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Introduction to the controversy about Karmapas
A few historical points
1959 : Karmapa flees to India
Difficulties in 16th Karmapa's times
Years 1980 Through 1990
Events beginning 1992
Events during May and June 1992
Propaganda campaign
Orgyen Trinley, Situ Rinpoche's Karmapa
Events during November and December 1992 in Rumtek
Some information about Sikkim
Year 1993 - situation deteriorates in Rumtek
Recognizing the 17th Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje
Year 1994
Controversy: opposing viewpoints
Relationship between Shamar Rinpoche and Dalaï Lama
A quick glance at events from years 1995 to 1999
Year 2000
Year 2001
Chronology of Events
Bibliography and data sources
french version
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Difficulties in 16th Karmapa's times

Tibetan goverment dealings

The Karmapa's staunch stance

The Dalaï lama's difficult position

Rivalries between Kagyu tulkus

About Gyathon Tulku

Specifics about the Karmapa Charitable Trust

How much did Rumtek cost, and who paid for it ?

Tibetan goverment dealings

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.

The Karmapa's staunch stance

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.
On its part, the Dharamsala coterie would not forgive the Karmapa's uncompromising stance in the dispute and his defiance of the Dalai Lama's authority. Consequently, Kagyus became the targets of unsavoury attacks. The renewed friendship between the Dalai Lama and the Karmapa was strangled by burgeoning hostilities generated by the unsavoury power struggle. And the painful realities made. it impossible for either side to forgive or forget.

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 Dalaï Lama's difficult position

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.

Rivalries between Kagyu tulkus

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 Gangtok.

About Gyathon Tulku

(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.

Specifics about the Karmapa Charitable Trust

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.
Sikkim had not merged with India at that time. Therefore, the deed of the trust was signed in the Indian residency, i.e. office of the political officer for India at Gangtok in Sikkim. At that time, the registered office of the trust was at 142, Rashbehari Avenue, Calcutta (India), which was perhaps the residence of Ashok Chand Burman, an Indian industrialist and a close confidant of the 16th Karmapa. Burman had also been named as one of the trustees by the 16th Karmapa.

The 16th Karmapa was the sole trustee. The deed of the trust specifically mentioned:

And it is hereby declared that in case of the mahanirvana (death) of the trustee, i.e. His Holiness the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, as stated herein above, his successor in office, i.e. His Holiness the next Karmapa, i.e. the 17th Karmapa, shall become the trustee. During the intervening period of the mahanirvana of H.H. the 16th Karmapa and the reincarnation of the next Karmapa, i.e. the 17th Karmapa when reincarnated, and if he is below the age of 21 years, then till the time when His Holiness the 17th Karmapa attains the age of 21 years, the seven persons named below and, in case of their death or refusal to act as trustees, their heirs, legal representatives or successors in office, as the case may be and as provided hereinafter, shall become the trustees for the management of the 'Karmapa Charitable Trust' with all the power of the trustees as vested by this deed of trust.

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 Namgyal.
The deed of the trust further specified:

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.

The present composition of the trust is: Gyan Jyoti Kansakar (Nepal), Sherab Gyaltshen (Gangtok), Shamar Rinpoche and Situ Rinpoche. Three seats (Nos. 5 to 7) are vacant.

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.


How much did Rumtek cost, and who paid for it ?

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. (…) Extracts:

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 death.

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.
8. The guest houses Tashi Deluge and Kunga Deluge outside the monastery.

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. "