In this corner, from Baiyu County, born in Wood Horse, weighing in at twelve incarnations, we have Tai Situ Rinpoche.
And, in this corner, from Derge, born in Water Dragon, weighing in at fourteen incarnations, we have Shamar Rinpoche.
Under ordinary circumstances, we would tell them to shake hands and come out fighting, but these are not ordinary circumstances. These two powerful, Kagyu lineage holders are not battling for a champion's belt, but for a crown -- the Black Crown to be exact -- the one made from the hair of a hundred thousand dakinis.
The one that belongs to the Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa.
Over the past several days, we have witnessed a rogue politician -- assisted by a very reachable policeman -- play to endemic Indian sinophobia by running roughshod over the institution of the Karmapa with wild accusations of Chinese "spying." It has been ugly, it has been damaging, and it has disturbed millions of Buddhists all over the world.
Yet, a subtle -- and sometimes not so subtle -- theme has been running in the background of this incident. We saw it first when Himachal Pradesh Director General of Police Daljit Singh Minhas took the unprecedented and professionally reckless step of denouncing Tai Situ Rinpoche on India's version of CNN.
Roughly a week later, as the smoke cleared, and as Delhi began to weigh in with the voice of reason, we again heard the name of Tai Situ Rinpoche -- as a window opened into the behind-the-scenes struggle that colors this incident.
That struggle is the battle between Tai Situ Rinpoche and Shamar Rinpoche over who should be recognized as the "rightful" Seventeenth Karmapa.
Let us be clear in stating that the two claimants to the title "Seventeenth Karma" -- Ogyen Trinley Dorje (currently on the hot seat) and Trinley Thaye Dorje (currently waiting in the wings) -- are not fighting between themselves, nor should it be supposed that they are fighting by proxy, with Tai Situ Rinpoche and Shamar Rinpoche as their respective champions. As this sad affair has developed over the past decade, with more than its fair share of murkiness, at least one thing has become very clear to all and sundry.
This is a fight between Tai Situ Rinpoche and Shamar Rinpoche that long ago abandoned its raison d'etre to proceed of its own accord. In plain language? They took this fight out of the ring, to go brawling in the alley.
As it is presently positioned, the trouble in Himachal Pradesh seems to be proceeding from an underlying assumption that makes sense only in the strange world of Indian politics. The assumption is that Tai Situ Rinpoche is operating Ogyen Trinley Dorje as a puppet, on behalf of Chinese interests. This, in any event, has become their fallback position, ever since it was demonstrated to them -- amid considerable mirth -- that a seven year old boy could hardly have received Chinese intelligence training to become a "sleeper agent."
The way the game stands now, Indian players are laying down an ultimatum to Ogyen Trinley Dorje: if you want peace in Himachal Pradesh, and if you don't want to be (a) arrested, or (b) denied an extension of refugee status, get rid of Tai Situ Rinpoche, because he is the source of your trouble.
If Tai Situ Rinpoche becomes a casualty, whether by knockout punch or throwing in the towel, what will this mean for Shamar Rinpoche? Shamar Rinpoche seems to believe it will mean clear sailing. Tai Situ Rinpoche is the person who discovered Ogyen Trinley Dorje.
According to Tai Situ Rinpoche, in January 1981 the Sixteenth Karmapa gave him a sealed protection amulet covered in brocade, saying, "This is your protection amulet. In the future, it will confer great benefit."
Years passed, and Tai Situ Rinpoche decided to open the amulet. Upon doing so, he states that he found the above letter, in the Sixteenth Karmapa's own handwriting, and bearing his seal, which he subsequently understood to be the Sixteenth Karmapa's prediction of where he would be reborn. A translation of this letter is as follows:
Self-awareness is always bliss;
The dharmadhatu has no center nor edge.
From here to the north [in] the
east of [the land] of snow
Is a country where divine thunder
spontaneously blazes[In] a beautiful nomad's place with
the sign of a cow,
The method is Döndrub and the
wisdom is Lolaga.
[Born in] the year of the one
used for the earth
[With] the miraculous, far-reaching sound
of the white one;
[This] is the one known as Karmapa.His is sustained by Lord Donyö Drupa;Being nonsectarian, he pervades all directions;
Not staying close to some and distant from others, he is the protector of all beings:
The sun of the Buddha's Dharma that benefits others always blazes.
On March 19, 1992, Tai Situ Rinpoche met with Shamar Rinpoche, Jamgon Khongtrul Rinpoche, and Gyaltsap Rinpoche to review the letter. All parties agree that the meeting took place. On the basis of this review, they agreed among themselves to send a search party to Tibet, led by Jamgon Khongtrul. They wanted to find the Seventeenth Karmapa.
Regretably, Khongtrul Rinpoche was killed in an automobile accident the following month. Nevertheless, a search was conducted, and Ogyen Trinley Dorje was found in a manner consistent with the Sixteenth Karmapa's prediction letter. At the time, he was but eight years old.
On or about July 23, 1992, discovery of the Seventeenth Karmapa was confirmed by the Dalai Lama, who issued a traditional Buktham Rinpoche to that effect, pictured below. On September 27, 1992, the young Karmapa was enthroned at Tsurphu Monastery in Tibet, the main seat of all the Gyalwang Karmapas since the 12th century. Before the ceremony began, he was presented with an official certificate from the Beijing government accepting the recognition.
On January 25, 1994, Shamar Rinpoche issued a statement that the "authentic" reincarnation of the Sixteenth Karmapa had been found in the person of a boy living in Lhasa then named Tenzin Chyentse, and later named Trinley Thaye Dorje. Here, in Shamar Rinpoche's own words, is his complete account of the circumstances leading to the discovery of Trinley Thaye Dorje:
Thinley Thaye Dorje, was born in 1983 in the Year of the Pig. He is the first-born of the 3rd Mipham Rinpoche of the Nyingmapa School of Buddhism.
His father is the third reincarnation of the 1st Mipham Rinpoche, the head of 13 Nyingma monasteries in Kham, Tibet, and a descendant from many generations of doctors and learned medical scholars. His mother, Dechen Wangmo, is the daughter of a noble family descended from King Gaesar of Ling. In his youth the 3rd Mipham Rinpoche escaped the fate that befell many Tibetan people unable to practice their religion under Chinese communist rule. His teacher found a hiding place in the mountains where they were able to practice the Dharma continuously ever since his early childhood. In 1982, after a general relaxation of government restrictions on religious practice, Mipham Rinpoche went to Lhasa to take part in the reconstruction of Buddhist institutions and practice. Due to his good connection with the Panchen Lama, his activities were particularly successful.
In the early 1980s, Mipham Rinpoche's yidam predicted to him that if he took a consort that he would produce several sons who would be great bodhisattvas. The next day a group of pilgrims from Kham arrived to see him; among them was Dechen Wangmo. He realized that she was humble and gentle and an accomplished Chakrasambhara practitioner. When he proposed marriage, she immediately accepted.
As man and wife, Mipham Rinpoche and Dechen Wangmo settled in an apartment rented from an old lady in the Bakor area of Lhasa on the same street that circled three-quarters around the famous Jokhang Temple. A son was born in wedlock in the year 1983. At the age of two and a half, the little boy started to tell people that he was the Karmapa. The landlady happened to be a distant relative of the late 16th Karmapa and had met him before he escaped from Tibet in 1959. He told her once, "Before you die, you will meet me again." Due to the exceptional behaviour of the boy, she was convinced that he was the Karmapa himself. Out of strong devotion, she offered the use of her apartment to the family for free. However, Mipham Rinpoche remained silent about his son while hoping that he might turn out to be the reincarnation of the great Nyingma master Katog Situ Rinpoche.
One day in early 1985, when Ngorpa Lagen, a humble old Sakya lama, was circumambulating the Jokhang Temple in the circular street, he noticed the gleaming white face of a little boy peering out of the window of a private house. Drawn by curiosity, he walked towards the window, and the little boy said, "Don't you know that I am the Karmapa?" Without pondering the seriousness behind these simple words, Ngorpa Lagen replied, "If you are, then give me a blessing." The boy stretched out his arm and touched the lama. According to the lama, he instantly felt something akin to the post-meditative experience of deep calm and expansiveness that prevails over all forms of gross emotions.
A few days after this blessing, the Sakya lama, together with a group of pilgrims who had arrived from his homeland, went to Mipham Rinpoche for a prediction as to where their next pilgrimage should be. He noticed the little boy who previously had blessed him playing in a corner by himself. Mipham Rinpoche asked the group of visitors how many families they were. When they answered, "seven," the little boy rang out from the corner and said, "Eight!" All of them were obliged to count again. When they realized that the boy was right, the lama reported that his hair stood on end and that his shock and excitement were so great that it was difficult to hide his reaction completely.
Further along his pilgrimage in late 1985, Ngorpa Lagen went to Kathmandu, Nepal, and joined a large annual prayer and recitation gathering led by Lama Sherab Rinpoche, a disciple of the late Karmapa. The two soon became acquainted, and Ngorpa Lagen began telling Lama Sherab Rinpoche about his encounter with the little boy in Bakor. After this, Lama Sherab Rinpoche and his attendant Chopel Zangpo left for the Tsurphu Monastery but first stopped to visit Mipham Rinpoche in Lhasa. The boy was not with his father when they arrived, so Lama Sherab Rinpoche asked if he could nevertheless see the boy. When he was brought in, he sat next to his father quietly, but from time to time would eye the guests and smile with obvious amusement. When Lama Sherab Rinpoche inquired about the wife of Mipham Rinpoche, he replied she was doing a Chakrasambhara retreat. During the course of the conversation, Lama Sherab Rinpoche reported that he started to tremble and was unable to stop. As soon as they left, his attendant immediately told him that something very strange had happened to him while they were talking, which was exactly what Lama Sherab Rinpoche himself had felt. The above story was first recounted to me in 1987 by Lama Sherab Rinpoche. The circumstances of the story matched those of an earlier report brought to me from Lhasa. In October 1986, Chobje Tri Rinpoche had alerted me about Mipham Rinpoche's son and showed me a photograph of the young boy.
Between late 1981 and 1984, Tai Situ Rinpoche, Kongtrul Rinpoche, Gyaltseb Rinpoche and I - the committee of regents established by the late Karmapa's General Secretary Dhamcho Yongdu to find the reincarnated Karmapa - held several meetings to coordinate our efforts to recognize the Karmapa's reincarnation. Although Dhamcho Yongdu did not have the authority to create such a group of regents, I initially followed along to be polite. Soon however, I felt that these meetings increasingly became politicized; resolutions were never acted on as the three other committee members had promised. Instead, other courses of action were pursued without notice to the full committee. I was left with no choice but to act independently, but quietly, in my capacity as the Shamarpa, while inside the committee I did my best to win the other Rinpoches to my point of view. After all, by long-standing practice, it is Shamarpas who are empowered to identify and recognize reincarnated Karmapas.
In 1988 I undertook my own independent investigations to determine the authenticity of the Mipham Rinpoche's son as the Karmapa. First I asked Tsechu Rinpoche who visited Tibet as part of a Nepalese government delegation to obtain more information about the young boy during his visit. Next I sent a lama to go to Lhasa to investigate the boy more directly. Immediately upon their first meeting, the boy told the lama that he had been sent to investigate him. The results of all these reports and investigations prompted me in July 1988 to go into a long retreat when I confirmed that the boy was indeed the reincarnated 17th Karmapa.
In spite of my personal conviction about the identity of the Karmapa, the time still had not come to make a formal declaration. However, in early 1991, at the inauguration of the Karma Kagyu monastery built by Shangpa Rinpoche at Phokhara which was attended by Dhazang Rinpoche, Shachu Rinpoche and hundreds of lamas plus more than four thousand Tibetans, I announced: 1) Tibet probably would be the country of the Karmapa's next reincarnation; 2) The supplication to the 16th Karmapa for his early rebirth should be changed to supplication to the 17th Karmapa for his long life; 3) The name of the 17th Karmapa that I had decided on was Thaye Dorje. The obvious conclusion to be drawn from this announcement was that I had in effect confirmed the reincarnation of the 17th Karmapa.
Karma Pakshi, the 2nd Karmapa, in his esoteric works (sangwei namthar) called Dugpa Tsarchod predicted the rebirths of 21 Karmapas and gave or predicted the name of each rebirth. The name of the 18th Karmapa is Thaye Dorje. However, the 5th Karmapa also predicted, "My lineage weakens, at the time of the 16th or 17th Karmapa." On the surface Karma Pakshi's prediction seems inconsistent with my recognition and naming of the 17th Karmapa as Thaye Dorje. The apparent inconsistency can be readily explained, though. As is well known, the reincarnation of the 14th Karmapa only lived for three years and was never enthroned; so official protocol does not count the fifteenth rebirth as the 15th Karmapa. Thus, it follows that the sixteenth rebirth of the Karmapa becomes the 15th Karmapa upon enthronement and so forth. In other words, the predictions of Karma Pakshi and the 5th Karmapa are not ambiguous but actually correct. The 5th Karmapa's prediction of the weakening of the lineage at the time of the 16th or 17th Karmapas actually refers to the discrepancy between the number of rebirths and the number of enthronements caused by the early death of the fifteenth reincarnation. Karma Pakshi's predicted bestowal of the name Thaye Dorje for the 18th Karmapa is actually correct since the 17th Karmapa to be enthroned is the 18th by rebirth.
My announcement at Pokhara no doubt caused much excitement but also provoked many comments. It also stimulated Lama Sherab Rinpoche to come to me immediately in Kathmandu and show me a poem written on a piece of paper. A very old saint named Lobpon Kunzang Rinpoche, who had already passed away before 1991, had given the paper to Lama Sherab Rinpoche in 1983 in strict confidence on one of his many visits to Lobpon Kunzang Rinpoche's retreat in the Rinag mountains in Sikkim. The exact literary origin of the poem is still being ascertained. According to Sherab Gyaltsen Rinpoche, the spiritual leader of the Manang tribal community of Nepal, Lobpon Kunzang Rinpoche said there are two possible sources. One is the old text called The Treasures of Yogi Zilon Lingpa (Zilon Lingpa belonged to the Nyingma School of Buddhism). The other possible source for the poem is the late Dudjom Rinpoche when he was performing a special Guru Padmasambhava puja in Kalimpong in the 1960's. The poem contains the following four verses:DZA YI YUL DU KI YI DRONG KHYER NA
The area of Dza The town Ki (is)LHAMO NORBU DZIN PE SER NGAL DU
Goddess Devi, Norbu Dzinma (holder) (in her) golden womb (of) the wish-fulfilling jewelKHAILASH YI CHUD LY YONG SMIN PE
By nourishment of (Mt.) Khailash fully (it will) ripenTHAYE DORJE DROWE PAL DU SHAR
Thaye Dorje (for the) welfare of living beings (will) ariseThe meaning of the poem is by and large self-evident. The references in the first verse to Dza and Ki refer to the birth places of the 3rd Mipham Rinpoche and Dechen Wangmo, his consort and the mother of the 17th Karmapa. The allusion to Mount Khailash refers to Dechen Wangmo who is a Tantric adept. The Chakrasambhara Tantra is her main practice, and Mount Khailash is, in the Tantric universe, the mandala of Chakrasambhara.Immediately after the Karmapa Thaye Dorje and his family managed to escape from Tibet to Nepal in March 1994, the young Karmapa came to New Delhi where during a welcome ceremony I formally recognized him as the 17th Karmapa. In November 1996, he joined the monkhood by receiving refuge vows from Buddha in a large ceremony at the Buddha Gaya Temple. He then was given the name Thinley (meaning, Buddha activity) Thaye (limitless) Dorje (unchanging).
As should be clear from this account, my identification and recognition of the 17th Karmapa Thinley Thaye Dorje proceeded according to many centuries of Karma Kagyu tradition. The process was completely spiritual and not corrupted by political motives.-- Shamarpa Rinpoche
So, these are the respective, basic positions of the two contenders. What is not discussed is the intervening period between Ogyen Trinley Dorje's discovery and enthronement in 1992, and Shamar Rinpoche's sudden announcement of Trinley Thaye in 1994.
What occurs between 1992 and 1994 is one of the ugliest episodes of internecine gutter politics it is possible to imagine: the bitter and bloody battle for Rumtek Monastery, in Sikkim -- the Karmapa's seat in exile, pictured below -- and the very substantial Karmapa Charitable Trust.
Trouble erupted in June 1992, arising from a struggle between Tai Situ Rinpoche and Shamar Rinpoche for control of Rumtek, and the late Karmapa's assets. Shamar moved quickly, contacting the manager of a Kagyu European franchise -- a Danish citizen named Ole Nydahl, then resident in Russia -- to consolidate cash flow generated by 120 overseas centers. Within twenty-four hours, he prevailed on the Sixteenth Karmapa's old contacts in the Indian government to dispatch a contingent of armed soldiers to protect him at Rumtek.
Hostilities continued through the summer and into the autumn, greatly offending the mother monastery at Tsurphu. In October 1992, Ole Nydahl and his wife, Hannah, were declared persona non grata at Tsurphu, allegedly with the warning that were they to ever visit the monastery, "the place and its water supply would be contaminated all the way to the ocean." We have no way of determining whether this was in fact said or not, but it does give you something of the flavor of this period's rhetoric.
Tai Situ Rinpoche was able to outflank Shamar Rinpoche by appealing to Sikkimese Chief Minister Bhandhari. By August 1993, he had regained physical control of Rumtek Monastery, but his victory was only temporary. Shamar Rinpoche moved against him decisively in 1994, and by August 1994, Tai Situ Rinpoche was embroiled in personal legal issues relating to allegations that he had engaged in "anti-Indian and pro-Chinese activities." In December 1994, Chief Minister Bhandhari was voted out of office, and a new regime came into being that showed greater sympathy to Shamar Rinpoche.
So, then ---
When we examine the footwork employed in the bouts of 1992 to 1994, and contrast this with the footwork observed in 2011, we see old boxers up to old tricks. The parallels are indeed instructive -- so instructive that the punches, may we say, have indeed been telegraphed.
Late 2010 and early 2011 show of popular support operations in Sikkim, designed to seat Ogyen Trinley Dorje at Rumtek, have been met with Indian government pressure that ultimately singles out Tai Situ Rinpoche.
It is useful to examine similarities, but it is in this case even more important to consider differences. There is one very, very important difference between 1992 - 1994 and 2011, and that difference is the Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje.
While Tai Situ Rinpoche and Shamar Rinpoche have been fighting over ground, Ogyen Trinley Dorje has quietly and effortlessly won hearts and minds. The sad events of these past few days have established that millions of people around the world care very deeply for his welfare, that he enjoys the respect and confidence of the mainstream international Buddhist community, and that a single glance can put thousands into India's streets.
He does not occupy a monastery; rather, he occupies auspicious dreams, beneficial thoughts, spiritual inspirations, and compassionate aspirations. Even he speaks barely above a whisper, by the power of truth his words are heard at ten thousand miles.
This is the Karmapa's historical ability.
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