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Introduction to the controversy about Karmapas
A few historical points
1959 : Karmapa flees to India
Difficulties in 16th Karmapa's times
Years 1980 Through 1990
Events beginning 1992
Events during May and June 1992
Propaganda campaign
Orgyen Trinley, Situ Rinpoche's Karmapa
Events during November and December 1992 in Rumtek
Some information about Sikkim
Year 1993 - situation deteriorates in Rumtek
Recognizing the 17th Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje
Year 1994
Controversy: opposing viewpoints
Relationship between Shamar Rinpoche and Dalaï Lama
A quick glance at events from years 1995 to 1999
Year 2000
Year 2001
Chronology of Events
Bibliography and data sources
french version
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Orgyen Trinley, Situ Rinpoche's Karmapa


Orgyen Trinley arrives in Tsurphu

The unbelieveble declaration of Drubpön Dechen Rinpoche

Would Situpa have known Urgyen Trinley since 1991 ?

The Dalaï Lama officially recognizes Urgyen Trinley

Urgyen Trinley is enthroned in Tsurphu

Lobsang Geleg Rinpoche's strange tale

Orgyen Trinley arrives in Tsurphu

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.


The unbelieveble declaration of Drubpön Dechen Rinpoche

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 Rinpoche

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 rather unclear.

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 suns altogether.

Would Situpa have known Urgyen Trinley since 1991 ?

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 Rumtek

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.

The Dalaï Lama officially recognizes Urgyen Trinley

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.
(…) About the Dalai Lama's formal recognition, the document issued on July 3 by the Dharamsala Foreign Office read as if the three regents, the Shamar, Situ, and Gyaltsab Rinpoches, had been together on June 29 at the same audience with the Dalai Lama and apprised the Tibetan leader of the details concerning the incarnation. His Holiness then issued the formal confirmation letter. His words were quoted in full. The document was signed by Tashi Wangdi, a minister.

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 to say.

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 exception.

Urgyen Trinley is enthroned in Tsurphu

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 the ceremonies.

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 instead.

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 exhibited.

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 U.S.

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 China.

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.

Lobsang Geleg Rinpoche's strange tale

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.