The first signs of a conflict brewing within the lineage appeared directly after Karmapa passed away in 1981. Forty-five days later, on the December 20, 1981, the official cremation ceremony brought several thousand of Karmapa's followers to his headquarters. During this significant event, while His Holiness' body-which had shrunk to the size of a baby-was consumed by the shooting flames, suddenly a "blue-black ball" rolled out of an opening in the pyre. It came to rest on the northern side of the cremation place, towards Tibet, where Lopon Chechoo-Karmapa's confidant-and two other lamas were standing.
The unusual phenomenon created a
good deal of excitement and speculation. Nobody knew exactly what to make
of the mysterious object, and the puzzled lamas ran for advice to Kalu
Rinpoche, the oldest and by assumption the wisest in the gathering. After
carefully examining the intricate "ball," the senior Kalu nodded
in knowledgeable approval but remained as perplexed as the rest of the
illustrious assembly. Everybody exchanged bewildered glances and helplessly
waited for some answer. By now people thought the object resembled a human
organ, so Lopon Chechoo had it placed high on the side of the Stupa.
At that moment, Situ Rinpoche emerged
from the adjacent room with offerings to be burnt in the fire. He noticed
the commotion but obviously had no clue as to what was happening. Seeing
the baffled faces around him and the round lump high on a steel plate,
he took the plate in his hands and, amid much pomp and circumstance, disappeared
with his new possession into the main shrine room. Later that night, operating
on a less ceremonial note, he quietly transferred the object to his private
quarters where he kept it closeted away.
Three days later, a big Kagyu conference took place in Rumtek. As senior lamas of the lineage sat next to each other in the hall of the institute, Situ Rinpoche rose from his chair and addressed the distinguished gathering of traditional Tibetan Rinpoches in English. He first disclosed that what he had secured in his room was, in actual fact, Karmapa's heart. "The heart flew from the north door of the cremation pyre and landed in my palm," he proudly confessed, exposing, for everyone to admire, his right palm. "It now belongs to me," he concluded. He then announced he would build a two-to-three-foot stupa of solid gold in Sherab Ling, his monastery in the western Himalayas, to house the precious relic. The lamas looked impassively at Situpa talking to them in English, unable to make out a single word of his speech. The few Westerners present gaped at the speaker in astonishment. With satisfaction, Tai Situ scanned the silent assembly and sat back in his seat, not showing the slightest inclination to render his historic message into Tibetan.
"Rinpoche, you should speak in
Tibetan," Shamarpa's voice resounded in the packed hall. Not informed
about the meeting, Shamar tulku had arrived halfway through his peer's
sermon, just in time to hear how the heart had sailed from the pyre into
Situpa's palm. He must have at once realized that Tai Situ was planning
to carry away the precious relic to Sherab Ling and nobody was going to
stop him. The elderly lamas, having been offered an explanation in a foreign
tongue, were kept nicely in the dark. With no time to lose, Shamarpa kindly
invited his peer to repeat in Tibetan what he had stated only a moment
before in English. Visibly ill at ease, Tai Situ rose for the second time.
"Shamar Rinpoche has rightly reminded me that I forgot the Tibetan,"
he acknowledged and recounted the story in his native dialect.
Enter Damcho Yongdu, the combative,
Rumtek's old general secretary. Situpa's sudden rise to custodian of Karmapa's
heart was as much news to him as it clearly was to the rest of the assemblage.
Less than impressed by the biased version of events from the cremation
ceremony, and in no mood to let the unusual relic slip out of Rumtek,
Damcho Yongdu boldly declared that the heart had not flown into anybody's
palm, definitely not into Situpa's. He then rallied his forces to challenge
Sherab Ling's bid. Speaking on behalf of the Rumtek administration, he
pledged funds to erect-if need be-a five-foot gold stupa. As caretaker
of Karmapa's seat, he firmly demanded that all items that have to do with
the welfare and future prosperity of the lineage be left, in keeping with
His Holiness' wishes, in Rumtek. Without waiting for any more surprises,
the old man lead a procession to Situpa's room and quickly removed the
relic from the shelf. His resolute action, clear reasoning, and decisive
outbidding of Situpa's offer carried the day. Karmapa's heart was allowed
to remain in Rumtek, awaiting the promised gold stupa to house it. As
it later turned out, Damcho Yongdu made good on his promise. Today, a
stupa of solid gold-though only a foot high-rules over Rumtek from the
first floor of the monastery.
What was disturbing about the whole
incident was not so much the tug of war over Karmapa's heart-this was
understandable in view of the extraordinary nature of the relic-but the
conscious distortion of facts adopted by a venerable lineage holder. Situ
Rinpoche's version of how the relic came into his hands was, at best,
a vague and murky rendering of the truth and had certainly stretched the
goodwill and imagination of the participants in the ceremony to the limit.
For as eyewitnesses put it years later, the only reason why the heart
came into Situpa's hands was simply because he snatched it from the side
of the stupa and scooted off with it unchallenged. At that time, however,
nobody dared confront a high lama with a lie. It was not yet possible
Even more disturbing was the fact that Situpa's backers allowed this visible deceit to grow unhindered. After years of intense campaigning and agitation, the story of Situpa prophetically receiving and carrying away the relic would achieve the status of holy proof that he was indeed the senior peer of the lineage, selected by Karmapa himself to bring forth his next incarnation.
Having failed to get hold of Karmapa's
heart, Situ Rinpoche requested to take possession of Karmapa's practice
book instead. He reasoned that his monastery needed a special blessing
from his teacher and a book that Karmapa used to read every day was just
the thing he had been looking for. This time, the old secretary was on
full guard. As years later Shamar Rinpoche would disclose in an interview
with the author of this book, Damcho Yongdu strongly confronted Situpa's
new fancy. "Rinpoche, don't give him the book," the old man
argued to Shamarpa. "He is going to produce a false prediction letter
about the next Karmapa out of it." The charge sounded largely overdone,
if not totally insane, but, nonetheless, Tai Situ got nowhere with his
lobbying and, eventually, had to leave Rumtek empty-handed. Karmapa's
belongings stayed at his seat.
The immediate months and years that
succeeded Karmapa's death brought a sense of profound grief and loss to
his students. At the same time, their teacher's departure became a source
of great energy and self-reliance for some in the West. On the eastern
front, however, despite the pervading feeling of sorrow, several of the
Rinpoches began, slowly and cautiously, to break ranks with Rumtek. Although
they owed their fame outside Tibet to Karmapa, the longing for their old
country proved a stronger force than reason and loyalty to their teacher.
When looking back, they could still recall how every high tulku-absolute
master of his monastery-used to hold sway over neighbouring valleys and
often reigned undisputed over whole regions of the country. Their present
condition was but a shadow of their former splendor. Following the urge
to revive such small kingdoms, the émigré lamas started
to lay plans for their own hierarchical organizations in exile. Those
designs must have been born as much out of a desperate yearning for the
old order as out of a basic ignorance about the new realities outside
High and low, young and old, most
Tibetan lamas displayed this blind tendency to duplicate their former
power structures in the new, foreign environment. At the same time, they
showed an irrepressible appetite for portions of each other's work. Case
in point here were the ill-devised attempts of several Kagyu teachers
to cut a piece out of Karmapa's cake while ardently claiming to work in
his name. This was first exemplified by the learned Thrangu Rinpoche who
established his own Thrangu-Ling groups in Hong Kong and Malaysia.
On December 21, 1981 , at the big
Kagyu meeting after Karmapa's cremation , Damcho Yongdu, the old general
secretary, proposed that Kunzig Shamarpa, (historically the second most
important dignitary in the lineage after Karmapa) , as well as Tai Situpa,
Jamgon Kongtrul and Goshir Gyaltsab, close disciples of the 16th Karmapa
, stand together, in Karmapa's absence, at the helm of the lineage. these
four Regents are then chosen as the group regency, or individually, as
a regent. He entrusted them with the task of finding and delivering Karmapa's
seventeenth incarnation. From the historical point of view, this new scheme
was a total innovation. A group regency had never existed in the tradition
of the Karma Kagyu. Also, a four-person body in charge of Karmapa's recognition
was a curious novelty. The Rinpoches, however, accepted the proposal,
expressing their sincere desire to fulfill the 16th Karmapa's wishes.
In 1982, Damcho Yongdu, the general
secretary of Rumtek, passed away. A colorful personality and clear embodiment
of the old order-his autocratic style and stormy temper won him few followers
even when it came to the most die-hard and conservative Khampas. In Karmapa's
absence, few amongst the Kagyus were better equipped to bring the school
in line with the standards of the 20th century than Topga Yulgyal, a master
of meditation trained in his skills during the days in Tsurphu. Appointed
in 1968 by the 16th Karmapa as the next general secretary and already
savoring the bitter taste of public office, he formally took the reins
of governor after the death of Damcho Yongdu.
The state of affairs left behind in Rumtek was little short of chaotic. Accountable to none and wielding absolute power, Damcho Yongdu had reigned like the king that he was, with little regard for the opinion of fellow officials and even less concern for the voice of Karmapa's followers. Modern norms of governing, which incorporate a high dose of control over those exercising authority, were alien concepts to his medieval mentality. Displaying an aversion to public records, he eluded even the most remote type of accounting and kept all financial matters away from the eyes of the monastery's patrons.
When the incoming team approached
the old secretary's family to take over Rumtek's assets and inspect its
financial records, a major scandal erupted. Topga Yulgyal, flanked by
his assistants, presented himself at the door of his predecessor's imposing
house with the intention of assuming control of the treasury. The new
team was anxious to have a look at Karmapa's funds that the late secretary
had so far managed alone. Rumtek had grown, over the years, into a large
institution, and each day it needed a handsome injection of cash to stay
afloat. The present administration had no time to spare-the money was
After ten long minutes of waiting,
eventually, the late secretary's widow emerged from the residence and
solemnly handed over a tiny but expensive looking box. As more minutes
elapsed and it become clear that nothing else would follow the intricate
item, the new governors peeked inside the box and, to their complete surprise,
discovered a "staggering" amount of
thirty thousand Indian
Rupees (publisher's note: about € 760 or US$ 700). The situation
bordered on absurdity. That was all there was, the honorable relatives
claimed. Not a single rupee more. The coffers were otherwise empty. Damcho
Yongdu's widow professed ignorance and little understanding. Not at all
convinced, the shocked administrators gaped at the handful of notes and
suddenly realized that Rumtek was on the verge of bankruptcy. With the
monastery's reserves totalling thirty thousand rupees and a little box,
they could probably run the place for another couple of hours. The big
project in Delhi, which was just getting off the ground, also required
a serious infusion of funds. Huge bills were piling up. On top of this,
the Indian government was threatening to collect taxes due on Karmapa's
properties both in Delhi and Sikkim. Exactly at this crucial moment, His
Holiness' financial resources seemed to have vanished into thin air. Although
short of accusing his predecessor of looting the treasury, the new secretary
launched an investigation into the missing capital. In his zeal to serve
Karmapa, the old man must have merged his private purse with the public
one, unfortunately, to the painful disadvantage of the latter. Thus Damcho
Yongdu's son, the young Pönlop Rinpoche, and the whole family became
the subject of an official inquiry.
With a view to one day leaving all
practical matters that concerned the functioning of the lineage in the
hands of a charitable organization, the 16th Karmapa had established,
back in 1961, the Karmapa Charitable Trust. This body had been registered
on Indian soil and was to be fully operational under Indian laws. With
Karmapa's death and until his seventeenth incarnation reached the age
of 21, the Karmapa Charitable Trust had automatically turned into the
highest legal authority representing the lineage, just as specified in
the deed of the Trust. However, few in Sikkim remembered the existence
of the Trust. After His Holiness died, Rumtek continued to be run by the
lax and murky standards from old Tibet. Karmapa's supervisory foundation
remained a noble idea on paper only.
Now, with the old secretary gone
and with the financial crisis looming both in Rumtek and Delhi, the succeeding
administration suddenly recalled the dormant Trust. Bringing the non-profit
organization to life would relieve the lineage of the impending Indian
taxes and safeguard it against another swindle. But, as a consequence,
Rumtek could no longer be managed like a private dominion where neglect
of public records and contempt for a supervisory body were the norm. Financial
policy had to be brought in line with modern rules governing charitable
institutions. To comply with such rules, the new administrators had to
account for every rupee spent. Hence, the sudden disappearance of Rumtek's
funds not only brought the place to the brink of insolvency but also threatened
to start a showdown with the Indian bureaucrats.
Topga's inquiry into what suspiciously
looked like fraud and his efforts to recover the lost assets did not sit
well with the family of the late secretary. It wasn't totally clear if
the powerful relatives were protecting the deceased man's good name or
also hiding away the missing fortune. But from the very outset they stonewalled
the investigation and were downright hostile to the whole idea of rescuing
Karmapa's money. Soon after Topga Rinpoche launched his inquest, the forceful
widow-leader of the clan-vanished from the scene altogether. When she
unexpectedly reappeared in Woodstock, Karmapa's center north of New York,
married to her old friend and lover, Tenzin Chonyi, the case against her
relatives had to be dropped. Karmapa's assets were nowhere to be found.
The mighty family, however, would not forgive Topgala his rigorous stance.
The new secretary turned into their sworn enemy, and his good name was
subsequently dragged through the mud both in Asia and America.
Extracts from an interview with Shamarpa
I think the reason that Topga Rinpoche has been the focus of so many attacks has to do with his function. According to Tibetan tradition, the General Secretary of a monastery has a very important position. He is the General Secretary of the so called Thsurphu (or Rumtek) Labrang, the separate body of the monastery responsible for its administration. In a way the power is in his hands.
Topga Rinpoche is a direct nephew of His Holiness Karmapa, so we are cousins. In 1967 Topga Rinpoche married a princess of Bhutan and until 1982 he did not live in the Tibetan community nor Rumtek. He lived in Bhutan and I did not have much contact with him. His Holiness gave him the title of General Secretary but he was not working as such, until after H. H. Gyalwa Karmapa passed away. The late General Secretary Yongdu Damcho took on the responsibility of this function, then when he passed away in 1982, Topga Rinpoche assumed this position in Rumtek.
It was then that I got to know him. He does not have any special loyalty to his Tibetan relatives, as- he does not believe this to be important. He treated me as a boss because I was the active regent of His Holiness. He is an idealist and an intellectual. He is, known as a learned person, well versed in topics like grammar, poetry, astrology and history. He is especially praised for his poetry and considered a capable historian.. His strong concern, that the wellknown historical tradition of the"Black and Red hat Karmapa" be carried on, maybe gives people the impression that he will block the other Rinpoches from being the Guru Of Karmapa. That he will insist on the Shamar Rinpoche for that function. Actually a Karmapa always himself chooses whom he wants as his main teacher, and it is not necessarily one among the previous lineage holders.
As far as concerns his activity for the Rumtek administration, Topga Rinpoche is a big sponsor. Yearly he offers about 200000 Rupees to the monastery, and he just gave 1.500000 Rupees for the construction of the monks quarters. This money comes from his own pocket, not from fund raising as when we collect money for. different projects. He is, as mentioned before, married into the Bhutanese royal family, but his wife has only a title. She depends on her private economy not on the kingdoms property. The money comes from their common business and allows him to. -be a sponsor to the monastery. Topga Rinpoche does not take even 1 cent from the monastery - no salary, nothing.
In the summer of 1983, Kalu Rinpoche agreed to give the Rinchen Terdzö empowerment, a transmission of the jewel of Guru Rinpoche's teachings. Empowerments served as a unique method for preserving the continuity of the teaching in Tibet. It is a ceremony during which a disciple is introduced to a certain Buddha aspect. An accomplished master would grant it to aspiring students, who would then become holders of the practice with the potential to, one day, fully realize it and pass it on to others.
Since, in the old days, certain popular empowerments
could attract a throng of several thousand people, it wasn't uncommon
that a monastery would encourage its head lama to obtain and later perform
the highly sought after initiations. After all, even a few-hundred-strong
army of pilgrims was a potent source of income for a cloister. Such practical
reasoning wasn't entirely lost when Tibetans established themselves on
Indian soil. The life of refugees brought with itself new, unknown hardships,
and often a group of destitute monks, thrown into a hostile environment,
depended solely on the spiritual skills of their master for survival.
In 1983, nearly twenty-five years after fleeing Tibet,
basic survival wasn't an issue for most Tibetans anymore. With the recent
arrival on the scene of affluent patrons from Chinese South East Asia,
suddenly, the high Rinpoches and their households sensed big fortunes
lying ahead. Not surprisingly, when the rich Chinese devotees showed a
penchant for elaborate initiations, a number of lamas and their enterprising
assistants went out of their way to satisfy such tastes. An empowerment
resurfaced as a hot commodity that could buy influence and bring wealth.
Determined to open the young tulkus' eyes to such
practical realities, a Lama Paljur, formerly from Palpung in eastern Tibet,
gathered the Shamar, Jamgon, and Gyaltsab Rinpoches and offered them a
dose of what he considered conventional guru wisdom. "You should
think about the future," he began patronizingly to the Rinpoches.
"Soon you will need funds to run your monasteries," he prudently
disclosed. "You should request and learn the popular empowerments.
Consider the thousands that would come when you, the high tulkus, grant
your initiations. All those people, the whole mass, would become your
disciples," Paljur tempted his listeners. "Kalu Rinpoche is
a great master. You must ask him for the Rinchen Terdzö, an empowerment
in highest demand," the lama summed up his arguments.
Today, Shamarpa still remembers how the two other
regents greeted Paljur's words with unusual fervor. Without delay they
petitioned Kalu Rinpoche to offer the invaluable Rinchen Terdzö,
and, when the distinguished lama acceded, they engaged the local Kagyu
world in energetic preparations. Shamarpa himself was lukewarm to the
idea. For one thing, he had little enthusiasm for grand religious services
and tried to perform his duties in a more casual way. Also, he couldn't
help thinking that his peers' motivation behind a request of this nature
was at best dubious. However, his refusal to join the function would have
been an offence to the old Kalu, and so, reluctantly, he went along with
the others and got ready for six months of lengthy ceremonies.
Shamarpa's tepid endorsement of his peers' efforts
didn't go unnoticed. Also, the years of malicious gossip coming from the
high lamas' circles started to bear their undesirable fruit. The three
Rinpoches, it seemed, had finally lent (prêter) an ear to the disruptive
talk and themselves began to ponder the idea of removing Shamar tulku
from the top of the newly created group regency. As it happened, they
didn't have to plan for long. Evidence of a serious fraud involving Shamarpa
fell, unexpectedly, into their hands. It was a golden opportunity to rid
the lineage of a manipulator who happened to surface after two centuries
of exclusion. The three lineage holders must have figured that soon they
would see the last of Shamarpa.
Lea Terhune-former clerk at Rumtek and current Western adviser and right-hand to Situ Rinpoche-had been dismissed from Karmapa's seat by the new general secretary for her snooping manners. While still in Rumtek she had spent a good part of her time ploughing through the monastery's archives. Her diligence seemed to have been well rewarded as she thought she had managed to dig out a series of documents that looked like proof of Shamarpa's fallen ethics. Now, eager to please Situpa, her new benefactor, and still fuming after her unceremonious removal from Rumtek, Miss Terhune announced that Karmapa's land for the institute in New Delhi had become the object of Shamarpa's voracious appetite. The senior regent, she claimed, was after Karmapa's possession. Situ Rinpoche was offered a batch of documents that allegedly implicated Shamar tulku in transferring Karmapa's property to his own name.
And so, as lamas and students gathered in the rainy,
eastern Himalayan village of Sonada to receive the two thousand empowerments,
three venerable regents got ready to deliver a masterstroke of their own
making. On a misty Sonada morning, nearly halfway through the initiations,
Shamarpa received a startling letter from lawyers representing the three
lineage holders. In solemn tones, the solicitors delivered their harsh
message: Shamarpa should brace himself for a battle in court. The unbelievable
was happening-three of Karmapa's heart sons intended to officially charge
their senior peer with stealing Karmapa's property. The
blow was as hard as it was unexpected. Shamarpa could not possibly conceive
that the regents, rather than checking the allegation, chose to sneak
behind his back and tried to indict him with theft.
Adding insult to injury, the Eminences had schemed to expand their coup one notch higher. Shamarpa found out they had approached Kalu Rinpoche with an intricate request. At the completion of the ceremonies, the eminent lama was to publicly ask the four regents to place the future 17th Karmapa in Tsurphu, in occupied Tibet, rather than at his new seat in Rumtek. The learned Thrangu Rinpoche and his advisers were pressing for such a solution for the sake of the old cloister, it was explained. Confining the next Karmapa to Chinese controlled Tibet felt like an odd gambit of unclear benefits, and even today Shamarpa swallows with discomfort at the perfidy of such a plan. It struck him that the whole idea-hidden behind the benevolent desire to rebuild Tsurphu-was nothing less than a maneuver to seize control of the Kagyu school.
Once they managed to deposit Karmapa in the Communists'
grip, the powerful lamas could remain at the helm of the lineage and do
as they pleased. If, unawares, Kalu Rinpoche came down after the empowerments
with this peculiar request, Shamarpa would have to agree to his appeal.
After receiving the precious initiations from the old master, Tibetan
etiquette left him no other choice but to satisfy the teacher's wish-no
matter how eccentric this was.
Disgusted with such intrigues and bent on avoiding
a showdown during the ceremonies as well as the prospect of the 17th Karmapa
becoming a citizen of Red China, Shamar Rinpoche decided to leave Sonada.
After excusing himself with the old Kalu, he arrived in Delhi to supervise
the first steps in the construction of Karmapa Institute. In Sonada, his
seat remained conspicuously empty during the last three months of ceremonies.
Everywhere else it would have been a social snub
, but for the Tibetans the senior regent's abrupt departure was an earthquake.
To avoid further embarrassment, Beru Kyentse Rinpoche, another prominent
Kagyu lama, was rushed in as a replacement. Shamarpa's enemies immediately
used his sudden exit as yet another example of arrogance and haughty manners.
Seeing their design to establish the next Karmapa in Tibet go to pieces,
the three tulkus must have become convinced that the main regent was a
crafty player-his abrupt withdrawal from Sonada attested to that. Now,
there was little doubt that he removed himself to Delhi to take final
possession of Karmapa's land.
Despite their claim to have caught a shrewd thief
red-handed, the three lineage holders didn't get their day in court. Lawyers
hired by the general secretary proved the absurdity of their charge. The
piece of land in question had been donated to the 16th Karmapa by the
then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. For several reasons-political
and others-the Indian government chose to give the land on a ninety-nine-year
lease. To evidence this, one rupee had been payable annually as a nominal
fee. This meant that the real owner of the property was the Indian government
and not Karmapa. The whole allegation that the land had been taken away
from His Holiness and transferred to somebody else's name was therefore
When the 16th Karmapa had died, it became necessary
to correctly formulate the documents pertaining to the place. There were
several errors in the existing, original records. Thus, a legal signatory,
that represented the 16th Karmapa, was needed. All this happened after
the group regency of the four Rinpoches had been established and during
Shamar Rinpoche's tenure, while he acted on behalf of the school. At that
time, the Karmapa Charitable Trust had not yet been rediscovered, and
so Shamarpa became the logical choice as the signatory of the corrected
deed of lease. This amended document was what Lea Terhune dug out and
was the basis of her conclusion that Shamar Rinpoche's signature at the
bottom of the new lease was tantamount to his taking over the property.
Now, it was Shamarpa's turn to threaten his peers with legal action. Having lost trust in the three regents' ability to stand for the lineage, he proposed to drop his planned lawsuit against the three if they, in turn, conceded to dissolve the group regency. With relief , Jamgon and Gyaltsab seized the occasion to cover their backs and readily signed the corresponding declaration. And so, after merely a few years of unsteady course, the common leadership of the Kagyu lineage ceased to exist. Situ Rinpoche, who was not present, never signed this declaration.
Within Karmapa's own administration, Kunzig Shamarpa, according to historical custom, assumed the role of His Holiness' representative but only to officiate and attend formal ceremonies on his behalf. The four Rinpoches still remained, as agreed beforehand, in joint control of the process of recognition of the 17th Karmapa.
Open letter from the Association of Abbots of the
Karma Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism
We would hereby like to clarify the procedures of
our lineage as a number of errors have arisen concerning the traditions
that accord with the history of the Karma Kagyu School..
In 1981, after the passing away of the 16th Karmapa
His Holiness, Rangjung Rigpai Dorje, Supreme Head of the Karma Kagyu School,
the then General Secretary to the
It is because of this arrangement that today we have
frequent mention of "the Four Regents of the Karma Kagyu School".
In fact, this group was disolved in 1984 on the initiative of His Holiness
Shamar Rinpoche. All four members of this group - Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche,
Situ Rinpoche, Jamgon Rinpochc and Gyaltsab Rinpoche - signed the legal
document resulting in the dissolution of this arrangement.
It was primarily with the assistance of Jamgon Rinpoche that Shamar Rinpoche was able to achieve this. The reasons for this course of action are :
an arrangement of this type is not a tradition of the Karma -Kagyu School ;
the late Karmapa had not expressed any intention whatsoever 'in this respect nor had be given any such instructions;
the then General Secretary the late Damcho Yongddu did not have the authority to initiate the forming of this group
this arrangement had Invited undesirable effects
such as political involvement and schemes.
His Holiness the 16th Karmapa authored a document
where he set forth the ranks of religious dignitaries of the Karma Kagyu
School. There be establishes that Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche and Situ Rinpoche
have the status of "Spiritual Leader" in that order of importance.
He also sets forth that the Jamgon reincarnations and the Gyaltsab reincarnations
are not included in that category.
We, the undersigned, hereby request that references
to The "four regents" no longer be used, as that group has been
dissolved and as it contradicts proper procedure as well as having become
the source of the present controversy. The Joint Action Committee of Sikkim
has claimed another order of these ranks. In order to substantiate that
the same Committee must produce evidence, that is, a document authored
by His Holiness the 16th Karmapa, Where he sets forth such an order of
ranks. In the absence of such a document that claim cannot be seen as
Trungpa's sudden re-emergence, bearing
Situpa's seal of approval, left us with a feeling that the great Tai Situ
was simply making overtures to what was left of Trungpa's powerful Dharmadhatu
organization. As to the regent's general performance, rumor had it he
had recently recognized no fewer than three hundred tulkus. Such high
productivity was certainly impressive, but the fact that most of the candidates
happened to come from one area bordering Palpung monastery-Situpa's main
seat in Tibet-cast a shadow on the veracity of his choices. Also finding
the astronomical number of several hundred tulkus in the space of just
a few years went beyond anything even the 16th Karmapa had achieved.
It was generally assumed that the
person who brokered the agreement between Situpa and the Communist Chinese
for this massive recognition to be allowed to happen in occupied Tibet
was Akong Tulku. Akong arrived in England in the middle of the sixties
as part of a contingent of four tulkus from a high profile school for
incarnates in the western Himalayas. The idea to send the young hopefuls
to Europe originated with Gelongma Palm, a traditional and well-connected
Buddhist nun. She used her influence and power of persuasion to convince
Karmapa that this early entry of a group of educated Tibetans into Europe
would create a lasting bridge between Tibet and the West.
Akong clearly lacked Trungpa's charisma
and attracted neither glamour nor attention. His lectures were rather
flat and uninspiring-one couldn't escape the feeling that teaching Buddhism
must have constituted a serious test for his intellect. He would customarily
lighten up at the end of his marathon presentations when allowed to ponder
his cherished subject of Buddhist politics. Small but of powerful build,
with a bulldog-like head perched directly atop a corpulent body, Akong
possessed one quality that eclipsed all other streaks in his heavy character:
patience and perseverance to achieve his long-term objectives.
Soon after arriving in England, the
young tulku must have set his ambitious goals. He first sent his brother-married
to the same woman as himself-into closed retreat. Then came the time to
act. Having little disposition for the lavish and excessive lifestyle
that would bring Trungpa's downfall, Akong's aim was less extravagant
and more concrete: control over the growing Karma Kagyu house in Europe.
He set out to conquer the infant European Buddhist scene. But his clumsy
manners and raw ambitions infuriated just about everybody on the continent.
The French centers refused to receive him as part of Karmapa's entourage
during His Holiness' first visit to Europe in 1974. In the end, Karmapa
himself had to stop his plans for expansion. Having only the Belgians
on his side, Akong Tulku had no other choice but to return to Samye Ling
where, for the next years, he remained forgotten but unable to forget.
In fact, Akong does not belong to
the Kagyu order. The first Akong had been a black magician and caretaker
of a temple in a village in eastern Tibet. When he died, the villagers
requested a visiting lama to recognise his successor. He recognised a
child and declared him the incarnation of Akong, i.e. the second Akong.
In exile in India, the child was patronised by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.
Trungpa Rinpoche is a Kagyu tulku, and that is how Akong came close to
the Kagyu tradition.
With the sharp eye of a tactician, Akong must have seen his moment coming after Karmapa's death, when the division between the two regents, Situpa and Shamarpa, began to manifest. It was sometime during the early eighties that he must have decided to throw his weight and his center in Scotland behind Situpa. Having signed Samye Ling over to Tai Situ, Akong assumed the role of adviser, grey eminence, and finally emissary to the Communist Chinese. How he managed to win China's confidence was not entirely clear, but soon after appearing at Situpa's side, he was rubbing shoulders with top men in Beijing.
He was also rumored to be lavishing
large chunks of money on his contacts in the Chinese capital. In the end,
the idea of hosting one of Karmapa's regents must have appealed to the
Communists' secret aims, and Akong was allowed to organize Situ Rinpoche's
visits to eastern Tibet-visits that came only a few years after Dalai
Lama's brother arrived in 1979 on a historic mission to Lhasa in an attempt
to open a dialogue and win concessions from Red China. And although more
emissaries with more elaborate proposals from Dharamsala followed, little
came of the Dalai Lama's overtures. The Chinese remained as canny and
inflexible as ever, and the only ones who ended up making concessions
were again the Tibetans.
Situpa, on the other hand, seemed to be achieving the impossible. In 1985, he was allowed to enter the off-limits Kham and for a time basked in the newly found role of protector of Buddhism in his occupied country. His journeys through the eastern part of Tibet, the first such venture of a high Tibetan lama since the Chinese invasion, were perceived as an enormous success. They were hailed as a victory against the Communists and glorified as the first step to restoring Buddhism in the Land of Snows. The picture of Rinpoche meeting and blessing hundreds of Khampas and recognizing just as many tulkus in his native Kham was indeed touching. It must have made a deep impression and raised high expectations among Tibetans in exile at a time when lama activity was all but forbidden in their ruined country.
Little did people know that the triumphant visits
had grave conditions attached. It is not entirely clear if Situpa was
fully aware of the price during his jubilant entry into Kham. One could
give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he had been fooled into
believing that the Chinese had experienced a genuine change of heart concerning
the religious freedom of his fellow Tibetans; that out of decency and
good will the Communists decided to simply rebuild what they had so meticulously
destroyed only two decades earlier. Such a notion would neither speak
very highly of his intellect nor of his political instincts but at least
would make him look honest, if somewhat naïve and half-witted. But
his shrewd adviser, Akong Tulku, must have been alert to the serious consequences
of entering into a partnership with Communist China. Beijing was certainly
in no mood to let Tibet off the hook, and whatever concessions it was
ready to make were merely tactical maneuvers. For every favor done, China
was going to demand and certain to extract ten favors in return. As Situpa
and Akong were going to find out fairly soon, their initially successful
dealings with the Communists carried a heavy price tag for Tibet and Tibetan
Buddhism. The coming conflict that would shake the Kagyu lineage was a
direct result of the unfortunate involvement of one of the Kagyu regents
with the occupiers of his country.
Also, Situpa's giant effort in recognizing hundreds
of tulkus, though very impressive in numbers, looked somewhat ambiguous
in substance. His sudden tremendous fecundity in this field looked more
as though Tai Situ was creating a power base for some future unspecified
cause rather than picking up genuine incarnates.
Unmoved by the ideological contradictions and impatient
to bring Lu's bygone order to life, the Chinese leaders began their hunt
for a suitable target that could be exploited to tame the Tibetans. The
Panchen Lama, second in command within the Gelugpa hierarchy, was still
alive and in fact nicely toeing the government line from his new seat
in Beijing. The search then zeroed in on Karmapa, who had just passed
away in 1981. Probably with Akong's help, Situ Rinpoche was invited to
the Chinese capital, first in 1982 and later in 1984. It seemed that he
proved an unusually flexible negotiator and eventually a loyal partner,
also a dutiful messenger. Shamarpa remembers well how Tai Situ approached
him with an intricate offer to visit Beijing for talks with the Chinese
leadership. The Kagyu senior regent politely declined, leaving-unwisely
perhaps-such distinction in his peer's hands. The pact Situpa must have
then sealed with the Communists-either out of ignorance or a more malicious
lust for power-soon bore its first fruit. In 1985, Tibet's locked doors
were generously opened for the young regent. However, for the real results
of his obscure deal, the Himalayas and the rest of the world would have
to wait nearly a decade.