Document download in PDF
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
receiving mail updates
mail us

Years 1980 Through 1990

The 16th Karmapa's heart incident

Creation of a group Regency

Rumtek's general secretary succession

Topgala's difficulties
Shamar Rinpoche about Topgala

First splits between the Regents

The Rinchen Terdzö Initiation incident

Shamarpa is summoned in court
Shamarpa senses an intrigue
Shamarpa wins in court

Group Régency ends

About the notion of "Regents'Group"

Situpa a tulku finder

Who is Akong Tulku ?

Situpa's activities inTibet and China


The 16th Karmapa's heart incident

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 Tibet.

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.


Creation of a group Regency


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.


Rumtek general secretary's succession

Topgala's difficulties

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 essential.

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.


Shamar Rinpoche about Topgala

Extracts from an interview with Shamarpa August 1992

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.


First splits between Regents

The Rinchen Terdzö Initiation incident

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.

Shamarpa is summoned in court

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.

What should have sounded the alarm and forced Situ Rinpoche to pursue a fair inquiry into a fantastic allegation became the sought after excuse to deliver a secret blow to his rival. As Situpa made the rounds with his newly obtained "documentation of guilt." the Eminences-dodging further research-gracefully passed on their verdict. Without so much as looking into the matter, they simply decided to take the senior regent to court.

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.

Shamarpa senses an intrigue

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.

Shamarpa wins in court

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 ludicrous.

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.


Group Regency ends

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.

Unlike his two peers, Jamgon Kongtrul tried to mend his ways. Having realized the injustice done to Shamarpa, he admitted his mistake and sought to establish a new relationship based on trust and respect for the main regent's position.


About the notion of "Regents-group"

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
Karmapa, the late Damcho Yongdu, requested that a "regent-group" be formed. He, in collaboration with Mr. Tenzin Namgyal, the then Deputy Secretary of Rumtek Monastery's Administration, pushed through the agenda of a group of "regents" to find the reincarnation of the Karmapa and to disseminate the Karma Kagyu teachings. At the time this structure was put in place even though such an arrangement had never before been used in the history of our school. (E d. note: and was never asked by the 16th Karmapa)

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 legitimate.


Situpa, a tulku finder
The great revelation, which he relentlessly trumpeted around Rumtek, was that Situ Rinpoche had just found the new Trungpa Tulku in eastern Tibet. The news was certainly explosive but, in light of Trungpa's own prediction about his future return, looked dubious. A few years before passing away, the tulku had declared that he would come back as an ordinary Japanese worker.

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.


Who is Akong Tulku ?

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 doings in Tibet and China

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.

The regent's emergence in his oppressed land was a consequence of a new and greatly refined policy adopted by the Chinese Politburo sometime after Mao's death. With the rise of Deng Xiaoping, pragmatism became the official line. The Communist leadership concluded that the only way to control the unruly Tibetan nation was to restore some of their monasteries and at once place them under strict government rule. To achieve that end, the heads of the cloisters would have to be chosen directly from Beijing. Showing a remarkably pragmatic face, the Communists then simply reinstated Emperor 7th Ching Lu's decree which commanded that Tibetan tulkus were to be selected by means of a lottery. The foresighted monarch of the late Ching dynasty had also dictated that the candidates for such a draw were to be appointees of the emperor's council. And so, invoking tradition and a historical edict, Red China reserved for herself the sole right to appoint and recognize the incarnations of lamas in Tibet.

The Chinese hunt for a suitable target that could be exploited to tame the Tibetans coupled opportunely with Situ Rinpoche's lust for power leading him to the Chinese side. His sudden tremendous fecundity in recognising tulkus in an area around his old seat in eastern Tibet helped him in creating a power base for the future. And, in him, China found an unusually flexible negotiator, a loyal partner, and also a dutiful messenger.

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.