.
He has swapped the rigours of monastic life for playing the drums on the beach, and chilling to trance music. He is not sure he is still a Buddhist.
Because of his bad experiences with the media, he hardly ever gives interviews. But he is relaxed and charming to me, and philosophical about his extraordinary history.
He was born in Granada, the fifth child of Maria Torres.
Maria had converted to Buddhism and was a follower of Thubten Yeshe, a charismatic and extrovert Tibetan lama who was travelling the West in the 1970s.
Yeshe was no ordinary lama. He visited Disneyland and was half in love with Western culture.
His young Western disciples were drawn by his Eastern exoticism. Some believed he could read their minds.
But Lama Yeshe had heart problems, and he died in 1984 in a Los Angeles hospital, aged 49.
His followers were distraught. A few months later, Maria became pregnant with Osel.
In Tibetan Buddhism, lamas who achieved a high level of enlightenment are able to choose what happens after their death - whether to be reincarnated and, if so, where.
The conviction grew among Lama Yeshe’s followers and former colleagues that Yeshe had chosen to be reincarnated in Spain, in little Osel.
They detected in Osel a certain meditative self-containment. The way he acted reminded them of Yeshe. A baby like Osel appeared in another lama’s dreams.
Osel was taken to India for testing, where he picked out Lama Yeshe’s former possessions, including his sunglasses. The Dalai Lama confirmed that Osel was Lama Yeshe’s reincarnation.
Osel went to live in a monastery in southern India and had little contact with his parents. It was a strange way to treat a toddler but Osel feels no resentment.
"For them it wasn’t something negative, it was a huge opportunity they were giving the kid, like he’s going to Yale or Oxford."
I met Maria at a Buddhist temple on Ibiza. I put it to her that her name is appropriate for the mother of a God. She does not reject the idea. "At the beginning, yes, it was something like this."
The fact that Lama Yeshe had come back in her son was good news.
"It was a reason for celebrating. It made me feel very special, the fact that he had chosen me as his mother. I thought that I was not going to have any more suffering during my life, just because of that. I wanted to share my son with the rest of the world, because it’s not my son."
But did she not miss him? She says she was not clingy.
"Maybe because I don’t really need to have my children by my side all my time, it was something I could deal with very easily."
But having a lama in the family was disruptive for her other five children as they all travelled the world, trying to stay reasonably close to Osel when he was very small.
Osel’s Western disciples barely saw him as a little child at all. They detected in him wisdom, compassion and a detachment from emotional needs that allowed him to develop on a spiritual path - and stopped him missing his parents.
"When you were treated in this very deferential way, how much did you think to yourself secretly ’This is crazy’?" I ask him.
"For me it was completely normal," he says.
"But at a certain point in my life, around 15-16, I didn’t feel comfortable with it...
When he was nine, he sent a cassette tape to his mother where he pleaded to be allowed to come back to Spain.
Instead his father, Paco, went to live in the monastery with him, and his younger brother, Kunkyen, went to join him as a monk.
"When I turned 16-17, I was dying to get out."
Read the full article at: bbc.co.uk
The Reluctant Lama will be broadcast on Friday 28 September at 11:00 BST on BBC Radio 4.