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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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Year 1993 - situation deteriorates in Rumtek

Internal situation in Rumtek

Two administrations compete in Rumtek

Shamarpa's letter concerning Tenga Rinpoche and other signatories

Situ Rinpoche's legal problems

Months preceding august 2th, 1993

On august 2nd, 1993, Rumtek is attacked

Following days after August 2nd, 1993…

Rumtek's monks testimony

Geo-political motives around Situpa

"Tulkus and Samaya", interview with Khenpo Chodrak Rinpoche

Internal situation in Rumtek

A new "administration" in Rumtek

The situation in Rumtek was more complex. Evidently, since the reconstructed board of trustees had no legal power, all resolutions adopted by this body and the assembly itself, such as the resolution removing Topga Rinpoche from his office in Rumtek, were null and void.

However, Tai Situ and Gyaltsab felt that the courts and laws were one thing, but here in Rumtek they needn't worry about such trivialities. Indifferent to the fact that they were breaking the country's law, they set about installing their new administrators. The government in Gangtok, no doubt fully aware of the proceedings, did not react to this obvious breach of their civil code and the violation of the monks' rights.

The immediate consequence of the assembly's resolutions for the monastery was then the removal by Situpa's party of the old team that had run Rumtek since 1982. The new management was composed of characters that had been dismissed from Karmapa's seat either by Topga Rinpoche or by Karmapa himself. The new secretary, Tenzin Namgyal, had been relieved from his official duties within the administration in 1988. The newly appointed assistant secretary, Lodro Tharchin, had been personally asked to leave Rumtek by His Holiness in 1971. He had then taken up a job with the Dharamsala government where he did not hide his animosity towards his former benefactors.

The Nectar of Dharma, a newsletter that was published out of Rumtek from January 1983, would run, in its first issue, a detailed account of the international assembly. It would also include two stories on the life achievements of the above civil servants, the new "governors in Rumtek." Tactfully, it would omit their former removal from the place. The title of the publication was, in fact, a direct copy of a circular that had been coming out of Karmapa's main center since 1981. Slowly, the new administration began to take over Rumtek's good name and its resources.

Two administrations compete in Rumtek

The Rumtek monks, however, were unmoved and refused to accept Topgala's dismissal. Since the resolutions had not been approved by the Karmapa Charitable Trust, they did not hand over the keys to the monastery's office. As a result, Rumtek settled into the reality of having two administrations.

The legal one, composed of Topgala's team, kept on performing the daily duties and the task of running the place. It lacked a head though, as the General Secretary was still strongly discouraged by the government from entering Sikkim and had been lately turned away from the Sikkimese border and sent back to Bhutan. And then the new group, composed of the appointed secretary and his two assistants, who kept themselves busy holding meetings and writing petitions, trying their best to obstruct the work of the lawful custodians.

The effort to bring Urgyen Trinley to Rumtek, at least on the surface, hadn't been abandoned. The two regents insisted that preparations in Tibet were in full swing and that they were holding constructive talks with the Chinese government on the issue. An "Organizing Committee for Enthronement of H.H. the 17th Karmapa" established itself in a woman's house in the village. In no time, the place became the nest of illicit activity directed against the monastery. Having no access to Rumtek's office, the new secretary, assisted by his two deputies, set up quarters on the "Committee's" premises. They somehow got hold of Karmapa's legal stationary and began posting letters to all Kagyu centers world-wide, giving the wrong impression that Rumtek had finally recognized the child in Tsurphu. Very appropriately, Karmapa's monks named that particular residence "The Chinese Embassy."

Three months later, on the 21st of March '93, in order to clarify the issue of the "second administration," Kunzig Shamarpa would distribute an official statement. In a letter sent to the Kagyu centers, the regent stressed that Rumtek continued to function as before. The Karmapa Charitable Trust was the lawful body representing the lineage, and the monk community followed decisions made by the Trust alone. The illicit effort to dissolve the Trust as a means to claim Rumtek and Karmapa's property failed. Rinpoche asked all disciples to be aware of the above and for future contacts with Rumtek to continue writing to the Karmapa Trust. This was one more open letter that Shamar Rinpoche would release during the years of the crisis, and we certainly welcomed his ever-bolder words.

The next immediate concern was the fate of the Black Crown and the whereabouts of the lineage's relics which the 16th Karmapa had managed to bring out of Tibet. If Tai Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoche were to have their say, they would probably carry the relics back to Tsurphu. That would, of course, mean the loss of these unique articles. The Communists would never again let them slip out of their hands. We had to make sure the lineage's possessions remained in Rumtek. For the moment they seemed to be kept under lock and key by the monks. But the arrangement was far from secure. Since Tai Situ's present bid to take over Rumtek and Karmapa's property had failed, it's possible that the regent, further pressed to deliver the relics to Tibet, would not hesitate to use less refined methods to do so.

Rumtek monastery and shedra at that time

By Khenpo Choedrak Rinpoche

Extract of the Kagyu conference Delhi 96

(…) Even in 1992, when the troubles erupted, the Junior Khenpos and myself strenuously tried to improve the situation and to carry on work at the Nalanda Institute. The Shedra's chairman during this period was Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche. He told us that, as far as the Karmapa issue was concerned, politics was involved and that the principal Rinpoches would have to sort this problem out. He said that we, on the other hand, were in charge of Buddhist studies. The teachers' job was to teach the Buddhist texts, and the students' job was to study. That was all. Shamar Rinpoche said that we should not take sides, but simply run the Institute. He also said that he would continue to provide us with food.

In accordance with Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche's advice, we carried on with our work. Even though we tried to do our best, the Institute wasn't running as successfully as before. Things became more and more difficult. One reason was that some of the students were receiving, money from the other side; with the result that they didn't attend the classes any more, didn't keep proper discipline and didn't listen when we tried to talk to them. Nevertheless, we carried on with our work at the Institute and managed to cope with the situation in 1992.

In 1993, however, the other side systematically divided the monks in the Shedra and the monks in the Monastery. They created friction between them. This was one issue. On top of that they threatened the Shedra teachers who wished to continue, intimidating them by distributing sheets of paper saying for example: "We'll kill you! We'll beat you up!". I am not making this up - these things really happened. As the monks told us yesterday, one of the Institute's teachers was even stabbed.

Then, in 1993, on the birthday of Urgyen Trinley, Gyaltsab Rinpoche came to the Shedra and organised a party. He said that from now on it would be enough for the monks just to wear their robes. He told the monks that from now on they could do whatever they wanted. From that point on, discipline at the Institute collapsed: many of the students didn't study any more and didn't abide by the rules.

At that stage there were two kinds of people in the Institute: those students who really wished to continue with their studies, and those who didn't study any longer. There were many who were hanging around and disturbing the classes. To make matters worse, in 1993 about 32 new students were recruited. The point is that these new "students" did not study, did not follow any monastic discipline and in fact were not even able to lead a normal life in the world. They were brought in from Bhutan and other countries, and most of them had some kind of criminal background.

These new "students" wore monks' robes, but that was all. They were fake monks. They were told that they didn't need to bother about any rules, they didn't need to study. They were told that they would be provided with food and with a pleasant place to live. They were also paid for staying there. So the tensions mounted, with the result that those students who wished to continue their studies simply left. They couldn't stay any more, because life in the Shedra had become extremely difficult. Some of them are staying here in K.I.B.I. and continuing their studies here, while others joined the Shedra of Penor Rinpoche. Moreover, where the teaching staff was concerned, there were several qualified teachers who had been asked to teach at the Nalanda Institute by the Karmapa Charitable Trust. Most of these Khenpos had to leave as well. It was impossible for them to stay on.

Hence, among the student body only those without the slightest interest in studying stayed. As for the teachers, suddenly students who had been unable to reach the required standards and had failed and had to repeat classes were installed as teachers. They were simply given the title of a teacher. It was just like a stage play. Evidently they are not qualified teachers. I am not making this up. It really happened, and my colleagues, all of the young Khenpos present here, are aware of it. They know what those who now act as teachers were like as students. The Shedra is not functioning any more at all. It is true to say that the Shedra is a fake; the other side is merely pretending to run the Shedra.

Samdup Tsering's letter about dealings in Rumtek

Most of the so-called letters of protest that reached our centers were distasteful attacks against "Shamarpa and his gang," This one, however, was in unusual contrast to the streams of abuse pouring from Tai Situ's side. The author, Samdup Tsering, was a newcomer to the scene. His name and rather chaotic style pointed to a Tibetan, although the letters had been nicely copied on white paper and sent out from Europe.

His words were a rebuke of Tai Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoche's illicit actions against the Rumtek monks and The Karmapa Charitable Trust. Now, Tsering sharpened his pen and was back with another summary from Asia. His article made interesting reading, and witness confirmed many of the assertions.

Situ Rinpoche was apparently still fooling himself and others that Urgyen Trinley's arrival in Rumtek was just a matter of weeks away. If at that time the lama continued to believe in his own claims, Tsering couldn't really say, but he could definitely certify that Rinpoche, on tour through Southeast Asia, had managed to raise considerable funds towards that purpose. His attendant, though, was said to have been cheated out of a good part of that money in a black market transaction in Delhi; the dollar figure mentioned was six digit. Another rumor had it that Rinpoche lost even more on a land purchase operation in Delhi. On top of this, his financial backers from Nepal were said to be trading in tiger bones and antelope hair, both endangered species close to extinction.

Shamarpa's letter concerning Tenga Rinpoche

It was now important to clarify Tenga Rinpoche's stand to the European students. This time, Shamar Rinpoche took the task of defining the intricate behavior of a fellow Tibetan lama to a Western audience. Shamarpa's letter made it to our groups in central Europe. Rinpoche presented the situation in allegorical terms. He quoted the Tibetan fable of the lion and the elephant, which illustrated very well the election process of the 17th Karmapa.

The lion and the elephant both wanted to be king of the animals. The lion declared that the elephant's eyes were too small for such a serious task. He roared and showed his big teeth. Only he could protect the animals. Obviously, they needed witnesses to settle the issue. They summoned the tiger, who at once agreed that the lion was by far the best suited to the job. But then, somebody had to be witness for the tiger. And so the buffalo was called in and witnessed for the tiger, and the pig witnessed for the buffalo, and in this fashion down to the tiniest flea. The final decision that the lion was to be king of the animals was then made by a flea.

In similar style, "Situ Rinpoche proceeded to create his own verification. His actions were supported by Gyaltsab Rinpoche. Situ Rinpoche and Gyaltsab Rinpoche were both supported by Bokar Rinpoche and other lamas. Their actions were again supported and given credence by their students. So, in fact, Gyalwa Karmapa is now being recognized by ordinary followers."

The issue is not how many Rinpoches declared the letter to be true, Shamarpa argued. As if the letter would become any more genuine if, for instance, Jamgon Rinpoche had given his approval, as Tai Situ claimed. Such reasoning knocked the whole thing off track. The core of the problem was whether the signature was authentic or not.

As a Tibetan, the senior regent knew well the situation of the lamas. He understood that they had to act in accordance with the political status quo of the region. Having monasteries in Tibet, they were responsible for their people in the occupied country. If they wanted to visit their old places and preserve their positions, they had no choice but to follow the Chinese line. Such points might be difficult to accept for people with a free, democratic background, Shamarpa admitted, but the lamas were bound by traditional, Asian rules and the current political realities.

Regarding the authenticity of Karmapa's present incarnation, Shamar Rinpoche pledged that he himself would rely only on the genuine instructions left by His Holiness. The important point was to patiently wait for the emergence of these instructions. Soliciting approval from other lamas, however many they might be, would prove nothing. Shamar Rinpoche left little doubt that he would only follow Karmapa's real commands and that he certainly didn't consider the letter, presented by Tai Situ, to fall into this noble category.

Situ Rinpoche's legal problems

Excerpts from " Siege of Karmapa " , testimony brought forth by Rumtek's monks

(…)The bizarre developments continued. In February 1993, a white maruti-suzuki car with three people on board made a surreptitious entrance to Rumtek monastery. Situ Rinpoche appeared from the car and looked somewhat disgruntled. To our surprise, for several days he remained in Rumtek without contacting anyone and in the evenings he would be seen looking out from the roof of the monastery.

As we later found out, Situ Rinpoche had flown from Hong Kong to Calcutta, carrying 25 kilograms of gold. When the customs Officers discovered the smuggled gold at the airport, Situ Rinpoche displayed his Bhutanese diplomatic passport. He claimed the gold belonged to the Royal Government of Bhutan, however the customs officers wanted a more convincing explanation. Situ Rinpoche then asked to see the Bhutanese customs officer and convinced him to believe the phoney story. He also claimed that the bag was actually his attendant's and quickly left for Sikkim.

One of his attendants was left behind with the bag to act as guarantor. Later on, we heard the issue was settled with Situ Rinpoche having to give up the gold. In spite of this, for years he was successful at smuggling million dollar quantities of gold. With this he bribed and purchased favours from politicians, officers and friends in Sikkim.

After a long time, we discovered additional information about the incident at Calcutta Airport. Apparently the Bhutanese customs officer was unsure of what to do. He contacted the General Secretary, Topga Rinpoche, who was staying in Calcutta at the time. For reasons unknown to us, Topga Rinpoche told them to help Situ Rinpoche. If he had not done this, Situ Rinpoche would have been in jail. We were very disappointed to hear this as we felt that his imprisonment would have helped to prevent the attack on Rumtek in August 1993.


Months preceding august 2th, 1993

"Siege of Karmapa" (…)

Among Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoche's most loyal friends stood the Sikkim "Joint Action Committee". The two Rinpoches managed to rake relentless support from this weighty group of politicians. As will be shown, this powerful group was able to step up pressure on the Chief Minister of Sikkim. This was due to their control of thirteen seats in the legislative assembly of the State. Aware of this fact, the Joint Action Committee called on the Chief Minister to help them take over Rumtek Monastery.

For that purpose, the infamous group of politicians expropriated the "Kunga Delek Guest House )5 Just across from the monastery. Here they set up an illegal office cum meeting place where free food handouts were offered to visitors. Once here, the visitor would also be fed with information about how corrupt the administration was and how everyone should just listen to Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches. Frequent guests were 42 new students from Bhutan. We later discovered that these students had been hired by Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches to join the monastery's Nalanda Institute. Also at this place, the outside. "guests" of the two Rinpoches would wine and dine at their pleasure. Later on they would be seen in the monastery shoving around the monks and residents of the Rumtek village.

We could now see what plan had been laid out. The Chief Minister was prepared to help in a coup to overtake Rumtek. However, he needed an excuse so that the police could "intervene" and chase us out. A big fight would have provided the perfect excuse and a public function was the perfect environment for this. As the winter Lama Dances loomed, the Rumtek monk community decided to cancel the public function.

We only held a small ceremony outside the old Rumtek monastery. Despite this fact, during the ceremony as the procession was ending, 8 vehicles filled with members of the Lal-Bazaar gang arrived. They were carrying knives and iron chains and tried to disrupt the ceremony. Some of the Rumtek village boys fought back.

After this incident, it was reported that the Chief Minister said that such a fight was "not good enough" to take over the monastery. However, he had no choice but to respond to the pressure stepped up by the powerful "committee". For the monks of Rumtek monastery, a storm ready to unleash its destructive power seemed imminent.

In June 1993, Shamar Rinpoche was still the Principal of Karmae Shri Nalanda Institute, the college at Rumtek. While Shamar Rinpoche was in residence at his bungalow, Gyaltsab Rinpoche took to inciting students. Through talks he encouraged them to break the discipline of the Institute. As a result, a dance party was thrown in the college, to celebrate the Chinese candidate's birthday. At the insistence of Shamar Rinpoche, the police were called in the next day.

Shamar Rinpoche then gave a lecture to the college students reminding them that they were not monks of Rumtek and therefore they should not interfere in any monastery matters. He said they were here to study and enjoy the facilities that were provided to them for free. A police officer, Mr. Sundar, also scolded the students by telling them to behave. (Not long after, Mr Sundar was transferred, evidencing the active interest being taken by the government of Mr Bhandari at the time) After the lecture, Shamar Rinpoche asked the students to sign papers whereby they either agreed to uphold the college rules or not. It was discovered that the 42 new Bhutanese students had signed the paper refusing to uphold the rules.

Shamar Rinpoche sent this list of signatures to the Minister of Education in Bhutan asking him to remove these offenders from the college. The Bhutanese Minister said that the government could not recall them as the students were now in India and beyond their jurisdiction. Ironically, he then thanked Shamar Rinpoche for the list, as the whereabouts of these people was now known. He admitted that a number of these "students" were convicted criminals and some had escaped from Bhutan.

As some students still continued to misbehave, neglect studies, quarrel and create chaos in general, classes were cancelled. To our horror, Trinley Dorje, a student from Sonada monastery, stabbed Sonam Tsering, a junior Khenpo who had the courage to reprimand him. Although a FIR was lodged with the police, no legal action was taken against him. He was granted bail on surety provided by Kunzang Sherab, President of the Joint Action committee. Kunzang Sherab took Trinley Dorje to his residence and kept him there. This student was later seen moving around Gangtok freely.

The situation seemed out of control by July 1993. The Nalanda Institute was declared closed by its director, Shamar Rinpoche, and the students were instructed to leave for their homes before August Ist. On July 22nd , Shamar Rinpoche left for Europe to visit his seriously ill mother. Rumours were then heard of a fight being organised against the Rumtek monks. By this stage some of the college students had left but the 42 troublemakers remained. Neither Shamar Rinpoche nor the monks wanted to go ahead with the Summer Retreat because of the plan being hatched.

However, as we knew that Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches had decided to go ahead with it, we had no choice but to remain in the monastery. We prayed for the ordeal to finish. Unfortunately, as we were to realise, the worst was yet to come. On July 25, Lodro Tharchin, a resident of Dharamsala who had come to Rumtek to help Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches, returned to his home. The rumour was that he had gone to Dharamsala to bring Situ Rinpoche to Rumtek for something. On the 30th, Situ Rinpoche arrived.


On August 2nd, 1993, Rumtek is attacked

" Siege of Karmapa "

On August 2nd 1993, the ceremony of "Yarne" (oath taking day for the summer retreat) was being held. Throughout this ceremony, four monks at a time take the oath from the Abbot and it must be completed by midday. During Yarne, only those taking the monk's oath are allowed to be present in the monastery, as this is a very sacred event.

Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches wanted to make Yarne a public programme. They had organised a very large group of people to come to the monastery. When the first groups started arriving, the monWs committee decided the function would not be held in the prayer hall. We then locked the doors of the main prayer hall. With the active participation of the Sikkim police, the large group marched into the monastery with the intention of seizing it. As the thugs from Lal-Bazaar arrived, they demanded to know why the prayer hall was closed, as they wanted to enter it. When our senior monks told Situ Rinpoche's invitees to leave the monastery, they became hostile. They and members of the crowd made rampant false allegations, physically assaulted us and demanded the keys to the prayer hall.

When the keys were not given, Ngedon Tenzin, Master of Rituals, had his robe tied around his neck. His arms were stretched and while they tightened the robe, he began to choke. The mob then dragged him mercilessly through the courtyard of the monastery. Unable to bear it any longer, the monks who had the keys were forced to surrender them. They were then cruelly beaten. Even our young monks were threatened at gunpoint and slapped by the police officers and the ruthless crowd. Some of our monks had chilli powder thrown into their eyes. The police said they would take our injured monks to hospital. What they actually did was take them to Gangtok and throw them into prison.

Simultaneously, Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches, donning ceremonial yellow robes, were seated in front of the main door of the prayer hall. They chanted peacefully, apparently oblivious to their pious followers who were beating and assaulting us. The Chief Secretary of the Government of Sikkim, Mr. Sonam Wangdi, then illegally confiscated the key to the prayer hall.

When the doors were opened, with folded hands and wet eyes, Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches led the procession and paid obeisance to the holy images inside the temple.

Since the events of August 2nd , we, the legitimate monks of Rumtek have been living away from the monastery. We were forced out of Gyalwa Karmapa's monastery and have been living under difficult conditions at Shamar Rinpoche's bungalow. To this day we have not been able to return to our monastery.

On reflection, Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches had obviously been prepared to ruin this sacred event in order to take over the monastery.

The day that they summoned the public to the monastery was absurd. As stated, traditionally no one except the monks participating in the Yarne ceremony are allowed on the premises. Therefore, the posters they had placed in Gangtok advertising a public programme, were totally against monastery protocol. The conflict that occurred on Yarne was just the excuse the Government of Sikkim required to support Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches' takeover of the monastery.

The chaos that ensued on this day is a terrible blight on Buddha's tradition and these high Lamas who are supposed to represent it.

Following days after August 2nd, 1993…

The following day, while the remaining monks were dining in the hall, followers of Tai Situ and Gyaltsabpa, accompanied by policemen, burst into the room and put a picture of Urgyen Trinley high on a shelf. The monks were ordered at gunpoint to bow down to the photograph and swear an oath that the boy was the true Karmapa. They were told that anyone who dared deny that fact would face legal consequences. Thereafter, the policemen collected a wide assortment of kitchen knives and wood cutting tools and, laying the utensils on a table, ordered the monks to stand next to it. An officer proceeded to take pictures of the scene. Such assembled evidence would later be used against the monastery and its legitimate caretakers as proof of their aggressive schemes.

In the wake of the events from August 2, the monastery's inhabitants were chased away from their quarters, their possessions were stolen, and their rooms were locked or taken over by outsiders. They were no longer allowed to enter the temple. Having no other place to go, they took shelter in Kunzig Shamarpa's residence. Over one hundred and seventy monks, nearly the whole Rumtek monastic community, fled to Rinpoche's house a mile away from the cloister itself. At that time Shamarpa did not know of their plight. The conditions were difficult. The place obviously wasn't made to accommodate such a large number of individuals. They were lacking the basic facilities and there was little hope of continuing with their studies and monastic duties. Their long ordeal of being outcasts from their own monastery had begun.

Complicities in Sikkim

Situpa and Gyaltsab had again managed to deliver a coup. While the whole Sikkimese political establishment looked appropriately the other way, the two regents had brutally and illegally assumed control of Karmapa's property. The Martangs, not able to forget the exclusion of Gyaton, their dubious tulku son, from Rumtek in 1983 and still nourishing the hope that their offspring might be sitting one day high on a Rumtek throne, readily lent Tai Situ a helping hand. There was little doubt anymore that Gangtok's highest politicians were also involved. Chief Minister Bhandari, who had ruled the Himalayan enclave with an iron fist for the past fourteen years, put his unlimited resources at the two Rinpoches' disposal. The local police, rather than protecting the victims, took it upon themselves to harass and in some cases even physically maltreat the helpless monks. One could have been excused for thinking that the regents were, in actual fact, the new police commissioners, for the officers only responded to their orders. It was a well-known secret in Sikkim, that Bhandari and his cronies had been handsomely rewarded for their services.

During the next days, Tai Situ and his party launched a full scale campaign to portray themselves as the victims of the monks' aggression and the sole defenders of Karmapa's legacy.

Shamarpa was being depicted as the main instigator of the violence. A letter addressed to the senior regent and signed by a large collection of individuals from all walks of life in Sikkim accused him of bringing disgrace to everything from Buddhist robes to the holy Buddhist scriptures.


The Gangtok press, controlled by the Bhandari regime, went along with the assailants. "Cops Quell Querulous Clergy," claimed a prominent headline in The Courier of Sikkim. The querulous clergy were, as to be expected, the Rumtek monks. Photographs of a stockpile of bricks, weapons, and other implements were freely used in these editions. The Delhi newspapers, giving the incident a certain amount of attention, were fairly objective in their assessment. "Pro-China Coup in Gangtok Monastery," read an article in The Hindustan Times. Sharing a border with Chinese-controlled Tibet, Sikkim was a strategically sensitive region for India, and the slightest hint of Red China gaining a foothold in the enclave was cause for immediate alarm in the Indian capital. Whether knowingly or not, Situ Rinpoche was walking a thin line, and his flirtation with Beijing would soon come to haunt him.

To legitimize their occupation of Rumtek, the regents enlisted the help of a variety of organizations from Gangtok. In their resolution from August 13, the Sikkim Tribal Youth Association, the Sikkim Tribal Women Association, and other such societies strongly condemned what they defined as a "sabotage of religious functions" by a "handful of monks." According to the document signed by a total of eight groups, "a large number of devotees" had been prevented on the 2nd of August by a small gang of monks from receiving a blessing. One also learned that the law enforcement agencies later discovered a stash of lethal weapons that the same handful of monks had stored with the intention of causing harm to the devotees. The outraged activists were of course strongly condemning such actions as "being mischievous, unwarranted, and with ulterior motive." They also disclosed that the above acts were inspired by "foreign elements" with "vested interests" and called upon the State Government to confiscate all property of the foreigners involved. This was seen as pointing to Topga Rinpoche who was holding a Bhutanese passport. However, the participants were seemingly not aware that both Situ and Gyalatsab travelled on diplomatic documents issued by the same country. Finally, the delegates resolved to confront all the foreign inspired manipulators and formed an Action Committee for that purpose.

The Action Committee became a noisy group that would apply pressure in a most distasteful way on anyone who would dare dispute Situpa's letter and his candidate. Soon after its formation, the committee members staged a loud protest in front of Gangtok High Court against a petition filed by a group of distinguished Sikkimese men, followers of the 16th Karmapa, to have the contested letter scientifically examined. As tempers rose, the crowd got somewhat out of hand and proceeded en masse to the home of one of the trustees of the Karmapa Charitable Trust, Mr. Sherab Gyaltsen. In the ensuing riotous demonstration, windows were broken and the family abused. On the way to Rumtek, the aroused protesters called on the home of one of the signatories of the petition. More incidents of slogan shouting and stone pelting followed.

Rumtek monks testimony

For many years, we, the official and original monks of the Dharma Chakra Centre of the Karma Kagyu lineage in Sikkim, India, did our very best to fulfil the wishes and instructions of H.H. the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa. Either by prayers, meditation retreats, pursuing studies or serving His Holiness in general, we devoted our lives to carrying out his aspirations to the best of our ability. We continue to do this, because we have come to a clear conviction: To follow the Dharma is the ultimate refuge and the final goal to which all beings should aspire.

After H.H. the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa passed away, we continued pursuing our duties as followers and monks of Gyalwa Karmapa. At all times we respected and trusted Shamar, Situ, jarngon Kongtrul and Gyaltsab Rinpoches as traditional spiritual leaders. To find the true incarnation of H.H. the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa was the responsibility of these Rinpoches. The duty of everybody was to practice the Dharma and pray for his swift return.

Even when the polarization amongst the principal Rinpoches occurred, we took an impartial stand. We are the monks of His Holiness Gyalwa Karmapa, not Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches. However, after 1992 we were astonished to be pushed aside and evicted from our own monastery by very hostile people invited by Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches. As a consequence, the administration and the Sangha Duche (the monk community of Rumtek) tried in vain to protect Rumtek Monastery as His Holiness' main seat.

As monks, we had little to do with worldly matters. When the conflict broke out we could not understand the politician's motives for our monastery. Since they held high positions, we thought they would behave in a proper manner. We were not practiced in lying, slandering or blackmailing. We had not experienced the cold damp of a jail cell and knew nothing about gang fights or murder. The painstaking procedures of a court case, accusing others and being accused, were also unfamiliar to us. However, we all knew that what was happening was totally wrong.

After our forcible ouster, we made numerous appeals for assistance. We asked the people of the Himalayas, the Karma Kagyu monasteries in the region and Dharma centres around the world, to assist us in returning to our monastery. Unfortunately, despite efforts of the legal Rumtek administration and many others, the appeals have so far failed. To date this issue does not get the attention it deserves.

Bullies in Rumtek

After the take-over, Rumtek had changed beyond recognition. Hiding in Shamarpa's house, the resident monks were banned from the monastery's grounds. A number of suspicious characters dressed in robes were brought to the cloister to take their place. The ritual, chant, and discipline masters were all dismissed, but the new appointees had obvious difficulties in applying their skills. How many of the fresh arrivals were genuine monks was a question that nobody in the village dared or cared to ask. People were forced to sign pledges of loyalty, petitions, and denunciations. A minority who tried to stay merely neutral was blacklisted and immediately harassed by the police. The local officers in the nearby station in Ranipool saw it as their holy duty to re-educate the less enthusiastic supporters of Urgyen Trinley. The Namgyals and a handful of other families who openly stayed loyal to Kunzig Shamarpa were persecuted.

Geo-political motives around Situpa

As for Tai Situ, his secret involvement with Communist China was no secret in India anymore. The regent's alliance with Beijing and his aggressive campaign to bring Urgyen Trinley to Sikkim were viewed with a good deal of concern at the highest governmental level in Delhi. Probably at Situpa's urging, Bhandari himself took up the matter of the Tsurphu boy with the Indian ministers, but his request to allow the child to enter Sikkim, even for a brief visit, was firmly turned down. China was the only nation that hadn't recognized India's sovereignty over Sikkim, and the mere thought of having a Communist appointed Karmapa, a Chinese citizen, residing in Rumtek or shuttling between Tsurphu and Gangtok made the Indian politicians shudder with discomfort. At that point, he would be drawing dangerously close to claiming his property in Sikkim as Chinese. Situpa's amateurish overtures with Beijing and his dabbling in the delicate Sikkimese politics had raised eyebrows more than once in the Indian capital. Now, Delhi was getting seriously tired of their restless guest.

To add to Situpa's troubles, Beijing wasn't in the least disposed to let their Karmapa out of the country. Having won a powerful asset in their design to split the Tibetans, the Communists lost interest in Situ Rinpoche. He would soon discover the once friendly doors in the Chinese capital to be closed. Blind to the political realities, the regent wouldn't give up.

Following his assurances, enterprising committees from Woodstock in the U.S. to Samye Ling in Scotland and Gangtok in Sikkim were busy urging devotees to furnish the soon-to-happen official enthronement of Urgyen Trinley outside China. A letter by Tenzin Chonyi to the "dear dharma friends" explained that all shared the joy of the recognition and that most likely in early 1994 His Holiness would grace Woodstock with his presence. A total of two hundred thousand dollars was necessary to prepare the visit. Tenzin's "vision" was that everybody should contribute a mere thousand dollars.

"Tulkus and Samaya", interview with Khenpo Chodrak Rinpoche

KIBI, March 20,1994

Khenpo Chodrak Tenphel received his education under the direct guidance of The 16th Karmapa. He is one of the main teachers at the Nalanda University of Rumtek Monastery and at The Karmapa International Buddhist Institute (KIBI) in New Delhi which is under the direction of Shamarr Rinpoche.

Question : How can one understand the obvious discrepancy between the qualities of a tulku (consciously reborn being) as described in the texts, and the behavior of some tulkus during this current controversy of the recognition of Karmapa?

Khenpo Chodrak : The way the Dhanna was spread in the West -especially the style of practice and people's opinion about the Dharma - is based on how it was presented in the beginning. It gave the impression that tulkus did not have any disturbing feelings and that they were always on one of the bodhisattva levels. People also think that bodhisattvas and tulkus cannot make any mistakes. But actually it is very difficult to be a true bodhisattva, and I think that not all tulkus are real bodhisattvas.

In different sutras, and also in connection with the Vajrayana, the Buddha emphasized again and again how important it is to check the character and the qualities of a lama. It might be that among the lamas who teach and have taught in the West, there are many who are true bodhisattvas and many who are not.

Those who travel around and teach, but who are not real bodhisattvas, have to "sell" themselves. When one has a product, one has to advertise in order to attract a buyer. When one pretends to be a bodhisattva without really being one, he has to do a lot of things in order to attract people. For example, there has been a lot of talk that someone is an emanation of Chenrezi, Manjushri or other Buddhas in order to give them a stronger standing. It is especially important for people who start practicing Dharma to have a close look at their teacher and to check his qualities, which is quite simple.

If it is obvious that the main motivations of the teacher are to make money and to have a good reputation, then it is better to keep distance, even if one has already received teachings from him. But one should also not speak badly about him. Concerning this, one should not get too extreme, because a teacher is a human being, like everybody else, and has to make a living. One should stay away when it is obvious that the teacher's craving for money and status is unusually high.

Many lamas have to support various projects, monasteries and the people in those monasteries, and therefore receive donations. If one sees that the donations, on the other hand, are only used for selfish purposes, this is another reason to keep a distance.

One's orientation should simply be on the meaning of the word: bodhisattva. To be a bodhisattva means to serve mankind. If one does not do that, one cannot be called a true bodhisattva.

Question : What about the great bodhisattvas, like Situ Rinpoche, who were acknowledged and confirmed by Karmapa, and who had been bodhisattvas in their former lives? How can their current way of acting be understood? Shouldn't there exist a kind of "guarantee" by Karmapa's acknowledgment?

Khenpo Chodrak : It is for certain that Karmapa is never wrong and that he acknowledged Situ Rinpoche as a bodhisattva. When one looks at Situ Rinpoche and at what he is currently doing, then it is also clear that his actions concerning this matter are not in line with the Dharma. The way he acts contributed to the fact that Rumtek monastery was more or less damaged and destroyed. Thus, he caused damage to his own root-lama's monastery. One can look at this from every possible angle :it is not in correspondence with the Dharma.

This question can also be answered by referring to the Diamond Way: Vajrayana is a very delicate matter because it has such huge potential. When this potential is used in the right way, this is very positive. But if it is misused, it can be very dangerous. It is comparable to nuclear energy: utilized for peaceful purposes, it is useful, but as a nuclear bomb it is a disaster.

The dangers of the Diamond Way lie in the samayas, the Vajrayana vows. Once one receives them - for example in connection with an empowerment - one has to keep them. Certainly Situ Rinpoche received empowerments from Karmapa and, as he was a very close student, he probably also received the samayas that are connected with them. After Karmapa's death, Situ Rinpoche spent a lot of time with people who had broken their bonds with Karmapa and had always been working against him. Lodro Tarchin, who Situ Rinpoche installed as the secretary in Rumtek, is known to have broken his connection with Karmapa long ago. Another case: the Nyerpa, treasurer of Gyaltsap Rinpoche, started a lawsuit against Karmapa at that time in Tibet.

Especially the activity for the benefit of all beings does not function anymore. If an atom bomb explodes, the whole country is destroyed. It is similar with the Diamond Way if one does not have the right conduct.

Question : You explained before, that from the first bodhisattva level on, one is not able to break the samayas connected with empowerments anymore. For a great Bodhisattva like Tai Situ Rinpoche, isn't that the case?

Khenpo Chodrak : If the influence of people who broke their samayas is very strong, it can influence a bodhisattva to the extent that it affects his own realization. This morning I read the life story of Doe Khyentse Yeshe Dorje. He once had visions of dakinis and of Guru Rinpoche who told him to practice in a certain cave in East Tibet. And by doing this, he would realize the rainbow body within one lifetime. He then started with his travel arrangements.

Two of his servants kept their vows, a third one did not. It was obvious to Doe Khyentse, that the third servant should not travel with him, and he tried everything possible to hold him back. He gave him presents and told him it would be better for him if he stayed at home. But the servant could not be convinced and wanted to practice there under all circumstances. It is said that Doe Khyentse Yeshe Dorje, who is regarded as the emanation of the great Kunzig Jigme Lingpa, did not attain the appropriate realization because of that person who disturbed his development.

Question : Can a bodhisattva, through broken Vajrayana samayas, lose the qualities that he has developed informer lives?

Khenpo Chodrak : The realization cannot be lost, however, further development is impaired.

Question : Why can something like that not happen to Karmapa himself

Khenpo Chodrak : Because Kannapa's realization exceeds everybody's and he is above it all. In a text of the first Pawo Rinpoche, a meeting with a Mahasiddha is reported in which the Mahasiddha tells that Karmapa and he once developed the enlightened mind together. But the difference between the two is that Karmapa has been acting exclusively for the benefit of all beings. The Mahasiddha did all sorts of different things -like using Diamond Way practices for his own benefit. Karmapa, on the other hand, never made a single mistake since then. Nevertheless, when Karmapa's students break their samayas, it can impair Karmapa's activity. The 15th Karmapa, Khakyab Dorje, prophesized that he would become 84 years old, but he died at the age of 52 due to the broken samayas of his students.

Question : If a tulku is not a bodhisattva, what does the title "tulku "mean?

Khenpo Chodrak : Political tulkus are not bodhisattvas. (Rinpoche laughs.) There are many cases in Tibet where tulku titles were awarded and do not mean anything. The boy in Tsurphu holds the title "Karmapa" because he was installed as such.

The present situation in Tibet and China is nothing new. The Chinese had already selected certain children for political reasons and granted them high tulku titles. Therefore, they [the Chinese] gained influence, the people trusted the lamas and the Chinese government could control the Tibetans. In the time of the Chinese Emperor Ching Long, a tradition existed in which a golden vase was shaken with the names of the adequate children inside. One or two were picked, and those were installed as tulkus.