Controversy: opposing viewpoints
One interesting point is to analyze
how the concerned people have made up their mind in this matter. When
talking about "concened people", we mean not only Tibetans,
but buddhism practicing Westerners as well.
In 1992, when Situ Rinpoche reveals
his letter, Shamar Rinpoche does not accept it. From Situ Rinpoche's side
, it is a well planned job: not only does he possess "the letter"
everyone has been looking for those past eleven years, but the Dalaï
Lama is on his side, and furthermore, he gets Shamarpa's signature recognizing
On the face of it, people at large
have all reasons to trust Situpa. He was one of the four Regents, he has
fulfilled his duty, and he his the one who received the 16th Karmapa's
heart during his cremation: he is quite the right one for finding the
new incarnation. Propaganda coming from the "Derge Committee"
worked perfectly, and keeps on working to this day. People trust him ,
Karmapa has been found, no more questions are needed, and so whatever
problem there was is answered.
Moreover, Urgyen Trinley, the chosen
child, displays a huge charisma. He is beautiful, shows a great strength
of character , and most important, looks like the previous Karmapa. Many
pictures of the late Karmapa showed him with an eye more opened than the
other. Surprise ! The newly found child has the same feature! This will
convince many people. One will find across Internet, some photomontages
where the picture of the 16th Karmapa evolves to a perfect fit into Urgyen
Trinley's. So, the latter would have the same face, although their parents
had no family links ! This legend will endure. When Thaye Dorje is found,
many find his picture disappointing: he looks rather puny, pale,
and wears glasses !
Let's turn back to 1992. Then, Shamar
Rinpoche stands isolated, helped only by his disciples and those who trust
him. He disagrees, but he has very few elements of proof: he could not
get a forensic study of the "prediction" letter, and his signature
recognizing Urgyen Trinley makes things harder. Truly, many can not get
why he now rejects the child he himself accepted earlier. In all sincerity,
they think he is driven by bad motives.
It is a fact Shamar Rinpoche does
not try to make people follow him. Those who will act to reach him, in
order to know more about his position, telling they themselves are not
sure about who and what to trust, will hear him answering that he does
not try to turn anyone's mind, that everyone has to analyze the current
situation in all honesty, and that things will clear up gradually. He
simply does not try to convince anyone.
In these times, many people (better
informed than public at large) prefer to remain neutral. Some breaches
had happened: recognition from the Dalaï Lama, hurry surrounding
that event, intronisation under chinese control and with chinese blessings,
During the two following years (1992
and 1993), those previously hesitant people, relatively well informed,
will gradually shift into a firm backing of Shamarpa's position, under
one main motive: inadmissible acts from Situ Rinpoche's followers. Even
then, Shamarpa does not provide any alternative for Urgyen Trinley. But
his opponent's doings speak for themselves: attempt to take over the "Karmapa
Charitable Trust" in november 1992, brutalities laid upon Rumtek
monks, political collusion, and, as a final stroke, attack against Rumtek
during August 1993.
We are deliberately saying "
relatively well informed people", because people in general had accepted
Situpa's letter and saw no need to reject this well settled fact. In fact,
the Dalaï Lama keeps reiterating his recognition and, all facts and
events are distorted by propaganda from Situ Rinpoche's side, not only
in Tibet, but in India as well. For instance, during the attack against
Rumtek, defending monks have been blamed with aggression against "peaceful
strollers" accompanying Situ Rinpoche.
The "Karmapa Papers" publication brings forth a new light on these numerous distortions. What had been shrouded now becomes very clear. Henceforth, it becomes obvious Situ Rinpoche had forged the letter. Now, one understands why Situ Rinpoche has stubbornly refused a forensic analysis of this letter. Why ? The only choice is:
either the letter is authentic, analysis proves it, and all questions stop;
or it is forged
fit with this systematic refusal.
Then, during spring 1994, Shamar
Rinpoche announces at last the fruit of his search: the new Karmapa has
been found, and as soon as feasible, is presented. Shamar Rinpoche gives
out a detailed account of the whole search process, which lasted a full
One interesting point in that process,
Shamar Rinpoche does not bring out material and undiscutable proof. Yes,
this child has stated several times "I am Karmapa", there has
been an authentic recognition process, but there is no letter or unmistakable
message coming down from the 16th Karmapa, as everyone was expecting it.
Truly, there is this mysterious 16th Karmapa's devotee who seems to act
as a guide in this search, but Shamarpa will not identify him. Is he real
or not ? No one knows
What has convinced previously wary
disciples, is the way Shamarpa acts. Contrary to his peer, he proceeds
with caution. He does not dirty himself with any political maneuver or
any embezzlement, he does not put the slightest pressure to convince anyone,
he stands with patience and tolerance in front of all affronts and irregularities
made to him, in short, he acts as an authentic spiritual master, worthy
of recognizing Karmapa.
To sum it up, in these times, and until Thaye Dorje is revealed, agreeing with Shamar Rinpoche's position means firstly disagreeing with Situ Rinpoche's acts.
This controversy feeds upon complete ignorance of
succeeding events as well as nicely conducted disinformation.
Reading the stories about all the dramatic events
from 1992 to 1994, one can not help but wonder how possibly some people
have backed Situ Rinpoche, compromised in such dealings. One is eager
to hear what kind of thinking props up such behavior.
We are in a system where trust and confidence towards
spiritual masters are paramount. But a lot of confusion about what these
mean may lead to naivety bordering blindness. So, in this rather complex
story, most people would rather agree with their own master, without exercising
the smallest amount of critical judgement and without looking for more
From Shamarpa's side, there is no information. One example stands for many: Shamarpa has asked to put online a site dealing with the Karmapa controversy. There, one finds sparse information amounting to some ten news items. Nowhere on internet can be found an analysis of the "prediction" letter, or of the events since 1992, besides a few isolated statements. This fits exactly with Shamarpa's thinking: up to Thayé Dorje's arrival in India, he never tried to give a lot of information. These dharma centers backing him up, remained silent and waiting for a very long time. As a rare exception, Ole Nydahl's disciples in Europe have issued a very well researched, but very partisan book, mixing the controversy unfolding with an allegorical story of activities by Ole Nydahl. Its title meaningful enough "Rogues in Robes", sets the tone for this book which has had a limited success, Ole being somewhat a controversial person, most notably in France.
When did the controversy start ?
One has to consider the context back then, and to
clearly grasp a few major points which will lead to future events.
Up to 1992, when Situ Rinpoche unveils his so-called
"prediction" letter, everything was going fine within the large
Kagyu family. The four Rinpoches are there, everybody trust them, although
some criticism begin to air about their slowness for finding the 17th
Karmapa. Testimony from Rumtek monks (refer to the forewords of "Siege
of Karmapa") shows this well: everyone trust them without the slightest
Then, suddendly, a clash looms: Jamgön Kongtrul
dies abruptly in a car accident. He clearly was the preferred one within
kagyu lineage. Very smart, diplomat, he was the one everybody trusted.
He was binding the other Rinpoches. For Shamarpa seemed haughty and no
diplomat, Situ Rinpoche independant and political, Gyaltsab Rinpoche wavering
and less charismatic.
These other three Rinpoche will then tear each other apart about recognizing Karmapa. It is where the ones' temperament and the others' dealings will make the difference.
He does not do a lot for his public image. He is
a straight character, with high integrity, not caring about pleasing anyone.
He is simple and dislikes all the pomp due to his rank. Few know him in
the tibetan world, because his lineage was banned by the Dalaï Lama
for two centuries. Older generations did not know him and he does not
try to patch this over. When he dislikes something, he walks away. In
1983, during the now famous Rinchen Terzö initiation, he suddenly
leaves the ongoing ceremony without a single word of explanation to the
public. The many persons attending the ceremonies have no idea of his
real motives for this hasty departure, and will indulge in fancy explanations.
Most of them are Kalu Rinpoche's devotees. They see this as a lack of
respect towards their master who gives the initiation and see Shamar Rinpoche
as an angry and unsociable character. This opinion matters, for Kalu Rinpoche's
followers, upon the 1992 clash, will naturally trust Situ Rinpoche more.
He is a well-known lama among tibetan. In earlier
days, he was the head of the powerful Palpung monastery in Kham. His predecessor
the 11th Situpa was the preceptor for the 16th Karmapa. He is a charming
person and knows how to be appreciated.
- with the fable about the heart of the 16th Karmapa,
never challenged until 1992, he scored a decisive point in his disciples'
mind. For many, he is the one chosen by the 16th Karmapa. This assertion
was aired by the "Derge Committee" back in 1992. It became an
unbeatable argument, very widely repeated by those dharma centers backing
Situpa. For them, there is no doubt Situ Rinpoche is right because the
16th Karmapa recognized him as his spiritual heir.
- The so-called "prediction" letter fulfills
what everyone has been waiting for during eleven years
- Situ Rinpoche has recognized main tulkus of the
kagyu lineage, and so, these masters' disciples are grateful to him. This
is the case most notably for Kalu Rinpoche, Trungpa Rinpoche. He had Urgyen
Trinley recognize as well Jamgön Rinpoche and Pao Rinpoche.
- But the main ace for Situ Rinpoche is the recognition for Urgyen Trinley he obtains from the Dalaï Lama. This recognition is essential, for it legitmizes Urgyen Trinley, and there is no need to give further consideration to the "prediction" letter.
For most people recognizing Urgyen Trinley as Karmapa,
there is no longer any doubt: the whole recognition process has been accomplished
and all participants are perfectly sincere about it. Furthermore, they
have the backing of the Dalaï Lama. They do not understand why there
should be a forensic analysis of the letter, are ignorant of its doubtful
qualities. For them, Shamarpa's behavior is incomprehensible. He seems
to be malicious and jealous. All administrative hassle sustained by their
Situ Rinpoche behaves as someone whose acts are quite
legitimate, not trying and seeing no need to provide justifications: he
is right, that is the way things are,
and that is it. In fact,
he tells it to the Asiaweek reporter he meets in October 2000, about Urgyen
Trinley: "There is nothing to prove, it is already proven."
) " Karmapa is Karmapa, Buddha is Buddha, Dalaï Lama
is Dalaï Lama. We are believers. That is it."
In the Sherab Ling Newsletter dated Dec. 1992, Situ Rinpoche gives his opinion about the controversy:
" Following some incidents that happened during the announcement of the 17th Karmapa and some things that are still happening, mostly in Germany and France, where a few people are questioning the authenticity of His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, I have this to say. We are Buddhist, and we can pray for the people involved in spreading confusion, be compassionate towards them, and that is all we can do. We should not be discouraged by what is happening. We should know that when Buddha was alive there were many people who did not believe in him, including his own brother. If this happened 2500 years ago with the Buddha, then why not now with His Holiness Karmapa? It should not happen. If it did not happen it would have been much better, but it has happened. So, the way Buddha treated the situation was with compassion. We don't need to do anything nor concede to misguided people in any way, because that will contribute to their bad karma. We pray for them, we dedicate merit for them, that they will stop accumulating negative karma and get some wisdom.
There are a few people who say they do not believe in Karmapa, so what can we do? They do not believe. We cannot destroy our lineage, we cannot destroy everything we have because somebody does not believe in it. If we preserve and practice the teachings, then others will see the quality. But we are not here to win anybody's faith. That is not our motivation. How many people on this earth know somebody called Buddha existed? If some people do not know, that does not make Buddha less than what he is. When their good karma ripens, people will wake up. If it does not happen in this life, then it might happen in the next life."
In an interview, Thrangu Rinpoche, a learned and important lama from the Kagyu lineage answers this question, and summarizes well what Situ Rinpoche's followers think about it:
" I personally think it is unnecessary, because the documents on reincarnation left by the past 15 Karmapas had never been subjected to forensic examination. Whenever there was a controversy, the disciples would finally resolve it with their faith in the Karmapa and his blessings. Similarly, in the present case, there is no need to have the documents examined by forensic experts. As a matter of fact, many high ranked monks and practitioners have through their compassion and wisdom pointed out clearly who is the Karmapa. All we need to do is to abide by what they say. Furthermore, forensic examination is used against criminals. The documents of prediction left behind by Karmapas are not only sacred but also blessed. Examining them as though they are documents left behind by criminals is rather strange from the religious point of view. On the basis of these two reasons, forensic examination of the documents is unnecessary. "
Situ Rinpoche's side consider
such an analysis would deface a sacred object. Moreover, very few people
know exactly why Shamarpa insists for this expert advice. The devastating
analysis , printed in the "Karmapa Papers" has not been spread
and very few have read it.
There is a complete explanation of why a forensic analysis woul be useless on the website of Nalandabodhi http://www.nalandabodhi.org/news.html, which is the main site dealing with the controversy and managed by Urgyen Trinley's supporters.
This is how "Sherab Ling Newsletter" automn/winter 1993, describes this event :
Tai Situpa Rinpoche, at the request of the Rumtek
administrative committee and the Nalanda Institute for Higher Studies,
went to Rumtek in late July. One of his first activities was to open the
traditional Yarney, or "rainy season" retreat, on August 2nd.
The Yarney retreat has been an annual observance at Rumtek since the Monastery's
beginning. The custom dates back to the time of the Buddha, who spent
a period in prayer and meditation with his disciples each summer during
monsoon. Many of these rainy season retreats were spent in Vaishali, now
located in the Indian State of Uttar Pradesh. The ceremonies beginning
Yarney are preparatory prayers for the month long period of study and
This year there was an attempt to disrupt the celebration
of the yarney ceremonies by a small dissident faction of monks who oppose
the coming visit of the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa. Monks locked the shrine room
door early in the morning hoping to prevent the ceremonies and stop the
retreat. However, Tai Situpa and Gyaltsap Rinpoche, along with the monks
from the institute of higher studies and monastery monks, proceeded with
the prayers seated on the pavement outside the locked shrine room door.
The miscreant monks barricaded themselves in the dining hall. When asked
to return the keys so that the temple could be opened they shouted abuse
and later hurled stones and bricks at people. Some present sustained minor
injuries. Sikkimese Police and a state government official who were present
attempted to quell the disturbance through discussion. More police were
called. It was finally resolved in the evening when the monks relinquished
the keys. A stockpile of bricks and other implements were later discovered
in the dining room.
Through all of this the ceremonies went forward, and the Yarney retreat began according to schedule, although a White Tara Empowerment which had been requested by a local family had to be postponed. After the unfortunate incident a letter of protest to Shamar Rinpoche was drafted and signed by 220 local monastery patrons, all of whom witnessed the incident. This letter describes the events in detail, and contradicts a scurrilous fax that was circulated, presumably by the same faction, that made numerous false allegations about the events and some of the senior lamas. A Joint Action Committee has been formed by concerned Sikkimese Buddhists to counter such incidents at the monastery in future.
To His Eminence Shamar Rinpoche Rumtek, Sikkim - August
We the undersigned have been the devoted sponsors
of His Holiness the Karmapa. As you know, we have been also the devoted
sponsors of yourself and the other three regents, as well as of other
Rinpoches and the monk body. You will recall that each of us, here undersigned,
have contributed our share, physically as well. as financially, each according
to our abilities since 1959 when His Holiness the XVIth Gyalwa Karmapa
escaped, from Tibet. At that time we were only very joyous when His Holiness
chose to take asylum in Sikkim. During these difficult years of the early
60's it was we, the Sikkimese sponsors, who helped to establish the Rumtek
Dharma Chakra Centre. Those who could made offerings in cash, others in
kind, such as rice and vegetables, while some of us actually carried stones,
soil, cement and rods. All of this you are aware of.
Yesterday, on 2nd of August, we came to Rumtek Dharma
Chakra Centre to offer our prayers on the holy occasion of Yarne (summer
retreat session) and to take blessing from the two regents, their eminences
Tai Situ Rinpoche and Goshir Gyaltsap Rinpoche. Upon arrival we found
the Monastery dukhang (main shrine) locked and the two regents with the
monks from the shedra (Nalanda Institute) seated on the cold floor outside
the monastery and conducting the Yarney ceremonies there. The monks from
the monastery had barricaded themselves inside the kitchen dining hall.
When we, the sponsors, requested them to open the doors, they hurled bricks
and logs at us. some of them were even carrying knives and meat choppers.
Let it be clearly noted that we had nothing in our hands except white
scarves, Let it also be clearly noted that the Sikkim Home Secretary,
the Ecclesiastical Secretary and police officers were all witnesses to
it. When these monks hurled stoned, bricks, etc, at us there were children
and babies amongst us. One further point to be noted clearly is that amongst
the monks who barricaded themselves inside were thirty to forty monks
below the age of ten years who were forced to indulge in these unlawful
activities. No doubt if we had also retaliated these monks would have
been injured and sacrificed to cater to the wishes of the troublemaking
It is clear to us that this whole trouble took place
because of the decision you made which was biased. The monks from the
monastery took such action because you have planted the seeds of discord
and then vanished, You didn't try to bring harmony between the shed[r]a
monks and the monastery monks. You threatened to fail the monks of the
shed[r]a and then summarily dismissed them on the pretext of holiday while
you know full well that in the constitution of the Nalanda Institute,
on Page 5, it is clearly written, according to the wishes or the XVIth
Karmapa that the monks of the shedra and the monks of the monastery will
attend the Yarney summer retreat session together.
If you have advised not to hold the summer retreat for both the monks of the shedra and monastery it would have been a more impartial act. By victimizing the monks of Nalanda Institute, you have shown yourself to be unworthy and biased. Furthermore, the m[o]nks of the monastery closed down the monastery in order to prevent the shed[r]a monks from attending the summer retreat. Subsequently, the Nalanda monks began their retreat, which has never to date been canceled or unattended. Even the two regents along with the monks of the shed[r]a sat on the cold floor to begin the proceedings of the summer retreat while the monks of the monastery did not take part. This is like cutting one's nose to spite the face. We hold you responsible for this break in this annual summer retreat ceremony.
Thus you have actually disobeyed the instructions
of your Root His Holiness the XVIth Karmapa You have also failed to obey
your Root Guru by not handing over the keys and the tiles of the Nalanda
institute to his eminence Tai Situ Rinpoche when your term of Chief Principal
expired. According to the instructions of His Holiness, the four regents
were to take turns for three years each as the Chief Principal.
We have also witnessed the monastery monks all the
time loitering between your residence and the monastery, while no prayers
were conducted in the main Dukhang. You have instigated and abetted them
in acts of violence, bringing much more disgrace since they wear the robes
of the Buddha.
During the Tibetan New Year too, there was disharmony.
You have in all these years rarely attended the Mahakala Puja, which is
an important event in the Rumtek calendar. Under your instructions even
the most important ritual dance of Mahakala was canceled, [th]us breaking
all norms and traditions of the monastery,
We are aware of all the lies that have been fed to
the innocent Westerners by you and your people, You actually brought the
army, fully armed, into the monastery last year and then tried to blame
others for it, We Sikkimese are gentle people by nature. Until now we
have maintained patience because we have been ashamed to proclaim to the
world that one of our high lamas has gone berserk seeking power. As we
have seen the monastery literally crumbling before us our patience has
become exhausted. We remind you that you are in Sikkim only as our guest
tolerated by us only because we respect robes, even when they are worn
by an ambitious person.
We are for Karmapa and only for Karmapa, As far as
we are concerned, Karmapa is already in his principal seat in Tibet and
when the time comes we, the Sikkimese people will bring him to his seat
in Rumtek, All your efforts to cause disharmony in Sikkim are useless.
The Rumtek Dharma Chakra Centre does not belong to you and we do not acknowledge
your pretence to authority here. That you have managed to make us, the
gentle people of Sikkim write such a letter to you is and indication of
the shame we feel in witnessing your activity that has brought ridicule
to the Karma Kamtsang tradition in particular and to Buddhist Dharma in
(217 signatures of members of the Sikkim Buddhist
community were appended)
From "Sherab Ling Newsletter" vol. 10 n°1, winter 1994, written by Lea Terhune :
A controversy that has been fueled over the last two
years by a faction dissenting the recognition of the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa
came to a head in March when Shamarpa - who, along with his cousin, the
former General Secretary of Rumtek, Topga Yugyal, has spearheaded the
fraction - presented a boy he claims to be the Karmapa at the Karmapa
Internation Buddhist Institute in Delhi. Shamarpa had threatened to present
a candidate for several years, and had mentioned several possible boys
before settling on the one he produced on March 17.
A protest demonstration against Shamarpa's action by lay and religious members of the Tibetan Buddhist community from New Delhi, Sikkim, Ladakh, Himachal, Pradesh, and other areas turned violent when both sides began throwing bricks and bottles. The melee continued for half an hour before sufficient police arrived to contain it. Several hundred Tibetans took part in the protest. A number of people we injured. Inside, elaborate security percautions had been taken by the faction, who had prepared staves and stockpiled bricks and bottles.
Shortly after the demonstration, the Kashag, the
Dalai Lama's cabinet of ministers, issued a statement reiterating the
authenticity of the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa who was enthroned at his ancient
seat, Tsurphu Monastery in Tibet, in September 1992. On March 29th a delegation
that included most of the elders of the Karma Kagyu lineage was received
by His Holiness Dalai Lama in Dharamsala. His Holiness re-affirmed in
no uncertain terms that there can be only one enthroned Karmapa, and he
is Urgyen Trinley Dorje, who is currently at Tsurphu in Tibet. His Holiness,
concerned about uninformed media reports instructed his cabinet to issue
a statement of clarification, which they did on the 31st of March.
Addressing the press conference at the Meridien Hotel
in New Delhi on April 4th were Tai Situpa, Goshir Gyaltsap Rinpoche, Khenchen
Thrangu Rinpoche, Bokar Rinpoche, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, Drupon Rinpoche,
Khenpo Lodoe of Sonada, Lama Gyaltsen, father of Kalu Rinpoche, and Mr.
Tenzin Namgyal, General Secretary of Rumtek Monastery. The press conference
was well attended by foreign and Indian press, although the newspaper
where most of the distorted stories about Rumtek and the Karmapa have
appeared did not send a representative.
A statement released by the Karma Kagyu representatives
read, in part " On behalf of all members of the Kagyu community we
collectively appeal to all followers and especially the followers of our
dear and respected colleague Shamar Rinpoche to honor the sacred incarnation
of the revered Karmapa. We earnestly appeal to all followers of the Kagyu
order so that we can stand together and ensure that no external interests
can break our unity and we can all work together for truth, peace and
harmony which is our message to the world in these troubled times."
This set the tone for the meeting.
Tibetans in general seem to be satisfied with the
decision made by the Dalai Lama two years ago. The majority of the faction
opposing the 17th Karmapa appears to consist of Western disciples of Ole
Nydahl and Shamarpa from Austria, Germany, France and Denmark.
Excerpts of an interesting commentary found on the
, which was an answer to the "Asiaweek" article, printed in
October 2000. As customary on this site, the author is anonymous, but
he comments everyday on information about Karmapa.
The Partnership Of The Dalai Lama And Karmapa As
A Counterweight To Tibetan Factionalism
) Since the 1950's, His Holiness the Dalai
Lama has been the great unifying force towering above this infighting
and calming rivalries among these factions. Now he has been joined in
this activity of pacification by His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa,
who not only stands for a rapprochement between the two great rivalries
of the Gelug and the Kagyu in the exile community, but within Tibet itself.
It is not surprising that factions within these centuries old rivalries
may be uncomfortable with this threat to their continuing vitality.
) In a world where Tibet's main religious
leaders have been forced into exile, Tibet's survival depends on finding
a way to stop these centuries-old stresses from undermining the future
of Tibetan Buddhism itself. The future of Tibet cannot simply rest on
the shoulders of His Holiness Dalai Lama or of His Holiness Karmapa, by
themselves, or upon any single lineage tradition. But the future of Tibet
can rest on the shoulders of united Tibetan peoples, and there is no better
exemplar of what such unity might mean than the developing connection
between the Dalai Lama and the Karmapa. Simple cooperation is enough.
Maybe this is what the future of Tibetan Buddhism is about, politically
This interview summarizes well the position of Situ
From the "United Karma Kagyu Federation Malaysia".
The Venerable 9th Thrangu Rinpoche speaks about the Karmapa controversy in Singapore, on Mai 24th 2000:
"But in the course of my lineage practice, I
constantly prayed to the 16th Karmapa for his help to enable me to know
clearly and deeply in my mind who is the real 17th Karmapa. Praying with
pure motivation and with the blessings of the 16th Karmapa, I have concluded
with absolute certainty that Urgyen Trinley Dorje from Tibet is the17th
Karmapa. I have reached this conclusion from my own practice and the blessings
of the Karmapa, H.H. the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa Urgyen Trinley
Drodul Dorje Rinpoche".
This interview with Thrangu Rinpoche on the Karmapa controversy was translated to English Language by TDSPJ Translation Team which was originally in Chinese prepared by For You Information magazine. The interview was arranged by Karma Choying Kunkyab Ling and given to the Chief Editor of For You Information magazine, Venerable Guang Chao at Karma Choying Kunkyab Ling, on 24th May 2000.
Thrangu Rinpoche, the 17th Karmapa, and Tai Situpa Rinpoche
There is this controversy on the identification of the 17th Karmapa within the Kagyu Lineage. Two senior disciples of the 16th Karmapa have identified two different boys as the reincarnation of the 16th Karmapa. Tai Situ Rinpoche has identified Urgyen Trinley Dorje from Tibet whereas Shamar Rinpoche has identified Thaye Dorje from India. As a result, there now appears to be two 17th Karmapas. This has given rise to much confusion amongst the disciples. What is worse is that when the Khenpos and Rinpoches of the Kagyu Lineage were asked to clarify the situation by their disciples, they mostly said they recognised both of them. But Tai Situ Rinpoche and Shamar Rinpoche do not recognise each other's choice as the reincarnation of the 16th Karmapa. I think controversial matter of this kind should be clarified by religious elders of the Kagyu Tradition. Recently, I was honoured with an opportunity to interview Thrangu Rinpoche. Not only is he a religious elder, he was also a religious teacher of Situ Rinpoche and Shamar Rinpoche. I think he is the best qualified Kagyu religious elder to clarify and inform us the truth.
Q. Has there ever been such a problem within the Karmapa Lineage?
A. H.H. The Karmapa is the first to reincarnate in the history of mankind. (A reincarnation is known as a Tulku in Tibetan) His Holiness has the longest lineage and the present Karmapa is the 17th reincarnation. Upon his passing, every Karmapa will go to the pure land and then in keeping with his aspirations, he will return to this world. There were questions as to who was the real Karmapa during the 8th, 10th and 12th reincarnations. However, by relying on their faith in the Karmapa and their determination to support and protect His Holiness, the disciples were able to resolve the matter on all the three different occasions. In the end, none of the incidents became a big problem.
Q. Why were there controversies and why did they not become problems? What were the reasons?
A. Usually, at the beginning of such a problem, there are two groups of people. Those in the first group do not have the capability and the psychic ability to identify the reincarnation of the Karmapa. Neither do they have the wisdom. What they rely on is their gift of the gab and mundane skill. So they doubt and question who really is the Karmapa. Those in the other group are true practitioners with accomplishment. Their wisdom enables them to know very clearly who is the real Karmapa. The moment there are these two different groups of people, there will be disagreement. The Karmapa is the embodiment of Sakyamuni Buddha and all the Boddhisatvas and their spiritual activities and accomplishment. Therefore, he is supra-mundane and is not at all disturbed by such disagreements. Consequently, none of them ever became a problem.
Q. According to Rinpoche, the controversy will eventually be resolved owing to the quality and merits of the Karmapa. But before that, disciples of the Karmapa are thrown into a state of disarray and confusion. Therefore, it is hoped that religious elders of the Kagyu Tradition, like Rinpoche, will enlighten the Kagyu followers. From Rinpoche's point of view, how do they ascertain exactly who is the real Karmapa? If they do not know how to do it, they may not know their real Karmapa for therest of their life.
A. This is an important matter. It is a matter concerning the lineage of the whole tradition. I would like to use a simple analogy as an illustration. Assuming that there are two apples on the table, one of them is a real apple and the other, a fake. Should we be hungry for food, it would be good if we picked the real apple and threw away the fake. If we had done otherwise, we would go hungry. It is the same with the case of ascertaining correctly who is the real Karmapa and who is not. The consequences of a mistake are grave. Who has the ability to identify the real Karmapa and to teach the disciples how to differentiate? It is my duty and also the duty of the religious elders and senior Rinpoches within the Kagyu Lineage. I want to take up this responsibility now. I want to inform all my disciples unambiguously who is the real Karmapa and who is the Karmapa they must follow in their Dharma practice.
At the moment, two Karmapas have surfaced, one from India and the other from Tibet. In terms of worldly affairs, I have nothing to do with them. I am in Nepal. But in the course of my lineage practice, I constantly prayed to the 16th Karmapa for his help to enable me to know clearly and deeply in my mind who is the real 17th Karmapa. Praying with pure motivation and with the blessings of the 16th Karmapa, I have concluded with absolute certainty that Urgyen Trinley Dorje from Tibet is the17th Karmapa. I have reached this conclusion from my own practice and the blessings of the Karmapa. We could also determine who is the real 17th Karmapa from the following:
First, there was a great Tibetan terton by the name of Chogyur Lingpa. In the record of his vision of the prophecies revealed to him, there are clear descriptions of various events in the life of the 1st to the 21st Karmapa. These descriptions include place of birth of the Karmapas and the names of their respective parents. According to this record of prophecies, Urgyen Trinley Dorje of Tsurphu Monastery is the real Karmapa.
Secondly, when I was with the 16th Karmapa, he wrote a prediction letter about his reincarnation when he was on his way to India from Tibet. After he arrived at Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim, he also wrote a letter in poetic form predicting his reincarnation. I had read both the letters myself. The first of the two letters stated clearly that Urgyen Trinley Dorje of Tibet is the 17th Karmapa. The second letter written in Rumtek, which I had read, again stated clearly that Urgyen Trinley Dorje of Tibet is the 17th Karmapa.
Thirdly, all the highly realized monks of the Vajrayana Buddhism, like H.H. the Dalai Lama, H.H. Sakya Trizin and many other compassionate religious practitioners, have in their wisdom said that Urgyen Trinley Dorje of Tibet is the 17th Karmapa.
I feel very fortunate to have obtained so much pure evidence; to have found the 17th Karmapa; to be able to prostrate to him. I hope all of you will generate pure motivation and also hope all of you will know that Urgyen Trinley Dorje is the 17th Karmapa.
Consciously discard the fake apple. Reach for the real one. You will reap tremendous benefit.
Q. Rinpoche said that the great terton master Chogyur Lingpa had written down prophecies about the 1st to the 21st Karmapa. What had he written about the prophecy for the 17th Karmapa?
A. Chogyur Lingpa was a contemporary of the 13th Karmapa. The predictions were really for the 14th through to the 21st reincarnations. On the prediction about the 17th Karmapa, not much was written. Nevertheless, several important points were recorded. The first important point in the record mentions that the Karmapa was together with Tai Situ Rinpoche on a mountain with plenty of rocks and lush trees. Their minds are inseparably joined as one. On the 15th Karmapa, the record states that he achieved great accomplishment in his yoga practice of meditating on the bindus. The fact that the 15th Karmapa had dakinis with him showed that he did engage in the yoga practice mentioned in the prediction. The prediction on the 16th Karmapa was rather special. The record mentions a double storey building. The 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje was seated on the ground floor and a statue of Sakyamuni Buddha was placed on the first floor. This illustration clearly shows that the 16th Karmapa was a very pure bikkhu. It also shows that the 16th Karmapa had many pure bikkhu disciples. The description that the 17th Karmapa is together with Tai Situ Rinpoche is meant to show there is disagreement in this reincarnation and the mind of the 17th Karmapa and the mind of Tai Situ Rinpoche are inseparable from each other.
Q. On the basis of the predictions made by Chogyur Lingpa, Rinpoche has concluded that Urgyen Trinley Dorje, who is together with Tai Situ Rinpoche, is the real Karmapa. In addition, Rinpoche has mentioned that you had read the two letters written by the 16th Karmapa. Could Rinpoche kindly tell us in detail the contents of these two letters?
A. The first letter consisting of two pages was written by the 16th Karmapa when he was in Tibet. After his arrival in Sikkim, he asked a printing company called Camata to print quite a number of copies. Many had the chance to read this letter. The second letter was written in Rumtek, Sikkim. Again many had the chance to read it. After reading it himself, the Abbot of the Rumtek Monastery asked the Karmapa for permission to have the second letter printed for wider circulation. Not agreeing to have too many copies around, the Karmapa allowed only 50 copies to be made. The common salient point in these two letters was the mention of the return of the 16th reincarnation to Tibet. In particular, the first letter said, "I am now in India, but I will return to Tibet very soon". The second letter also mentioned he would return to Tibet very soon. However, in his conversation with his disciples, he usually said, "I will not go back to Tibet". But in both his letters, he said, "I will return to Tibet very soon". Later on, his disciples realized that the main reason for him to say he would return to Tibet soon was to state his prediction that he would be enthroned in Tibet.
Q. Rinpoche has given such invaluable information and insights to prove that Urgyen Trinley Dorje is the real Karmapa. Since it has been proven as such, how is Shamarpa able to oppose it? As he is a former student of Rinpoche, what reasons does he have to oppose and insist on different views from his former teacher?
A. Before the 17th Karmapa was identified, I had spoken to Shamar Rinpoche regarding identifying the reincarnation. I had advised him not to do it (carrying out a different identification); not to create problem. For the sake of our master and for the sake of making a decision on this important matter, I hope all involved will disregard their own views and self-interest. But his relative (who has since passed away) was adamantly against my suggestion. Shamar Rinpoche did not accept my advice any more. Owing to those factors, I do not feel I should advise him again after that. This is because a practitioner of any Vajrayana method has no need to argue with anyone in his search for his master and refuge. This is very important.
Q. I heard that Shamar Rinpoche had wanted to have the letter written by the 16th Karmapa examined by scientific methods. What was his reason that prompted him to make such a demand?
A. The two letters mentioned earlier were not the prediction documents that Shamar Rinpoche wanted examined. Regarding forensic examination of the prediction documents, I personally think it is unnecessary, because the documents on reincarnation left by the past 15 Karmapas had never been subjected to forensic examination. Whenever there was a controversy, the disciples would finally resolve it with their faith in the Karmapa and his blessings. Similarly, in the present case, there is no need to have the documents examined by forensic experts. As a matter of fact, many high ranked monks and practitioners have through their compassion and wisdom pointed out clearly who is the Karmapa. All we need to do is to abide by what they say. Furthermore, forensic examination is used against criminals. The documents of prediction left behind by Karmapas are not only sacred but also blessed. Examining them as though they are documents left behind by criminals is rather strange from the religious point of view. On the basis of these two reasons, forensic examination of the documents is unnecessary.
Q. Now there are two Karmapas in India. One of them is real and the other is not. Has Rinpoche considered enthroning Urgyen Trinley Dorje, wearing the black hat, at Rumtek Monastery in a ceremony attended by Their Holinesses, Rinpoches and Khenpos invited from the various schools of the Vajrayana Tradition in order to obtain their recognition? Is there such a plan?
A. On the crowning with the black hat, it will be accomplished in due course, irrespective of whether we work hard towards it or we do not. Why? Because of his compassion and his aspiration to carry on with his Dharma activities to liberate all sentient beings, the Karmapa has returned to our fold of his own free will. With the power of such blessing, all Dharma activities of this nature will naturally come to fruition. There is no need for us to worry.
Q. Quite a number of Karma Kagyu disciples are followers of Shamarpa. If after hearing your teaching, and they believe Urgyen Trinley Dorje is the real Karmapa, how are they going to face their teacher Shamarpa?
A. The crux of the matter is the Karmapa lineage. It has to do with the purity of the whole Kagyu Lineage. This is because of the fact that in the Kagyu Lineage, the continuous transmission of all the blessing, Dharma practice, method, initiation, oral transmission, mantra and teaching come from the unbroken lineage of the Karmapas. In other words, if the Karmapa Lineage from the first to the 17th reincarnation is pure, then we will receive pure blessing in our practice. We can thus see that purity in the lineage is extremely important. This is the reason why we want to follow Karmapa Urgyen Trinley Dorje. If disciples of Shamarpa Rinpoche realise that the person chosen by him is not the real Karmapa and still think it is fine for them for as long as they follow Shamar Rinpoche because the issue of the real and fake Karmapa is immaterial to them, then their thinking is very wrong. As a matter of fact, they are cheating themselves. If you believe Urgyen Trinley Dorje is the Karmapa, your faith and the blessing of your master will quite naturally take you close to Karmapa Urgyen Trinley Dorje. In such a situation, you will naturally leave Shamar Rinpoche. At this juncture, I must clarify that I am not giving this teaching from the side of Tai Situ Rinpoche. I am not saying all this to show support for Tai Situ Rinpoche or Gyaltsab Rinpoche. Neither am I trying to criticize Shamar Rinpoche or negate his stand. The real purpose of this discussion today is to explain clearly that in Vajrayana practice, in whom we take refuge is the most important matter. The person/image to whom we express our aspiration and say our prayer must be a clear and pure one. This is very important. A clear and pure person/image will be of tremendous help to the practitioners. If the person in whom we take refuge and to whom we say our prayer is a wrong one, then there will not be much good result in our practice. This point is what I want to stress very strongly today. My purpose is to let Karma Kagyu practitioners know where their true refuge is. I hope all of you understand clearly the purpose of today's discussion is about true refuge. This topic is being discussed from the angle of Dharma practice.
Q. According to Rinpoche's teaching, Karma Kagyu practitioners take refuge in the Karmapa and visualize him as their Root Guru. If they take Shamarpa as their master and also believe Thaye Dorje as the Karmapa, then there should not be any problem. In the case of Karma Kagyu disciples who do not believe in Thaye Dorje but believe in Urgyen Trinley Dorje as the Karmapa, are they then betraying their master? How should they resolve this in their practice?
A. I do not take side, but I want to tell Kagyu disciples they must determine the correct spiritual path they want to follow in their Dharma practice. This is the most important thing to do. If we are Shamarpa's disciples on the one hand and are doubtful about his ways on the other, we still have no need to criticize him. There is also no need for us to stay put and continue to learn Dharma from him. If you have faith in Urgyen Trinley Dorje, you will immediately and naturally turn to him for Dharma teaching.
Q. If disciples of Shamar Rinpoche take refuge in Urgyen Trinley Dorje in their Dharma practice, from which Khenpos and Rinpoches should they learn Dharma?
A. There is no need for them to criticise Shamar Rinpoche, but they can learn Dharma from many Rinpoches of Urgyen Trinley Rinpoche. How does one find a new guru? In order to find a guru, one must keep on observing. When the speech, conduct and Dharma teaching of a teacher make you feel that his lineage is pure, you will develop the confidence to learn Dharma from him. If a Rinpoche says, "come, be my disciple", then something is not quite right with that Rinpoche. If one is not able to tell who is the real Karmapa and who is not, can one visualize both of them as Karmapas in one's practice? There is a Tibetan saying: "one cannot succeed with two minds; one cannot sew with two needles". Two minds means the absence of single-mindedness; one therefore cannot hope to achieve much. It is the same with visualizing Karmapa in Dharma practice. There are two types of people who visualise two Karmapas. The first type is made up of people who have no faith in either one, but have the belief that one of the two is the real Karmapa. As a result, their motivation for practice is only 50%. Their result reaped in the future will not be complete. Those in the second type are people who practiced under the 16th Karmapa. They are not sure if the 16th Karmapa has reincarnated and returned to the human realm. They think that whatever the situation is, it is best for them to follow the 16th Karmapa. Since he already passed away, they now visualize two 17th Karmapas and seek refuge under both. Their thinking is very erroneous. Nobody should visualize seeking refuge with a muddled head. There must be clear conviction in only one Karmapa and also in his return. In the 17th Karmapa one should take refuge. I am Thrangu Tulku. Whether my reincarnation is one or many does not affect the Karma Kagyu Tradition very much. In the case of Karmapa, all along there is only one reincarnation at any one time. This is what the disciples must firmly believe.
Q. Assuming that every disciple of the 16th Karmapa feels that since he took refuge in the 16th Karmapa and received the methods and Sadhanas from him, so he does not need to care who is the 17th Karmapa and in his practice, he just follows everything the 16th Karmapa taught him, can he do that?
A. This is illogical. Take an example. I had faith in my father when I was of the age of 1 to 30. From 30 to 40 years old, I did not have faith in him. Then you tell me I still have faith in my father! Maybe. In the case of the Karmapa Lineage, Karmapa's disciples must have sincere faith in the first Karmapa and in all his reincarnations, as well as the firm belief that the lineage is continuous and unbroken.
Q. Rinpoche has repeatedly said that there is only one Karmapa. But I have heard recently that Karmapa could have body, speech, and mind reincarnations. There could be many Karmapa reincarnations. Is there only one Karmapa (at any one time) or are there many? In the Karmapa history, were there cases of a Karmapa giving rise to many reincarnations after he passed away?
A. When some lamas took rebirth, they manifested body, speech, and mind reincarnations in order to expand their work of liberating all sentient beings wider. As for Karmapa, there is only one reincarnation at a time.
Q. Lastly, there have been many Khenpos and Rinpoches who come to Singapore to spread the dharma. When asked who is the real Karmapa, they will as a rule not say whom they support. The reason is that they are on good terms with Shamar Rinpoche and do not wish to offend anybody. What are Rinpoche's views on these lamas?
A. There are indeed many Karma Kagyu lamas who give
people the impression that they are neutral, not offending either parties.
Lamas of this category do not really care for the practice of their disciples.
They also do not really want to teach their disciples the correct Dharma.
When you tell your disciples a particular Dharma teaching is correct,
you cannot tell them in an ambiguous manner. You cannot have hesitation
and reservation. Personally, I am not bothered by people's criticism that
I am always for the protection of Urgyen Trinley Dorje. My genuine concern
is whether every of my disciples can follow a pure lineage and from this
pure lineage, develop boddhicita and compassion for the attainment of
enlightenment. My aspiration in giving Dharma teaching is to look after
and care for every sentient being.