Difficulties in 16th Karmapa's times
As it later turned out, the total ruin of their country wasn't affliction enough to bend the collective tendency of the nation to quarrel. No sooner had the dust from the disaster settled, than the feuds from the old days revived with much of their former fervour. The old Lhasa regime, disguised behind a new name, "Tibetan Government in Exile," and operating from its new seat in Dharamsala in the western Himalayas, inherited the old agenda of hostility towards the other Buddhist schools.
The members of this illustrious body took up, with the
same misguided enthusiasm, the prejudices, rivalries, and fights of the
past. The Khampas, in particular, were considered a serious threat to
the newest ambition of the Gelugpa administration: that of representing
and controlling all Tibetans in exile.
In 1964, the government-in-exile of the Dalai Lama wanted
to introduce social, economic and religious reforms to the recently evicted
Tibetans. Gyalo Thondrub, the Dalai Lama's audacious brother, decided
that the best answer to Mao's invasion and destruction of their country
was to adapt Tibet and Tibetan policy in exile to the new Communist realities.
He boldly proposed to abolish the old Buddhist schools, to do away with
the rich, religious show, and thus bring the high lamas to the ground.
"No more thrones, rituals, or gold brocades," he was rumoured
to have uttered. The spiritual hierarchies of the Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya
and the corollary sub-orders fell victim to slander and reproach. His
words struck fear into the lamas' hearts. As more details of the elaborate
plan began to emerge, it became clear that a coup against three of the
schools was being hatched. The new religious body that would replace the
traditional lineages was to be controlled by the Gelugpa hierarchy. The
worried lamas rushed to Karmapa for help.
Even though Karmapa shunned with
determination Tibetan politics, he was a voice to be reckoned with in
the affairs of the region. Highly honoured by various Himalayan nations,
his word was law when it came to the Khampas. The warlike eastern Tibetans
and a number of high lamas, coming under pressure from the exiled government,
gathered at his side for support and assistance. Dharamsala's latest initiative
to merge all schools into one body was a threat to the schools' self-rule.
If carried out, such a move would signify the end of many unique Buddhist
practices that each lineage had preserved as their speciality for centuries.
Not in the least disposed to be swallowed up by big brother, thirteen
large Tibetan settlements-mainly refugees from Kham-formed a political
alliance and chose Karmapa as their spiritual leader.
The leaders of 13 large Tibetan settlements
created an alliance called 'Thirteen Settlements'. Another large camp
from Nepal, led by General Bava Yeshi, joined them, thus becoming 'Fourteen
Settlements'. Khamtrul and Chokling Rinpoches were appointed president
and general secretary, respectively. In addition, all the high Nyingma
and Kagyu lamas - especially the Situ, Gyaltshab, Trungpa, Dhazang, Sachu,
Kalu, Thrangu, Bokar and Tenga Rinpoches - followed the Karmapa without
question because of his leadership of the Karma Kagyu. Ultimately they
prepared to face the Gelug challenge. The stalemate continued for about
a decade until the Dharamsala coterie cried it off in 1973. However, for
years to come, the Tibetans in exile continued to be polarised into two
main groups. Chagrined at not being able to subdue the other orders, the
Dharamsala supporters planned to launch a lethal strike. According to
the plans, a handful of dissidents were to be eradicated.
When in 1976, Gungthang Tsultrim,
the political head of the alliance, was murdered and the assassin confessed
to operate on orders from the Tibetan cabinet. Hired for the job, he was
paid rupees three hundred thousand by the Tibetan government-in-exile
in Dharamsala. The Tibetan government-in-exile had also offered him more
money for eliminating the 16th Karmapa, he confessed.
Thereafter, matters stayed low-key
but the incident was a watershed for many Tibetans. It was obvious that
even in exile, the newly installed bureau had brought with it the same
old ways of repression, divisive designs and sectarian persecution.
In light of Karmapa's independent
position, ministers in the Tibetan administration came to regret the Dalai
Lama's change of policy concerning Shamarpa. Although the lifting of the
ban was, to a large extent, an empty gesture-neither the Dalai Lama nor
his government held jurisdiction in India, and Shamarpa didn't require
the Tibetan leader's permission to go public on foreign soil-the decision
brought an outcry. For centuries, both Karmapa and Shamar tulku had remained
unpopular figures within the government circles, and Lhasa's action from
two hundred years ago had been hailed a victory against the mutinous Kagyus.
Today, Karmapa's high profile and his main student's sudden re-emergence
were declared a threat to the Gelugpa's political aims. The head of the
Kagyus and his senior disciple turned into Dharamsala's bitter enemies.
The Dalai Lama, as nominal ruler
of all Tibetans, was expected to keep above such scheming and unhealthy
reasoning. Surrounded by players with a serious bent for conspiracy and
trying to accommodate all parties, he had only the reputation of his name
left at his disposal. To halt the advances of the less rational members
of his cabinet, he would periodically declare himself to be the last incarnation
in the line of the Dalai Lamas. The strategy would work for a time, until
his politicians reassumed their confrontational tactics and continued
conspiring against the other three Buddhist schools.
However, the clashes among Tibetans
were not confined to the Gelugpas' harassment of their rivals. Opposition
to Shamarpa's reinstatement emerged, unexpectedly, from far more immediate
quarters than the government houses in Dharamsala.
Every tulku in Tibet was surrounded
and groomed from cradle to grave by a retinue of professional advisers
and servants. Life after life their families held the same functions around
their lama. This group grew in prominence and size until it became a de
facto court, tightly besetting their master. Personal ambitions here meant
a great deal more than one would expect from people in the service of
a spiritual teacher.
The incarnations of Karmapa and his
close disciples each maintained such an entourage whose members jealously
guarded their place in the hierarchy of the lineage. When Shamarpa and
his household were banned from the public scene, the groups surrounding
other eminent Kagyu lamas moved, together with their Rinpoches, one notch
higher in the pecking order.
Shamarpa's sudden return brought
an end to that cosy state of affairs. As he reclaimed his place as senior
student to Karmapa, the retinue of Situ Rinpoche was forced one place
down in the power system. Even more displeased were the followers of Gyaltsab
Rinpoche. They shared several buildings with Karmapa's administration
in Tsurphu, His Holiness' main seat in Tibet, and had been filing lawsuits
for centuries to contest the property. Now, due to Shamarpa's reappearance
and after the 16th Karmapa inserted Jamgon Kongtrul as the fourth in the
lineage, they had to live with the fifth position.
Such events were dynamite in traditional
Asian societies. After two hundred years of enjoying high status, the
protective families that surrounded Tai Situ and Goshir Gyaltsab were
unwilling to accept this latest sad twist in their fortunes. Shamarpa
stood in their way, and so the government in Dharamsala gained an unforeseen
ally in challenging the senior Kagyu lineage holder. It was generally
assumed, though not always proven, that the Rinpoches themselves were
above these Machiavellian calculations.
While Karmapa was alive, he remained
the undisputed leader of the Kagyu lineage. He personally took over the
education of many of the Kagyu high incarnates and envisioned Rumtek as
a center of learning, meditation, and ritual-the best shield against the
disappearance of the teachings. From an early age on, his four close disciples
grew under Karmapa's supervision, receiving instructions and empowerment
into the treasures of the Kagyu transmission. The common upbringing was
to strengthen the links between the young tulkus as well as to forge a
united leadership of the lineage for the inevitable time when Karmapa
would pass away.
Were there, at this early stage, any signs of the coming rupture between the Shamar and Situ Rinpoches? Did one bear a secret grudge against the other already during the early days in Rumtek? In truth, even though growing together under Karmapa's watch, they did not associate with each other.
Once the eminent party of refugees
had established itself on Sikkimese soil, the young Tai Situ-a powerful
figure in eastern Tibet in his previous life-was immediately besieged
by his now diminished administration. The poor but still avid attendants,
afraid their adolescent master might fall for the glitter of the modern
world, had offered him every kind of material comfort but kept him under
lock and key in his quarters. From a young age, the juvenile tulku ate
alone, played alone, and sat down-apparently with little enthusiasm-to
his books alone. On top of this, the fact that Shamarpa and Situpa claimed
origin from opposite backgrounds didn't help to bridge the differences
either. The former enjoyed the luster of aristocratic descent with links
to Karmapa's family. The latter, proud and imperious in his last incarnation,
now bore the stigma of the son of a blacksmith-a profession close to that
of mole hunter or butcher in the old Tibet.
If his fine ancestry had given Shamarpa
reasons for celebration, his present circumstances put him at a disadvantage
to his brethren. While the three tulkus were reborn, as it were, into
their old retinues of advisers and servants, Shamarpa, during his two
hundred years of official banishment, all but lost his loyal circle of
assistants. The situation gave him a good deal of freedom and was not
exceptionally worrisome as long as Karmapa was there to fend off any offensive
against his principal student. Once alone, should a conflict arise-his
position of senior disciple notwithstanding-Shamarpa was undoubtedly more
vulnerable to political attack than his three peers. The members of Situpa's
close circle had already begun to weave their own designs in the new haven.
They banded together with one Gyaton tulku-a lama sent to Sikkim years
before by Karmapa who now opposed His Holiness' presence in the enclave-and
tried, however unsuccessfully, to create their own power base in the capital
(Extracts from "Siege of Karmapa)
As the communist troops advanced into Tibet, tens of thousands of Tibetans began the mass departure from their country. His Holiness Gyalwa Karmapa left for Sikkim and settled in Rumtek. Simultaneously, the Situ and Gyaltsab administrations decided to establish themselves in Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim. At the time, the monarch of Sikkim was Tashi Namgyal. A religious man, he always extended support to the Tibetan Lamas and was especially keen on the masters of the Kagyu tradition.
Gyathon Tulku, who was originally from Situ Rinpoche's Palpung monastery, was firmly established in Sikkim by the time Gyalwa Karmapa's entourage arrived. It is worthwhile mentioning that the 16' Gyalwa Karmapa first invited Gyathon Tulku to Sikkim in 1954. This was during one of several visits Karmapa made to the region. Gyathon Tulku was instructed to stay behind by Karmapa, to be Master of Rituals for the King.
In 1962, following the death of his father, Thondup Namgyal ascended to the Royal Throne of Sikkim. By that time, Gyathon Tulku had managed to weigh a considerable influence over the Royal Family and had become particularly close to the Queen Mother. Aware of the fact that the Queen Mother was not fond of Karmapa, Gyathon Tulku together with Situ's administration approached her with a very personal request: They wanted to have the Gyalwa Karmapa expelled from Sikkim forever!
Their motive was very clear. The old Gyathon Tulku wanted Situ Rinpoche to become the Guru of the King. The only obstacle to this was Karmapa's presence in the area. The plan was not new, for already an eminent Nyingma Lama, the late Dujorn Rinpoche, had become a victim of slander and religious feuds. The Queen Mother made sure that he was not seen in or around Sikkim again.
The scheme to oust Karmapa was as shortsighted as it was difficult. Not only were the monarch and his government devoted to him, but most of the Sikkimese population had faith in their holy Lama, Gyalwa Karmapa. A firm stand was required to stop the plan being implemented. With little time to spare, the King, his minister Densapa and an influential secretary, Trating Sherab Gyaltsen, frustrated the plot to banish Gyalwa Karmapa from Sikkim.
Once the situation was brought under control, the administration of Rumtek went on to quieten down the infamous Gyathon. As a result, in 1967 before passing away, the old Tulku himself declared publicly that he would be the last incarnation of the Gyathon line. His Holiness Gyalwa Karmapa also confirmed there would be no reincarnation. Despite this, in 1983, 2 years after the 16th Karmapa died and 12 years after the last Gyathon had died, Situ Rinpoche declared that the "new" Gyathon incarnation had been found. The alleged incarnation had been born into the politically powerful Martang Topden family of Sikkim. This was immediately rejected by Rumtek's General Secretary, Topga Rinpoche.
On another front, Sikkim was again witness to a dispute. Gyaltsab Rinpoche and his small body of administrators were residing in Gangtok. Gyaltsab's hosts were the Lharipas, an influential family of painters. This family later became one of the four families involved in the infamous "Joint Action Committee". Gyaltsab Rinpoche' s administration became involved in a heated dispute with Gyaltsab's father over antiques brought from their monastery in Tibet. Consequently, his father gave these items to the Queen Mother to protect them from the administration.
At this point, Gyaltsab Rinpoche's administration pretended to surrender past animosity and approached the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa. They asked him to intercede in the dispute, as they wanted the items returned, to which Karmapa agreed. While the dispute ensued, Gyalwa Karmapa brought Gyaltsab Rinpoche to Rumtek and even provided rooms for his administration. The Queen Mother did not release the disputed property until 1978. During this time Gyaltsab Rinpoche and his administration stayed at Rumtek with Karmapa, as they needed his support.
Meanwhile, Situ's administration tried in vain to build power and influence in Gangtok. After all, in his hey day, Situ Rinpoche and his administration enjoyed a comfortable stand in the eastern region of Tibet. Therefore' his administration was not willing to merge with or be influenced by that of Gyalwa Karmapa.
H.H. the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa trusted everyone. He was always the least interested in disputes and would usually be the first to put the past behind him when it came to rancour between individuals. He happily offered education to Tulkus and young monks in order to revive and maintain the lineage. That was the intention behind persuading the Situ administration to permit Situ Rinpoche to receive his education at Rumtek monastery. The Situ administration finally agreed, making it clear that Situ Rinpoche should have separate accommodations and kitchen facilities from that of Rumtek monastery. Situ Rinpoche's side considered this offer to be satisfactory. After all, Situ Rinpoche, himself a high ranking Lama within the Kagyu Lineage, would receive teachings from Gyalwa Karmapa. This could only benefit Situ Rinpoche and his administration in many ways. However, at the time, the old staff of Karmapa's administration in Rumtek were concerned about the prospect of having to deal with the haunting past that Situ Rinpoche's entourage brought with them.
At this time, Shamar and Jarngon Kongtrul Rinpoches were already living at Rumtek. There was no history of conflict between these two and Gyalwa Karmapa.
A group of settlers, coming from Tibet, had collected
a sum of about Roupies. 251 000 (publisher's note: about € 6,600,
or US$ 6,000) . This amount formed the corpus of the Karmapa Charitable
Trust in 1961. The income, profit 'or any reasonable portion of it was
meant to be spent for the benefit of the Karmapa's followers.
The 16th Karmapa was the sole trustee. The deed of the trust specifically mentioned:
The seven persons in the trust were: Rai Bahadur
Tashi Dadul Densapa, Ashok Chand Burman, Gyan Jyoti Kansakar, Sherab Gyaltshen,
Dhamchoe Youngdu, Jewon Takpoo (Dragpa) Yulgyal (Topga Rinpoche) and Gyonpu
It is also provided that in case of the death of any of the future trustees No. 1 to 4 named herein above dying before or after the mahanirvana of His Holiness, i.e. the 16th Karmapa, and before His Holiness the next Karmapa, i.e. His Holiness the 17th Karmapa is reincarnated and attains the age of 21 years, then their legal male heirs by the principle of primogeniture shall hereditarily become the trustees in place of the deceased trustees.
If is further declared hereby that in the case of
the death of any of the trustees named from Nos. 5 to 7 herein above representing
the Karmapa sect (order), before or after mahanirvana of His Holiness
the 16th Karmapa and/or before His Holiness the next Karmapa, i.e. His
Holiness the 17th Karmapa is reincarnated and takes charge of the 'Karmapa
Charitable Trust' after attaining the age of 21 years, the members of
the Karmapa sect of Tibetan Buddhism will elect the required member or
members of their sect as vacancy may arise (amongst the trustees Nos.
5 to 7) to act as trustees in place of the deceased trustees.
Rai Bahadur Tashi Dadul Densapa has been succeeded by his son Jigdral Tashi Densapa (he resigned but his resignation letter was not accepted),
Ashok Chand Burman resigned; Shamar Rinpoche was adopted by the rest of trustees to replace him;
Gyan Jyoti is living in Nepal
Sherab Gyaltshen is living at Gangtok.
After the death of Dhamchoe Youngdu in December 1982, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche was adopted as trustee. In 1993, Jamgon Kongtrul too died in an accident.
Jewon Takpoo Yulgyal, son of the sister of the 16th Karmapa, and general secretary of the Rumtek administration as well as the trust, died in 1997.
Gyonpu Namgyal died. He was replaced by Situ Rinpoche.
At present, Situ Rinpoche is banned from entering
Sikkim and Darjeeling in West Bengal while the Sikkim government has imposed
restrictions on the visit of Shamar Rinpoche to the Rumtek monastery.
Topga Rinpoche admitted in 1996 that during the lifetime of the 16th Karmapa and for the immediate years after his death, the trust had remained inactive and widely forgotten. The Karmapa was the sole trustee. Therefore, there was no need to activate the trust.
It was only after the death of Dhamchoe Youngdu, the
old General Secretary, in 1983, with the financial crisis looming over
Rumtek that the new administration had dug out the corresponding documents,
and consequently, the trust's seven-member board, as per the deed of the
trust, came to life.
In April 1984, the first meeting of the trust after the death of the 16th Karmapa was held at the Rumtek monastery. The meeting resolved that the Rumtek monastery affairs would be conducted on the basis of the deed of the Karmapa Charitable Trust.
Generally, the trustees were to meet twice a year.
Funds were provided liberally by Shamar Rinpoche. He and Jamgon Kongtrul
Rinpoche contributed greatly to accomplish the intentions of the 16th
Karmapa. During the same period, Situ and Gyaltshab Rinpoches devoted
themselves to construct their own monasteries.
In a letter sent in June 99 to " Chief Minister
" of Sikkim, Pawan Chamling Kumar, Shamarpa makes the list of the
possessions belonging to Rumtek by mentioning who financed them. (
1. The main monastery built by the late 16th Karmapa
in the early 1960's together with the monk's new living quarters that
were constructed with money donated by Tobga Rinpoche (Rs. 1.5 million)
(publisher's note: about € 38,000 or US$ 35,000$), myself (Rs. 800,000)
(publisher's note: about € 19,000 or US$ 17,000), and a German Buddhist
foundation (DM 40,000) (publisher's note: about € 20,000 or US$ 18,000)
of which I am president.
2. The retreat drubdra built by Tobga Rinpoche and
his wife Ashi Chokyi.
3. The two-story building consisting of a kitchen,
canteen and dormitories built by myself in the early 1980's.
4. The multi-story shedra and dormitory building
commissioned by the late general secretary Damcho Yongdu in 1982 under
the instructions of the late 16th Gyalwa Karmapa one-year prior to his
5. The new shedra that sits in the late 16th Karmapa's
summer garden built by the late Jamgon Kontrul Rinpoche in the 1980's.
6. The late 16th Karmapa's private residence.
7. The junior monks' school built outside the main
gate by Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche.
9. The infirmary that is located one kilometre from
the monastery and that was built by a Swiss foundation established by
Ven. Lama Teunzang from France; and a nunnery temple donated by an American
woman in Seattle.
10. Some large sacred objects which include: I) a golden Buddha statue, a Manjushri statue, and a clay statue of the 16th Karmapa, all of which are located in the new shedra and were commissioned by Jamgon Rinpoche; II) a golden Buddha statue in the main temple commissioned by myself in 1992; and III) a golden stupa that contains the 16th Karmapa's relics commissioned by his late general secretary. ( )
Shamarpa adds (in his descrition of the general situation
in 1999): " You will note that the list above does not mention Gyaltsab
Rinpoche or Tai Situpa. They have never built or developed anything at
the Rumtek monastery. "