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.
1994 - KIBI under attack and Thaye Dordje intronized
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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'.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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,
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."