Events beginning 1992
Dabzang Rinpoche dies
) In the beginning of 92, Dabzang Rinpoche,
a high Kagyu lama from Nepal, had suddenly died in Hong Kong. The details
were rather bizarre. Rinpoche's Chinese students had arranged a heart
operation for him. Dabsang-just as every Tibetan his age who indulged
in butter tea-suffered from high blood pressure, but an operation wasn't
quite necessary. However, his disciples insisted, painting a picture of
highest hygiene and great efficiency within the medical field in the then
British colony. To dispel any doubts, Situpa-Dabsang's disciple-was also
consulted. The young regent came down with a clear-cut divination: lama
Dabsang should go under the knife. It wasn't totally clear if Dabsang
Rinpoche wanted a break from the heavy stench of Kathmandu or if, in his
great compassion, he did not want to disappoint his health-oriented students.
Maybe he did not feel like contradicting Tai Situ either. The result was
that he ended up on an operating table, undergoing heart surgery he didn't
really need. The operation seemed to have gone
well. But, the surgeon, in his zeal to quickly complete the task, left
a pair of scissors inside Dabsang's chest. It was a rather unexpected
development. After hours of strenuous doctoring, the whole procedure had
to be repeated, and Rinpoche's chest was once again cut open, this time
to remove the good doctor's instrument. The additional dissection proved
too heavy for his, by then, weakened heart, and Dabsang Rinpoche died
during this new operation.
Jamgon Kongtrul was shocked and almost in despair.
He kept muttering that this death should never have happened and that
the loss was an enormous catastrophe. It was, of course, a most unfortunate
and sad incident, but Kongtrul's reaction seemed quite out of proportion.
After all, we were talking about a high lama who had certainly mastered
the process of death. Being one of the highest incarnates himself, Jamgon
Kongtrul needn't have grieved in such categorical terms. It felt much
too extreme, and the exchange left us with a sense of trouble to come.
) We learned that the four lineage holders
would meet in Rumtek on the 16th March. The last time the four lineage
holders had converged in Rumtek was as far back as 1986, when a declaration
about Karmapa's prediction letter had been released. Since that celebrated
announcement, a suspicious wall of silence had fallen, and the Eminences
did not meet again until 1990. Considering the significance of their business,
their contacts must have appeared unnaturally scarce and erratic. After
all, the four had been entrusted with the enormous task of finding Karmapa's
next incarnation. One could expect that such a weighty assignment would
require more regular communication. The regents were finally coming down
from their high horses and had settled on a gathering in Rumtek.
What brought about the meeting, however, was far
more mixed than just the desire to jointly solve the Karmapa issue. In
1989 Situ Rinpoche informed the other three regents that he was in possession
of "good news similar to the joyful cries of peacocks." It was
indeed a most optimistic claim, but later Situpa must have concluded that
the news was too joyful for his peers to appreciate, and he simply held
it back from the regents at their meeting in Delhi in 1990. After another
inconclusive gathering in Delhi, it took them two more years to force
each other to meet face to face again. And although Shamarpa intended
all along to question his rival about the great "peacocks,"
their mutual communication was breaking down at every turn. When Topgala
stepped in and called upon the regents to streamline their efforts, he
was largely ignored by Situpa. In the end Tai Situ conceded to see the
other lineage holders on March 16th in Rumtek.
( )The running dispute between the Rinpoches was a well-hidden secret. No one suspected that some of the venerable regents were actually bitter rivals, and the Kagyu Western world lived under the illusion of great harmony. The veil covering the lamas' lives was still dense enough to conceal the truth ( ).
Shamar and Jamgon Rinpoche had sponsored the construction of a Buddha statue for Rumtek monastery's main assembly hall. Painted in gold, the precious form stood a majestic fourteen feet high in the lofty chamber. During the consecration ceremony, a rather unusual sign appeared. Suddenly, a liquid started dripping from the body of the statue. To the modern and sceptical ear, such extraordinary phenomena appear highly suspicious and one would rather not hear about them, certainly not mention them as the great and ultimate proof to Buddhism's uniqueness. For Tibetans and most Asians, these miraculous tales are their daily bread and butter. If the statue in question really started to shed water, this remains still to be proven. In Rumtek, however, there was little doubt-a sign of this kind was believed to be highly inauspicious. The last time a statue "cried" was in Lhasa before the Chinese invasion, as if anticipating the catastrophic event. It became obvious to everyone that major obstacles were on the way. As if confirming this fact, another statue of the Wisdom Buddha Manjushri from the institute above the monastery inexplicably dropped its sword. Without waiting for more dreary omens, the two regents began performing pujas to dispel the mounting obstacles. A picture taken in those days reveals the anxiety they must have felt. Shamarpa and Jamgon Kongtrul are seated in their meditation boxes, one next to the other, passively staring into the lenses of the camera, looking completely pallid and grief stricken; their ashen, ghost-like faces and blank expressions speak volumes of the trouble lying ahead.
Jamgon Kongtrul bad health
During his last journey to Tibet, Kongtrul's health had seriously deteriorated. When we had met him at the Tibetan New Year festivities, he had looked ill and feeble. Sometime after our departure from Rumtek, he developed a blood infection from a small cut on his finger. Hardly able to move, his body struck with high fever, he had to leave for Kathmandu to help with Lama Dabsang's funeral. Situpa, Dabsang's closest disciple, who was supposed to be in charge of the preparations, had not bothered to appear in time. It had been Tai Situ's positive divination that persuaded Dabsang to go under the knife. Understandably, after the disastrous surgery, the young regent did not feel like showing up at his teacher's cremation. The lengthy rituals were then unloaded onto Jamgon Kongtrul's frail shoulders. Rinpoche was devastated and seemed overpowered by the circumstances. He sounded much too heartbroken for the high lama that he was.
Beginning March 1992, all the Kagyu centers worldwide were being flooded with a mysterious letter. A group of Tibetan traders from Nepal, operating under the name of Derge Association, called upon Karmapa's students to de facto rebel against the collective leadership of the four lineage holders and to ignore Karmapa's senior regent. The harshest tones in the letter were, in fact, reserved for Shamarpa and General Secretary Topgala, who were blamed for purposefully delaying the process of recognition. In sharp contrast to his peers, Situpa was described as the only one capable of bringing forth Karmapa's 17th incarnation. The blunt words struck hard. Was this really a call for a coup d'état? Was somebody trying to shake up the Kagyu hierarchy and place Situpa at the helm of the lineage?
The founder of this group is said to be Mr. T.N. Gyuchen,
who formerly served for many years as minister of the Tibetan Exile Government,
during which time he is said to have been in opposition to H H the 16th
Karmapa. He worked in different departments such as public relations,
religion and education, and later on he became a senior minister. After
resigning from this function, he and members of several families from
Derge in Eastern Tibet started the Derge Association in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Many of the founding members were known to be business people who traded
religious objects and carpets. The main sponsor of the group is said to
be Karge, who serves as Situ Rinpoche's right-hand man.
Details from "Siege of Karmapa"
Events witnessed by Rumtek monks
In February, Situ Rinpoche visited China for a few
days. Thereafter, via Hong Kong and Delhi he went to see the Dalai Lama
in Dharamsala. He was there for two days before returning to his monastery.
Also in March, we were witnesses to Situ and Gyaltsab
Rinpoche's associations. They held a meeting at Rumtek with the Sikkim
Sangram. Parishad Party. Mr. Kunzang Sherab and Mr. Karma Topden, both
powerful and influential members of this party, attended. At this meeting,
Situ Rinpoche formed the "Joint Action Committee". After the
meeting was over, Mr. Shera Tarchin, came out to explain to us that, "This
committee is now being specially formed to fullfill the interest of three
governments." Later we learned that the 'three governments' referred
to the governments of Sikkim State, the Dalai Lama and China.
The long scheduled meeting to be held on March 16th, was to be postponed until March 19th.
When in the early morning of March 19th , 1992, the four lineage holders got together for their meeting in Rumtek, to his astonishment, Shamarpa noticed a large and noisy congregation of Khampas boldly positioned outside the room as if trying to put pressure on the regents. Such a colorful gathering waiting outdoors was certainly a novelty, and it was difficult to understand how the Tibetans-some of whom seemed to have shuffled all the way from Kathmandu-got wind of this meeting.
Shamarpa even spotted Akong in the thick crowd-as
though popping in from Scotland to call on the regents at Rumtek in the
eastern Himalayas was a most natural occurrence in those days. Other prominent
guests who had evidently journeyed from America made themselves visible:
Lama Norlha from New York and Tenzin, Woodstock's administrator. Somebody
had obviously been busy extending invitations to all such notables. The
mood was festive but growing aggressive. "You must decide now!"
was the last thing Shamarpa had heard before disappearing into the conference
Situ Rinpoche began, first by asking each regent
if he was in possession or had knowledge of Karmapa's holy instructions.
When he satisfied himself that nobody could produce anything new, Situpa
took a white scarf, bowed down in front of the altar, and solemnly announced
the long awaited news: yes, he had His Holiness' prediction letter.
The three regents were shown an envelope which had something red written on it. Immediately Gyaltsab Rinpoche and also Jamgon Kongtrul expressed their approval. The former, with tears in his eyes, even prostrated himself fully on the ground. Shamarpa though, remained unimpressed and eyed the whole show with some doubt. But when the letter was extracted from its cover, he stood at once on full guard; what had been placed on the table in front of him looked very much like a forgery.
The letter looks suspicious
First the handwriting-it seemed unstable and spread all over the page as if coming from under a shaky and insecure hand.
It was a sharp contrast to the elegant, firm, and very tasteful presentations of the 16th Karmapa.
Second, the text bore no resemblance to Karmapa's literary style. Being familiar with the character of His Holiness' poems, Shamarpa couldn't mask his disappointment. The sentences were clumsily put together; they lacked the warmth and insight that he so much admired.
Moreover, there were several striking contradictions. The seventh sentence read: "He will be born in the Earth-Ox-Year." Shamar Rinpoche immediately realized this was a sheer impossibility. Had the child announced in the letter been born in the Earth-Ox year, he would have been either thirty-two when the 16th Karmapa died in 1981 or he would be born twenty-six years after Karmapa's death. There were only two such striking possibilities with Earth-Ox.
Finally, the signature! It was clear somebody tried to imitate Karmapa's distinctive inscription, but the imitation came out rather poorly. Although it was covered by a large red stamp, anyone could see the uncertain, almost broken line and the blurred ends that pretended to define His Holiness' name, a far cry from Karmapa's swift and nearly vibrant personal signing.
It was as though in his most important document,
the distinguished lama had all but forgotten about calligraphy and good
taste and just casually scribbled the crucial words, totally indifferent
to form and not clear about the content.
Without waiting , Shamarpa quickly moved on to question his rival. He first admitted to be unable to accept this document as Karmapa's genuine testament and wanted to know how Situ Rinpoche got hold of such a dubious piece.
Now, also Jamgon Kongtrul began to express some doubts. The fuzzy signature and awkward handwriting seemed to have overextended even his good will and conciliatory nature.
Only Gyaltsab Rinpoche embraced unconditionally the
weighty news and, hardly glancing at the letter, nodded his heavy head
in full agreement whenever Situpa happened to open his mouth-which was
often enough during the lengthy meeting-and to whatever happened to come
out of that mouth. Finally, with Shamarpa's critical gaze fixed on him,
Situ Rinpoche went on to recount his story.
He had received the letter shortly before His Holiness passed away in 1981, with no indication whatsoever of its historic content. He didn't even know it was a letter. Wrapped in silk, the package was given as protection. For the next years he devotedly wore it around his neck, totally unaware he was walking around with the lineage's future hanging on his chest.
On a hot summer evening at the end of 1989, Situ Rinpoche prudently decided that the time had come to exchange the worn out fabric that had protected his talisman. He disposed of the old material and peeking inside, instead of the expected relics, he discovered a sealed document. "Open in the Iron Horse Year," was written on it.
It wasn't entirely clear if Tai Situ indeed waited for the prescribed year to break the letter's seal. What was clear, however, was that he didn't invite the regents to join him in the procedure. Once acquainted with the document's significant content, he dutifully informed his peers that he was in possession of news similar to the "joyful cries of peacocks" but somehow failed to spill out the reasons why the peacocks were suddenly so joyful.
Having raised expectations, Situpa suddenly experienced
a change of heart and for the next two years painstakingly avoided meeting
the three lineage holders. Twice, when circumstances brought them together
in Delhi in 1990, he simply kept his mouth shut. Today he calmly announced
that to show the letter in Delhi would have been inappropriate.
All this obviously smelled foul play. And the senior regent was left highly suspicious and unconvinced by Situpa's performance.
He wanted to know why the envelope looked less used than its contents.
He also boldly demanded that the letter be put to a forensic test and announced that without such scientific expertise he wasn't going to accept this piece of paper as Karmapa's spiritual testament.
With his back against the wall and obviously more and more ill at ease, Tai Situ embarked on a detailed account of how much the extravagant test would cost. He enlightened his peers with the disclosure that the only place to perform such a test was London and added that it would take years for the results to come in. They certainly didn't have years to spare. How and where Situpa obtained his information was quite a mystery but nobody asked. For the moment he seemed to have impressed upon the regents the ridiculous idea that a forensic test was as complex a scientific operation as, say, nuclear fusion under laboratory conditions. But not for long! Before the meeting was over, Shamarpa's detective's nose took over, and he managed to secure a photocopy of the disputed letter.
Jamgon Kongtrul will travel to
Tibet and check
When Tai Situ completed his monologue, the regents settled to the monotonous task of analyzing the intricate text word by word. It turned out that the content was just as elusive as the form was unrefined. Although the names of the child and parents and other details were all there, it felt as if somebody had forced these particulars into an unrelated wording. Hours of tedious reading and far reaching interpretations brought no conclusive result, and as the day wore on, the four lamas struck a compromise. During his imminent visit to Tibet, Jamgon Kongtrul would try to sniff things out by himself. He was to make contact with the boy on the basis of the description from the letter. Jamgon Rinpoche seemed the ideal choice. Acceptable to all, he was the candidate sitting in the middle. At that time, they did not know that he felt his middle seat to be rather hot and greatly uncomfortable.
Topgala challenges the letter authenticity
Topgala, Rumtek's general secretary and chairman of Karmapa's Trust, was called in.
The Eminences greeted him with the good news: Karmapa's spiritual testament had been finally located. The general secretary was offered the celebrated letter. However, after examining the text, Topgala began to look every bit as distressed and disappointed as Shamarpa. The more he stared at the letter, the less he liked it, and in the end he became convinced that the regents wrote it themselves. Having found a candidate but unable to find the written instructions, they simply composed a suitable document. Unluckily, the document looked quite unsuitable, and Topgala, appalled by what he was witnessing, voiced his concern.
Much to Situ Rinpoche's growing embarrassment, he stated that he didn't think these were Karmapa's authentic instructions.
He appealed to the regents to come forward with the
real incarnation and pointed out to Jamgon Kongtrul that there was little
wisdom in pursuing a clearly false lead.
The meeting ended in the early evening. The four lineage holders agreed to keep their discord confidential and not to rush out with any disclosures.
They were to meet again in June after Kongtrul's return from Tibet. When leaving the room they ran into the noisy crowd that had taken position right outside the door to their conference. Immediately Gyaltsab Rinpoche seized the occasion and flashed the envelope from a distance, calmly stating that these were His Holiness' holy words.
Situpa extracted the letter from its cover and held it up for all to admire, thus laying their secret agreement out in the open. The long negotiated deal lasted no more than a few minutes.
Encouraged by the sight of the document, the quick tempered Tibetans began to shout in approval of Situpa's gesture but demanded quicker results from the others. A tumultuous ovation to honor Situ Rinpoche followed, and for a moment Shamarpa wondered if he hadn't, by some chance, stepped into a marketplace. He might also have admitted that some of his fellow regents belonged very nicely in that marketplace.
The next day, as if the pact he had sealed with his
brethren meant nothing, Situpa would speed to Dharamsala to disclose all
details to the Dalai Lama. A few days later, he would defiantly inform
all Dharma centers in Nepal about the search party being formed. Obviously,
in his eyes, agreements were made to be breached.
" Karmapa papers "
(...) there have been doubts expressed about the
letter presented by Situ Rinpoche on March 19, 1992. Is it the authentic
testimonial letter of H. H. the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa?
Unfortunately, we only had a copy of the letter,
not the original. Nevertheless we examined the copy to see what might
have brought about these doubts. Some seem to suspect Situ Rinpoche of
having written the letter himself, so we included in our analysis those
of his letters available to us.
General remarks about the letter
in several places the text seems to be damaged by
humidity. Traces of a vertical fold can be seen in the middle of the paper.
Horizontally the letter seems to have been folded in at least three places:
below the third and the eighth line of the text and above the seal. This
last fold can also be deduced because traces of the seal are found above
Although the writing in the part above the seal is
blurred to such an extent as to he illegible, there seem to be no traces
of ink on the seal itself.
Here is a copy of this now-famous letter:
Fortunately, we had more than 30 letters
handwritten by H. H. the 16th Karmapa dating from the 1970's to 1981,
shortly before lie passed away. We asked several Tibetans for comparison
who confirmed that "The" letter, at first sight, looked as if
it were written by His Holiness. But this impression seemed to vanish
the more they went into details especially for people very familiar with
H.H. the 16th Karmapa's handwriting. What follows are comparisons as to:
1) the signature,
2) the handwriting and spelling,
3) the letterhead.
The signature on the letter is almost
entirely covered by the seal. From what little was visible on our copy,
the signature might he different from those we found on H.H. the l6th
Karmapa's letters. This impression is strengthened when the signatures
are, superimposed by computer.
2) Handwriting and Spelling. Only a forensic test of the original letter could definitely prove whether the handwriting on the letter is that of H. H. the l6th Karmapa or not.
Nevertheless we compared the handwriting of the letter with that of Karmapa and Situ Rinpoche: there seem to be differences between the script in the letter and the handwriting in Karmapa 's letters we had. On the other hand, one could find similarities when comparing the letter's script with Situ Rmpoche's handwriting (see two examples in the tables below; the syllables used for comparison are marked in the respective letters).
in the spelling of the word, "drub" see table below in line
#6 of the letter, this word is written with the second postscript "sa".
We did not find this misspelling in any of H.H. Karmapa's letters, whereas
it is to he found in a letter by Situ Rinpoche (see Doc T5)
We found different letterheads on
H. H. the Gyalwa Karmapa's letters available to us. On several examples
the emblem in the middle (two antelopes and the dharma wheel) was the
same as the document Doc T27. In some cases, it was multicoloured, in
others monochrome red. On most of the letters however, one could see the
more elaborate emblem also used in the letter. Sometimes the words His
Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa' were written in italics as shown in Doc T27.
in other cases, these words and the address were lightly italicised as
shown below in example III, In few instances the words 'His Holiness the
Gyalwa Karmapa' were written in the middle of the page, just below the
None of Karmapa's letters available
to us had a letterhead identical to the one on the letter, even though
the more elaborate emblem shown there was often used:
In no case did we find the
words His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa' printed as in the letter, where
the distance between the words is unusually big.
In our copy of The letter
the words "His" and 'the' are not in line with the rest of the
text. Perhaps this was just a problem with the photocopier.
The characters themselves in the
letter are different from those in the Karmapa's original letters. Especially
the letters 'S' as in 'Holiness' and 'P' its in Karmapa' are broader in
the letter's letterhead than in any of Karmapa's letterheads available
to its. As a matter of fact, only in some of the International Kagyu Headquarters'
letterheads (see example IV below) did we find the exact same script as
in The letter.
Kagyu Conférence Delhi 1996
Translation of the original letter
This is the letter presented by Situ Rinpoche in 1992 as H. H. the 16th Karmapa's letter containing the instructions about his 17th reincarnation:
Emaho. Self-awareness is always bliss;
The dharmadhatu has no center nor edge.
From here to the north (in) the east of (the land) of snow
Is a country where divine thunder spontaneously blazes.
(In) a beautiful nomad's place with the sign of a cow,
The method is Dondrup and the wisdom is Lolaga.
(Born in) the year of the one used for the earth
(With) the miraculous, far-reaching sound of the white one:
(This) is the one known as Karmapa.
He is sustained by Lord Amoghasiddhi,
Being non-sectarian, he pervades all directions;
Not staying close to some and distant from others,
he is the protector of all beings:
the sun of the Buddha's Dharma that benefits others always blazes.
Translation of the rectified letter
This is the rectified version of this letter as broadcast
by the National Tibetan Radio in 1993:
The changes were marked with *
* Emaho, our country is a very pleasant place.
* The. Dharmadhatu is devoid of artificial light.
* That is the southern part of the east in the snowy north.
is a country where divine thunder spontaneously blazes.
*I have seen a beautiful garden in the land of nomads.
* Mind accomplishes everything and the wisdom-mind is white.
* The good year that enjoys the earth
With the miraculous, far-reaching sound of the white one:
(This) is the one known as Karmapa.
* A man who accomplishes things well will be the guide.
Being non-sectarian, he pervades all directions;
Not staying close to some and distant from others,
He is the protector of all beings:
The sun of the Buddha's Dharma that benefits others always blazes.
( ) However, the authenticity of this letter, as you all know, has not yet been established. Topga Rinpoche in his speech earlier today spoke.of doubts. I'd also like to say a few words about it.
For example, the seventh sentence in this "prediction
letter" says: 'We will be born in the Earth-Ox- Year ". If Urgyen
Trinley had been born in the year of the Earth-Ox, it means that either
he would have to be thirty-two years old when the late Karmapa passed
away, or he would be born twenty-six years after the death of His Holiness,
the late Karmapa. These are the only two possibilities. For a person who
knows the Tibetan calendar, this is obvious. If the "prediction letter"
is claimed to be authentic, the predictions couldn't pertain to Urgyen
If we go on to look at the geography of Tibet in
relation to the instructions in this "prediction letter", it
says: "From here to the North... " ("From here " presumably
refers to India) "... in the East of the Land of Snow... (Tibet).
Urgyen Trinley's birthplace is not in the far eastern part of Tibet but
in the south-east. To those involved in the events surrounding the appointment
of Urgyen Trinley, it became evident that these instructions did not tally
In 1993, therefore, National Tibetan Radio broadcast a new version in which these mistakes have been rectified. The "prediction letter` broadcast on Tibetan Radio said that Urgyen Trinley was born in the south eastern part of Tibet and not in east Tibet.
Moreover, scrutiny of the first sentence in the so called "prediction letter" in the light of the different schools of thought in Buddhism again raised certain questions. This sentence reads: "Self-awareness is at all times a blissful state". Does this self-awareness refer to the Sautrantika school of Buddhism or the Mind Only school of Buddhism, or is it the self-awareness that the Madhyamaka school of Buddhism refutes? The second sentence speaks of a state free from mental fabrication, free from reference points. These two sentences contradict one another.
The first sentence asserts the existence of a blissful
state of mind, self-awareness; the second sentence speaks of freedom from
mental fabrications (positing the existence of self-awareness is a mental
fabrication). If one considers the contents of the alleged "prediction
letter" from these different points of view, it becomes rather difficult
to believe that the letter is authentic. Furthermore, analysis of the
letter's composition shows it to be quite unconvincing: the composition
is very poor from a linguistic view point. This issue has been discussed
at length in a publication entitled The Karmapa Papers.
However, it's always a good idea to carry out an
investigation. What is more, the Karmapa's seal and his signature are
smudged. Situ Rinpoche claims that this is because he's been wearing the
piece of paper around his neck for a number of years and the sweat of
his body has caused the smudging. However, other parts on the same piece
of paper are not smudged. Moreover, the envelope in which it was kept
bears no traces at all of the sweat. Even a
simple investigation of the purported "prediction letter" will
probably bring to light clear evidence that it cannot be authentic. It
would be rather odd if a letter inside an envelope has been partially
soaked by the sweat of somebody's body but the envelope hasn't been soiled.
Announcing the death
As it had been agreed during the regent's meeting on the 19th of March, Jamgon Kongtrul was to travel to Tibet on what we all assumed was a highly sensitive assignment. A week before his departure, an extravagant gift arrived for Rinpoche in Rumtek: a brand new BMW 525. Kongtrul, all at once, fell in love with his new toy and, without giving the whole thing much thought, came upon the rather eccentric idea of going to Tibet in his state-of-the-art car.
Provided it is in experienced hands, a BMW is a most potent asset on the free speed, solid German autobahn. It becomes, however, a lavish and rather useless item on the badly potholed Indian and Nepali roads, crowded with auto rikshaws, carts, buses, villagers, and domestic animals. What would happen to such a vehicle and its intrepid, if not somewhat foolish, driver on the sixteen thousand foot passes and treacherous mountain gravel roads of Tibet, we could only guess at, as few had probably tried to undertake such a ridiculous endeavor. Rinpoche was going to be the first one to test a luxurious BMW under the extreme and inhospitable conditions of the high Tibetan Plateau.
If, on top of this, Jamgon Kongtrul was going to Tibet on a secret mission to contact the 17th Karmapa, then choosing a latest BMW 525 model as his means of transportation was at best a rather imprudent if not a totally foolhardy move. One didn't need much imagination to figure out that all eyes in the country-Tibetan and Chinese alike-would be fixed, at all times, on such a technical marvel on wheels, not seen before in the Land of Snows. Rinpoche's progress would be followed by thousands, making him and his car an instant celebrity. To perform anything remotely secret under such star-like conditions would have been next to miraculous. If Rinpoche harbored any illusions about a covert operation in his native Tibet while driving around in a white BMW, he was certainly deceiving himself. It is difficult, though, to imagine that he was so naïve and inexperienced as to not notice the absurdity of executing the plan he had in mind from the inside of his conspicuous vehicle. Unluckily, Jamgon Kongtrul never got a chance to show what his clandestine business was to have been. He didn't get a chance to test his BMW in Tibet either.
The day before his planned departure, Kongtrul Rinpoche
had decided to try his new possession on the more familiar Sikkimese and
north Bengali roads. He set out for a day's outing to neighboring Kalimpong,
to visit his mother and test-drive the car. A BMW mechanic was also expected
from Delhi to perform a final check on the vehicle. Together, they were
to drive towards Siliguri, past the large Buddhist stupa that had been
erected outside this highly disordered and crowded city, and eventually
head towards Kathmandu. In the early morning of April 26, Kongtrul's party
received a message that the day's flights from Delhi had been delayed
and might even be cancelled. The BMW specialist was running late. Impatient
to hit the road, Jamgon Kongtrul decided to leave without him. His two
attendants piled onto the back seat, and Kalimpong disappeared from view.
As the story was later recounted by Tenzin Dorje, the lone survivor, Kongtrul's BMW sped along the narrow, slightly wet, asphalt road towards Siliguri. Suddenly a few black birds appeared on the road, right in front of the car. The driver, in a desperate attempt to save the birds, swerved the car violently, throwing the vehicle at once into a wild skid. If he ever had the time or skill to steer it back on course remained a mystery. The heavy car fish-tailed at full speed for thirty to forty yards until it inevitably hit, with tremendous force, one of the many huge trees that grew on the side of the road. It all took only seconds, but the impact was devastating. Everybody was thrown out of the car by the sheer force of the collision. Rinpoche died instantly. One of Rinpoche's assistants and the driver died from heavy injuries later in hospital. Tenzin Dorje, Kongtrul's secretary, was thrown out of the rear window and landed in the fields beside the road. He suffered only minor injuries. The needle of the speedometer had stopped at 110 mph.
Shamarpa immediately rushed to the scene of the accident
and took care of Rinpoche's body. Gyaltsabpa, struck with extreme grief,
was said to have suffered a mild heart attack. It was decided that there
wouldn't be a cremation but that Jamgon Kongtrul's body would be preserved,
and the traditional forty-nine-day rituals began that very same evening.
"Why Jamgon Kongtrul?"
"How could this ever happen to him?"
At that time most of us still believed that high, realized yogis have total control over not only their mental processes but also over most incidents in their lives. Certainly they could freely decide on when and how to leave their bodies. The best example was the 16th Karmapa's death. Why then, did Jamgon Kongtrul choose to exit the scene at such an unexpected and apparently premature moment?
The puzzle of the 17th Karmapa recognition was far from being solved, and when finally, after eleven years of uncertainty, a ray of hope had manifested, Jamgon Rinpoche simply washed his hands of the whole thing and split.
Now, with one regent missing, could the remaining
three come up with a satisfactory solution? All such doubts were swirling
in people's heads, giving everybody a lot to think about. There was no
end to the speculation.
) Some Lamas stated that the disciples' actions
might have an influence on their lama's life span. They stressed that
if the lama tolerated examples of bad conduct, giving high initiations
to all such people at the same time, this could actually shorten his life.
Students who broke their bonds might be the biggest hindrance to a Bodhisattva's
activity in this world. Slowly, the notion that even high incarnates made
mistakes began to settle in people's minds. It was a rather surprising
discovery, but it brought the impeccable lamas a notch lower, onto a more
manageable and human level.
However, most people didn't know that, apart from
being a tragic incident, Rinpoche's death set the Karma Kagyu on an immediate
After the futile attempt to bring Shamarpa to court
in 1983, Jamgon Kongtrul became the lubricant that somehow kept the upper
part of the machinery moving. Having apologized to Shamarpa for the blunder
with the court case, he moved closer to the senior regent, forging, in
the end, if not an intimate friendship, then at least a workable relationship.
He was, at the same time, a confidant to Gyaltsabpa, and the only one
to whom the reclusive Gyaltsab Rinpoche could really open up. A messenger
between two parties, he continued smiling at all and agreeing with everyone.
His activity kept the illusion of harmony and won the Kagyu lineage a
few more years.
While Rinpoche's body was still warm, Shamarpa's and Topgala's enemies staged the initial assault. The accusations that were leveled were so absurd that any critical person would laugh at them, putting aside all such stories as the product of an unhealthy imagination. Ordinary Tibetans were, however, a far cry from critical, and the cloak-and-dagger conspiracy that was propagated made an impression on their rustic, country bumpkin minds. The general secretary and also the chief regent were being accused of having planted a bomb in Jamgon's car. Kongtrul Rinpoche allegedly stood in their way to crowning a puppet as the 17th Karmapa, and the malicious pair simply decided to kill him.
Another rumor had it that the above two villains
secretly sneaked in under the cover of the Himalayan night and poured
salt or sugar into the BMW's petrol tank, thus causing the engine to seize
and catapult itself at high speed out of the car.
Anybody with even a remote understanding of mechanics
and a fair dose of common sense and good will would refuse to heed such
obvious nonsense. A car's engine tainted with sugar would simply slow
down and eventually bring a vehicle to a complete and unquestionable halt;
it would, under no circumstances, accelerate the car to the rather extraordinary
velocity of 110 mph, and would certainly defy the laws of gravity if it
were to suddenly eject itself out of the body of the car.
As to the mysterious bomb, Tenzin Dorje's, the lone
survivor's, detailed account of the dramatic event contradicted this grotesque
claim. The driver swerved the car at high speed in order to avoid hitting
a flock of birds on the road and thus threw the potent and heavy vehicle
into a wild skid. The rest was already history. Finally a BMW expert was
called in to put a decisive end to the ongoing tongue wagging. His clear-cut
testimony should have closed the issue once and for all. Unluckily, "there
are none so blind as those who will not see," and despite scientific
evidence and witnesses' statements to the contrary, the slander against
Shamarpa and Topgala continued unabated, drawing increasingly wider circles.