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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
receiving mail updates
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Year 1994

Karmapa welcomed in KIBI

March 17, 1994 - KIBI under attack and Thaye Dordje intronized

Benza Guru's assassination

India bannishes Situ Rinpoche

Confidential report by Sikkimese Chief secretary

… about Dalaï Lama
… about Sitoupa
… about China

Karmapa welcomed in KIBI

At the end of February 1994, Shamar Rinpoche announced that Trinle Thaye Dorje, the new Karmapa, would be officially introduced to his disciples on the 17th of March in KIBI, New Delhi. People were invited to come to Delhi to take part in the event.

Unknown to many, however, was the fact that, for people, the gathering in India was to become no less dangerous than it was to be inspiring. Having no one else to turn to for help, Shamar Rinpoche asked Ole Nydahl and his disciples to protect the young Karmapa and the Institute during the welcome ceremony in March.

He had received word that Situpa's supporters were gearing up for a violent confrontation. Much as he wished to, Rinpoche could not take such reports as empty threats intended to dishearten him from his course of action, especially not since the denunciations pouring in from Situ Rinpoche's quarters were delivered in an ever more menacing tone. And so, at Shamarpa's request, people in Europe addressed themselves to the task of shielding Karmapa during the meeting in KIBI.

March 17, 1994 - KIBI under attack and Thaye Dordje intronized
Shamarpa's plan for the morning of March 17 called for the child to be quietly driven from his hidden abode to the Institute where the welcome rituals were to take place. Shamar tulku hoped that eventually reason would win and that, despite his rivals' combative mood, a direct clash could be averted. The signals reaching KIBI were mixed though. Situ Rinpoche's supporters had shown up in great force in the Indian capital, certainly not to bid welcome to Karmapa. Shamarpa's nosiest opponents among the prominent Kagyu lamas had also manifested. Rumor had it, they were to petition the Dalai Lama-who happened to be attending a human rights conference in New Delhi-to condemn Shamarpa and reject Thaye Dorje.

Would they try to march on the Institute and attempt to break up our meeting? The nearly seven hundred guests that had travelled to KIBI to attend the ceremony were busy mulling over the possible scenarios for the crucial day. As the 17th of March was approaching, tempers on both sides kept rising.

On the evening of March 16, the day before the planned ceremony, Shamar Rinpoche must have become aware that the following day Situpa's people would try, at all costs, to stage a demonstration in front of KIBI. Under such circumstances, Rinpoche's original idea to bring Thaye Dorje to the institute in the early hours of March 17 was turning into a dangerous enterprise. The young boy might have to be escorted through a thick throng of hostile individuals before he reached the safety of his new residence. Such a prospect was at best risky, if not life threatening. It was impossible to predict how an adverse and agitated crowd might react if it realized that the "false" Karmapa was within its grasp. Shamarpa was not disposed to find out.

The only reasonable solution, then, was to fetch the child under the cover of the night before the protesters began to gather at the entrance to the Institute. Hannah Nydahl proposed that the next morning an empty car should be sent anyway, as if dispatched to bring the young Holiness to KIBI. With little time to waste, Shamar Rinpoche put the plan into action, and within a few hours the young Karmapa was safely delivered to the Institute. Not even the KIBI residents suspected that their main teacher was enjoying the comfort of the academy that bore his name.

The next day, in the early hours, a large crowd began to assemble at the gates to KIBI. The hundreds of visitors who were there to attend the historic function, one by one were searched by our people before being allowed to proceed inside. The Westerners were taking no chances, and a few potential troublemakers were kindly but no less firmly asked to leave. Situpa's monks and a number of visibly aroused individuals had been ferried in buses and, once the guests disappeared in the building, took a defiant position on the pot-holed street that ran parallel to the Institute. They had come armed with a large variety of banners that not only denounced Shamarpa and Topgala but also promised to confront the pairs' "puppet Karmapa." Surprisingly, a few slogans maintained that the rally enjoyed the Dalai Lama's support.

While the group outside continued to grow, a black Mercedes inched out of KIBI's driveway and sped off to an unknown destination. The mysterious vehicle immediately caught the protesters' attention. They shifted their focus from the building to the street and from the street to the vanishing car. The leaders of the mob concluded that the limousine would soon return with the "fake" Karmapa. Rinpoche, and Hannah's trick proved as skillful as it was timely. While Situpa's men flexed their muscles and blocked the street in an effort to prevent Thaye Dorje's ingress to KIBI, Shamar Rinpoche signalled that the ceremony could commence.

Preceded by Kunzig Shamarpa and sheltered by the traditional umbrella, Trinle Thaye Dorje, the 17th Karmapa, entered KIBI's main shrine and slowly walked towards the Buddha statue that dominated the lofty room. The blow of horns and the jingle of cymbals filled the air. The hall was packed to bursting point. Karmapa's monks, together with several hundred European and a few Chinese visitors from South East Asia, were seated on the floor facing the altar. As the boy moved through the hall, everyone rose to catch a glimpse of the new Kagyu leader.

With elegance, the young Karmapa prostrated himself in front of the Buddha statue and climbed, for the first time in public, on his throne. Nendo Tulku, the master of ceremony at Rumtek, offered him a symbolic replica of the black hat and put a brocade robe around his shoulders. The blare of the horns and the beat of the drums heightened; Karmapa, fully concentrated, placed the black hat on his head. The official puja began.

A few hours later as the religious function was drawing to an end, the twinkle of bells was suddenly drowned by the smashing of windowpanes. Wild screams reached those in the hall. KIBI's guests exchanged curious and increasingly bewildered looks. The protestors, having closed the street and waited in vain to intercept the "false" Karmapa, must have finally noticed that Karmapa's welcome ceremony had got under way hours before and was now all but over. Furious for failing to stop the loathed event, a pack of monks rushed toward the entrance of the academy. Without so much as a word of objection, let alone an effort to check the onset, the Indian soldiers manning the entry unlocked the gate and, in an orderly fashion, took to their heels. Equipped with stones and clubs, the assailants stormed forward.

The moment the first windows in the shrine room were shattered, Westerners taking part in the rites dashed out of the building. A hail of bricks and bottles descended on them outside. Some twenty of Situpa's monks, well past the gate, were charging ahead, trying to get into the hall. They were detained by a barrage of stones coming from the KIBI side and had to pull back to the street, beyond the Institute's premises. The Westerners attempted to lock the gate but soon gave it up, as rocks were flying thick and fast. Juliusz lay unconscious on the ground, bleeding from his head; a few others suffered less serious injuries. The attackers, though, were kept at bay.

The hall resembled a bastion under siege. Most windows were gone. Mad yells coming from the courtyard pierced the air. The sound of bricks hitting the walls mixed with the menacing slogans of the assailants. Those trapped in the shrine room had ample reason for concern if not full-scale alarm, but hardly anyone dropped the stiff upper lip. An old Tibetan lady broke out in tears, but hers was a painful sob rather than a fearful cry. Karmapa appeared completely relaxed; accompanied by Shamar Rinpoche, he stayed behind a curtain next to the altar. After the mob had been driven away, the boy was quietly escorted to his quarters on KIBI's third floor where he could safely watch the developing situation.

Defenders were asked to exercise restraint -in no way were they to resort to violence; on no account were they to further the unrest. Alas, even though Westerners showed remarkable discipline, right after the incident, Situ Rinpoche's backers publicly accused "Nydahl's German troops of setting upon the peaceful demonstrators with electroshock devices."

Hard as they pushed, the rioters did not manage to re-enter KIBI. Our men closed ranks and succeeded in locking the gate. The raving horde was kept at a decent distance from the entrance. Although constantly provoked, the Westerners refused to be dragged into direct skirmishes with the demonstrators. They would not jeopardize KIBI and Karmapa's good name. Stones were still flying over the guests' heads, but the aggressors seemed to be losing momentum. Indeed, their chances of overrunning the Institute were getting as slim as their fervor was turning weak. When the Indian police eventually manifested, it took them a mere ten minutes to curb the unruly crowd. Once order was restored, one by one, the Indian soldiers that had been posted to guard the place made themselves available, eager to confront the offenders. Such an unusual act of bravado drew discrete and ironic smiles in the Institute.

When the last of the protestors had left the area, the KIBI staff and guests rolled up their sleeves and began to clean up the mess. While the main building had escaped serious damage, all the windows in the Institute had been smashed, the walkway leading to the hall had been destroyed, the rails and posts making up the fence had been ripped apart, and the sentinel box housing the Indian guards had been ravaged. The courtyard, strewn with stones, broken glass, and other objects that had been used as missiles during the attack, resembled a battlefield. Once they assessed the costs, the KIBI administrators felt very much like sending the bill to Situpa. Some of the more sensitive and less informed visitors found it difficult to come to terms with the show of brute force supplied by the Sherab Ling fraternity. Neither were they particularly astonished when, during the following days, various Tibetan luminaries behaved as though the assault on Karmapa's residence was merely a peaceful exercise of the citizens' right to demonstrate. History was simply repeating itself.

In their zeal to confront Thaye Dorje, the protestors also claimed to speak-or perhaps to shout-on the Dalai Lama's behalf. To what extent, if at all, the Tibetan exiled leader wished to be represented by such a dubious crowd was not entirely clear. However, even though he spoke at a human rights congress at exactly the time the attackers were charging KIBI, he failed to distance himself from the aggressors.

More than that, the next day he did not neglect to receive Situ Rinpoche, who had arrived in the Indian capital at the head of a contingent of Kagyu lamas opposed to Thaye Dorje. Some foreign delegates questioning on what basis he planned to discuss the Chinese human rights policy in Tibet when his own people in India had no respect for the freedom of religion in the world at large. Indeed, it was an ironic twist that while defending the rights of Tibetans at home-for which labor he could only be admired-he was turning a blind eye to the excesses of his fellow Tibetans in New Delhi. Such a stance was as incomprehensible as it was irksome, and our friends in KIBI wanted to close the chapter on this deplorable incident as fast as they could.

Two persons from the Chinese embassy were spotted outside KIBI. One of them was equiped with a still camera and another with a video, clicking away the demonstration. It irked South Block.


Benza Guru's assassination

On 4 May 1994, a group of people was engaged in damaging the garden of the late Karmapa.

Benza Guru, the caretaker of the Karmapa's residence and a close attendant for more than a quarter of a century, challenged the miscreants. The group left the place shouting that the reprimand would be retaliated. Early next morning the mangled body of Benza Guru was found on one of the pathways leading to the Karmapa's residence. He had died under mysterious circumstances. Gyaltsab Rinpoche said that he had fallen from the roof while the body was found about 30 metres from the building. Ten days later the grand-nephew of Benza Guru, Sherab Mangyal, was beaten up by miscreants at the main gate of the monastery. After a few days, Apa Tswang, an elderly attendant of the former general secretary, was severely beaten up and left unconscious.

India bannishes Situ Rinpoche

In August 1994, the Government of India banned the entry of Situ Rinpoche from India.

He was virtually declared persona non grata.

As expected, his case was taken up by Tashi Wangdi kalon in-charge of health in the bureau of the Dalai Lama. He wrote a letter to Arvind Verma, then Special Secretary in the Ministry of Home, Government of India, in this regard. The joint action committee, too, sent a memorandum to the then Union Home Minister S.B.Chavan urging revocation of the order. S.M. Limboo, a minister in Sikkim, also wrote to the home minister in this regard. Virbhadra Singh, the then Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, pitched in with a request to Indrajit Gupta, the Union Home Minister, on 17 December, 1996. At the prompting of Pinto Narboo, a former Jammu & Kashmir state minister, Dr Farooq Abdullah, Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir, wrote to Indrajit Gupta. Phunchog Rai, Himachal Pradesh Minister of State for Tribal Development, also wrote to Indrajit Gupta.

A memorandum was sent to the Prime Minister by Karma Topden, an M.P. from Sikkim, Lama Lobzang, member of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, P.K. Thungan, former union minister, and Lochen Rinpoche, Head Lama of Lahul and Spiti. They also wrote a letter to then Union Home Secretary K. Padmanabhaiah. Karma Topden and Lama Lobzang wrote a joint letter to Indrajit Gupta. A joint letter was sent to I.K. Gujral, Prime Minister of India, by P. Namgyal, member of the Lok Sabha, Sushil Barongpa, member of the Rajya Sabha, and Karma Topden, member of the Rajya Sabha. The most steadfast supporter of Situ Rinpoche, Ram Jethmalani, wrote to Rajesh Pilot and Indrajit Gupta, the successive union home ministers and even went to describe the conduct of the Deve Gowda government for not lifting the ban on the entry of Situ Rinpoche as 'irrational' and 'anti-national'.


Confidential report by Sikkimese Chief secretary

Report's foreword

K. Sreedhar Rao, the then Chief Secretary of Sikkim, sent a detailed assessment report on the Rurntek affairs to the union cabinet secretary in May 1997.
The 14-page report, marked secret on every page, forms the annexure of a one-para covering letter, sent by the then chief secretary from his camp office in Delhi to the then cabinet secretary. The letter stated:

I had sent a brief report to you on the Rumtek situation on 18 December 1996. Taking into account certain recent developments I have carried out a more detailed assessment outlining possible options before us. I am sending herewith this assessment for your kind perusal. I am endorsing copies of this (report) both to the DIB (Director of the Intelligence Bureau) and the Chairman JIC (Joint Intelligence Committee) with whom I have discussed this matter.

The report continued:

Given the fact that Sikkim occupies a strategic position, it would be most undesirable to have a situation where a Tibetan reincarnation, who is basically a Chinese national recognised by the Chinese, occupies a position in a monastery in Sikkim. The reincarnation of the Karmapa, if at all brought into Sikkim, will not come alone and may be accompanied by a very substantial entourage. Such an event can lead to consequences quite unpredictable, and may affect the security interests of the country very substantially.

Clearly, we cannot allow a situation where a Tibetan reincarnate is brought into Sikkim, however vociferous such a demand may become.

… about Dalaï Lama

Regarding the role of the Dalai Lama in the controversy, the chief secretary said:

In a hurried manner and that also without evidence and proper verification, the Dalai Lama recognised the candidate of Situ Rinpoche. It is possible that a small coterie around the Dalai Lama had been influenced by the Chinese. The belief is reinforced by the fact that this small group has influenced His Holiness (Dalai Lama) to continue to support the Situ group even though the Dalai Lama himself has been briefed about the controversy and the lack of unanimity among the regents with respect to reincarnation.

The second explanation could be that the Dalai Lama was at that point of time carrying on delicate negotiations with the Chinese with respect to Tibet and he was influenced to think that such a recognition may go in his favour during his further discussions with the Chinese.

A third explanation put forth by the religiously inclined is that the Dalai Lama heads the Gelug order which is not favourably inclined towards the Kagyu order, particularly because of the growing influence of the latter. (After the establishment of the Dharma Chakra Centre in Rumtek in the early 1960s, the Kagyu order has opened no less than 600 centres all over the world.)

The fourth explanation is that the recognition given by the Dalai Lama is not religious recognition but basically a temporal act placing the Karmapa in a hierarchy next to the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama. It is an act which need not be given any religious significance.

While this matter needs to be studied in more detail, what is important to note is that following the recognition of the Karmapa in Tibet and its approval by the Dalai Lama, China put its seal of approval on the reincarnation. This is, perhaps, the first time that the People's Republic of China has given such an approval and is possibly calculated to demonstrate to the world the decisive say that China has in the affairs of Tibet, both spiritual and temporal.

… about Situpa

Since then Situ Rinpoche has been influencing local opinion in Sikkim to continuously pressurise the authorities for bringing the Karmapa reincarnate to Rumtek and formally install him in the monastery.

Situ Rinpoche had wittingly or unwittingly played into the hands of the Chinese. Reports indicate that Situ Rinpoche, a Tibetan national, had been visiting Tibet on and off and in 1984-85 he travelled extensively and drafted a programme for so-called development in the country (Tibet). He records that 'at the end of 1984 and beginning of 1985 1 visited for four months my country (meaning China) after 26 years abroad and travelled the areas of Sitron Tsongol, Gangsheo Yunnan and Shingkiang. The development programme includes education, health care, culture, handicrafts, increase in income and living standards etc.'

What is noteworthy is that throughout his report he talks about friendly connections between the Chinese and the people of other countries, study of the Chinese language and study of Chinese medicine. He talks about Chinese in the friendliest terms, referring to the Chinese as Chinese brothers. He talks about Chinese brothers living abroad as well. He talks about the autonomous region of Tibet and indicates that his plan has the honest intention to benefit the people of China, and, in particular, the autonomous regions of Tibet, Sitron, Yunnan, Gangshuo, etc. He profusely thanks the two leaders of China, namely, Hu Yao Ban and Deng Niao Peng, as well as other leaders for their excellent political stance. His report is addressed to the director of the Chinese Communist government. All this indicates that Situ Rinpoche has built up a good relationship with the Chinese possibly from 1984.

… about China

It would be appropriate to consider the Chinese interest in the entire matter at this stage.

From the time of Chinese occupation, and indeed, after the departure of the Dalai Lama from Tibet, the Chinese have been strengthening their control over Tibet in a variety of ways. Apart from the well established efforts to reduce the religious influence of the Dalai Lama and changing the demographic composition of Tibet by large scale influx of Han Chinese into Tibet, it would appear that the Chinese having got their own Panchen Lama, have, by formally recognising the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, extended their control over the religious reincarnations of the Tibetans.

It is also very much possible that the Chinese are preparing to get themselves into a position of strength in the post-Dalai Lama Tibet. It is not inconceivable that having established their right to recognise the reincarnates, the Chinese would not hesitate to identify the successor of the present Dalai Lama when the time comes. This would complete their hold on the religious consciousness of the Tibetans both within and outside Tibet. The Chinese may not attach too great an importance to the declaration by the Dalai Lama that there will be no more reincarnation of His Holiness. It is important from our point of view to take note of this.

It is also important to note that along the entire Himalayan belt, right from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh, the influence of Tibetan Lamaistic Buddhism is extensive, with a string of monasteries. It is reported that the Chinese have been making efforts to penetrate into these monasteries and, as of now, no less than eleven monasteries are headed by lamas who can be considered proteges of China. It would be most undesirable to allow the Chinese to extend their influence in this manner and it is in this context that the present situation in Rumtek needs to be carefully viewed.

He drew attention to the fact that the Chinese were out to expand their influence on the religious consciousness of not only Tibetans but also of the population in the entire Himalayan region. He said that the monastery itself had to be cleansed of all unruly elements and of offensive material which could be used to prevent anyone entering the monastery or otherwise creating an ugly law and order situation,

He added:

Taking into account the fact that the Chinese government is actively interested in the Rumtek affairs and the emerging situation there, it would be necessary to anticipate events and consider a possible course of action. The Sikkim government right now would be hesitant to act because of the belief that a large proportion of the Bhutia/Lepcha population is inclined to accept the Tibetan reincarnation, primarily because of the blessing given by the Dalai Lama and would not like to do anything which can be construed as offending the sentiments of Bhutias/Lepchas.

He concluded with these remarks:

" while keeping India's security interests in mind we should recognise the fact that the legitimate trustees have been disallowed from functioning from the monastery by an act of the state government and that within the next few years both the regents and the trustees would lose their status as religious and temporal authorities of Rumtek once the Karmapa reincarnate attains the age of 21."