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

Situation for the Rumtek monks

Who will run the monastery ?

Preparation for the "Kagyu International Assembly"

Crowds invade monastery

The "Kagyu International Assembly" on november 30th, 1992

Attempt to build a new Karmapa Charitable Trust

Situation for the Rumtek monks

After the happenings in June '92, Rumtek was not the same place any more. Situpa and Gyaltsab behaved like victorious generals ready to assume full control of the lineage. Shamarpa, probably sick and tired of his peers' cunning methods, left the scene of the battle altogether and flew for a time to France, for the European Kagyu meeting in Dordogne.

The Rumtek monks' main concern was to carry out the instructions of their Lama, the 16th Karmapa. They pledged to continue with their duties in the monastery and made a strong commitment not to let the place fall into the hands of outsiders. Consequently, in order to prevent the possible removal of Karmapa's possessions, they locked up and sealed all of His Holiness' belongings. Confronted with the sharp division at the top, they decided neither to follow nor to oppose any of the regents. They were still confident that the three would manage to come to an understanding and in the end would unanimously bring forward an authentic Karmapa.

Such tepid support of their candidate fell far short of satisfying Situpa's and Gyaltsabpa's expectations. Their claim that all Kagyu monasteries in Nepal, India, and Tibet stood solidly behind Urgyen Trinley felt slightly overdone in face of the stance at Rumtek. This was, after all, Karmapa's main center, and the whole Kagyu world was tuned in and acutely sensitive to the tiniest motion coming out of the place.

The two regents must have then resolved to boost the monks' enthusiasm for their candidate, and so the cloister's legitimate inhabitants became first the targets of insults, then intimidation, and finally physical violence. The task of re-educating the unmoved monks was implemented by an unruly group of guests that Situpa had already brought with him during the ceremonies for the late Jamgon Kongtrul. About sixty individuals from the Sherab Ling and Bir monasteries in the western Himalayas and others from eastern Bhutan and Kathmandu had taken up residence in Rumtek and began to systematically interfere in the monastic administration and harass the legitimate caretakers.

Who will run the monastery ?

At the beginning of November '92, Kunzig Shamarpa and the Rumtek monks together with members of the administration and a group of trustees held a meeting at Karmapa's headquarters.

The room was jammed full. Everybody sensed that a significant decision would follow. Shamar Rinpoche began by repeating his assertion from June. He had knowledge of a trustworthy person who had been holding the 16th Karmapa's instructions concerning the 17th incarnation. The time had come for Rinpoche to devote his full attention to the fulfillment of these instructions. Shamarpa solemnly declared that until His Holiness was found in accordance with such a genuine mandate, he would be unable to perform his duties at Rumtek. He was, for the moment, giving up his commitments in the monastery. His words were greeted with uncomfortable silence.

It was an unexpected about-turn. Rumtek monastery and Nalanda Institute would be left exclusively in the custody of the monks and the Karmapa Charitable Trust. Situ Rinpoche had, of course, no business at the Kagyu headquarters. His seat, Sherab Ling, lay over a thousand miles to the west. During the years after Karmapa's death in 1981, Situpa had shown scant interest in the affairs of Rumtek and hadn't contributed a rupee to its coffers. His present bid for leadership of the lineage's headquarters was ill earned and had no legitimate basis whatsoever. Gyaltsab Rinpoche, although a resident at Rumtek, hadn't offered much support either. He had devoted most of his time to the construction of his own place, Ralang Ling.

Karmapa's main seat had been, in actual fact, managed and financially supported by General Secretary Topgala and his administration. Shamar and Jamgon Rinpoche had actively assisted him in this task. Now, with Topga unable to stay in Sikkim and perform his function - as the sikkimese government could not as yet guarantee his safety - and with Shamarpa soon gone, the management would come to rest on the monks' shoulders. The honorable trustees remained the legal caretakers, but one could hardly expect the distinguished gentlemen to travel daily to Rumtek and share the duties with the monks. If Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoche attempted, by force or other means, to assume control of the place, the monks would have no one to help them to confront the eminent lamas and their associates.

Shamarpa's words also carried other implications. The senior regent left little doubt that from now on he would take active steps to ensure that the 16th Karmapa's genuine instructions be implemented. To put it in plain language, it simply meant that the regent would now try to deliver the right Karmapa. Should the monastery come under threat from the outside, Shamar Rinpoche encouraged the monks to seek help from Chief Minister Bhandari.

There was full agreement among the participants as to who the threatening "outside" was. Bhandari though, seemed an unlikely ally. Shamar Rinpoche had, of course, no delusions about the politician's stand in the dispute, and if push came to shove, he certainly didn't expect him to rally in support of the helpless monks. After all, Bhandari's administration had openly supported Situpa during the confrontation in June. The truth was, however, that Rinpoche had nobody else to turn to for assistance. Rumtek was under Sikkimese jurisdiction, and Shamarpa still shuddered at the memory of the episode with the Indian Army showing up in the monastery's grounds. The mere presence in Rumtek of six shabby Indian soldiers had brought life in Sikkim to a standstill. Under such political realities, there was little choice but to entrust Karmapa's seat to the protection of the Gangtok government.

Shamarpa's statement

On the 17th of November, Rinpoche issued an official statement.
He declared that he would not object to the Chinese government's decision to recognize Urgyen Trinley as Karmapa. He had no jurisdiction in China and was completely unable to stop their action. The regent disclosed that his agreement to the Dalai Lama's recognition was delivered only out of respect to His Holiness. He pledged that he would hold firmly to the tradition of Gyalwa Karmapa by following only his genuine instructions.

Shamar Rinpoche then took senior monks and staff to Gangtok to meet the Chief Minister of Sikkim, Nar Bahadur Bhandari. He asked the Chief Minister to help protect the monk community and gave him a letter to this effect. Shamar Rinpoche then made it very clear to the Chief Minister that there was a rumour involving Rumtek monastery. This rumour was that Situ Rinpoche was secretly organising a large group to ambush Rumtek. Shamar Rinpoche then informed the Chief Minister that he had to leave the next day for a teaching programme in America. The Chief Minister said that he would help us but he actually went on to harm us badly.

Later in November, a series of regrettable developments occurred. A secretary of the Sikkim Government arrived at Rumtek accompanied by police officers. As the office was closed, he forced Lekshey Dayang, the Deputy Secretary of the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, to open it for him. He demanded to know why rooms of the monastery were locked when Situ Rinpoche was coming to Rumtek. When Dayang asked what business this was of his, the secretary pointed to him and threatened him. The secretary said that he was sent by the Government and that he should do as he was told. Dayang then informed him that before Situ Rinpoche had left the monastery he had been provided with his own room. When he came to Rumtek he was still allowed to use this. The secretary said, "NO! Situ Rinpoche must be given Gyalwa Karmapa's own room next to where the Black Crown is. These are the direct orders of the Chief Minister of Sikkim, Nar Bahadur Bhandari." The secretary again threatened Dayang and told him that he had 10 minutes to think about it. Then, with the police, they went to the room and he was given no choice but to open it. Situ Rinpoche would make Gyalwa Karmapa's private room his own for almost a year.

Preparation for the "Kagyu International Assembly"

The next morning, Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches returned to the monastery. Accompanying them were a number of young men, primarily from the local market of Gangtok, commonly known as "Lal Bazaar". These delinquents were recruited initially by the Chief Minister as muscle men and thus they were locally known as the "Lal Bazaar Batrus".

Upon arriving at Rumtek they immediately circulated a letter saying that they were going to have an "International Kagyu Meeting" from November 30th to December 3rd. The monk body and administration of Rumtek then circulated a letter objecting to this conference

On the 25th of November, the Sikkimese police entered Rumtek and took up positions around the monastery. They were to ensure that no fighting broke out when the other party arrived for their planned assembly.

On the 26th of November, Tsechokling Rinpoche, a government official from Gangtok, presented himself in the nearly deserted Rumtek. He demanded that the doors to the monastery be immediately opened. He was carrying the Chief Minister's orders to make the place accessible for the planned conference. "Make haste," he charged at the lone staff member who showed up to receive him. Seeing a Sikkimese dignitary waving a bunch of documents in front of his face, the poor fellow couldn't think of any appropriate reply and, after extracting the keys from his pocket, quietly unlocked the gates. That was all it took; one official proudly insisting to enter the cloister.

Obviously, since Rumtek had been left under the care of just a few individuals, nobody should have been surprised that Situpa's group had no difficulties in entering the monastery and setting up their meeting. It all went much easier than they had expected.

Hectic preparations for the planned conference continued for the next three days, and the monastery's legal custodians were ignored. The handful of administrators present travelled daily to Gangtok to petition the Chief Minister for action against this illegal entry to their cloister. They were informed that Bhandari was in Delhi and his office had no power to act. Unable to stop the aggression, the monk and nun community, the Nalanada Institute, and the Rumtek administration resorted to the last weapon available. On the 29th of November their representatives issued one more written statement.

The monks, nuns, and staff members declared that they didn't refuse to accept Tai Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoche's claim to have located Karmapa's true incarnation on the basis of authentic instructions. Neither did they decline to accept Shamar Rinpoche's assertion of the existence of genuine instructions indicating a true incarnation. However, they could only follow decisions made by the Karmapa Charitable Trust and under no circumstances would they accept resolutions made by lamas, their administrations, and other political groups. The legal custodians of Karmapa's main seat could do no more than that.

Crowds invade monastery

Although a group of forty Khampas was held up at the border and not allowed into Sikkim, the other participants smoothly crossed the frontier and arrived in full force at Rumtek. Situ Rinpoche was gathering supporters from all possible quarters.

Attending this meeting were monks from Sonada monastery and Situ Rinpoche's own monastery in Himachal Pradesh. Monks had also been recruited from Kathmandu. (Perhaps these people were the "International" contingent at the meeting?) In addition, there was an assortment of non-Kagyu people from Gangtok. Strangely enough, Kunga. Yonten, a member of the Sakyapa order from Dharamsala, was one of the "Chairmen" of this phoney "International Kagyu Meeting". Many of the visitors were Tibetans working for the Dharamsala administration. There were members of the Tibetan Youth Congress, Tibetan Women's Association, and the Association for the Independence of Tibet-no doubt distinguished institutions with an impeccable record of service to their communities. But what all these illustrious activists had to do with the issue of Karmapa's recognition was a question nobody raised. The two regents needed a thick, preferably noisy crowd.

More of Situpa's backers arrived individually during the following days-representatives of some prominent Kagyu monasteries from India and Nepal as well as Tibetans from different centers in the U.S. The inseparable pair from Woodstock, Bardo Tulku and Tenzin Chonyi, did not, of course, miss the occasion.

The name itself implied a worldwide participation of Karmapa's disciples. This was highly misleading. Barely a global gathering, the conference was in fact confined to just one race. Unless, of course, one would consider Tibetans living in exile in India and Nepal and in a few places in the U.S. to be legitimate delegates from the nearly forty countries where Kagyu centers had been established. With the exception of Woodstock, none of these centers was represented. The few lamas that journeyed from America, claimed to speak for the Kagyu worlwide.

The guests behaved as though Rumtek were a public place explicitly designed to hold political gatherings.


The "Kagyu International Assembly" on november 30th, 1992

Despite protests from Runtek monks, on the 30th of November the "Kagyu International Assembly," took off to a loud start.

Needless to say, not a single center of Shamarpa'side was even informed of, let alone invited to, the event. Unmoved by all such contradictions, Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoche pushed ahead with the proceedings.

The Karmapa Charitable Trust was a painful thorn in the regents' side. Although a trustee himself, Tai Situ stood as a single minority within the board. Coming from well known and largely respected Sikkimese families and having held the reins of power in Gangtok in the past, the honorable directors of the board were accustomed to taking their time before arriving at a decision. They were certainly not used to being hurried, let alone ordered around. In this case, they were not going to put Karmapa's interests and the reputation of their names at stake and rush into an endorsement of Tai Situ's candidate. The whole picture was rather cloudy, and the two regents would have to wait for an official sanction of their act.

This wasn't exactly the message that Situ Rinpoche wanted to hear. His so far impeccable plan was hitting a snag. To complicate matters, the General Secretary of the Trust, Topgala, didn't seem to exercise his fellow trustees' restraint and was in fact moving with full steam against the two regents. Situpa feared that Topgala's bellicose mood was having a bad influence on the other board members who might soon contemplate a more aggressive course of action. The dangerous situation had to be dealt with immediately.

Hence, in his opening address, Situ Rinpoche proposed that the present board of directors be dismissed and a new group of individuals be appointed to the governing body of the Karmapa Charitable Trust. The trust had come under the negative authority of Topgala and as such was exerting an undesirable influence on Rumtek and other Kagyu places in the world. Its members had to be discharged. The monastery and all of Karmapa's property was not safe until they had a new, healthy foundation. The colorful assembly of lamas, politicians, and activists that Situpa and Gyaltsab had carefully collected for the occasion seemed to fully agree with the reasoning.

A few voices of dissent were unexpectedly heard in the room. Some people argued that the trustees had been personally selected by the 16th Karmapa, and to dismiss them would be to go against His Holiness' wishes. This fact didn't appear to bother the venerable regents presiding over the meeting. Tai Situ casually remarked that, yes, they could do that, they could fire the notorious troublemakers and appoint good trustees in their stead. They could also establish a new trust. Such a scenario felt much too biased to a couple of delegates from Gangtok, and so, feeling they were suddenly skating on thin ice, the two rose and quickly left the room. Surprisingly, one of them was Tsechokling Rinpoche, the very one who, a few days earlier, had the monastery doors forced open in the sikkimese government's name.

The proceedings were promptly restored, and the rest of the illustrious crowd, showing few misgivings about the legality of their action and clearly undisturbed by the fact that they were going against the 16th Karmapa's legacy, passed the controversial resolution. The present Board of Trustees of the Karmapa Charitable Trust was then dissolved with immediate effect and seven persons were appointed as the new trustees. In addition, Topga Rinpoche was relieved of his function as General Secretary of the Trust with immediate effect, and a Tenzin Namgyal was unanimously elected in his place.

Were the delegates of this "Kagyu International Assembly" aware, though, that their decision didn't carry even the minimum of legality? The Karmapa Charitable Trust was a foundation operating strictly under Indian laws, and only the trustees or Karmapa himself, once he reached the age of 21 as specified in the Trust's deed, had the power to alter the composition of the board of directors. Whoever held the illusion that a group of casually assembled individuals could freely dismiss and appoint the secretary and the members of the board was either totally ignorant of some basic norms of functioning in a modern society or was simply a swindler.

It was astonishing to hear that some of the more ardent supporters assured Situpa that if challenged they could successfully fight their case in court. Did the regents truly believe they could get away with their ploy? They clearly wanted to copy their success from May and June. This time, however, it wasn't such a smooth ride. Altering a country's laws was more difficult than adjusting a historic tradition and forging a religious document.

The legal issue aside, how much validity the decision held for the lineage itself was, of course, a totally different matter. The crowd that converged in Rumtek was hardly representative of the Karma Kagyu school. Many key figures were missing, while others took places that definitely didn't belong to them. All Dharamsala activists, Gangtok officials, and Kalu Rinpoche monks had no business at a Karma Kagyu meeting. The regents might as well have invited the local football team from Gangtok and their ballot would have been just as binding. Also, the act of calling in a group of randomly chosen lamas and trying to constrain the whole lineage by their decrees was a suspicious novelty. The only legal body that represented the entire school at that time was the Karmapa Charitable Trust. All other assemblies, no matter how illustrious, could only speak for those attending and could not, by any measure, force all Kagyus to obey their ruling.

Firing Topgala from his post within the Trust apparently didn't fully satisfy the organizers' wish to bury their rival. And so the assembly was also invited to denounce, in most severe terms, the now "ex-General Secretary." The Kagyu international delegates were happy to comply. Having listed all his malicious deeds, the participants unanimously stated that Mr. Topga Yugal "had been causing destruction to the dharma and therefore the assembly condemns his actions."26 In the lengthy resolution, Topga Rinpoche was accused of having sold for a price His Holiness the 16th Karmapa's property in eastern Bhutan, of having caused friction between dharma teachers and disciples at Karmapa's main institutions, and of having led armed soldiers into the seat of the Karmapa. The assembly then proceeded to dismiss him from his post of Treasurer and General Secretary of the Karma Kagyu institutions, meaning, in this case, Rumtek itself.

On the 3rd of December, the conference's last day, a final declaration was passed. Neatly printed on Rumtek's official stationery, the text read as following: "We, the followers of the Kagyu Lineage . . . pledge with one pointed faith and reverence to confront anyone who may plan negative and destructive actions concerning this non-controversial issue. We pledge never to acknowledge any other person who may be falsely given this title."27 In a letter to the Chief Minister of Sikkim, the delegates went one notch further and dramatically stated, "We take oath that we can never accept and will fully confront if there is any other candidate for Karmapa."

Although many irrelevant names were huddled together on the small page, one could at once discern the prominent Kagyu Rinpoches' autographs. After Tai Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoche followed Poenlop and Bokar Rinpoche, then Bardo Tulku, and the many Kalu Rinpoche lamas, among others Dorje from Santa Cruz and Norlha from New York. We also noticed a representative from Tenga Rinpoche right below a Kunga Trinley signing on behalf of the Dalai Lama.

Two monks, moving at a slow pace, would go from one Rinpoche to the next and firmly deliver the paper into the lama's hands. Other more determined looking types would nicely position themselves behind the lama's back and observe, with an unflinching gaze, his progress. Their penetrating stare left little doubt as to what might actually happen if the lama in question would suddenly contemplate a little defiance and not sign the letters with sufficient fervor.

Lamas and Rinpoches who attended this meeting were forced to sign a paper endorsing the Chinese Candidate. One Rinpoche told us that he had been threatened with immediate arrest if he had not done this. Later, they apologised to Shamar Rinpoche and retracted their signatures.

One minor resolution was also passed on the last day of the meeting. The delegates, having condemned Topga Rinpoche, decided to keep on condemning other enemies of the lineage but being in short supply of fallen characters, set their eyes on The Karmapa Papers instead. The edition was denounced as a heap of "fabrications, misinformation, and outright lies, and not even a paragraph of truth to be found in this corrupted and false publication."

The claim that every single paragraph was a collection of lies was slightly overdone, even by the loose standards adopted at the gathering. Opening the book on let's say page 42, one comes across the Dalai Lama's official letter of recognition of Urgyen Trinley. The eminent deputies couldn't dispute that fact and certainly couldn't call it a fabrication or, even worse, a lie. We wondered how many participants had actually read through the text they were so categorically rejecting. The situation reminded of the official censors in the Communist world, who would ban a work that the politburo rendered unfit for the socialist mind. But while delivering their curses, they wouldn't risk so much as a casual glance at the denounced piece. In the end, everybody simply yelled against something nobody had dared examine.

Probably aware that the dissolution of the Trust might pose some legal complications, the "new trustees" began to consider other means to put pressure on the dismissed governors. But having little lawful choice, they opted then for a direct confrontation.

Trustees under pressure

Tenzin Chonyi, Woodstock manager and freshly appointed member of the new Trust, presented himself at the Gangtok residences of two of the legitimate trustees, Mr. Densapa and Mr. Sherab Gyaltsen. In an aggressive and loud manner, Tenzin demanded that the two directors sign an acceptance of the assembly's resolutions. It seemed that a raised voice was a standard mode of communication in Woodstock. It certainly wasn't in Gangtok, at least not for the two former Sikkimese ministers. The distinguished men let the agitated Tenzin know that they had been entrusted by the 16th Karmapa to assume, with five others, the administrative authority of the lineage from the time of his death until his 17th incarnation became 21 years old. In no way did the two intend to give up their duty and would, under no circumstances, consider handing over their responsibility to anyone but the 17th Karmapa himself. In particular, they refused to accept the illegal and disrespectful way things had been managed lately.

Seeing he was getting nowhere with his shouts, Tenzin Chonyi decided to apply more concrete pressure. He warned the two trustees that if they did not deliver their agreement, they would be immediately forced to resign from the Trust. It was, of course, a hollow threat. Nobody had the power "to force" the two trustees to resign except the other trustees and Karmapa himself once he reached the age of 21.

Unless Tenzin Chonyi was contemplating less tactful measures, he and his associates had no powers to extract a retirement from any of the directors of Karmapa's board. However, if the two had signed their acceptance of the "international Kagyu meeting," they would have, in actual fact, automatically submitted their resignations and removed themselves from the stage of events. The most important edict passed by the gathering was the dismissal of all of the trustees and the appointment of another group in their place. As expected, the two politicians were not members of the "new Trust." Mr. Sherab Gyaltsen and Mr. Densapa, each in a restrained manner, simply asked their guest to leave.


Attempt to build a new Karmapa Charitable Trust

An extraordinary meeting of the "Settlers of the Karmapa Charitable Trust" held on Saturday, 12 December 1992, at the registered office of the trust at Rumtek was presided over by Lodro Tharchin, teacher of Situ Rinpoche. No-confidence was expressed in Jewon Takpoo Yulgyal, a trustee and general secretary of the trust for not recognising the candidate (of Situ Rinpoche) as the reincarnation of the Karmapa. It was also decided to reconstitute the board of trustees. A resolution said:

Resolved that the present board of trustees be and is hereby dissolved with immediate effect and the following persons are appointed as the new trustees with immediate effect: 1. Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche, 2. Kenting Tai Situ Rinpoche 3. The Goshir Gyaltshab Rinpoche, 4. Bokar Rinpoche, 5.Tenzin Namgyal, 6.Tenzin Chonyi and 7.Kunzang Sherab.
It was also resolved that the reconstituted board of trustees would have the same powers and duties and would be governed by the same deed of trust dated 23 August 1961 as the outgoing board. Through a resolution, the assembly treated a letter from Topga Rinpoche to Situ Rinpoche refusing to recognise the latter's candidate as the Karmapa as the former's resignation letter.

Another resolution said:

Resolved that Jewon Takpoo Yulgyal ceases to remain general secretary of the trust with immediate effect and that Tenzin Namgyal has been unanimously elected general secretary of the Karmapa Charitable Trust with immediate effect.

The third and the last resolution stated:

Resolved that all the bank accounts of the Karmapa Charitable Trust shall hereinafter be operated by (any two of) the trustees as under: (1) Tenzin Namgyal, (2) Kunzang Sherab and (3) Goshir Gyaltshab Rinpoche. If any of the above have to go out of station for any period of time, he may authorise any of the other trustees to operate the bank accounts on his behalf during the period of his absence.

After two days, on 14 December the copy of the said resolutions was sent to the secretary, land revenue department of the government of Sikkim for the purpose of record-keeping.
Meanwhile, letters of query about the new trust started pouring from various towns in Europe in the office of the government of Sikkim as well as to the trustees, as per the deed of the trust.
Panic swept the Buddhist world. On 18 January 1993, the said Lodro Tharchin, wrote another letter to the land revenue department, withdrawing his earlier letter and the copy of the resolutions. He further requested for the return of the submitted papers. The government decided not to process the case for registration but pleaded its inability to return the submitted papers as they were now part of the official records.

On 1 March 1993, the commissioner-cum-secretary of the land revenue department wrote to Herbert Giller of West Germany and admitted that a request had been made by certain parties for a change in the existing trust. But the parties concerned subsequently withdrew their request for registration of change of the trust. "In view of the withdrawal, the state government has not registered any new trust nor recognised any change in the original trust existing as the Karmapa Charitable Trust," the government official added.