Orgyen Trinley, Situ Rinpoche's Karmapa
On June 15, the 17th Karmapa's entry
into Tsurphu. Brought in a convoy of seven cars, the child looked rather
disoriented. There was an accident on the way and two people had been
killed. Chinese officials seemed to be calling the shots. Immediately,
they became suspicious of the Westerners present. Some two thousand Tibetans
paraded before the tulku to receive his blessing.
Two days later the boy's public appearances were abruptly cancelled. Now one could only get a blessing through a glass panel.
Akong's statements in Lhasa
Akong and Sherab were in Lhasa and that they wanted
to talk to the Westerners. Akong informed them of the events in Rumtek,
about the disagreement among the lineage holders. He showed them a copy
of the prediction letter. He also told them that Shamar Rinpoche wanted
to install another boy as Karmapa and that the regent had entered Rumtek
monastery at the head of a contingent of Indian soldiers. He then admitted
that he had given the order to shield Karmapa.
Next, Akong disclosed that there were many doubts
concerning Jamgon Rinpoche's death. Witnesses saw the brake marks, the
engine lying on the road, and the badly damaged, brand new car crashed
against a tree. There were mysterious phone calls the morning of the accident,
and a departure too early for a mechanic to check the car. Akong definitely
suspected sabotage. It would have been easy to destroy the car by simply
adding sugar or salt to the motor. The engine would seize and then catapult
itself, at high speed, out of the vehicle.
Who is Drubpoen Dechen Rinpoche
The latest hot piece was an unexpected disclosure made by Drubpön Dechen Rinpoche, the head lama in Tsurphu and one of the main figures in bringing Urgyen Trinley to Karmapa's seat.
Years before, Drubpön Dechen had approached the 16th Karmapa with an offer to travel secretly to Tibet and help rebuild the old monastery. Despite the lama's fervor, the idea did not seem to have struck an enthusiastic chord with His Holiness. Without opposing the design, Karmapa acknowledged that, frankly, he saw no future for the place.
In the end, after His Holiness had died, Drubpön
Dechen went to Tibet on Situpa's orders. His subsequent claims to have
been sent to Tsurphu by the 16th Karmapa were definitely an exaggeration.
The revelation from Drubpoen Dechen
In an interview with the Tsurphu Foundation, Drubpön
Dechen admitted that the search party for His Holiness the 17th Karmapa,
headed by his assistant, a Lama Dholmo, and armed with a copy of the prediction
letter, had actually left Tsurphu as early as April 8.
The group was dispatched despite the fact that, as
had been agreed among the four Rinpoches, no such mission should have
taken place before Jamgon Kongtrul reported his initial contacts.
The four regents had decided that not Lama Dholmo
but Jamgon Kongtrul was to make the first approach. How a local lama got
hold of a copy of the then top secret document and why he was usurping
Kongtrul's place more than two weeks before Kongtrul's tragic death was
Drubpön Dechen disclosed that Akong and Sherab,
the two regents' emissaries, personally handed over the copy of the letter
to him. At that time, though, the two couriers had no business in Tsurphu
and were not supposed to be roaming the distant stretches of their country,
certainly not with a duplicate of the letter of prophecy in their pockets.
In the same interview, Drubpön Dechen described
the different wonders that had occurred during the time of the child's
birth: among others, the sound of musical instruments had been heard for
two hours in the valley and four suns had appeared in the sky. In his
address to the Tibetans on June 12, Situ Rinpoche had mentioned only three
suns. When speaking to the Westerners minutes later, he forgot about the
It was very interesting to hear what Drubpön
Rinpoche had to say about the discovery of the boy. He acknowledged that
in 1991 Tai Situ had visited the monastery where Urgyen Trinley was a
monk. It was difficult to imagine then, that Situpa, who in 1991 alone
had recognized the rather extravagant number of a hundred and sixty incarnations
in eastern Tibet, would not have been informed about a boy whose birth
had been accompanied by such miraculous signs. After all, four suns in
the sky were not a daily occurrence, not even in Tibet.
Furthermore, the boy was believed to have taken part
in one-and-a-half months of initiations that Situpa had given in Palpung
that same year 1991.
It all looked like Situ Rinpoche had fixed his eyes
on the child long before he sat with his peers to interpret the instructions
concerning the whereabouts of this child.
On April 24, a picture of the boy was taken, and
a pick up party was being organized to bring the tulku to Tsurphu; all
this again still prior to Jamgon Kongtrul's death.
On May 17, the two regents declared publicly in Rumtek
that, since Shamar Rinpoche was away, they had to act alone and were therefore
sending Akong and Sherab on a search mission to Tibet. The two emissaries
arrived in Tsurphu in the second half of May, and a group of sixteen was
promptly sent to Kham. It was announced that Urgyen Trinley, the 17th
Karmapa, would arrive in Tsurphu on June 20. He arrived on the 15th.
If the group of sixteen had indeed been the initial
discovery team, then they had been given at best twenty days to complete
a round-trip journey from central to eastern Tibet, to locate the boy
in the large, nomad area of Kham, and to negotiate with the parents for
his delivery to Tsurphu.
All travel was on the one-lane, treacherous, gravel roads of the high Tibetan Plateau. It was a technically impossible task.
Although the interpretation of the prediction letter
was clear as to the name of the family and the general region in the east
of the country, this was, of course, no address. There must have existed
at least one earlier search team, which was exactly what Drupoen Dechen
had carelessly disclosed in his interview. More than that, Lama Dholmo's
group, which had set off on April 8, was probably looking for somebody
Situ Rinpoche knew fairly well, as he seemed to have met the child at
least in 1991, if not before. The group that was dispatched from Tsurphu
at the end of May was merely a welcoming committee. They were well aware
of where to go to collect the boy.
Another thing also became clear, Situpa, Gyaltsab,
Akong, and the others were going hand-in-hand with the Communist Chinese.
Their secret plan to exclude Shamarpa and install their candidate in Tsurphu
without his knowledge was no secret to the Beijing government. They couldn't
have accomplished such a mission without the Communists' official blessing
and active help; the two regents had a lot to thank the Politburo for.
Urgyen Trinley is said to go to
From the very moment he had announced his discovery
of the child, Situ Rinpoche had been promising his followers that Karmapa
would be, in no time, officially installed in Rumtek. His departure for
India was said to be only a matter of days, maybe weeks. After some time,
however, with no sign of Urgyen Trinley outside Tibet, the weeks extended
into months and later the months became years. Today, unable to deny the
obvious, Tai Situ and his followers are discretely admitting that Urgyen
Trinley will have to remain a guest in China for a somewhat more extended
period of time.
All these assurances were wishful thinking. Having such a prize in their hands, the Communists would not even dream of letting the boy out. It was a precious opportunity to weaken the Dalai Lama and once again split the Tibetans at the time when the Panchen Lama was not available to perform this historical role.
Situ Rinpoche was deceiving himself if he imagined
that the Chinese would simply deliver the child to freedom in Rumtek so
he could perform his religious duties. It was astonishing that he could
not see that his candidate was to remain a prisoner in a golden cage.
Unless, of course, the regent's disguised objective was to keep Karmapa
locked in occupied Tibet.
Whatever the truth, expectations seemed to be running
high with Situpa's people. Woodstock monastery had already started to
collect funds for His Holiness' visit to the United States, which was
announced as imminent. As for the boy himself, he had probably little
idea what was really happening. But even if he had been allowed to speak,
most likely his opinion would have meant little, as obviously he was just
a pawn in other people's games.
On June 29, the Dalai Lama had given his formal recognition of Urgyen Trinley as the 17th Karmapa.
Only days after he had given his verbal approval in
Rio, he was fully conscious that the Kagyu teachers were not speaking
with such a unanimous voice as Tai Situ and Gyaltsab had pretended. But
once he had given his consent, no matter how informal, His Holiness wouldn't
retreat. It would have been impossible for him to claim that his secretary
made a mistake or, even worse, to admit that he himself had maybe erred.
The Dalai Lama couldn't be wrong!
And so, everybody else acceded because the Dalai
Lama had done so, which he did because he was told that everybody else
had agreed-a true riddle for logicians.
In reality, though, the two regents had called on
the Dalai Lama in the morning, and Shamar Rinpoche had done so in the
afternoon of the same day. They also probably had very different things
Shamarpa disclosed that he had other clues as to
the identity of the 17th Karmapa and requested His Holiness to examine
these clues when the time was ripe. According to an interview for the
Tibetan Review that the senior regent would give in August, the Dalai
Lama consented to his request.
Dalaï Lama's vision
Another peculiarity, which had been distributed as unmistakable proof that the process was legitimate, was the Dalai Lama's vision of Karmapa's rebirth. The Tibetan leader was said to have shared his experience with Situ Rinpoche, and the latter mentioned it during his talk to the Westerners in Rumtek on June.
In his vision, His Holiness saw a beautiful place
with no trees, surrounded by mountains. Streams were flowing on both sides,
and there were no people and no animals either. He heard the sound "Karmapa"
in the air and was very happy when he woke up. While nobody would dispute
the auspicious fact that the Dalai Lama had indeed had such a vision,
his description was only evidence that what he saw was most certainly
located in his native Tibet. Ninety percent of the country could very
well fit such a picture. However, this was no confirmation that Urgyen
Trinley was the 17th Karmapa. Most Tibetan children were born in surroundings
similar to those described by the Dalai Lama, and Urgyen Trinley was no
On the 27th of September, Urgyen Trinley was officially installed in Tsurphu as the 17th Karmapa.
Members of Rumtek monastery and members of the Karmapa
Charitable Trust did not approve of the procedure. Kunzig Shamarpa, historically
second after the Karmapa in the Kagyu spiritual hierarchy, did not attend
Beijing had officially recognized Karmapa two months
before, on the 29th of June, bestowing the title of "Living Buddha"
on him. The Chinese recognition coincided with the Dalai Lama's formal
approval, which happened in Dharamsala on the same day. The title itself
was a Communist synonym for cooperating lama.
Akong tulku also joined the ranks of living Buddhas,
a fact that was tactfully disclosed in the Tibetan Review, a Chinese propaganda
periodical offered free at their embassies around the world. The same
magazine informed its readers that the living Buddha from Scotland had
been appointed to the government of the Tibetan Autonomous Region or TAR,
as the Chinese smartly call it. The Communist propaganda machine didn't
fail to mention that the 17th Karmapa would become an individual loyal
to his socialist motherland.
The widely announced instalment in Rumtek did not
happen. As it became clear that Urgyen Trinley would not be allowed out
of Tibet, at least not for now, the two regents had to settle for Tsurphu
Watching the ceremony from a videocassette officially
distributed by China, we were at once taken aback by the high profile
of the Chinese officials. The actual enthronement was in fact preceded
by their speeches, a presentation of a letter from Beijing-the government's
seal of approval on the incarnation and the enthronement-and by the exchanges
of the traditional white scarves and gifts. The two Rinpoches seemed to
be going out of their way to accommodate their Beijing visitors. The four
Chinese gentlemen, neatly attired in dark suits, didn't so much as cast
a glance upon the child they were recognizing. To say they showed a distant
interest in what was going on would be an overstatement. Their main concern
was to bring their government's document to everybody's attention. A less
informed spectator might have been excused for thinking that maybe this
was the famous prediction letter, for the paper was being continually
The shrine room was overflowing with visitors from
all over Tibet. The Tibetans, working for the Chinese-backed government
in Lhasa, arrived in full force. There were many important Kagyu Rinpoches
from Nepal and India and also the occasional Westerner, mainly from the
The child himself looked quite distracted, just as
a seven-year-old would be under such circumstances. He couldn't sit still
for more than a moment, obviously had no clue as to what was happening-as
he was constantly being whispered to whenever the ceremony required even
a minimal level of his participation-and towards the end got clearly irritated.
Again probably nothing unusual for a boy his age coming from a nomad family.
Sherab Ling's newsletter's claim that "the young Karmapa conducted
himself with solemn dignity and tolerance" was in itself very generous.
There was certainly a lot of tolerance of the young boy's behavior; his
solemn dignity seemed to be missing altogether.
The picture of the child that emerged from other
film clips was even more disturbing. Looking rather out of place on his
throne and in his gold brocades, clearly uncomfortable with the rituals
being performed around him, he also displayed an intolerant character
streak. Quickly annoyed, he would perpetually throw things at whomever
entered his room. The grimaces on his face showed plain anger rather than
a boyish desire to tease his elders. The happy family reunion filmed on
the roof of the monastery was abruptly brought to an end when the young
boy dismissed his parents and many siblings with a proud gesture. If this
was the new Karmapa's official image that was being projected for the
outside world, we were appearing as a peculiar religious group, who worshipped
a badly behaved seven-year-old-and all this under the patronage of Communist
The following day, according to the bulletin from
Sherab Ling, "30,000 people filed by in an orderly fashion to receive
blessings from the 17th Karmapa." China's Tibet, a quarterly review
coming out of Beijing, put the number slightly higher, at 40,000. Having
seen the child on film, we harbored no uncertainty that the task of blessing
even thirty individuals would have constituted a serious challenge to
his concentration. As to the colossal number of thirty or even forty thousand
that were said to have paraded before Karmapa, without any prejudice,
we honestly couldn't imagine how the seven-year-old could have possibly
managed that. Maybe the editors of the above periodicals got slightly
carried away and added a few zeros in their reports.
A curious account was sent to all the centers in
those days. Of unclear origin, the name of Lobsang Geleg Rinpoche, who
signed the two-page release, was unknown to all. But even though he hadn't
quite achieved fame yet, the venerable Lobsang Geleg had, without fail,
a lot of interesting things to share.
According to his written statement, the important ceremony in Tsurphu was in fact preceded by rather inauspicious events both in Rumtek and in Tibet.
During the time when Urgyen Trinley had officially been brought to his seat, a golden banner had fallen down from the protector's shrine in Rumtek. Also one of the cars in his entourage had skidded and turned over on the dangerous road, killing two passengers.
At the enthronement ceremony itself, some people
waiting outside had been injured by a boulder that had rolled down from
a mountain slope beside the monastery. Situ Rinpoche's younger brother,
having started a scuffle with the police, had been arrested and held for
several hours. Finally, the monks, in an attempt to manage the crowd,
began fighting with the other participants, and a rather chaotic atmosphere
seemed to have set in.
All such happenings were not what one would expect
to accompany Karmapa's recognition and enthronement. Of course, we had
yet to see who the knowledgeable Lobsang Geleg was before we could fully
accept his words. But the events described were also being confirmed by
others, eye witnesses in Tibet, and it became clear that the ceremony
in Tsurphu wasn't as dignified a function as was officially maintained.