MINNEAPOLIS -- It's morning time and a little boy with a shaved head and a face shaped like the moon chants a Tibetan prayer.
His high-pitched voice echoes inside the Columbia Heights, Minn., bedroom that his father has transformed into a lavish prayer room. In here, the 4-year-old forsakes his cartoons and toys to study scripture and learn to pray the Buddhist way.
Big for his age, he looks bigger still perched on an ornate chair draped in crimson and saffron robes. "Only for lamas," explains his father, Dorje Tsegyal, sitting cross-legged at his son's feet.
Jalue Dorjee, you see, is believed to be no ordinary boy.
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According to the highest authorities of the Tibetan Buddhist order, he is the reincarnation of the speech, mind and body of a lama, or spiritual guru, who died in Switzerland six years ago. Jalue is said to be the eighth appearance of the original lama, born in 1655.
His discovery in 2009 is considered an honor and a blessing for his working-class parents. But it comes with a hefty price. Jalue (pronounced JAH-loo) is their only child -- their everything. Last month, he turned 5, a critical marker on his predestined path. In just five more years, he will leave the familiarity of his parents' home in Minnesota to live and study in a monastery in India.
Jalue is believed to be one of a very few American tulkus -- or reincarnated lamas.
Still, the finding comes amid some controversy over the way tulkus are being identified, as some Tibetan scholars question why their number has been increasing -- to thousands worldwide.
But Jalue's parents are faithful believers, and they look past any doubters to the work they must do to prepare their son for his destiny.
The thought of letting Jalue go pains his mother, but she consoles herself that when the time comes, she will probably be accustomed to the idea.
From the time a new life first began to stir inside her in 2006, Dechen Wangmo said she sensed there was something special about this child.
He was peaceful inside her body. She carried him with ease. She never felt sick, not even in the mornings.
And there were those dreams.
One night, an elephant appeared with several little ones around it, she said. They merged into the small prayer room in the family home. Once inside, they vanished.
Tsegyal, too, remembers having vivid, symbolic dreams at the time.
So when a highly respected lama from India came to visit the Twin Cities Tibetan community, Tsegyal told him about the dreams. That night, the lama had magical dreams of his own, according to Tsegyal, (pronounced Say-jull). The lama told him he saw huge tigers, one in each room of the family home. Robust tigers are a good omen and a sign of strength and protection, according to Tibetan Buddhist custom.
Before Jalue was born, the family asked the lama to perform a practice known as "divination," which is used by lamas in Tibetan Buddhism to advise people on important matters. This lama performed a divination using two arrows and prayer, Tsegyal recalled.
On Jan. 6, 2009, a letter arrived bearing the seal of the greatest spiritual leader of the Tibetan diaspora. The Dalai Lama officially recognized Jalue as the reincarnation of the lama known as Taksham Nueden Dorjee. In a second letter, the Dalai Lama gave Jalue a formal lama name -- Tenzin Gyurme Trinley Dorjee.
The boy was now 3. His life was about to change.
His parents timed his first haircut to the Dalai Lama's visit to the Tibetan community in Madison, Wis., in May 2010. The family traveled to Madison and the Dalai Lama did the honors, cutting a lock of the boy's hair.