Situ Rinpoche again staged a coup
of sorts. Lama Urgyen Trinley Dorje, a 14-year-old boy, who was recognised
by Situ Rinpoche as the 16lth Karmapa, arrived at McLeodganj Dharamsala
in Himachal Pradesh (India), on 5 January, 2000 around 10.30 a.m. Within
two hours, he was granted an audience with the Dalai Lama, who was in
the winter retreat. The lama boy was accompanied by his mentor Situ Rinpoche,
whose monastery, Sherab Ling in Baijnath district of Himachal Pradesh,
was about 60 km from McLeodganj. The presence of Situ Rinpoche at McLeodganj
smacked of his successful manoeuvring. A few days later Situ Rinpoche
realised his mistake and denied that he accompanied the lama boy. He claimed
that he reached McLeodganj around 2.30 p.m. after getting the news of
the arrival of the lama boy.
A call was made from McLeodganj to
the office of the Daily Telegraph, London, which broke the story of how
the lama had "feared for his life" in Tibet. The Dalai Lama's
government-in-exile seemed ready to cooperate and information was voluntarily
provided. The lama, referred to as the Karmapa, could be photographed
fairly easily, though he was not available for interviews. The task of
publicising achieved the desired result. The British media, giving a lead
to Indian papers, grabbed the news. But for the intervention by Shamar
Rinpoche on 8 January, claiming that the arrival of the lama boy was a
Chinese ploy, meant to grab the Vaira Mukut and other valuable relics
from the Rumtek monastery, the newspapers and magazines continued to refer
to the lama boy as the Karmapa. Shamar Rinpoche told newspapers at New
Delhi on 8 January that "Ugyen Trinley is an innocent boy who should
not be used for political purposes. I do not believe he escaped or came
,without permission from China. The flight was designed to divert attention
from Thaye Dorje, who was recognised according to our sacred traditions."
Significantly, Kuensel, Bhutan's only newspaper, reported guardedly. Its story heading is quite clear:
"In what is described as the
most significant defection from Chinese-ruled Tibet in decades, a 15 year
old lama, recognised by a section of Tibetan Buddhists as the 17th Karmapa,
arrived in India."
Robbie Barnett, a Tibet scholar at Columbia University in New York, said the lama left the 800 year old Tsurphu monastery on 28 December with a handful of attendants and walked over to India, arriving on Wednesday (5 January) in Dharamsala. International reports point out that Lama Urgyen Trinley has not officially sought political asylum in India. Meanwhile, other Buddhists recognise another lama residing in India, Lama Thaye Dorje, as the real Karmapa.
The Tibetan governmentin-exile made arrangements for
the stay of the lama boy at Chonor lodge of the Norbulingka Institute.
A week later, he was moved to the Gyuto monastery of the Gelug bordering
Siddhabari, about 15 km from McLeodganj. From 9 January, the lama boy
went incommunicado and was perennially 'tired and resting'. He again met
the Dalai Lama on 8 and 14 January, though the latter was supposed to
observe silence during the period of retreat.
His arrival was greeted almost like the coming of
a messiah and potential successor to the aging Dalai Lama, who would be
65 this coming July.
There were exotic stories doing the rounds in McLeodganj
of how the lama escaped from the Chinese captivity. The crux of the stories
was the same. The lama boy opened his bedroom window on the sixth floor
at 11 p.m. on a cold wintry 28 December, 1999 at the Tsurphu monastery
in Tibet. The escape plan was drawn up meticulously. The lama consulted
the oracles before escaping. He said he was going into retreat. His personal
staff went about their duties as usual. Food was cooked, served and other
everyday routines were undertaken normally.
A look-alike even impersonated for the lama who had
actually left the monastery. The lama had left a letter declaring that
he was going to India to retrieve some religious artefacts. He said the
Chinese authorities had rejected an earlier request for his travel to
India. He was thus left with no recourse but to go without permission.
When a Chinese official went to meet him on New Year's
Day, the lama had disappeared. Five days later he surfaced at Dharamsala.
It is surprising that the Chinese authorities did not raise an alarm and
tried to increase surveillance on the' border. it is difficult to believe
that the lama's entourage, during its 11-day trek of about 900 km across
frozen terrain from Tibet, managed to dodge the heavy Chinese security
presence in Tibet.
He was accompanied by Ngodup Palzon, his sister,
10 years older, and five male attendants. The lama and his followers changed
into civilian clothes. He wore a denim jacket and trousers and his sister
a loose robe. The party ate only tsampa. From the Tsurphu monastery, the
group set out in two jeeps.
Before every checkpost, the lama and his entourage
would get off and head for the mountains. After the jeeps crossed the
checkpoints, the lama and his companions would join the vehicles. This
they did nearly 20 times till they reached west Nepal through Nyichung
in Mustang region. He thought it better to flee in winter for two reasons.
First, the Chinese guards are not as alert and the checks not that stringent.
Second, most of the mountain lakes are frozen and can be crossed on foot.
Escape from the guards in Tibet is possible only in the cold months, by
daredevils who have the will and the stamina to face the hazards before
the weather 'opens up'.
Another account puts it altogether differently. The
lama left Tsurphu in a Toyota Land-cruiser and another car, travelling
for 36 hours. When the mountain terrain became unmotorable, he began a
trek. His team walked for 12 hours, entering Nepal. The border was fairly
easy to cross. It was only a few hours' journey by train from Gorakhpur
to Lucknow from where the seven-member group reached Dharamsala via Delhi
in two taxis. The Dalai Lama's office was informed by telephone on arrival.
The travel account treads the fine line between the
happenstance and coincidence. It rather smells of a deliberate action.
As if to divorce the lama from Chinese links, there are stories doing
the rounds in McLeodganj of how he called Tsurphu on reaching Nepal, how
the phone was answered by a Chinese voice, how the 'Karmapa' heard the
sounds and shrieks of searching and interrogation in the background. Intriguingly,
the lama boy surfaced at Dharamsala and met the Dalai Lama instead of
going to the traditional seat of the Karmapa at the Rumtek monastery in
Sikkim, which could be easier for him and his entourage to travel than
going to Dharamsala.
Site address: http: // www.nalandabodhi.org
A number of stories have appeared in the press about
His Holiness Karmapa's journey to freedom in India. Much of the reporting
seems accurate, but there is also conflicting information in different
reports. Accordingly, we have undertaken to verify the information in
the press by consulting sources close to His Holiness Karmapa, Orgyen
Drodul Trinley Dorje. Based on our investigation, we have pieced together
the following facts which we believe to be reliable.
The route for His Holiness the Seventeenth Gyalwang
Karmapa's journey to India appears to have taken him to the western border
of Tibet, through Nepal and into India. As best we can determine, His
Holiness traveled through western Tibet and crossed the border of Nepal
The route required the party to trek for more than
30 hours over Nepalese territory, after which they were able to travel
part of the way using public transport. His Holiness apparently crossed
the Indian border near the Birganj-Raxaul Bazaar crossing point through
Bihar and then Uttar Pradesh and then travelled through the cities of
Gorakhpur, Lucknow and Delhi, ending his journey in Dharamsala.
This is a story as yet untold and a story that the
West doesn't want to hear. For the first time -- and in a Sunday Review
exclusive -- we reveal the details -- such as apparent American involvement
-- about the mysterious flight of the Karmapa, the 'living Buddha' Karmapa
Lama from Tibet to India in January 2000. Susanna Cheung Chui-Yung spent
two weeks retracing the boy lama's dramatic journey through the Himalayas
· Susanna Cheung is a fellow with the Journalism and Media Studies Centre at The University of Hong Kong and BBC World Service Chinese Section freelance correspondent in Asia. She has also reported on the Kosovo conflict and East Timor crisis. She contributed this article to Sunday Review.
23/04/2000, Straits Times of Singapore
Seeking The Truth
In the sweltering heat of Hyderabad, southern India,
US President Bill Clinton's cavalcade sped past a crowd of Tibetans waving
While his visit to South Asia last month focused
on nuclear arms control and the clashes in Kashmir between India and Pakistan,
the Tibetan greeting served as a reminder of a much wider conflict looming
in the Himalayan region.
The great escape to India of the Tibetan spiritual
leader, the 17th Karmapa, two months earlier than the Clinton visit, has
intensified the tension between India and China, whose borders meet at
The reality behind the superficial reasons for the
escape -- human rights and religious freedom -- is the background political
struggle by Tibetan militants and between contending factions in Tibetan
The involvement of Americans in the Tibetan struggle
remains a mystery, but our investigative reporting throws light on it.
Given the significance of the flight of the boy lama
Urgyen Trinley Dorje, veteran Nepali environment reporter Prakash Khanal
and I recently retraced the Karmapa's route over two weeks. It started
from the Tibet/Nepal border and crossed Nepal all the way down to the
We tried to find out the different forces behind
the escape and its implication to security in the region.
Our findings contradict mainstream Western reports.
We discovered the boy lama's flight had been meticulously
planned to throw Nepali police and journalists off the track. It was aided
by an American-owned helicopter operator and an extensive network of the
Tibetan exile community closely linked with Dharamsala.
Suspicions of an organised plot thickened when the
Tibetan community in Pokhara, Nepal, disclosed the Karmapa's sister had
appeared in Pokhara three weeks before him.
The escape route he took is an indirect route to
India, through forbidding Mustang, in remote north Nepal, the stronghold
of Tibetan guerillas and a CIA base until the 1970s.
Our team picked up the
Karmapa's trail in Pokhara, a resort at the foot of the Annapurna range.
There, a well-known Nepali businessman from Mustang helped us retrace
the escape route, based on his in-depth debriefing of the pony drivers
who assisted the Karmapa.
As the Karmapa and three aides approached the border
in two Landcruisers on New Year's Eve, they were chased by Chinese police
cars. They abandoned the vehicles and escaped on foot into Nepal.
As revellers around the world rang in a new millennium,
the boy lama slipped out of Tibet. Right inside the Nepali border, along
the bank of the Mustang Khola river, a tall, bearded Westerner was waiting.
He had hired local guides and eight ponies for the journey across the
northern half of Mustang, where there are no roads for motor vehicles.
The pony caravan pushed ahead for two days non-stop
in sub-zero temperatures through the lunar landscape of Mustang, once
the Kingdom of Lo.
By morning, the Tibetan party was on the trail to
Jomsom, the Mustang state capital, connected by a paved road to Pokhara
and then India. Instead of going to Jomsom, the pony caravan headed east
onto a trailhead below Muhila Peak, north-west of the monastery in Muktinath.
They made the gruelling climb to the 5,416-m-high summit of Thorang La
They took this dangerous route as the Nepali Government
Headquarters for Mustang is in Jomsom, where Nepali police were waiting
to deport them to Tibet.
After crossing Thorang La, the Tibetan Karmapa's
party descended towards villages near the foot of Annapurna, at 8,091
m the second-highest peak in the Himalayas. The entourage spent the night
of Jan 2 in the village of Manang Pedi, altitude 3,535 m.
Our source in Mustang said two Americans and two
lamas clambered out to greet the Karmapa. With the human cargo safely
aboard, the helicopter blades whirled like a prayer wheel, levitating
the Tsurphu Karmapa into the clouds above the Annapurna range headed for
Missing flight records
At Pokhara Airport, a control-tower officer showed us flight records for Jan 3. A hand-written report showed Fishtail Air was the only local service to dispatch a helicopter.
The air-control officer explained: "There was
no other helicopter flights recorded except for Fishtail company. On Jan
3, Fishtail sent two helicopter flights out. They claimed one flight was
for sightseeing and the other for rescue purposes.''
The first flight departed at about 11 am and returned
to Pokhara Airport at noon; the second at 12:45 pm and returned an hour
later. At US$ 3,000 (around € 3,300 ) for a round-trip, the Ecuriels
are more expensive than by ordinary tourist-class Kawasaki helicopters.
Fishtail Air is an American-Nepali joint venture and the only one in Nepal
with foreign ownership.
The plot thickened when we queried Fishtail Air head
office in Kathmandu. The staff told us the flight record for Jan 3 was
missing. They had records for every other day in the month.
All Western news accounts have failed to mention
the role of Fishtail Air in this escapade. Only a report in ABC.com mentions
that a Westerner was involved in the trek through Mustang. A source in
the Nepali government, who asked for anonymity, said a US State Department
official deeply involved in the Kosovo and East Timor interventions, okayed
the plan in October.
A Tibetan monk in Pokhara said the Karmapa spent
a few hours in the compound of the Hotel Annapurna, built by the Tibetan
guerillas with CIA funds in the early 1970s and now operated by the exile
government. The Karmapa did not linger long.
From Pokhara, the Karmapa was taken on a five-hour
drive south to Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha. A professional people-smuggling
group took the Karmapa to the Indian side, from where a car whisked him
off to Gorakhpur, then Lucknow.
The following night, another American -- a staff
member of an NGO group controlled by a leading US Democratic Party donor
-- led the teen to a waiting private car that whisked him off to Dharamsala.
Tinderbox for political unrest
The boy lama left a note in his monastery saying
he was going to Rumtek monastery, the Kagyupa seat-in-exile in Sikkim,
northern India. But his entourage turned up in Dharamsala, home of Tibet's
Our source said the rumour about his escape was spread
around in the Kagyupa (Karmapa sect) community in Taiwan. Chen Li On,
the former head of the Control Yuan of Taiwan, told his followers in November
the 17th Karmapa would be out of Tibet very soon.
A few days before the public appearance of the boy
lama, the news was leaked to one of the major dailies in Taiwan, China
Times, but it just missed the chance of breaking the story. Chen's role
in the Karmapa's flight is unknown
.The sealed vault of Rumtek contains the Black Crown,
the chief symbol of authority for the Kagyupa school. A fight over the
seizure of the crown has split the Kagyupa sect into two bitterly opposing
factions, one led by Tai Situ Rinpoche, the mentor of the Tibetan boy,
and the other headed by the second-ranking monk, the Shamarpa.
This sectarian feud makes Sikkim a tinderbox for
Asia's nuclear powers. Sikkim was a Buddhist kingdom before India annexed
it in 1975. Powerful Sikkimese clans, however, have never accepted Indian
rule and tend to turn to China and Taiwan for support. Neither recognises
Indian sovereignty over Sikkim.
The appearance of the Tibetan Karmapa in Rumtek would
have too much significant symbolic meaning, because 80 per cent of Sikkim's
population follow the pro-Tai Situ Kagyupa sect. Taiwanese Buddhists provided
huge donations to Tai Situ Rinpoche, say sources in the Kagyupa school.
"Sikkim could quickly turn into another Kashmir,"
said the former abbot Khenpo, who was evicted from Rumtek in 1992 by armed
supporters of Tai Situ Rinpoche.
Ethnic violence in Sikkim, involving Tibetan refugees,
would attract international calls for a Western-led humanitarian intervention.
In Dharamsala, the rising of the militant movement
starts to catch the attention of South Asia watchers. They say there is
always a reason for hardliners in Dharamsala, who strongly favour Tibet's
independence, to back Tai Situ Rinpoche's plans for Sikkim. With India
and China drawing closer, the exile government's days in Dharamsala seem
numbered. An independent Sikkim would give Tibetan militants a new base
along the border.
In my last interview with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala
in 1994, he revealed his worries about the growing radicalism among the
young Tibetans in exile.
Battlefield of the 21st century
On the other hand, a secret Indian police report
of 1997 says the Tai Situ side tried to smuggle the Karmapa out of Tibet
as early as 1997.
The report said: "It is suspected that Urgyen
Trinley (12), Tai Situ's candidate, who has been recognised by the Chinese
authorities as well as the Dalai Lama, may be smuggled into the country.
It is, therefore, requested that all ICPs under your jurisdiction may
please be alerted accordingly. If traced, may please be informed by quickest
possible means quoting memo no. 28/0/97 (35) dated 26.06.97 under the
intimation to us."
Furthermore, the confidential cabinet report of May
24, 1997 shows the Indian cabinet has also been on high alert about the
Tai Situ side as a consequence of their attempt to take control of Rumtek
monastery in 1996 and their increasingly violent actions against the Shamarpa
The Indian government has deep concern over the split
in Tibetan Buddhism in its territory, which may lead to more violence.
The presence of the boy lama in India could well indicate the succession
"After Tai Situ Rinpoche was banned by India
and then kept out of Lhasa by China, his influence was greatly diminished,"
said Lama Kalsan of the Sangue Choling monastery.
"The escape of the Karmapa to India may have
been Situ Rinpoche's way of showing muscle to both countries."
If this was the motive behind the escape, then the
collaboration between Situ Rinpoche and the Dharamsala militants has started
a high-risk gamble for the Tibetan exile movement.
India is now nervous about any such moves, however,
because the Tibetan exiles represent an irritating source of tension with
China, which has not taken sides on the Kashmir issue.
Himachal Pradesh, the state where Dharamsala is located,
is next door to Kashmir, where Indian security forces have been fighting
Islamic insurgents backed by Pakistan, a traditional ally of China.
What has complicated the situation is the involvement
of the US in this ethnic and geopolitical tinderbox.
The US Congress provides US$ 2 million (about €
2.2 million) a year to the Tibetan exile government and is stepping up
its rhetoric on the Tibet issue.
This year, the US military has extended its presence
in Nepal through a United Nations training programme for South Asian peacekeepers.
As the meeting point of Asia's three nuclear powers,
the Himalayan region could easily explode.
With our long journey at its end in Buddha's birthplace,
we marvelled at all the deceptions that litter the Tibetan teen's trail
and the false reports by the Western media.
The tolling of bronze Buddhist bells resonated across the dusty plains of Lumbini, reminding us of the Buddha's Eightfold Path, which instructs his followers never to deceive others in this world of appearances and to always speak the truth.
The writer speaks:
"The issue of Tibet has been the ideological
as well as the diplomatic battlefield between China and the West, in particular
the United States of America. The tension is manifest in the major mainstream
media of both sides, and as a consequence, the truth sometimes becomes
The massive Western media reports on the recent escape
of the Tibetan Karmapa Lama further blurred the facts behind the story,
while their counterpart, the mainland Chinese media, chose to remain low
profile and banned all news relating to the Karmapa.
The Dalai Lama was reportedly taken completely by
surprise when his protege, the 14-year-old Tibetan boy lama, appeared
at a hotel in Dharamala on Jan 5.
The international news media, quoting sources in
the Karmapa's entourage and in the Tibetan Exile Government, reported
that the lama had escaped on foot to India all the way from the Tsurphu
monastery Lhasa, a veritable Tibetan odyssey reenacting the Dalai Lama's
three-week passage to exile in 1959.
The news agencies accepted without challenge the
account of the boy lama, who claimed to have walked 1,440 km in eight
days over the Himalayas. But a miracle it would have been for anyone to
have walked an average of 180 km per day, not counting the twists and
turns of the mountain roads.
The correction was made later, but in spite of the
inconsistency of the information provided by the pro-Dharamsala lamas,
the Western media still relied on the single source from Dharamsala with
the tendency of romanticising the whole event that took place over the
snow-capped Himalayas. With their own bias, they believed that the reason
for the flight of the Karmapa was solely a struggle for human rights and
I determined to trek through the escape route of
the Karmapa with a Nepali reporter to collect first-hand data on the ground.
It was with the hope that, based on the fact-finding, a larger picture
could be painted for the complicated Tibetan issue which had been misreported
to a certain extent.
All the newspapers I sent this article to have refused to publish it."
Western newsgroups reactions
As told above by Susan Cheung, press agencies have
accepted without any critical judgement, nor any checking, the story from
the teenage boy. It is quite incredible to read european newspapers repeating
without a flinch, the fantastic journey of a teenager walking across the
Himalaya, fleeing Chinese dictatorship, on his way to freedom, to meet
up his mentor the Dalaï Lama ! All necessary ingredients are brought
together to thrill the idealistic fiber of Westerners: Urgyen Trinley
assuming the David role defeating the chinese Goliath. This hymn to the
battle for human rights and religious freedom has been taken up by all
The Dhagpo Kagyu Ling Center, in Dordogne, France, suscribed to "Argus de la Presse", a press clipping service, for January 2000. Press clippings for this one month amounted to several archive boxes.
Indian newsgroups reactions
Altogether,indian newsgroups have been more skeptical
about this event seen mainly through its geopolitical impact. Chinese
reaction is taken seriously, and circumstances surrounding the teenager's
escape remain doubtful for part of indian media.
Sunday, January 16, 2000, New Delhi
The Buddha must be frowning.
For, the mysterious appearance in Dharamshala on
January 5 of the boy who the faithful believe is his reincarnation has
sent shockwaves from Lhasa to Washington, Beijing to New Delhi.
The 14-year-old Karmapa Lama's mysterious, 900-mile
winter trek across the Himalayas has impacted on the power struggle between
the two factions of the Karma Kagyu order which he heads; the Dalai Lama's
50-year movement to regain Tibet; India's already sensitive relations
with China; and US interests in Tibet.
No wonder. Urgyen Trinley Dorje, to give the boy his
real name, is the only Tibetan high priest who is recognised by both the
Dalai Lama and China. The Dalai Lama accepted him as the 17th Karmapa
in June 1992, and after some thought, the Chinese followed suit. That
was seen as an attempt to build bridges. There was talk then of his coming
to India, and his arrival now could become a climactic episode in the
relationship between the Dalai Lama and China, who, some observers believe,
might even have colluded in the boy's escape.
Publicly, the Tibetan government-in-exile claims
the Karmapa Lama fled Chinese oppression, and that he wants Delhi to grant
him asylum. Beijing says he is visiting India to bring back symbols of
his authority such as the "black hat" from Sikkim's Rumtek monastery.
India is "cautiously studying the issue." And Washington wants
China to talk directly to the Dalai Lama to preserve "Tibet's unique
religious, cultural and ethnic heritage."
But there's more than meets the eye. Considering
the tight Chinese security around Tibetan monasteries, how could the boy
escape and trek 120 miles a day unnoticed? Did the Chinese deliberately
let him go? But what could be the Chinese interest?
One, if he wins the factional battle and returns
with the black hat as well as acceptance from the Tibetan diaspora, it
will only strengthen Beijing's grip over Buddhists in Tibet, for its candidate
would have gained legitimacy.
Two, the institution of Karmapa wields considerable
influence in Sikkim, whose merger with India is not acknowledged by China.
Analysts believe that if the Chinese-recognised Karmapa visits there,
it would give China a handle in the state.
Three and most important, China has been keen to
resolve its two festering irritants -Tibet and Taiwan - which give the
West undue leverage over it. Delivering the young Karmapa Lama to the
Dalai Lama could be the first step to striking a deal with the latter.
Who is Tai Situ?
Suspicions about China's complicity in a Dalai Lama
plot are bolstered by the role of Tai Situ Rinpoche, one of the four high
priests of the Karma Kagyu order. All reports suggest he was the key person
behind the boy's escape. Tai Situ was persona non grata in India till
August 1998, when the 1994 expulsion order against him was mysteriously
rescinded. India had then branded him anti-national, implying he was pro-Chinese.
Interestingly, Tai Situ was the priest who had identified
Dorje as the 17th Karmapa, driving a wedge in the Karma Kagyu sect in
doing so. Travelling several times to Tibet and China, he was instrumental
in persuading the Chinese to recognise the boy, and forging a link between
China and the Dalai Lama.
Tai Situ has several court cases pending against
him, including one by the CBI for producing a fake residency certificate
to buy 500 acres of land in Gurgaon. His legal advisor has been an influential
member of the Union Cabinet since 1998, and is said to have lobbied with
the home ministry to lift the ban on him (he is still barred from nine
Indian states, including Sikkim). The Dalai Lama also has informal access
to a senior Union Cabinet minister with whom he met recently.
Historical and geopolitical facts
The other question Tibetan factions in Delhi ask
is, if the boy's escape was genuine, why did he go to Dharamshala instead
of Rumtek, which has been the Karmapa's seat since the 16th reincarnate
fled Tibet? Also, why did the Dalai Lama receive the boy? The Karmapa
and the Dalai Lama have distinct beliefs and lineages, and do not have
to pay obeisance to each other. Officials at the Dalai Lama's Delhi office
say "any Tibetan refugee can meet the Dalai Lama, particularly someone
seeking spiritual teaching." But the Dalai Lama was in retreat, and
surely would not have received any other refugee during this period.
Khenpo Rinpoche, the priest who was ousted from Rumtek
by Tai Situ, cites what he believes is the "vital" evidence
linking the Tibetan government-in-exile with the boy's escape: "The
pro-China Tai Situ's associate, Karzang Chime, was appointed by the Tibetan
government-in-exile to its Kathmandu office in October. It was for this
What is the Dalai Lama's motive? Since the negotiations
which began after China recognised the Karmapa failed, the 64-year-old
Dalai, insiders say, has been worried about the future of Tibet and its
exiles. He wants the problem to be resolved during his lifetime, and is
fearful of going down in history as the Dalai Lama who lost his kingdom
and died in exile - a fear exacerbated by a recent road accident.
The Karmapa's seeking refuge at Dharamshala thus
reinforces the Dalai Lama's vision of a unified Tibetan community under
his leadership. The previous Karmapa, keen to retain the distinct identity
of his order, had not been willing to pay such obeisance.
Moreover, the Karma Kagyu order has been more popular
in the West (the Dalai Lama emerged as a spiritual icon in the US only
in the late Seventies), and commands vast wealth (its assets are valued
at $ 1.2 billion, around € 1.3 billion), influence and following.
These could come under the Dalai Lama's control if the young Karmapa Lama
accepts his supremacy. Then, the Gelug and Kagyu
orders together comprise the bulk of Tibetan Buddhists. This enables the
Dalai Lama to become the spokesman for most Tibetans.
As for Washington, within days of the Karmapa's "escape"
becoming known, US special coordinator for Tibet Julia Taft was in Dharamshala.
Two days after her visit, the state department spokesperson mentioned
the need for a dialogue between China and the Dalai Lama. US intervention
could help the two open a new chapter of negotiations. If all goes well,
the Dalai Lama can quell his fears and China can remove an irritant. And
that leaves only a very nervous India to do some tightrope walking.
The four main Tibetan Buddhist orders or lineages:
*Gelugpa: Founded in the 14th century. Headed by
the Dalai Lama. The Panchen Lama is its next most important leader. Exile
headquarters at Dharamshala.
*Kagyupa: Founded in the 11th century. Headed by
Gyalwe Karmapa, who is head of the sub-order Karma Kagyu. Exile headquarters
at Rumtek, Sikkim.
*Sakyapa: Founded in the same period as Kagyupa.
Headed by the current hereditary successor, Sakya Trinzin. Exile headquarters
in Dehradun. The only school whose leader marries and produces an heir.
*Nyingmapa: The oldest school, which was universally
accepted in Tibet till the 11th century. It has no designated head.
There is no hierarchy of importance among the heads
of the various sects. The Dalai Lama, by virtue of being the political
leader, however, does have more influence over the others. The first Lama
ruler of Tibet was from the Sakya school, who in 1244 captured power with
the help of the Mongol Khans. This line retained power till 1369. Since
then, Beijing has always played a role in Tibetan politics.
During 1369-1642, it was the Kagyu period when the
Kamarpas' representatives ruled. They were violently overthrown by the
Gelugpa, who enthroned the fifth Dalai Lama. The present Dalai Lama is
[India Today issue dated February 7, 2000] By Sayantan
Tai Situ can cut deals with Beijing and have an
entry ban lifted in Delhi. He is also the power behind the runaway Karmapa.
It was very early into the new year when Orgyen Trinley
Dorje, 17th Karmapa of the Karma Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism, finally
left his monastery and entered Nepal. Waiting to receive him was Tai Situ
Rimpoche, one of the 16th Karmapa's four regents the late monk's senior
disciples, appointed to take care of his legacy, till the next Karmapa
was found and enthroned.
Having met the runaway Dorje, Tai Situ escorted him
to Mcleodganj, seat of the Tibetan government in exile. In the days to
come, he was identified in the media, and by the world at large, as the
boy Karmapa's mentor, preceptor and closest confidant. He has been amazingly
busy for a man who was banned from entering India till a year and a half
ago. Deftly avoiding serious questioning by the press, Tai Situ only found
time to express his happiness at the Karmapa having arrived amid suggestions
that he would be happy if the young monk took control of the Kagyu sect's
headquarters the monastery in Rumtek, Sikkim.
In Rumtek itself, the Joint Action Committee (JAC)
a conglomeration of Tibetan religio-political entities actually articulated
the demand for the Karmapa's arrival. It would be a momentous occasion,
for he who controls Rumtek controls the Kagyu's 350 (some intelligence
reports say 600) monasteries worldwide and its billion-dollar wealth.
The monastery of Rumtek exercises great influence
over Sikkim right from the days of the Chogyal, who gave the 16th Karmapa
sanctuary in 1958. Sikkim, of course, acceded to India in 1975, in a merger
China doesn't recognise. As such a pro-China tilt at the Rumtek monastery
is a potential security risk.
This is the precise point being made by Shamar Rimpoche,
once a fellow regent of Rumtek with Tai Situ but now a sworn enemy. In
1993, Shamar found his own Karmapa, Thai Trinley, rejecting Dorje as a
pretender and a front for a China-Tai Situ conspiracy. After all, Dorje's
ceremonial recognition as the Karmapa in 1992 was facilitated by Beijing.
In 1984, a quarter century after he fled Tibet crying
against communist suppression, Tai Situ began visiting China. He met many
important politicians there, including, say intelligence officials, Deng
Xiaoping. He even presented a development plan for Tibet that advocated
greater interaction with China.
Tai Situ also became a good friend of Nar Bahadur
Bhandari, the then chief minister of Sikkim given to provocative views.
The JAC was formed with Bhandari's support at a time when the Union government
was very alive to growing Chinese influence in the region.
In 1993, Chen Li An, the prime minister of Taiwan,
paid a secret visit to Sikkim as a guest of Tai Situ and Bhandari. They
discussed bringing Dorje to Rumtek. Alarmed not the least because India
had no diplomatic relations with Taiwan the Centre put Tai Situ on the
Backed by well-connected friends like Ram Jethmalani,
Tai Situ sought to have the ban revoked. Finally, on August 5, 1998, the
Union home secretary allowed Tai Situ entry into India but warned him
against visiting Jammu and Kashmir, Sikkim and the Northeast and against
getting embroiled in affairs of the Rumtek monastery, including the installation
of the new Karmapa. In the past few weeks, Tai Situ seems to have violated
at least that final clause. Following the Karmapa's arrival, two streams
emerge within the Indian establishment.
Broadly speaking, the Shamar line is the logical
conclusion of the thinking of intelligence and internal security agencies,
such as IB and RAW.
Going soft on Tai Situ may be the line of a pro-China
group within the Ministry of External Affairs, which seems reconciled
to Beijing's suzerainty over Lhasa.
The only piece that doesn't fit is the Dalai Lama
overtly anti-China but ready to recognise Dorje, a Beijing nominee, as
the Karmapa. The key to this mystery may lie in a report sent on May 24,
1997 by K. Sreedhar Rao, then chief secretary of Sikkim, to T.S.R. Subramaniam,
then cabinet secretary: "The reason as to why the Dalai Lama approved
the reincarnation without adequate evidence and proper verification needs
to be analysed. It is possible that a small coterie around him had been
influenced by the Chinese."
Rao's letter warns 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. As of now no less than 11 monasteries are headed by lamas who can be considered proteges of China". The installation of a "Chinese national" as the Karmapa suggests that Beijing is preparing itself for the "post-Dalai Lama situation" and the "demand for installation of the Tibetan Karmapa in Rumtek can become more strident as time goes by".
March 23, 2000
Today we the Trustees of the Karmapa Charitable Trust
resolved to take immediate legal action against any individual party that
assert that the Trust holds a net worth of US$ 1.2 billion (about €
1.3 billion ).
This figure is patently false, baseless and defamatory.
The late 16 Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje himself
never requested an assesment of his Trust's net worth, nor did he ask
the Trustees to conduct such an assesment. Furthermore, the Trust never
evaluated its net worth after the 16 Karmapa's death.
At no time during the Trust existence -either in
the past or present - has it possesed a net worth even remotely equaling
US$ 1.2 billion. In fact, the holy religious antiques under the Trust's
custody are priceless. No dollar figure could ever be assigned to the
Black Crown an the other antiqities. Furthermore, the Trsut has never
and will never sell these religious relics, as has been wrongly claimed
by numerous individuals and parties.
Therefore, we as any individual or party to immediatly
cease ans desist in falsery spreading the baseless US$ 1.2 billion figure.
Otherwise, we will to seek legal remedy to this mischievous and pantantly
Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche
Hindi Newspaper: Amar Ujala (Immortal Shine)
At Chandigarh, April 14,2000, by Dr. Upendra
Hindi Newspaper clipping
... So Karmapa is an adult!
In fact, the l7th Karmapa Urgyen Trinley Dorji is an adult, not a 14 year-old boy as have been said by the China Government or the Tibetan Government in Exile
The consensus proof has come out after the thorough
examination of the X-ray of his chest, electron-cardiogram, kidney, liver,
various parts of stomach by ultrasound, and examination of his blood together
with haemoglobin etc in P.G.I. (Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education
and Research) that Karmapa Dorji is a fully grown up man.
A member of the specialist panel who has been treating
Shri Karmapa in P.G.I, declares that after the thorough examination and
review, it is proved that Karmapa can't be less than 24 years old by all
means, let alone 14 or 15 years old. "According to the measurement
data prescribed in medical text and the vein, thymus, thyroid and the
whole structure of his body, it is verified that he is a fully grown up
man." Professor S. K. Sharma, director of P.G.I told Amar Ujala.
He accepts that Orgyen Dorje is a fully grown up man, Although he didn't
mention whether he is 24 or 27, he just told "I could only say according
to the medical report that Karmapa has crossed 21 years old. He can't
by all means be said as a minor".
Professor Sharma so admits that there can be slight
difference of half or I year found in medical report due to different
diet. However, after the thorough examination, one can't say that Karmapa
is a minor.
Since the medical report has proved that Karmapa
is an adult, the China government can not claim politically to the Indian
government to send Karmapa back to Tibet by saying that he is a minor
of 14 years old. Indian government has lots of concrete sources to prove
that Kamarpa Urgyen Trinley Dodi in fact is more than 21 years old. He
has come to India according to his own wish. As an adult he can think
of himself properly what is good or bad.
Chodrag Namgyal, in an article " Treachery at
its best ", published on the web http://www.karmapa-issue.org/
The boy Urgyen Trinley had already been recognized
as Kalep Tulku by Khamtrul Rinpoche prior to being recognized as the Karmapa.
This Lama in his previous life was the uncle of Urgyen Trinley's father.
This is a fact that has always been hidden. If he was the Karmapa, then
there should have been incidences of self-recognition as in the case of
the previous Karmapas as well as Thaye Dorje. How could the Karmapa be
confused with an ordinary monk like the Kalep Lama.
This changing of Urgyen Trinley into the reincarnation of the Karmapa from Kalep Lama was solely political. In retrospect, this came about when the Chinese government wanted to install the Panchen Lama. But prior to this they wanted to start with the Karmapa. So, pressure was mounted on Situ Rinpoche with the lure of personal benefits to install a Karmapa as soon as possible. Situ recommended Urgyen Trinley to become the Karmapa since he had the eyes similar to that of the previous Karmapa. Not only that he was always looking for a child from a low family that would match the status of the family that Situ came from. Hence, Situ Rinpoche and his associates along with the Chinese Government recognized him as the Karmapa. All the details of this incident are available with the Chinese. The monastery of Khamtrul Rinpoche was forced to accept this change by the Government of China. This was treachery at its best from the part of Situ Rinpoche.
Urgyen Trinley Dorje endorsed as 17th Karmapa
Story by Time of India on August 20th, 2000
The third international Kagyu Dharma conference at
Gyuto monastery near here unanimously endorsed Urgyen Trinley Dorje as
the 17th Karmapa on Saturday.
The conference, which was being attended by delegates
from different countries, expressed concern over the controversy raised
by Shamar Rinpoche and a few others causing harm to the Kagyu sect and
called for immediate steps to end it.
The copies of the letter written by Shamar Rinpoche
to the Dalai Lama, stating that Urgyen Trinley Dorje was selected by Situ
Rinpoche with Chinese help and the selection of Thaye Dorje, a real Karmapa,
was made by him and both the Karmapas should be accepted, were also distributed
at the conference. The Dalai Lama rejected the theory of two Karmapas
and asserted that Rumtek monastery was the real seat of the Karmapa and
as such Urgyen Trinley Dorje should be handed over charge of the monastery.
The speakers asserted that under these circumstances
there was no confusion about the real Karmapa. The conference also decided
to move a resolution reposing faith in Urgyen Trinley Dorje as the real
Karmapa and making an appeal to the Indian government to grant him political
Notice to all International
Journalists from International Karma Kagyu Forum
On August 18th, 2000 there will be an International Karma Kagyu meeting-taking place in Dharamsala, India.
This is to inform you that 22 high Karma Kagyu Rinpoches,
19 Karma Kagyu Khenpos (abbots), 85 Karma Kagyu retreat masters, over
2000 Karma Kagyu monks and nuns from 35 monasteries and 300 Karma Kagyu
centers will not be participating in this "international" meeting.
The above-listed Rinpoches, Khenpos, retreat masters, monastic and centers
all unanimously support Trinley Thaye Dorje as the 17th Karmapa and respect
Shamarpa as the leader of the Karma Kagyu Lineage next in authority to
This is not an unofficial, rebellious group. In fact
we are committed to preserving and protecting the 900 year-old tradition
and identity of the lineage - a tradition which has been independent of
any authority outside the lineage.
We ask that in all references to the upcoming meeting
in Dharamsala that you mention, in the interest of accurate reporting,
the vast number of Rinpoches, Khenpos, monks, nuns and practitioners who
are not participating.
Attached please find the list of names and signatures
of 22 Rinpoches and highly teaches of the Karma Kagyu traditions that
support Karmapa Thaye Dorje and will not be attending the upcoming meeting.
All of these Rinpoches and teachers are living outside of China-controlled
Karma Kagyu followers reaction,
published in news media.
Karma Kagyu followers oppose Dharamsala meet
By Rajeev Khanna New Delhi, Aug. 19
The followers of the Karma Kagyu tradition have expressed
their opposition to the International Karma Kagyu Meeting being held in
Dharamsala describing it to be an attempt to pressure the Indian government
to send Urgyen Trinley Dorje, who was recognised as the 17th Karmapa by
China, to Rumtek in Sikkim.
Many international organisations
following the Karma Kagyu tradition are learnt to have written hundreds
of letters to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee not to allow the boy
to be sent to Rumtek.
Referring to the Dharamsala meeting, head khempo
of the Khempo Society of the Karma Kagyu Tradition, Chodrag Tenphel Rinpoche
said: "The so called International Karma Kagyu Meeting is merely
a gathering of certain factions of Kagyu followers in support of Urgyen
Trinley. In fact, they do not have any legal authority to decide on matters
concerning the Karma Kagyu tradition. All decisions have to be taken by
the Karmapa Charitable Trust, the legal body of the Karma Kagyu Tradition
of India." He said the decisions taken by this faction cannot be
A standing member of the International Karma Kagyu
Forum, Mr Yeshey Jungney told The Asian Age, "We are upset that such
a meeting is allowed to take place in Dharamsala which is the seat of
the Tibetan government in exile and the Dalai Lama. Never before has such
a conference taken place in Dharamsala under the umbrella of Tibetan government
in exile. Even in erstwhile Tibet, such conferences were never heard of.
Holding of the meeting in Dharamsala assumes significance in the context of the two Karmapa controversy." Mr Jungney said, "We condemn the so called meeting which is designed to mislead the government and the true disciples of Gyalwa Karmapa the world over.
Extrait The Straits Times (Singapore)
May 7, 2000 - RUMTEK (Sikkim) Nirmal Ghosh
Sanctuary Under Siege
) On the roof of the monastery, an armed policeman
-- one of 20 assigned to Rumtek -- has a bird's eye view of the narrow
road that twists down the mountain to the monastery gate and further,
through a scattering of houses. Just below him sit two Tibetan women fingering
their prayer beads, also eyeing the road. The policeman says, "Do
you see those women? They sit there all day keeping an eye on the road,
because they can recognise the other Lamas. We can't." He continues,
"If one of the other Lamas comes up, they warn us."
The "other Lamas" are the rival faction
of Tibetan Buddhism's Kagyu sect, headed by Shamar Rinpoche who, in 1994
in New Delhi, installed 11-year-old Trinley Thaye Dorje as his version
of the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa.
He was forced to do so in New Delhi because, in an incident in 1993 which shook the world's image of Tibetan Buddhism, Rumtek monastery saw a full-scale riot with monks savagely attacking one another. The faction led by Gyaltsab Rinpoche and Situ Rinpoche emerged victorious and Shamar Rinpoche's group was forced to retire to his residence about a kilometre below the monastery, which is at an altitude of about 1,500 metres in tropical eastern Himalaya, some 100 kms from the India-Tibet border.
The situation is a far cry from the romantic view
many Westerners -- and Asians -- have of Tibetan Buddhism. Under contemporary
pressures and with big powers always watching from the wings, the future
of institutionalised Tibetan Buddhism is in question. (
In October 2000, an in-depth analysis is published in "AsiaWeek", a well known magazine in Hong Kong. This analysis was written by a journalist who researched the story for several months. This was the first occurrence of a media describing and analyzing the controversy in such a clear and balanced way. This analysis was reproduced by the french weekly "Courrier International" in its January 2001 issue.
Lhasa and Dharamsala
While Tibetan exiles fight to determine who is the real incarnate of a high lama, Beijing affixess its seal on the whole process. Will Chinese pick up the next Dalaï-Lama ?
Urgyen Trinley can still manage a smile, but his
patience is wearing thin. The earlier whirlwind of media attention has
given way to boredom as he waits, the days drifting into months. Under
gilded-cage captivity at the Gyuto Monastery down the hill from the Dalai
Lama's residence in exile in Dharamsala, the 15-year-old Karmapa Lama
offers fleeting audiences to Buddhist pilgrims, accepting prayer scarves
and handing out red ribbons. An enigma, Urgyen Trinley is guarded by soldiers
and barred from giving interviews. His fate is largely in the hands of
Indian authorities, who must decide whether to risk China's wrath by allowing
him to assume the Karmapa's exile throne at Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim.
They were surprised and embarrassed by his sudden arrival on Indian soil
nine months ago.
Back then, the Tibetan exile community and international
journalists had listened excitedly to the tale of the tall, handsome Karmapa
Lama braving snowbound mountain passes and border guards to flee his Chinese-controlled
homeland. The young lama's flight echoed that of the Dalai Lama himself
in 1959. Many people have since wondered: Could this charismatic boy succeed
the aging 14th Dalai Lama as leader of the Tibetan diaspora? The question
takes on added urgency as overseas Tibetans are increasingly troubled
by internal rifts as well as a lack of progress in efforts to open a dialogue
with Beijing about the future of Tibet.
But who is Urgyen Trinley? And is he the real
17th Karmapa Lama, Tibet's No. 3 spiritual leader after the Dalai and
Plucked from a nomad's tent at age seven, he was
installed -with Beijing's blessing - iin Tibet's Tsurphu Monastery as
head of the 900-year-old Karma Kagyu school, one of the region's four
main Buddhist sects. But serious allegations of fraud and political skullduggery
on the part of his supporters have since hung over his recognition, resulting
in the emergence of a rival Karmapa in 1994. Since Urgyen Trinley's arrival
in Dharamsala, seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile, the controversy
has intensified. His exit from China has not only widened the divisions
within his Karma Kagyu sect, but also focuses attention on the thinly
veiled feud between it and the Dalai Lama's dominant Geluk sect.
More important, the Karmapa controversy has highlighted
Beijing's growing involvement in the selection of top Tibetan lamas. If
the Chinese can determine who gets recognized as the next Dalai, Panchen
and Karmapa lamas, their control over Tibet will be sealed as the top
lamas are revered by their deeply pious people. For Tibetan exiles, that
is an increasingly vivid nightmare. The Dalai Lama, widely regarded as
the only figure with the authority to hold the Tibetan exile movement
together, is now 65. "When he dies, there will be danger here,"
says Thupten Rikey, editor of the Dharamsala-based Tibet Journal. Fears
about the Dalai Lama's mortality have been heightened by a recent car
crash. "If he dies and Beijing can influence or name his reincarnation,
the exiles will really be in trouble," says a Tibet specialist in
Hong Kong. "Much could depend on how the Karmapa affair plays out."
The man responsible for Urgyen Trinley's recognition
and enthronement is Tai Situ Rinpoche, 45. One of four regents charged
with safeguarding the Karma Kagyu lineage, he commands reverence from
Tibetan and Western followers alike. From Taipei to New York, hundreds
of thousands laud his efforts to spread Buddhist dharma, or teachings.
They also put their faith in his judgment on key matters, such as recognition
of the Karmapa Lama.
Sitting in his spacious new monastery at Sherabling,
a two-hour drive away from his charge, Tai Situ is soft-spoken and affable.
Urgyen Trinley, he insists, is the true reincarnation of the late, much-respected
16th Karmapa Lama. "There is no such thing as proving, it is proved
already," the regent told Asiaweek. "The Karmapa is the Karmapa,
Buddha is Buddha, the Dalai Lama is the Dalai Lama. We are believers.
The short, bespectacled monk has influence, power,
certainly money. As a group of Western followers wait patiently for a
blessing, Bhutanese artists put the final touches to a huge Buddha statue
in the main prayer hall of this modern monastery set in 47 acres of wooded
hillside. One of 200 monks cleans and polishes the large photograph of
Urgyen Trinley placed on the main throne. With its efficient reception,
outdoor café and four-wheel-drive vehicles parked out front, the
establishment is a far cry from the dark, rat-infested chambers of Tibet's
medieval monasteries. Western pop music plays on a ghetto-blaster in one
of the monks' bright living quarters. Only the cavernous prayer hall is
reminiscent of traditional Tibet.
The search for the Karmapa, says Tai Situ, "was
conducted according to the previous Karmapa's instructions," which
came in the form of a letter he says was written by Urgyen Trinley's predecessor.
The Karma Kagyu sect started the Tibetan practice of finding reincarnated
high lamas nine centuries ago. Tibetans believe that advanced lamas can
use letters, dreams, meditation and signs to identify tulku, or enlightened
beings. Tai Situ is a tulku.
But to his critics, the regent has another side.
They accuse him of forgery, violence, intimidation, hoodwinking the Dalai
Lama and doing deals with Beijing X all in a bid to assume control of
the Karma Kagyu. Also concerned about Tai Situ is the Indian government,
which last month received a warning from China against granting Urgyen
Trinley asylum in Sikkim. The regent, banned from India in 1994-98 for
alleged anti-India and "criminal" activities, is currently prohibited
from entering Sikkim. The Indians also worry about law and order, following
brawls between Tai Situ's monks and followers of rival Karma Kagyu regent
Shamarpa Rinpoche. Shamarpa has produced a competing claimant, Thaye Dorje,
to the Karmapa throne.
While Urgyen Trinley is stuck in Dharamsala, the
17-year-old Thaye Dorje - quietly spirited out of Tibet six years ago
- is free to roam the world giving teachings. "People should be reassured
about him being the Karmapa because he has been recognized according to
the Karma Kagyu's traditions," the gruff-faced Shamarpa told Asiaweek.
Six years ago, he relied on a dream, meditation and auspicious signs to
find Thaye Dorje, then living in Lhasa's Jokhang Temple. "The 16th
Karmapa reaffirmed my position as the Shamarpa, the second-highest rank
in our sect," he adds. "The Shamarpa has historically been empowered
to identify and recognize Karmapas."
The deadlock means that both claimants are in limbo,
awaiting official enthronement and the donning of the sacred Black Hat,
a ceremony supposed to take place on the Karmapa's 21st birthday. Never
has there been such a crisis in the history of Tibetan spiritual succession.
Competing candidates, yes, but with only one recognized. Now there are
two recognized Karmapas.
Tai Situ is dismissive of his rivals. "We feel
sad that something like this has happened," he says. "There
are a lot of people who don't know the name of Buddha, who misrepresent
Buddhism. We can't get stressed by these things." Sitting on a throne
in his guest room, Tai Situ does not look stressed. He holds the high
ground in the propaganda war for a simple reason: The Dalai Lama backs
Urgyen Trinley. That means so do most Tibetans. Tai Situ has even been
able to win over the normally skeptical international press. Urgyen Trinley
is the Karmapa, journalists write. No question.
Even so, now that the search for the reincarnations
of high lamas has come out of the closed ramparts of the Himalaya, more
questions are being asked. Given the growing international appeal of Tibetan
Buddhism - even Hollywood stars like Richard Gere and Pierce Brosnan are
admirers - the issue is drawing more attention than ever. It is the subject
of independent investigations, books and even debates on the Internet.
Has the unique process been subject to abuse? Indeed, are its keepers
making a mockery of it in personal bids for power and wealth?
The answers are rooted in the recent vicissitudes
of a medieval religion. At 18 months, Tai Situ was recognized as the 12th
reincarnation in a line of spiritual teachers who had worked alongside
the Karmapa Lama. But he was living in an occupied land. Four years before,
the Chinese army had completed its "peaceful liberation" of
Tibet. The act was sealed by the 17-Point Agreement, signed between Beijing
and Tibetan representative Ngabo Ngawang Jigme (see interview page 73).
Among Tibetans, Ngabo is reviled to this day for the move.
When the 16th Karmapa Lama fled Tibet on the eve
of the 1959 revolt against Beijing, Tai Situ followed him. The Dalai Lama
left soon afterward. Chinese depredations in Tibet climaxed during the
1966-76 Cultural Revolution, which saw the devastation of over 6,000 monasteries
and the killing, imprisonment and dispersal of tens of thousand of monks
and nuns. When Deng Xiaoping came to power in the late 1970s, he tried
to repair some of the damage. Beijing allowed some monasteries to be rebuilt
and limited religious practice. But having failed to crush Tibetan opposition
by force, Communist authorities were looking for the chance to influence
the selection of top lamas. The opportunity was not long in coming.
With the death of the 16th Karmapa Lama in 1981 at
the age of 56, a daunting challenge faced Tai Situ, Shamarpa, Gyaltsab
Rinpoche and Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, the young regents entrusted with
the search for their master's reincarnation. The 16th Karmapa had proved
a gifted, charismatic leader. From his seat in exile at Rumtek, he had
built a spiritual and worldly empire with millions of followers and extensive
assets. He had also long been at odds with the Dalai Lama, his Sikkim
monastery an alternative power base to the latter's government-in-exile
Leading the search for the next Karmapa Lama was
a task that traditionally alternated between the contemporary incarnations
of Tai Situ and Shamarpa. The Shamarpa had been banished for 200 years
by previous Dalai Lamas, but was reinstated by the 14th in 1963 in a bid
to unite Tibetans. But in the feudal Karma Kagyu hierarchy, Shamarpa's
reinstatement as No. 2 behind the Karmapa shunted Tai Situ and his followers
down a rung. The scene was set for trouble.
The bad blood helped stall the search for the 17th
Karmapa Lama. At the same time, the regents saw opportunity in the growing
vista of popular and lucrative dharma centers being set up in Asia and
the West. Tai Situ began teaching tours abroad, which grew into a lucrative
circuit that would see him dubbed "The Last Emperor" in Hong
Kong because of his penchant for expensive hotel suites. In Scotland,
he befriended Akong Tulku Rinpoche, who helped found the Samye Ling Buddhist
center. It was Akong who saw the opportunity offered by China's new open-door
In an attempt to woo back some Tibetan exiles, Beijing
began allowing exilegovernment "fact-finding"
missions and private visits. After trips to both Tibet and China's capital,
Akong launched a series of humanitarian projects under his charity, Rokpa
(Service). He also became Tai Situ's representative to the Chinese government.
The regent himself got clearance for a four-month visit to Tibet, during
which he proposed measures for education and health care as well as the
preservation and propagation of Buddhist culture. "From the Dalai
Lama down to every Tibetan in exile, we try to work with everybody in
Tibet, that is our duty," says Tai Situ. Like other exiled lamas,
he and Akong were ostensibly trying to help their people and rebuilding
the damaged religious infrastructure. For that, Beijing declared Akong
a "Living Buddha."
The delay in finding the 17th Karmapa Lama led to
recriminations. Tai Situ's supporters started a campaign of letters and
faxes, blaming Shamarpa. They launched - and lost - a court case claiming
he tried to steal the Karmapa's assets. On March 19, 1992, Tai Situ showed
his three fellow regents an A4-sized letter, purportedly written by the
16th Karmapa, directing them to where his reincarnation would be found.
Shamarpa was shocked. "The letter was obviously fake," he says.
"I examined it word for word, and realized the handwriting was not
the 16th Karmapa's, but seemed more like Tai Situ's. But Tai Situ steadfastly
refused to have the letter tested forensically."
Tai Situ then faxed a copy of the missive to the
Dalai Lama and told him that all the regents had agreed on its authenticity
(though Shamarpa had not). On that basis, the Dalai Lama accepted the
findings. It was a political coup for Tai Situ. He had manipulated the
Dalai Lama's intervention in the most important affair of another Buddhist
sect. Shamarpa was appalled. "It was not the Dalai Lama's role to
get involved," he says. "All past Karmapas have been recognized
within the Karma Kagyu lineage."
Urgyen Trinley was said to have been identified from
instructions laid out in the letter. But Tai Situ's critics allege that
even before securing the Dalai Lama's acceptance, the regent had been
to Tibet, found his Karmapa and cleared his choice with Beijing. In 1991,
Tai Situ purportedly gave Urgyen Trinley a Buddhist empowerment in Tibet.
The same year, says a Chinese government source, Beijing issued an internal
directive allowing the monks at Tsurphu monastery to start searching for
the new Karmapa "on the basis on the 16th Karmapa's will." Notes
a Tibetan source: "This indicates Tai Situ was likely involved with
the Chinese since only he had the prediction letter." (The regent's
response echoes the words of his friend, Akong Rinpoche: "We try
to work with everyone inside Tibet. That is our duty.") In a lavish
1992 ceremony attended by thousands, Urgyen Trinley, dubbed "the
Chinese Karmapa," was installed in Tibet's Tsurphu Monastery. The
episode marked the first time Chinese Communist authorities had participated
in the recognition of a top Tibetan Lama.
Sectarian conflicts worsened among the Tibetan exiles.
In 1993, Tai Situ's followers violently ousted Shamarpa and his supporters
from the Rumtek Monastery. The next year, Urgyen Trinley was invited to
Tiananmen Square and the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. He was congratulated
by Chinese President Jiang Zemin and told to work for the good of the
motherland and the Communist Party.
Cheered by their successful intervention in installing a Karmapa Lama, the Chinese moved again before long. The 10th Panchen Lama had died in 1989 and no reincarnation had been recognized. At a secret 1993 meeting between senior Chinese and Tibetan officials, a plan was hatched to wrest control over the recognition of Tibet's spiritual leaders from the Dalai Lama. When the Dalai announced in 1995 his discovery of 5-year-old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the new Panchen Lama, the Chinese arrested the boy. They feted Gyaltsen Norbu, the 5-year-old son of a Communist cadre, as the 11th Panchen Lama. That had distressing implications for the Dalai Lama. As he and the Panchen both belong to the Geluk sect, the latter can recognize his reincarnation. And the Chinese had their hands on both Panchens.
Within the exile community, the Dalai Lama's troubles
grew. He was criticized for "prematurely" announcing his acceptance
of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, resulting in the boy's capture. His banning in
1996 of the worship of the Geluk sect's traditional Shugden deity created
more tensions. Such worship, explains the Dalai Lama, "is detrimental
to the Tibetan government and people." The proscription sparked protests
by Geluk members against him in India and the West. "The Dalai Lama
is denying us our religious practice, our human rights," complains
Geshe Kalsang Gyatso, who heads Britain's cult-like Manjushri Center.
The bloody murder of Lobsang Gyatso, a respected Dalai associate, and
two of his students in 1997 raised fears about a bid on the Dalai Lama's
life. It all made good fodder for Beijing's propaganda machine. The Chinese
were also said to be funding anti-Dalai groups.
Long-uneasy relations between the Geluk and Karma
Kagyu sects were further strained by the Dalai Lama's intervention in
the recognition of the Karmapa Lama. It revived bitter memories of the
1960s, when the Dalai's brother Gyalo Thondup tried to bring all Tibetan
sects under Geluk control X by force if necessary. When 14 exile settlements
united to fight his plan, unrest erupted within the community. In March
1977, settlements leader Gungthang Tsultrim was shot several times at
point-blank range. The murderer said he received 300,000 rupees from the
Tibetan government-in-exile. He claimed it offered to pay him even more
to kill the 16th Karmapa Lama.
When the Dalai Lama embraced Urgyen Trinley after
his flight from Tibet in January this year, hopes grew of a reconciliation
between the Geluk and Karma Kagyu. That the fugitive went to Dharamsala
rather than the Karmapa's traditional seat at Rumtek in Sikkim suggested
he was coming under the protection of the Geluk. That squared with the
sect's ambitions to unite the exile spiritual lineages under its umbrella.
It also helped boost Geluk morale, given the sect's
raft of anxieties. With the Dalai Lama's advancing age and inability to
open a dialogue with Beijing, demands are growing louder for a more radical,
possibly violent approach to Tibet's future. Fearing chaos and the rise
of "an angrier form of Tibetan nationalism," Dharamsala recently
urged the Chinese to negotiate with the Dalai Lama. Without his "moderating
influence," said the government-in-exile in a 45-page report, "different
factions would start taking different actions."
Urgyen Trinley's arrival helped Tai Situ as well.
The regent had slipped up. Putting the Karmapa in Chinese hands had backfired.
Once Beijing had its "Living Buddha," Tai Situ was no longer
needed. He watched in dismay as Thaye Dorje was installed as a rival Karmapa.
At the 1994 enthronement ceremony in Delhi's Karmapa International Buddhist
Institute, Tai Situ's followers hurled rocks and abuse, shouting: "The
Karmapa is a fake, a political choice!" Windows were broken and dozens
injured in the hour-long melEe before Indian police restored order. And
as Urgyen Trinley languished in Tibet, his sponsor despaired as Thaye
Dorje kept winning converts and donations on the international teaching
circuit. Says a Karma Kagyu follower in Munich: "Tai Situ saw the
crowds Thaye Dorje attracted when he came to Germany, and the similar
response in Taiwan. It was undermining his influence. He had to act, to
get Urgyen Trinley out of Tibet in order to compete."
How do the rival Karmapas measure up? In August,
Thaye Dorje seemed in his element as he gave teachings and blessings to
a 1,000-strong gathering of followers in the Dordogne hills in France.
His responses to their theological questions show that he is no dunce.
He is versed not only in Buddhist scriptures, but also in more earthly
matters such as cricket, computers, the Internet and the music of the
Spice Girls. Thaye Dorje also likes Hawaiian pizza, computer games and
the Star Wars video. "Time will tell how this [Karmapa rivalry] works
out," he told Asiaweek. And what if he were to meet Urgyen Trinley?
"That would be fine," says Thaye Dorje. "It would be interesting."
The intense, six-foot Urgyen Trinley is harder to
fathom. Asiaweek had an audience but was unable to interview him, such
is the paranoia surrounding the "bird in a cage," as an aide
has grumbled. Indian guards were doubled last month when intelligence
agents got whiff of an attempt to escape, possibly to Rumtek Monastery,
the coveted Karmapa seat. The Dalai Lama talks of an exquisite poem the
young lama is said to have written for him. "I see great potential
regarding his spirituality," he says. "Spectacular," is
how one Western follower describes Urgyen Trinley. Yet others speak of
temper tantrums and low I.Q.
Politics will decide who eventually sits on the Karmapa's
throne. In the past two months, Urgyen Trinley's supporters have stepped
up pressure on India to allow him to take the Karmapa's seat in the Rumtek
Monastery. From around the world, hundreds of them descended on Dharamsala
in August to hold a conference on the issue. Their e-mails speculate on
impending asylum status. But New Delhi is wary. "The Indian government,
in effect, has given recognition to Thaye Dorje by hosting him in Delhi,"
says a Western Karma Kagyu member. "And it has long recognized Shamarpa
Rinpoche as the paramount regent of our lineage."
Rightly or wrongly, New Delhi also fears that Beijing
may be playing a double game. China is unlikely, as some Indian officials
suggest, to have actually engineered Urgyen Trinley's escape from Tibet
(most sources believe Dharamsala, and perhaps Tai Situ, had a role). But
the Chinese may benefit if they were able, in the future, to hold negotiations
with him as a representative of the Tibetan exile community.
That is why the question of whether Urgyen Trinley
might succeed the 14th Dalai Lama as Tibetans' top leader is crucial.
The scenario is "not possible," insists Sonam Topgyal, cabinet
chairman of the government-in-exile. "The Karmapa will be like any
other lama, giving teachings." But others disagree, noting that while
the Geluk sect is now dominant, other factions - including the Karma Kagyu
- had ruled in the past. "A lot of people have it fixed in their
minds that the Dalai Lama rules, but that is not necessary," Akong
Rinpoche told Asiaweek. "Another school could step in." Even
Sonam acknowledges: "There are many other lamas [than the Dalai].
The Tibetans may even decide to elect a non-religious person."
For its part, Beijing is waiting for the Dalai Lama
to die. It believes that would signal the end of the five-decade-old "Tibet
question." But some Tibetans argue it could be just when Beijing's
real troubles begin. "When the Dalai Lama dies, there will be chaos,"
secretary general Pema Lhundup of the Tibetan Youth Congress told Asiaweek
in July. "The pent-up frustration against the Chinese occupation
is barely being held in check by His Holiness. His demise could be the
spark that ignites an uprising." (Lhundup's words could prove eerily
on the mark. The outspoken political player died weeks after the interview,
having fallen from a building in what Indian police say was an accident.)
An uprising would not drive Chinese soldiers out of Tibet and would probably
be violently suppressed. But it would be a colossal headache for Beijing,
just when it is striving to open its economy wider and improve its image
In Tibet itself, Chinese authorities seem to have
tightened up. "Perhaps for the first time since the Cultural Revolution,
even simple acts of religious observance place a person under suspicion,"
says Ronald Schwartz, author of Circle of Protest, a book on Tibetan politics.
"This goes beyond the Dalai Lama and perceives Tibetan Buddhism itself
as potentially threatening to Chinese rule. It is not inconceivable it
will be treated the same way as Falungong and other so-called cults that
challenge Communist Party power."
To avoid the more violent scenarios, Beijing hopes
to win the battle for Tibet by controlling the reincarnation of top lamas.
The Dalai Lama's death will almost certainly see the China-anointed Panchen
Lama recognizing the Dalai's successor. The Chinese announced last year
that the next Dalai Lama would be born in Tibet X and thus under their
control. They discount the Dalai's own assertion that he would be reborn
in exile, quipping if he did that he would return as a blue-eyed Westerner.
Never mind that most Tibetans will reject China's choice. If having two
Karmapa Lamas has already produced such stress within the Tibetan diaspora,
dueling Dalais would create even more tensions. "The Chinese see
our splits over religion and ideology and seek to exploit them to destroy
the exile community," says Dharamsala's Sonam.
That is why the Karmapa saga has been so devastating
for the Tibetans. It has paralyzed a powerful sect, the Karma Kagyu, and
it opened the door to Chinese involvement in Tibet's politics of reincarnation.
Whoever prevails in the race for the Karmapa Lama's throne and lifts the
sacred Black Hat onto his head will find a lineage torn apart. The winner
will need to hang on extra-tight to his hat. The loser could be Tibet
and the Tibetan people.