What is India’s Karmapa policy?

Ogyen Trinley Dorje, the 17th Karmapa (photograph by Prince Roy)According to this story in the North India Times, the Indian security services have recently been limiting the movements of Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje even more tightly than before.  Since escaping into exile from China in 2000, the Karmapa has been living in Himachal Pradesh at a Gelugpa monastery not far from Dharamsala.  All along, the Indian government has kept an unusually close eye on him: he is constantly guarded by government security personnel, he travels in India only with permission, and he has not been allowed to leave India at all except for a brief visit to the United States in 2008. Now, according to the news story, the restrictions have been tightened further: his visits to Dharamsala are limited and he is largely prohibited from leaving Sidhbari, the town where he resides.

Moreover, the Karmapa had been planning to build a new home monastery near Dharamsala — he is not a Gelugpa, so it doesn’t make sense for him to remain indefinitely at a Gelugpa monastery, while Rumtek, the 16th Karmapa’s exile seat in Sikkim, is tied up in an interminable legal battle — but now it appears he is being harrassed by Indian tax authorities over its funding, with the result that construction has been halted. In any event, under the current circumstances, it’s not clear that he would be allowed to go live there, even if it were built.

What is the reason for all this? It’s quite baffling. To my knowledge, no other Tibetan exile lamas are treated this way. The usual reason given for the restrictions on the Karmapa’s movement is a concern for his security. There are also probably diplomatic concerns which go unstated. And yet, it seems clear that the Dalai Lama is the subject of greater threats to his personal security, and he is more diplomatically sensitive. Nevertheless, the Dalai Lama is allowed a much greater level of freedom. What’s more, the North India Times reports that the Karmapa’s security detail has actually been dramatically reduced even as his personal liberties have been restricted; it’s obvious that this is not intended to protect his safety.

Part of the reason for restricting Ogyen Trinley Dorje’s movements in India might related to the controversy over his identification as Karmapa: one of the highest Karma Kagyü lamas, along with most of the monks of Rumtek, rejects Ogyen Trinley Dorje’s claim and insists that another young man, Trinley Thaye Dorje, is the real Karmapa. This has resulted in an amazingly protracted struggle in the Indian court system over control of the 16th Karmapa’s properties, most importantly Rumtek Monastery itself, which shows no signs of being resolved any time soon. It’s understandable that Ogyen Trinley Dorje would be prohibited from travelling to Rumtek or other disputed properties until their ownership is settled. However, this cannot possibly be the main reason for the restrictions, since Trinley Thaye Dorje also lives in India, and he faces no similar restrictions, except that he cannot visit Rumtek.

What’s the real reason, then? Does the Indian government seriously believe that Ogyen Trinley Dorje is a Chinese spy? I’m sure there were rumours to this effect years ago. A Japanese journalist, Yoichi Shimatsu, has alleged that the Karmapa’s escape from Tibet was actually set up by the Chinese government to plant him close to the Dalai Lama. He further alleges that the man the world knows as Ogyen Trinley Dorje is a ringer: Shimatsu claims that the boy who was identified as Karmapa and enthroned in Tibet was switched out for another boy, ten years older, during the 1990s (it’s true that Ogyen Trinley Dorje seems to have matured quickly: he was supposed to be 14 years old when he left Tibet, and was already an imposing young man. If this bizarre story were true, he would actually be 34 years old now, which would mean he would start to show signs of aging soon). I don’t know much about Yoichi Shimatsu’s credibility (here‘s his idiosyncratic take on the 2008 Tibet protests), but the passage of time makes his theory increasingly impossible. Are we supposed to believe that the Chinese government found a young Tibetan man (or a young Han who could speak Tibetan with no accent?), aged no more than 21 years at the time, who was willing and able to go undercover as a celibate monk, living in exile in India for nine years and counting, never breaking charater, fooling the world into thinking he was a charismatic religious leader … to what end purpose? Even in the 21st century, even for the intelligence agency of a police state, that’s a comic book plot. On top of that, we are supposed to believe that the Indian government is on to him, but not willing to public expose him, and everyone else is either in the dark or unwilling to leak the story. No, I’d say some other explanation is necessary for the Indian government’s attitude toward the Karmapa.

To be blunt, unless there is a lot more going on here than meets the eye, it seems barbaric that the Indian government would treat a guest this way. Doesn’t India see itself as part of the “free world”? Didn’t the Karmapa go into exile precisely because of the restrictions the Chinese government was subjecting him to? I’m sure he hopes that the situation in India will improve in the future, but for the moment,  I wonder how much difference he really sees between life in Tibet and life in India.


61 thoughts on “What is India’s Karmapa policy?

  1. Dear Otto
    The debacle relating to the finder of the successor to the 16th Karmapa is a long and complicated story involving politics and religion at the highest level. As a follower of Thaye Dorje – whom I have met many times and I have no doubt is the real incarnation of H.H. the 16th Karmapa – I have my own take on the story based in input from a lot of sources close to the situation. Apparently a couple of the high ranking lamas of the Kagyu Lineage – including Tai Situ Rinpoche – very quickly fabricated a letter allegedly written by the 16th Karmapa in which the details of his next rebirth allegedly were stated. This letter was never allowed to be subjected to forensic investigation despite serious doubts as to its authenticity. It is believed by many that the “usurping lamas” struck a deal with the Chinese in essence to regain control with a number of their large monasteries inside Tibet in return for the Chinese having control over the new Karmapa inside Tibet. When this deal somehow backfired (or perhaps with the Chinese participating?) this boy “escaped” to India. The Dalai Lama I think probably was not aware of all of this when he was asked to “accept” this nomination for the Karmapa (even though the acceptance of the Dalai Lama has never been requested previously as the recognition of the next Karmapa is solely the responsibility of lamas inside the Kagyu lineage). In the meantime Shamar Rinpoche – never believing the Chinee boy to be the real Karmapa – after a long search was lead to Lhasa for the recognition of the young Thaye Dorje, son of a prominent Nyingmapa lama. Many of the existing realized lamas and later many of us students in the West have since been convinced that the charismatic Thaye Dorje is the real Karmapa.
    That’s the story in a very short version. I feel sorry for Urgyen Trinlay as he is cought in a terrible political fight and has no way of getting out. Thaye Dorje on the other hand travels freely and is very succesful in reaching out to Westerns students associated to the more than 600 Kagyu meditation centers world wide.

  2. kym chaffin

    I agree it’s baffling. I practice tibetan buddhism and try to steer completely clear of politics cause I think involvement is a mistake.

    That said, I thought the legal battle for rumtek was actually settled–that the indian legal system had awarded it to the other side in the karmapa struggle. In fact, I’m almost sure that’s what I’ve read in numerous sources.

    They say it was given to the other side and now it’s just a matter of the losers dragging their feet.

    That may be why they’re less than hospitable–they see the other side as having won the legal fight for rumtek.

    I’m not looking for an argument I just believe that’s what the courts of India decided.

    best wishes,

  3. Hi there – YES this is also what I heard. But I also heard that the case is tied up because they still need to make an inventory of the “shrine room” which allegedly includes the famed Black Hat itself, and rumour has it that the hat itself may be missing. So I don’t know what legal means the Urgyen Trinlay side has resorted to to try to avoid the inventory & results of the preliminary case. It’s really messy. I don’t blame people for being disillusioned about the whole thing. I am happy that our Thaye Dorje is steering clear of politics.

  4. Faro

    The story and comments on this page are coming from the followers of Thaye Dorje and therefore are intended to maintain controversy, stir up confusion and create a smoke screen for their unofficial ,unauthenticated, unrecognised Thaye Dorje. And by the way, the vast majority of Tibetans both inside Tibet and in India support Karmapa Urgyen Trinley Dorje, including the monks at Rumtek.
    In other words, this seemingly innocent exploration of Indian security is part of a slick media campaign coming from the ranks of Thaye Dorje.

  5. Edward Hall

    The reason why India is suspicious and restricts his movements is that he is simply too much involved with China, and China is the bigger, more powerful, more militarily aggressive neighbour of China, with whom she has already had border disputes. Simple.
    Now, why is Orgyen Trinley more involved with China – that is another, very tangled question..

  6. Mary

    What a sad story to read. Even more pitiful are the comments that to me feel evil and full of suspicion, but I guess that’s merely an indication of the way of the followers of Thaye Dorjee. The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree.

  7. Jaroslav Pesta

    Answer to Faro:

    “And by the way, the vast majority of Tibetans both inside Tibet and in India support Karmapa Urgyen Trinley Dorje, including the monks at Rumtek.”

    And isn´t this because by supporting of the “Chineese Karmapa” these lamas have at least some small chance of saving their monasteries and protecting their relatives and friends in Tibet? Most people would do the same thing in such a situation..


  8. Otto Kerner

    kym chaffin and Claus,

    As far as I can tell, the court case over Rumtek is really not over. If it were over, Trinley Thaye Dorje would be in possession of Rumtek by now, but he is not. His side announced in July of 2004 that “Indian Supreme Court Rejects Claim of Tsurphu Labrang, Clearing the Way for the Karmapa Charitable Trust to Regain Control of Rumtek Monastery” (http://karmapa-issue.org/arguments/indian_supreme_court.htm; “Tsurphu Labrang” is the name used by Ogyen Trinley Dorje’s side in this case, while “Karmapa Charitable Trust” represents Trinley Thaye Dorje). This court decision was evidently not as final as it seemed at the time, since more than five years have now passed without Thaye Dorje being allowed to go to Rumtek. I have no idea what the recent developments are or what the reason is for the delay.

    The legal status of the Karmapa Charitable Trust is questionable in an interesting way. I regard KCT as having an important legal authority, but a weak claim to any kind of traditional legitimacy. Apparently, KCT was created in the 1960s and given powers to act as stewards of the Karmapa’s property, and then mostly forgotten by the principals until a while after the 16th Karmapa’s death, at which point is was brought back to the forefront. Legally, as a corporation under Indian law, KCT has the authority to manage the Karmapa’s properties, but I don’t see how that automatically means that it has the authority to determine who the Karmapa is. According to KCT’s charter, its appointed trustees serve only until the Karmapa is 21 years of age, after which the Karmapa himself becomes the sole trustee. Since both candidates are now over 21, the KCT devolves into simply a matter of who the real Karmapa is. Thus, from the perspective of someone who believes Ogyen Trinley Dorje is the Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje is the KCT and has been for the last for years. This creates a bizarre legal dilemma which secular courts are not at all equipped to handle.

    Another odd thing about KCT is that there were a number of vacancies on its board of trustees which were not filled properly. Specifically, according to KCT’s charter, some of the seats were supposed to pass by primogeniture to the heir of the previous trustee, but this rule was not followed consistently. KCT’s trustees appear to have had little interest in that sort of legal technicality, but the mere fact of KCT’s existence looks like a legal technicality to me.

  9. Otto Kerner


    Please don’t show up here with these type of insinuations unless you have some sort of evidence to support your claims. “this seemingly innocent exploration of Indian security is part of a slick media campaign coming from the ranks of Thaye Dorje” — if you know that to be the case, I assume you have documents showing how Thaye Dorje’s side influenced this story, which I am very interested in taking a look at.

    “the vast majority of Tibetans both inside Tibet and in India support Karmapa Urgyen Trinley Dorje”. It wouldn’t surprise me if this were true, but, really, how does anyone know? Is there polling data to support that assertion?

    “including the monks at Rumtek.”

    I would expect that you already know as well as I do that the monks of Rumtek were driven out of their home by force in 1993, so please don’t start with “the monks at Rumtek”. I certainly don’t hold Ogyen Trinley Dorje responsible for those events, since he was an eight-year-old child living in a different country at the time, but it hardly constitutes an argument in his favour.

  10. Otto Kerner


    I don’t believe in these sorts of conspiracy theories myself, but I do have the impression that there is something questionable about the publically-available accounts of the Karmapa’s escape from Tibet. I’m not sure what this tells us. Perhaps he has altered some of the details in order to protect the identities of some people who helped him who are still in Tibet?

  11. Hi everyone
    It’s interesting to follow this discussion – it’s in some ways the continuation of the very same conflict that started when the factions split. About the number in support of either the only thing I can say for sure is that more than 600 meditation centers in the West are under the spiritual guidance of Thaye Dorje. I don’t know how many people that amounts to but I would guess more than a hundred thousand in total. About Rumtek I personally believe that the place has been effectively desecrated by the goings on after the 16th Karmapa died. Somehow I can’t believe that even following a would be successful conclusion to the lawsuit that Thaye Dorje would set up shop there. But who knows. About the Karmapa Charitable Trust: The 16th Karmapa was a shrewd guy. He placed the future of Rumtek into the hands of this institution because he knew that it would be next to impossible for any single person to gain control of the KCT and that a number of level-headed and hand-picked representatives – most of them “civilians” that the Karmapa trusted – would have to reach an agreement for any decisions to be made. This is clever politics in my view. And the end result of this is that we today have at least a chance that Rumtek may be returned to its rightful owners instead of the “usurping” lamas with a “traditional” claim, etc.

  12. Packsam Gyatso

    Greetings, I wonder if the readers and writers of this comment chain have seen the comparative photographs of the XVI Karmapa and those of the XVII Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje. They are identical. I have been blessed to sit with Ogyen Trinley Dorje and attended his lectures and teachings many times between 2003 and 2008 and have been further blessed with several private meetings with HH. The original article of this comment chain is excellent until it strays into conjecture that Ogyen Trinley Dorje is an imposter and older than his 23 years. He looks exactly that age, and is incredibly charismatic, artistically and poetically accomplished far beyond an ordinary human, and is furthermore a physically perfected being. The effect of his glance and his words, his power, are to be experienced rather than commented upon. I have no doubt that Trinley Thaye Dorje is a very advanced and marvelous being. However, I have less doubt in the acumen of HH the Dalai Lama who clearly has stated that Ogyen Trinley Dorje is the XVII Karmapa. Incidentally, he reincarnated in the area that his predecessor said would be the place of his rebirth…
    It is not unheard of that a being so vast would send more than one emanation, however, it is doubtful that he would send this level of contention into this plane of Samsara…

  13. Dear Mr Gyatso
    If you believe and trust that Ogyen Trinley is the living Buddha then I am happy for you. That is exactly the right attitude one should have towards ones lama and it will get you far, I believe. In any case all living beings are Buddhas so whomever you pick is – in the ultimate sense – immaterial as long as it works for you. I have nothing against the sincere followers of Ogyen Trinlay and this is also the position of my own highest lama, Thaye Dorje. He has said that explicitly.

  14. Edward Hall

    @myself “China is the bigger, more powerful, more militarily aggressive neighbour of China”
    Genius at work.
    But seriously, apparently anyone can post here, so if people think the arguments are one-sided, come up with some good ones yourself.
    As to slick media campaigns – please. It’s Orgyen Trinley’s guys who have the spare cash to do that. Take a look at this “successor to the Dalai Lama” story and tell me that’s not a media fabrication with nothing to do with the historical role of the Karmapa. Albeit one eventually so successful (initially it was only picked up in India if I recall correctly) that the Dalai Lama’s people picked it up and ran with it too.

    “the vast majority of Tibetans both inside Tibet and in India support Karmapa Urgyen Trinley Dorje”
    Yeah. I’m sure you’re right. So?
    The vast majority of Tibetans burned their fur coats when the Dalai Lama told them to, and not a day before. What does that tell you?
    More important than control of a monastery or its relics is that we the latest generation of students of dharma wake up, think deeply, and take responsibility for ourselves. And what way could this possibly be accomplished other than through a situation that categorically proves that at least one high lama is completely wrong? And it still doesn’t seem to be working..
    I get the feeling that everyone on this discussion so far is a real person, so best wishes to all,

  15. Otto Kerner

    Packsam Gyatso,

    I would like to point out that I did not “conjecture” that Ogyen Trinley Dorje. I don’t think it’s harmful to report that ideas like that are out there; and then I explained why those ideas seem very implausible and it’s hard to believe that the Indian government believes them.

  16. Yes I think the thing about Karmapa as the successor to the Dalai Lama is media and/or politically fabricated and even completely unintelligible. It shows to what extent the entire religious-political system of Tibetan reincarnations has been corrupted. First of all the Karmapa has traditionally been a spiritual leader (of the Kagyupas) and not a political leader of Tibet. Secondly I can’t see how the Dalai Lama can be “followed” by anyone since he has himself said that he has relinquished the political leadership of Tibet in exile. What would then be the “political” role of the Karmapa? I believe that the reincarnation system of the Tibetans is nearly over. Inside Tibet it has been fully corrupted by politics. Outside Tibet it’s been nearly as badly corrupted. In the future the students of the dharma will need to apply the own critical intelligence to find teachers they can trust. And I’m actually OK with that personally. Of course this does not mean that great lamas will not reincarnate to help their students. My point is that the institutionalized system of reincarnation and recognition has been discredited beyond any practical use.

  17. Eileen

    There are some problems that require more wisdom and understanding to resolve than others. Accusations, backstabbing, denegration of character etc, are nowhere near the buddhist view of service to all sentient beings, and hurting noone and nothing.

    While everyone is entitled to his or her own view, you can really only judge someone’s ability as a spiritual teacher by their actions, words and character combined, and their ability to point you in the right direction, while lifting your awareness to somewhere greater than your usual state of being. Not by innuendo, speculation and personal preference, or by verbally or in writing, ripping the guts out of the one you don’t believe suits your perceptions.

    One of the points of incarnation for all of us, is to learn to live by inner knowing. That is, direct awareness and understanding of what is real or unreal, worthwhile or not, helpful or not etc. Something that could definitely be exercised and developed by everyone with regard to the issues discussed here.

    Here are some facts:
    In the past, the Karmapa has always left a letter indicating where his next incarnation would be. There has not been one person in particular who traditionally always recognised Karmapa, except Karmapa.

    In his prophetic visions of 21 Karmapas, Chogyue Lingpa(1829-1870) describes the 17th Karmapa with Khentin Tai Situpa:

    “Under a verdant tree,
    on a rocky mountain
    is the seventeenth incarnation
    with Khentin Tai Situpa.

    Through the inseparability of their minds,
    the tree of the Buddha’s teachings
    will flourish and bear abundant fruit,
    the very essence of transmissions from Gampopa.”

    Prophetic versus of the 5th Karmapa also describe some difficulty between the 16th and 17th incarnations of Karmapa.

    As has been mentioned by someone else in a previous posting on this page, in the photographs of the young 16th Karmapa and the young 17th Karmapa, the young men look very similar, almost like identical twins.

    The 14th Dalai Lama has officially confirmed Ogyen Trinley Dorje as 17th Karmapa. The Dalai Lama also had a vision indicating the place of birth of the 17th Karmapa. The Dalai Lama is not an idiot.

    When 16th Karmapa met 14th Dalai Lama, he removed his black crown for the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama then asked the 16th Karmapa if he was going to remove the subtle, spiritual crown too 🙂 This subtle crown is only seen over the rightful Karmapa. That inner crown is only over the true 17th Karmapa.

    Develop your inner knowing and you will know and you will see.

  18. Dear Eileen
    I commend you for your faith in the H.H. the Dalai Lama & Tai Situpa & I wish you well. Neither of them are idiots – of course they are not – but even liberated beings sometimes make mistakes on the relative level. They are not Gods and not infallible. I think that is really important to understand & a sign of Buddhist maturity to accept. I also think you are wrong about them with regards to this particular issue but that is my personal opinion.
    About the prophesies: There are many prophesies around and some of them say of a lot of contradictory things. In my view they prove very little. Another known high-ranking lama found very old thangka with the name Thaye Dorje on it as the 17th Karmapa – so there you have a “counter-exampl” to your prophesy. In the end I think everyone who wants to gets the lama that he or she is karmically connected to.

  19. Eileen

    Dear Claus

    Thinking is often the problem. Karmapa recognises Karmapa. You probably know that saying “Man know thyself.” It is enough.

  20. Sabrina

    Is that really important to argue about who is the real Karmapa? To my observation, both of them are very qualified spriritual teachers and I’m so glad that the world could have the two of them. As for the tibetans, they have already made their choice for their leader: you can walk into an ordinary tibetan family and it is very much likely that you will find that besides HH Dalai Lama’s photo always lies the photo of the third ranking lama of their heart,and with on doubt that is Ogyen Trinley Dorje .
    As the India’s Karmapa policy is concerned, it might have much to do with the India-China diplomatics. India wants to use Ogyen Trinley Dorje as a weight in the boder territory negotiation with China. It’s all trade. Dirty politics.This is why restricting Ogyen Trinley Dorje(the seemingly future tibetan leader) can do India’s good. Of course they do not dare to do the same thing to HH Dalai Lama. Due to Dalai Lama’s international reputation,that would trigger the worldwide blame. India still has to pretend to be a “free” country. Anyway, I hope that HH Karmapa’s situation can change in the future so that he can contribute more to the world as he has always been wishing.

  21. Hi Sabrina – in absolute terms it does no matter who is the right Karamapa or indeed if there is a Karmapa at all. But in Vajrayana Buddhism it’s extremely important that the right Karmapa is around because he carries the living transmission of enlightened teachings and the blessing. Without the Karmapa there is no lineage. And therefore the Kagyu line of blessing that goes back to the Indian Mahasiddhas and Sakyamunui himself is no more. Then we can of course all become mainstream Mahayana buddhists – which by far most Tibetans are anyway – but that would be a huge loss, because it is said that only the Vajrayana methods can deliver liberation and enlightenment in a single lifetime. So that’s the reason.

  22. Eileen

    There is a most beautiful saying by Shantideva:

    “As long as space endures.
    And as long as there are living beings,
    May I too remain
    To dispel the misery of the world.”

    That is what is at the heart of the establishment and continuance of the reincarnating tulku lineages. Whatever goes on around with other thoughts and motives, because of the continued interest and development of all of us, the heart of buddhism endures. The lineages will no doubt continue as long as they are able to be of benefit to all sentient beings, and as long as they are able to continue.

    Many feel a duty to help protect and maintain the lineages, because of the great benefit we perceive Buddhism has been and is. Surely the need is great now with all the problems of the world, for more enlightened activity, blessing and peace. Over the past 50 years Tibetan Buddhism has spread throughout the world. Tibetan communities have also been established widely and these help reveal the life of Tibetan Buddhism to the rest of the world. I give thanks, I give thanks, I give thanks.

    Through these reincarnation issues some important aspects can be identified: To give thanks for those who have made available the teachings and blessings. To find our own centre of awareness. To realise that different spiritual teachers come in different levels of awareness, development, and understanding. To be kind, and to endeavour to resolve differences, difficulties and problems with integrity, by honest, peaceful means.

  23. Karma Pema – it depends on what part of it. That I believe Thaye Dorje is the right Karmapa – yes that is my position, and anyone can of course dispute it. But some of my comments (like the reason why the Karmapa is important) are definitely not my personal opinions but teachings that have been handed down from the 16th Karmapa to my own teacher.

  24. Tenzin Tsepak

    Letter: Reflections on Tai Situ’s India Entry Ban
    Glenn H Mullin
    World Tibet Network News Wednesday, September 21, 1994

    Reading through the TIN analysis of the recent entry ban placed by the Gov. of India on the Tai Situ Rinpoche, I wonder if the writer has the right take on it: i.e., that the ban reflects a changing stance of the Indian government toward the Dalai Lama office and his activities. A number of points cause me to doubt that hypothesis.

    As most readers will know, the real basis of the events that have transpired are centered around the conflict between the Tai Situ and the Sharmapa Rinpoches, two of the four “regents” that assumed ostensible “equal hierarchial power” in the Karma Kargyu sect after the Karmapa passed away in the early 1980s. The Sharmapa more-or-less usurped the Karmapa throne shortly after Karmapa’s death, becoming, as he once stated in an interview with Mark Tatz in The Tibetan Review, “…special among equals.”

    Thereafter the Sharmapa successfully warded off any challenges from the other regents until 1992, when the Tai Situ somewhat clandestinely (and with heavy opposition from Sharmapa) recognized and enthroned a young boy born in Kham, Tibet, as the reincarnation of the Karmapa. I was in Nepal during the enthronement of this child in Tsurpu, which occurred in the autumn of 1992, and bore witness to the daily maneuvers of both “regents.” The task then for the Tai Situ was to win over the endorsements for his candidate of the elder Karma Kargyu lamas; the Sharmapa’s task was to convince these lamas to boycott the enthronement, and to try to block it in any way possible.

    A confusing event for everyone was the fact that Tai Situ had earlier gone to Dharamsala in order to get a letter of endorsement from H.H. the Dalai Lama. However, at the time His Holiness was in Brazil at an environment conference, and thus communications with him occurred by fax. His reply (by fax) stated that he felt the Khampa child showed very positive signs, and that if the four regents were in agreement then the enthronement should be done. Tai Situ used this letter as evidence that the Dalai Lama endorsed the candidate, whereas the Sharmapa took the phrase “…if the four regents were in agreement…” to mean that the Dalai Lama did not wholeheartedly endorse the child, and that the matter should be settled within the Karma Kargyu school as an internal issue.

    Tai Situ nonetheless proceeded with the enthronement. I watched the developments of both sides almost on a daily basis for the two months before the enthronement. A highlight was the publication a month before the enthronement of a blue book entitled “The Karmapa Papers,” put out by Sharmapa’s supporters in Europe and strategically placed in every bookstore in Kathmandu a month before the planned enthronement, when all the Karma Kargyu lamas were in Nepal to discuss the subject. The book outlined the history of the feud between the Tai Situ and Sharmapa tulkus, from the Sharmapa perspective. However, it fell on deaf ears.

    The turning point occurred when Trangu Rinpoche, the abbot of Karmapa’s monastery in Sikkim, showed up and gave his support to the Khampa child. It is possible that most of the Karma Kargyu lamas felt that to boycott the enthronement would be pointless, as it already had been fully arranged by Tai Situ with the Chinese government, and thus would proceed with or without them.

    Read the rest of the note here: http://www.karmapa.org.nz/articles/1994/sep21.html

  25. R

    Reading the comments here makes me hate injinangpas more than I ever thought possible. Get the f**k out. This issue is for Tibetans to decide, not for you colonizers.

  26. Otto Kerner

    R, I found your comment to be quite strange. Who is trying to force a decision on anybody? What happening here is fundamentally a dispute between the Tai Situpa and the Shamarpa, who are both Tibetans, whilst I observe it from afar.

    Furthermore, I disagree with the basic premise of, “This issue is for Tibetans to decide”. Isn’t that like saying, “The identity of the Pope is for Italians to decide”? Just as not all Italians are Catholic and not all Italians are Catholic, not all Tibetans are Kagyüpas and not all Kagyüpas are Tibetan. Just as an exmaple, when the 16th Karmapa named the trustees of the Karmapa Charitable Trust, it included an Indian businessman, Ashok Chand Burman, as one of its members. I would suggest that the Pope is for Catholics to decide and the Karmapa is primarily for Kagyüpas to decide.

    Your use of “injinangpa” as a term of derision is offensive for obvious reasons.

  27. Otto Kerner

    Tenzin Tsepak,

    Thanks for posting the link to the Glenn Mullin article. I hadn’t seen it before, and he has an interesting perspective. Still, there are a few points which I worry are a bit factually dubious. (I would perhaps be more reassured if Mr. Mullin would spell the Shamarpa’s name correctly; although perhaps this error was introduced by a subsequent editor rather than by the author). The article says that the Shamarpa’s position as “special among equals” among Karma Kagyü lamas is a usurpation, but, as far as I can tell, there is considerable historical precedent for this idea; and “special among equals” strikes me as a quite mild and very reasonable way to put it. There is also historical precedent that the Tai Situpa is also special among equals. (The evidence I am thinking of is Geoffrey Samuel’s research: http://www.karmapa.org.nz/articles/2005/geoffreysamuel.pdf and the 16th Karmapa’s document listing the Kagyü hierarchy that the Shamarpa has made public: http://www.karmapa-issue.org/politics/ranking.htm)

    Also, Mullin describes Thrangu Rinpoche, in connection with his activities in 1992, as the “abbot of Karmapa’s monastery in Sikkim”. However, my understanding (and I would be happy to be corrected if I am mistaken) is that Thrangu had not been the abbott of Rumtek since the 1970s. He continued to be an influential and well-respected person in Karma Kagyü (at least, I’m sure he is famous and respected among Western Kagyüpas; the same is apparently true among Tibetans as well), but I thought that the then-current administration of Rumtek in 1992 sided with the Shamarpa. The anti-Shamarpa letter that Mullin mentions, sent by “the Rumtek authorities” and “signed by Trangu Rinpoche” is interesting, because it’s the first I’ve heard that the Rumtek authorities did not side with the Shamarpa. I would be curious to know more specifics about who is being referred to as “the Rumtek authorities”.

  28. Otto Kerner

    Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje has a new interview up with the Times of India. Two things stand out:

    *He has a strong reaction when asked about his relationship with the Chinese government. He sounds frustrated, exclaiming, “Relationship! I don’t have a particular relationship at all with the Chinese government … there is no communication to speak of, there is no relationship at all.”

    *We’ve now heard from both Karmapa claimants that they enjoy playing video games in their spare time. No word yet from the Dalai Lama or the Ganden Tripa on this, as far as I know.

  29. Eileen

    Hey, video games are maybe not a bad idea for some of us posting on this site. Maybe let go of some of the negative feelings… How about ‘Burnout 3’? Any ‘facing off’ between parties, hate and the like, should dissipate with in a bit of virtual road rage 🙂 Then, come out of it with a friendly handshake, not a scratch on anyone, no-one bruised or broken either!

    But remember really ‘omnia vincit amor’.

  30. Eileen

    One last piece of information for those interested (from http://www.kagyu.org):

    # The issue, if any, of the recognition of the 17th Karmapa is now a matter of history and remains only of academic interest. The confirmation and proclamation by H.H. The Dalai Lama in 1992 was that Orgyen Trinley Dorje is the 17th Karmapa. All the followers of the Karma Kagyu and other Buddhist traditions, including Shamar Rinpoche, accepted the same. In 1994, Shamar Rinpoche propounded that Thaye Dorje is the 17th Karmapa and requested H.H. The Dalai Lama to similarly recognize Thaye Dorje also as the 17th Karmapa. H.H. The Dalai Lama flatly refused, by a letter dated 3rd February 1997 to Shamar Rinpoche, to accept the proposition that Thaye Dorje is also the 17th Karmapa. The matter of the recognition and identity of the 17th Karmapa is now conclusively closed and rests there.

    # Historically, like in the case of the 17th Karmapa, previous Dalai Lamas have issued such confirmations and recognitions of earlier Karmapas. The present Shamar Rinpoche’s legitimacy and recognition as an incarnation of the previous Shamar Rinpoches was also determined and confirmed by the present Dalai Lama, on the explicit written request of the 16th Karmapa in the 1960’s.

  31. Dear Eileen and others

    The recognition of the 17th Karmapa has been a controversial issue from the very beginning – of this there can be no doubt and proponents of either side have to concede at least this point. To say that the issue has been resolved by some pieces of paper and a few rubber stamps is absurd. H.H. the Dalai Lama has no authority to recognise – or not – any tulku of the Kagyu Lineage, least of all the Karmapa. The Dalai Lama has previously (as in the case of the current Shamar Rinpoche who had been “denied reincarnation” by the Gelugpas (government of Tibet) for a long time) been asked to accept the nominations as a matter to promote Tibetan unity and as a courtesy to the government in exile. Eileen you are confusing this small piece of Tibetan politics with a religious authority, which it is not. H. H. would have been in no position to say no when Tai Situpa asked for his so-called “approval” – in this way it was a very clever move by Situpa! Historically there has been much animosity between the Kagyu and Gelug sects, which makes it even more absurd that H.H. the Dalai Lama should be requested to approve anything.

  32. Otto Kerner


    I can accept an argument that the past tradition of the Dalai Lama’s non-involvement in recognising the Karmapas is not so relevant anymore because at the current time the world is much more ecumenical and the past political animosities between the sects are calmer, and because everyone involved accords the current Dalai Lama an unprecedented level of respect. The 13th Dalai Lama approved the recognition of the 16th Karmapa, after he had been enthroned at Palpung in Derge; that’s not much of a precedent, but it’s better than nothing. So, I could accept this line of argument if the point is that the Dalai Lama’s is a voice to be listened to in this matter; but it seems like an enormous exaggeration to conclude instead that the Dalai Lama’s opinion alone is decisive. To say the issue “is now conclusively closed” strikes me as being at odds with all tradition and precedent.

    The way you have phrased it makes it sound as if the Shamarpa acquiesced to the recognition of Ogyen Trinley Dorje for two years before deciding against it, but this is not the case. The timeframe was more like two or three weeks.

    You say “Historically, like in the case of the 17th Karmapa, previous Dalai Lamas have issued such confirmations and recognitions of earlier Karmapas”, but I’m not aware of any such cases other than the aforementioned approval of the 16th Karmapa by the 13th Dalai Lama.

    Have you noticed that the concept of “banning” someone from reincarnating does not actually make a great deal of sense? I would suggest that we should refrain from bringing up this business of the Tibetan government “banning” the Shamarpas from reincarnating and the Dalai Lama later “lifting the ban”, because it could tend to create an unfavorable impression of the Dalai Lama.

  33. Dear Otto, Eileen & others

    First of all: thanks Otto for keeping this debate open and fair – I think this is very useful. But let me just make this point: I think people get confused between the institution of a tulku – such as that of the Sharmapas – and the reincarnate person himself. Of course you cannot ban the person Sharmapa from reincarnating. He does not need a “reincarnation passport” from the Dalai Lama or anyone else to reincarnate. But of course the institution of the Sharmapa or another high-ranking lama can be banned in the sense that if an “official” reincarnation is not found then the institutions will be passed on to someone else, etc. or something else will happen. This is within the powers of the higher ranking institutions, politicians, etc.

    Finally: I know for a fact (this has come to my knowledge through a close student of the 16th Karmapa) that the 16th Karmapa asked for “permission” from the Dalai Lama to enthrone the new Sharmapa in order to formally reconcile the difference that had lead to the banning. This I think was wise again from the point of view of Tibetan unity in exile, etc.

  34. Eileen

    Otto, with regard to the Shamar being banned from incarnation, I understand the effect, rather than banning incarnation, was a banning of recognition and ability to function as Shamar in any official capacity, thereby neutralising any activities of that office until such time as recognition of the incarnation would be more conducive to resolving the issues, a time that benefited more. Now, people really need to rely on their own awareness, with a pure heart and an open mind to find the truth; the only way really. And, people are now more capable of going beyond the mere thought of a thing, to the reality or essence of it. Generally we have had decades of teachings from Tibetan Buddhism; since they came out of Tibet those teachings have been available widely. We have the skilful means available to us. Now we need to use them rightly. Trying to resolve issues only at the mind/emotion level is always going to take us around in circles. ‘The mind is the great slayer of the real’. A teacher can’t actually do it for us, but he or she can show us how; lift us out of our little minds for a ‘moment’ to experience greater awareness. Then, it is up to us to keep going using our own capacity, with the help of the teacher to guide the way.

    Though the Dalai Lama gives his confirmation, any decisive voice in the recognition issue, has ultimately to be the Karmapa. Karmapa recognises Karmapa. Whatever else goes on, there needs to be sufficient definite indication by the Karmapa himself, to identify himself. Without that there is no identification. With regard to the historical recognition of other Karmapas by the Dalai Lamas, you will need to take that one up with the official Kagyu Office.

    I don’t see that ‘conclusively closed’ is at odds with tradition and precedent. Once an issue has been decided by those who do have the capacity to know, based on the right indications being provided and recognised, the issue is closed.

    Claus, I would suggest that the Dalai Lama is in a position to say what he needs to. A position that is far more familiar to him than to any of us. You seem to hammer at a man who has shared his life in tireless efforts for peace, stability and true happiness for all in this world. That is your choice to use freedom of speech in that way. I would however suggest that he has a more deeply considered opinion and insight into Tibetan matters. I don’t feel like labouring the point. It also seems to me that, since coming out of Tibet, into a more democratic existence, some have chosen to exercise their newly developing ‘democratic’ muscle in ways that remind me of someone just learning to drive a car; with bunny hops, skids, stalls, and weird sounds of grinding gears. That is, all the parts not quite working together for a smooth ride. That again is their choice to use those freedoms in that way. That is not for us to sort out. What the senior Lamas, Rinpoches, sangha and administration of Kagyu and Tibetan Buddhism have decided is their prerogative. What we see now looks like progress to me. Democracy is never an easy road, and for all of us anywhere, it is a work in progress. We also see a blending of Tibetan Buddhism with the free world. That was and is more like the ‘dewdrop slipping into the shining sea’, without the ‘grinding of gears’ etc. because people are developing a more intelligent awareness and approach to living.

    There is no secrecy about the 16th Karmapa and the Dalai Lama agreeing over the recognition of the present Shamar, to allow opportunity to resolve past issues.

    With regard to Tai Situ, and for the sake of offering another viewpoint, it would be worth considering, strange though it may seem to some, that he was and is doing what 16th Karmapa asked of him. I feel bad that these kinds of aspersions go on and on about one man, like a scapegoat or victim has been chosen to carry the weight of the dissatisfactions of one group of people. It would also be worth considering that the attitude of Tai Situ in all of this is, as in the words of Shantideva, “Whatever the sorrow of the world, may all that ripen in me; and may the world be comforted by all of the glorious Bodhisattvas.”

  35. Dear Eileen

    I don’t think your arguments nor rhetoric is any more convincing than mine and probably this is at the heart of the issue. As I read it you are implying that “if we all had pure hearts (=like yourself) we would see the truth” which I think is deeply condescending. Also I don’t think your arguments get any better by throwing in dharma quotes. Some of the things you quote are bizarre: Why do we have “little minds”?

    For the record I am not “hammering” the Dalai Lama. I have a great deal of love and respect for him. But – as I’ve said before – these tulkus are not infallible. They are not gods. They make mistakes just like you and I on the relative level. As I see it you are projecting sort of New-Ageish god-like qualities onto the lamas, and this is stuff that does not belong to Buddhism at all. I think this is a grave mistake.

    What you’ve said about Tai Situpa trying to turn him into some sort of “poor little victim” is – sorry but it is – rubbish. He’s not a victim of anything but his own acts like we all are. I am sure he knows that.

  36. Eileen

    Claus, I am sorry that my attempts at shedding some light on certain points seem bizarre to you. Any of us can only do our best according to our awareness, however clumsy that may appear. Coming from the West, and a free speaking country, my words are straightforward, and may seem somewhat wrathful, but are certainly sincere and well meant, and not created to sting.

    Overall I feel that this whole issue is more related to the recognition of Shamar, plus a desire to restore what was lost and withdrawn, centuries ago, rather than an issue of the 17th Karmapa. It keeps coming up. The threads of past, unresolved issues are carried forward into present lives. Resolving past issues and healing old wounds is a way of clearing sacred space for the good work to continue long into the future.

    In group situations, it is hard to move forward when all are not able to. Clearing, healing, resolving, letting go, helps to free us all so that our perceptions and actions are relevant to now, in this current millennium.

    Should I risk another quote….? Here goes…” it is better to err rather on the side of mercy than to commit the slightest act of injustice.”

  37. Otto Kerner

    I’m glad that we are all on about the same page with regard to this “banning” issue, viz that it is actually a ban on an individual being enthroned, receiving the properties of the previous incarnation, or acting publicly in the capacity of a tülku. I would like to add as an aside that the idea of banning somebody from acting publicly as himself strikes me as quite questionable by itself, since the idea is supposed to be that tülkus are tülkus by birth rather than by claiming some title. Anyway, by 1963, the Shamarpa had already lost almost all his property irretrievably (his home monastery of Yangpachän was in the hands first of the Gelugpas and then of the Chinese), and the Dalai Lama was in no position to prevent him from being enthroned, so the Karmapa’s request for the ban to be lifted was clearly an act of courtesy and political unity (it had political implications because the ban was originally placed on the Shamarpas by the Tibetan government and the Chinese government together; I’m sure Beijing would have preferred for the Karmapa to request that they lift the ban, but of course he was having none of that). Since the Shamarpa had already been identified by the Karmapa well before 1963, it’s incorrect to say that the Dalai Lama identified or recognised the Shamarpa.

    I don’t really appreciate your playing of “the Dalai Lama card”. It’s true that the 14th Dalai Lama is a great man who “has shared his life in tireless efforts for peace, stability and true happiness for all in this world”. Nobody, not the Shamarpa, not our friend Claus here, has ever denied that. I just don’t see what that has to do with the identity of Karmapa. Being a great and admirable man doesn’t create a right to appoint religious leaders where none existed before.

    I also don’t understand how to apply the statement that, “any decisive voice in the recognition issue, has ultimately to be the Karmapa. Karmapa recognises Karmapa”, although you are certainly not the first to make it. The whole problem here is that we have an excess of Karmapas. You say, “well, go ask the Karmapa”, but if we knew which one to ask there wouldn’t be a question in the first place. I suppose the important lesson here is that each individual person who has a personal faith in the Karmapa ought to make his or her own judgment about which one to trust and then trust that person. I think that’s great, but it more or less obviates everything else, all the ink that’s been spilled over this issue. If people want to not make any factual claims and just leave it up to faith and personal observation of these two young men, then, happily, I have no role in that process. I just don’t like it when people do go the trouble of making factual claims which turn out to be less than accurate.

    I agree that what’s at stake here is “more related to the recognition of Shamar, plus a desire to restore what was lost and withdrawn, centuries ago, rather than an issue of the 17th Karmapa”, which is very unfortunate, but it cuts both ways. The Shamarpa wants to claim his status as the second highest tülku in the lineage, or at least as someone who shouldn’t be ignored in the recognition process; the Tai Situpa wants to deny him that status. Who is more at fault depends on one’s opinion about whether or not the Shamarpa deserves it.

  38. Hi Otto – yes I think also that a large part of the issue has been related to the Shamarpa, who reappeared after many years, during which the other lineage holders were in power. Of course they cannot have liked that very much. I know the Shamarpa well and I have no reason to believe that he has done anything objectionable, but of course that is my opinion. About the Karmapa I agree with you. I don’t think the Karmapa can recognise himself in that way, it does not make any sense. But I do believe that the two Karmapas are very different, and that in time their activities will be very different (they already are). Then it will be much easier to form an opinion. But part of the problem is that on personal level, much of the adoration of a particular lama or Karmapa is still a projection that has nothing to do with reality, and as such this is natural (and instrumental in the process of development that naturally occurs when one is a practicing Buddhist). But it’s quite possible to project all sorts of enlightened qualities into anyone what so ever if it gives you satisfaction. Behind all of this there is the reality of the incarnation, which is much harder for most people to see, including myself. I believe in Thaye Dorje principally because my own loved and trusted lama believes in him, and secondly because I have met him myself many times, and to me – projection or not – he appears to embody what a Karmapa should be. In addition there is a lot of detail surrounding the other Karmapa that I just don’t think logically holds water. But of course – as mentioned many times – different strokes for different folks. In a way I am selfishly pleased that he is not associated to the “mainstream” of Tibetan lamas that today belong mostly to popular culture – in that way I can be sure that he is much more accessible and down-to-earth and won’t be surrounded by movie stars and body guards when you meet him.

  39. Eileen

    I understand the ban was because of trying to raise an army. A ban was probably the kinder thing to do – in other countries, long jail term or worse. These days, it would be court trials, and trial by media. Taking troupes into Rumtek was like de ja vu. I wonder if this conflict is to continue life after life, with more and more innocent people becoming involved, while Shamar retrieves his ‘stuff’.

    Not really ‘Dalai Lama card’ – just putting forward some positives in the face of negatives; same with Tai Situ. I have not the stomach for the divisiveness, or the aggression. We are all lop-sided in some way, until fully enlightened; even Shamar, who seems to be portrayed with those ‘god-like’ qualities talked about, as well as being portrayed smelling like roses in all this, with the ‘others’ smelling like something else. Is that real?

    What to you is the purpose of these little ‘discussions’ here? From my point of view it is to explore views, thoughts, feelings about the issues, and to make progress in understanding. Otherwise what is the point? To make progress we need to recognise the basic principles of our common humanity, and the indwelling life in all. Not airy or flaky or bizarre. If that is the case what point is Buddhism? If we can’t bring those principles into a discussion, as a reminder that life is wonderful, that this is still a beautiful world, and we have a common bond even though there are differences, what are we here for?

    It is the same with the trial by jury and trial by media systems. Without intelligence guided by the heart, without the compassionate awareness at a deeply human level, the systems are no more than empty, cold and often cruel processes. It is simply a matter of trying, trying again, and continuing to try to bring that compassionate awareness into all our methods of resolving conflicts. I for one prefer to develop methods that facilitate happiness for all, rather than misery, injustice and hopelessness.

    I seem to be portrayed as an air head, Lama groupie, gushing blind adoration and projecting ‘god-like’ qualities on flawed individuals, who treat themselves as rock stars. Funny. I am interested to see through your eyes though. How else can any of us understand the world and improve as individuals, if we can’t see as others see, even for a moment? People often take themselves far too seriously anyway. Thanks for the reminder.

    Rhetoric is one of my art forms. It is an offering. It is not sacrosanct.

    I don’t see a general dumbing down of Tibetan Buddhism at the Lama level. In fact it is often the opposite. For example, emphasis is now being placed on better education for monks and nuns so that they are more able to be of service in the today’s world. Also, it is an unfortunate fact of life in this world that security is necessary for some. It often goes with the job of being a leader, as we all know.

  40. Dear Eileen
    I think you do me wrong in your assessment. I’m not judgemental about your views but I do believe that one has maintain a critical mind towards all of these things. Finally I am going to quote you something: When the Buddha died he said three things: Firstly, that he could die a happy man because he had given every teaching that could be of any benefit to living beings away generously. Secondly, he asked his follows to be their own guiding lights – i.e. trust in their own discerning minds. And finally – perhaps most importantly for this discussion – he said this: Don’t believe everything just because a Buddha told you, but examine it for yourself. To me these are words to live by. It’s really, really important to separate the relative (worldly) and the absolute (the nature of mind), otherwise – in my view – one is in trouble as a Buddhist.

  41. Eileen

    It may surprise you that I agree with the quote. It has long been like a sounding board for me to test and retest anything on, and I recollect it often; thank you for that.

    I don’t feel I am in trouble just yet though. If I stopped trying I would be in trouble.

    With regard to being a Buddhist and Buddhist philosophy, if I was Queen Elizabeth the 1st of Britain, with Shakespear as my natural native tongue, I would with open heart embrace Buddhism, because of its essential purity and usefulness in providing skilful means to happiness, with right living, action, words, thoughts, feelings, service and being. This has not changed these past 50 years out of Tibet, owing to the genuine dedication of monks, nuns and lay people that practise, teach, participate and live the dharma in their various communities around the world.

    Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, the 16th Karmapa, was as a father and teacher to me − that natural devotion continues unbroken to the present incarnation as the 17th Karmapa; and that, I can say, I have examined quite thoroughly − and that is for me to do; no-one else can do it for me. Discerning the unreal from the real is a constant in all our lives. Reality is however, an ‘inner’ experience. Trying to describe it is like trying to describe a colour. As you suggest, we need to do our own investigating and discovery, and that is wonderful. At times, in all our lives, whether we are aware of it or not, there are indications, people and places that help us on our way to that discovery. Our challenge is to be very observant in the now, and not miss opportunities given to us.

    In the course of our process of self enquiry, mistakes happen, but as long as we try, with the right motive, good things can happen. Motive is everything. Ultimately our own experience and awareness, for each of us, is the only way to really know. The right teacher makes a huge difference, but also we are all teachers and students of each other, being all connected and from the same source.

  42. Dear Eileen

    If you’ve had the incredible good fortune to have even met the 16. Karmapa you are a very lucky person. Unfortunately I became a Buddhist way too late for that, but his “blessing” (for want of a better word) is very much with my teacher and with all of his students. Without it I think we would have been nowhere.

    I wish you well. /Claus.

  43. bambi heruka

    IMO the Karmapa’s controversy happens at a turning point in the history of buddhism, at this very critical time of its adoption by the West, and it will definitely modify the future of the Dharma in our non-traditionnal buddhist societies.
    It is obvious that the whole plot regarding Karmapa’s 17th incarnation has been made possible because of the blurred overlap and misconceptions between asian and western cultures. On one side western audiences had developped in the early years a naive conception of an all-pure immaculate buddhism and used to see almost every rinpoche in robe as an half enlighted buddha whose words descends right from Tushita, while on the other, Tibetans integrated westerns technologies (video, magazines, media, PRs, internet)as new tools to use in their long term policies of rivalry and conflict.
    It is astonishing to hear some lamas encouraging their audience to develop clarity of mind, discriminative knowledge through meditation and study and then suddenly ordering them to close their eyes and hears when it comes to Tibetan matters, i.e. the famous “God is God, Dalai lama is Dalai lama, Karmapa is Karmapas…” or the idea that allowing a forensic analysis of a piece of paper and ink would be such of a blasphemy that it will automaticaly leads you into hell till the end of the kalpa. This sounds utterly cheesy from the mouth of high rank lamas. That is where the limit lies. We can’t be asked to believe rinpoches on parole, we definitely won’t believe them as we used to during the past 20-30 years. We left too much of ourselves: some of us spent years of effort and money in building centers, inviting rinpoches, organising conferences and retreats, raising funds for nunneries and shedras, some of us have sometimes abandonned carriers, turned back to families because against all odds we had the deepest intuition that receiving the Dharma was the only and best thing to do at that time. We did without any regret, we did it with the creative freshness of our beginers’ enthousiasm so that now after 10, 20, 30 years or more, the Dharma also became ours. So please don’t tell me that it is to Tibetans to decide. It is our duty, as buddhists, as westerners, as benefactors, as dharma devotees, as educated critical minds to get informed and investigate what’s going on within OUR schools and with OUR teachers. The present Karmapa’s controversy isn’t simply an internal Tibetan issue about who wants to get the highest trone. Anyway it couldn’t have been set up without our contribution. But above all, this painful situation shows us that something is going wrong in the way we relate to the Dharma in the west.
    Here is the challenge: or we take it as an opportunity to question ourselves and our teachers about how to keep the essence of the Dharma alive, or we continue to pretend that the fairytale keeps going on, we let our Tibetans hierachies dictating us what to think and how to behave so that in a two or three generation time we will only have built churches for brainwashed flocks reading holy books. So, how come we came to have two Karmapas?
    A sincere western practionner.

  44. Eileen

    Dear sincere western practitioner

    While how we all relate to the dharma is a factor, so too is how the old traditions, habits, and practices are related to the free world. HHK17 has made the following statement, “The mission of the 17th Karmapa in this 21st century is mainly Dharma activity. However, the Dharma must change in order to suit the time and the needs of society and its people. Its essence will still be Buddha Dharma – but I may give it a new external shape. I will update its expression so it can most effectively benefit the people of the 21st century. This is my mission.” 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje.

    What you say is very relevant to now, with your comment to “take it as an opportunity to question ourselves and our teachers about how to keep the essence of the Dharma alive.” May we all be so determined in the truth.

    While many of us have given what we can, money, time, our lives, to help the Dharma flower in the west, we did it and do it because we want it. We do it for the Buddha Dharma to be available, to bless and uplift our lives and those of others. We do it as a community of people who love the Dharma and want the happiness which is the living Dharma, and living the Dharma.

    With regard to confusion about two Karmapas, as the Dalai Lama says, there is only one Karmapa; that is not an issue; problems stemming from other claimants to be Karmapa – only small problem.

    Sorry to make blunt statement, for those who like to discuss for whatever reason.

    It is done.

    Om vajrapani hum!

  45. Shunde

    Dear kym chaffin,

    I noticed that your book “Death of The XVI Karmapa” was widely quoted in many website. Please may I have a soft copy of the book.

    Best regards


  46. Don

    Hmm, it’s interesting to find Glenn Mullin’s rather biased writing on the issue here. I attended a dharma talk by him in Atlanta. The reaction from the audience was rather negative with some of the veteran students asking him to stop making sexual references.

  47. Dechen

    So, it’s hard for me not to have a similar knee-jerk reaction as that of R. Please let me explain what I mean. For the majority of Tibetans within Tibet, there is not a smidgeon of doubt about who the Karmapa is. I understand that many of you will want to refute this and ask for statistics and polling and so on. Similarly, for the majority of Tibetans in exile, there is not a smidgeon of doubt about who the Karmapa is. Again, I understand taht many of you will want to refute this and ask for statistics and polling and so on. And, there comes my knee-jerk reaction.

    Someone here wrote that Karmapa recognizes Karmapa. The actual translation of this statement is that Karmapa reveals himself.

    HH Ogyen Trinley Dorje is famous among the Tibetans for the following things:
    – He escaped China at the age of 14
    – He fled to HH Dalai Lama (historically not exactly bffs) for refuge. They both famously share a filial and friendly relationship. Even so far as to say that HH Dalai Lama publically shows him affection and love.
    – He started an environment movement among his own monasteries and nunneries (khoryug.com)
    – He speaks openly on nun’s vinaya vow and has promised to lead the change
    – He has brought back discipline and order in the Kagyu community – if you were a Tibetan/ or close student in our community in the late 80s/ early 90s, you would understand how significant this is. No more young monks wearing jeans underneath shentaps and sneaking into town.
    – The majority of monks and many lay followers are vegetarian as per his request and application of Bodhisattva vow.

    These are all things most Tibetans know of, have heard of, have a friend who is part of these changes and so on.

    So. For Tibetans, this is a self-evident thing – Karmapa knows Karmapa.

    And, hence my knee jerk reaction when I see a lot of Western students (with perfect aspirations I’m sure) hold forth on this topic with a lot of facts they gleaned from the internet (and god knows the many many sites by Shamar Rinpoche’s people that say karmapa controversy and so on)…

    To be transparent, I’m Sikkimese – born and bred in Rumtek. There is yet another Karmapa claimant, called the Sherpa Karmapa for differentiation purposes by the Sikkimese. Every year, he claims he will fly to Rumtek and reclaim the throne. He and the Kalimpong Karmapa are spoken in the same breath usually. And, finally tens of thousands of people showed up in a rally asking the Indian government to let HHK come home. 65 monasteries sent their representatives. If you guys really want hard data and facts, I request that the writer of this well thought article actually travel to all the major Kagyu monasteries in the Himalayas and simply see whose photographs sit on the main throne.

    On my part, I’m Tibetan Sikkimese. Karmapa is Karmapa. The rest is chatter.

  48. Jenny Gilbert

    Thank you Dechen. You have said almost everything. I have been with HH Ogyen Trinley Dorje the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa since 2001, and before that waited for him to be born and come to the west in my basement. Other names have been used to describe the Karmapa, simha (the lion), to me he is Vajrapani come to life and the Dragon Sun. I will not describe the miracles I have witnessed, but there have been many. I hope he can come to Sikkim soon, although I will miss him, because I am too old to move, a visit is surely possible. Now I can only say that Sikkim seems to need him, so I have no doubt he will be there soon.

    At the last long life ceremony for HH Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th in the line of Dalai Lamas, the protector Nechung was so happy I have to think that things will be as HH Dalai Lama said.

    It seems that Sharmar has also found an American Maitreya, he thinks. Although I always thought Maitreya was the future Buddha. Perhaps we should show compassion for a man who does not seem to be so well.

    Unfortunately, as Thrangu Tulku, tutor to HE Tai Situ, HE Gyalsap Rinpoche, HE Jamgon Kongrul, and HE Sharmapa, has said he got bad advice and took it. Hopefully he will live long enough to place his crown at HH Ogyen Trinley Dorje’s feet and ask forgiveness. This would be a beautiful ending.

    Trungpa Tulku was my first teacher. I was given the refuge name Tsering Yutron.

  49. Yum

    So, Sharmapa did first sign off on Karmapa together with the other Kagyu Lamas, and then 2 to 3 weeks later changed his mind and put forth another Karmapa? That seems strange for Sharmapa to change suddenly like that, to change his mind after already signing off on a document?

  50. Joe

    Thanks to Otto for his well informed posts. I met some of the 16th Karmapas monks who were violently expelled from Rumtek by followers of the Dalai Lama’s Karmapa choice. Very sad that the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize never officially condemned the violent overthrow of Rumtek.

  51. Otto Kerner


    That’s right, the Shamarpa did accept Ogyen Trinley Dorje originally. He was under a lot of personal pressure from his teachers to not cause a split within Karma Kagyü, so he initially decided to go along with it. After a 2 or 3 weeks, he decided the situation was intolerable and he wouldn’t accept it, so he changed his mind and rejected Ogyen Trinley Dorje. Whether that was the right thing to do or not is a matter of opinion, but it seems quite understandable that someone would change their mind under that type of situation.

  52. Chris

    The cultural differences are enormous between Westerners and Tibetans. They deal in ambiguity, we want clarity, they are just coming out of the 8th c, we have been living in the 21st all aour lives. These things matter, it is not just a cultural ethnic warp, it is a time warp. They are in a medieval bubble , most of these lamas, with very very few exceptions, and a caste system inherited with the teachings of the Buddha. They teach about “impermanance” while practicing permanance, they actually believe their own narratives, that they are “living buddhas” who are enlightened and coming back lifetime after lifetime, a theory of permanance, not impermanence , and more related to Hindustani concepts of reincarnation and karma. So much of Tibetan Buddhism was filtered through the Hindustani take over of Buddhism again, which brought back the caste system.

    You also have to look at what they are doing, not what they say and don’t say. These lamas, because it has been very lucrative for them, want to keep westerneres, like Tibetan peasants in a very childlike state, “enlightenment for us” very far away.

    For example , here is a picture of the new Khentse Yangsi, with Thinley Thaye. Also a video of Sharmapa, Chogyi Nyingma R and Choling Rinpoche , the father of the Yangsi. This tells me that the Nyingmapas are lining up with Thinley Thaye. But they don’t say this directly. You have to really investigate , use your own critical intelligence , to read between the lines. So the Nyingmapas do not support this Ogyen Thinley. But Thrangu R and the other Kagyu’s with very few exceptions (mostly Bhutanese Drukpa Kagyus, ) have lined up long ago with Situ Rinpoche because they always follow the money. The money is in China, and they have been building monasteries all over Tawain, Malaysia, Singapore, HongKong, and , of course , back in Mainland China. This fight with China is over for the Karme Kagyus, who were always closer to China being from Kham and Amdo.

    This is a teaching on spiritual materialism , this whole Karmapa controversy. It is an opportunity to see it VIVIDLY, it is what all the great teachers have warned us about.

    The dharma will be planted in the west, by shedding the unessential from the essential teachings, and , if it must, it will go “underground” and the lineage will be carried by those that are willing to look into the face of everything, the razors edge of what is essential to the dharma and what has become an obstacle. Clearly, as other’s have stated here, the tulku system is an obstacle. It is anachronistic, and based on the caste system Hindu guru system. Those who are attracted to this are really Hindustani, without knowing it . They are looking for a “pure realm” of bliss, and wish to bask forever in their projected light reflected back from some external guru. It is a stage of the path, but when one clings to it and remains attached one never moves into recognizing the face of the inner guru, beyond these dualistic conceptions.
    So this Karmapa controversy can be seen as the great teaching on impermanence, and spiritual materialism, and an opportunity for exercising discriminating wisdom of our own intelligence. To remain in the childish state of what these lamas would want us to remain in, will never lead to confidence. They were used to dealing with a massive peasant population who was there to serve them as living gods, they didn’t teach the dharma, but to the very priviledged few, so they don’t really know what to do with westerners, who demand equality, and an eye to eye teaching. Most cant adapt to this, because they are actually quite rigid, not open. They don’t get it and it makes most of the squirm. That is why Dzogchen teachings have taken off like wildfire in the west. It is more appropriate to our culture, and there will be teachers out there, but they wont be the celebrity teachers, that have many monasteries to support to keep this medieval form going until it gasps it’s last breathe. The tulku system, as Dzogsar Rinpoche has said, will be the death of the dharma, if it doesn’t go. It is not appropriate for our time and culture, All these forms are just “vehicles” for the dharma and when they are no longer useful, they should be shed.. For those who are clinging to this form, this Tibetan cultural form , and the cognitive dissonance would be too great to break through to the groundlessness of “no reference point”, they will defend this or that Karmapa, take sides, etc. But there is always the opportunity this presents to use our critical intelligence again that we left outside the shrineroom, with our shoes. This lama system will never never encourage this, because we will start shining the light on what they are up to behind the curtain, and they really don’t want that. Not a one of them. So we wont find a genuine expression of our own awake qualities, if we are always needing lamas on thrones.

  53. As a Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo was sentenced last Christmas
    day for “inciting subversion of state power. Beijing officials are not struck by the prestige of Xiaobo’s new distinction. s definition to include climate activism, human rights, and micro-financing.

  54. It seems to me that Tibetan lamas are respected for superstition and unprovable claims but denigrated for scientific thinking. This is childish Orientalism. Tibetans are human beings, equal in every way to all other human beings and to be judged and tested by the same standards. The refusal of Urgen Trinley’s faction to settle the question of his identity by a bone marrow test and to subject the “prediction letter” (which only deserves its name if we consider it a psychic ability to visit Urgen Trinley’s home and write down some family details) to forensic analysis both point to a mind which prefers blind faith to any kind of practicality. The blundering intervention of the Dalai Lama has permanently muddied the waters, since the Dalai Lama, contrary to his idealised liberal image in the West, is regularly referred to by Tibetan supporters as God, as infallible in every word and as being the spiritual guide of the entire earth. There seems no end to both Eastern and Western people’s wilful gullibility and desire for glittering, meaningless woo, the greatest obstacle to actual Buddhism which is an effective process not a psychedelic light show. Happily both Karmapas seem to be Buddhist teachers, so there is light in the murk.

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