Buddha's Not Smiling: Uncovering Corruption at the Heart of

The impulse to believe the absurd when presented with the unknowable is called religion. Whether this is wise or unwise is the domain of doctrine. Once you understand someone's doctrine, you understand their rationale for believing the absurd. At that point, it may no longer seem absurd. You can get to both sides of this conondrum from here.

Buddha's Not Smiling: Uncovering Corruption at the Heart of

Postby admin » Sun Dec 04, 2016 12:40 am

Buddha's Not Smiling: Uncovering Corruption at the Heart of Tibetan Buddhism Today
by Erik D. Curren
© 2006 by Erik D. Curren
Book Design: Pat Gibson




Do not accept my dharma merely out of respect for me, but analyze and check it the way a goldsmith analyzes gold, by rubbing, cutting, and melting it. --  Sutra on Pure Realms Spread out in Dense Array

Table of Contents:

• Chapter 13: LAMAS ON TRIAL
• Chapter 14: THE SECRET BOY
• Chapter 16: CONCLUSION

"In Tibet, the only dharma left is superficial teachings, so it is not worth your trouble to save it." -- The 10th Karmapa


During the next three days, the new Rumtek administration of Situ and Gyaltsab pressured the monks who had not fled or been arrested to sign a document affirming that they accepted Ogyen Trinley as the seventeenth Karmapa. On August 5, the police returned, again accompanied by Bhandari's party toughs from the Gangtok market. While the monks were assembled in the dining hall, the bullies and police entered. A group of the street toughs pulled the cook out of the kitchen and smeared chili powder over his face. They told him never to cook for the monks again. Then they put up a large framed photo of Ogyen Trinley and addressed the monks.

The leaders of the gang of toughs told the monks to perform prostrations in front of the photo as police looked on. "At gunpoint we were forced to accept Ogyen Trinley of Tibet as the one and only Karmapa," said Omze Yeshey. "We had to swear an oath on our acceptance. We were told that anybody who dared to say otherwise would face legal consequences." The intruders brought tape recorders to capture each oath. Then, the gang leaders drove the young monks into the kitchen and made them pick up the kitchen knives. They had to pose in menacing positions while the police snapped photographs, apparently to allege later that they were fighting. The police would create bogus criminal files for each monk.

Several of the street toughs carried knives and demanded keys to the monastery's prayer rooms and shrines. Just as they had refused to surrender the main temple keys three days before, so now the Rumtek monks would not yield the keys. This led to another stand-off. for six nerve-racking hours, the monks stood shoulder-to-shoulder in front of the door to the main shrine room, while Bhandari's bullies took up positions several feet opposite them, taunting the monks and periodically threatening to attack. The Sikkim police looked on without trying to stop the bullies or defuse the situation.

The stand-off was broken only by the appearance of more police officers at about five o'clock in the afternoon, this time elite security forces of the Sikkim Armed Police. With Situ and Gyaltsab leading the way, the soldiers chased the Rumtek monks to the back of the monastery. The monks locked themselves in a small storeroom. The soldiers and street toughs together broke down the locked door and began beating the monks, injuring twenty in the process.

Three Sikkim government officials -- Police Inspector General Tenzing, the fearsome Officer Suren Pradhan, and another policeman known as Kharel -- made a speech to the monks. They warned that unless all the keys were handed over, anything could happen. In response. the monks insisted that a monastery was a private religious institution protected by India's constitution from state interference. The government officials were not impressed with this argument, and they insisted on the keys. Finally, seeing that it was the only way to avoid further bloodshed, the monks handed over the keys to the police officers.

Officer Kharel then unlocked the main temple door and announced that from now on, Situ Rinpoche would control Rumtek. Later. the Sikkim home secretary handed over all the keys to Gyaltsab Rinpoche in exchange for a signed receipt.

Finally, the police arrested more monks. "A considerable number of our monks was illegally detained and locked up in police custody for several days," said Chultrirnpa Lungtog. Monks who were not arrested fled the monastery to take refuge in the surrounding forest. After the week was out, about a hundred monks, or ninety percent of Rumtek's original monks before Situ started bringing in outsiders in 1992, left Rumtek rather than accept Ogyen Trinley as the seventeenth Karmapa.

"We were no longer allowed to enter the monastery, so we had to find somewhere else to stay," said Omze Yeshey. "This is why we had to seek refuge in Shamar Rinpoche's residence, where we could be close to the Dharma Chakra Center. He himself wasn't there. No preparations or earlier arrangements had been made. In fact it was very difficult. The house isn't that big, and we were a considerable number of monks. So we had to contend with numerous problems in terms of our accommodation."

"It is deemed strange," wrote the Hindustan Times, "that pro-China Situ Rinpoche, who has never in the past taken up any responsibilities at Rumtek has suddenly chosen to muster the Sikkim Chief Minister's support, to execute a coup d'etat, while regent Shamar Rinpoche is abroad." [4]


In the late eighteenth century, at the time of the tenth Shamarpa Mipham Chodrup Gyatso (1742-92), a tragedy befell the line of the Shamarpas that would remove them from Tibetan public life until the middle of the twentieth century. The role of the tenth Shamarpa has been hotly contested by historians and journalists. It has become a test of the current Shamar's fitness to recognize the seventeenth Karmapa -- or to object to the recognition of Ogyen Trinley.

"Tibetan Buddhists believe that karma from one's past actions or deeds can cling to a person through many lifetimes," wrote British reporter Tim McGirk. "That is why many Tibetans explain the odd behavior of a lama named Shamar Rinpoche by referring to an event 202 years ago. In his incarnation then, Shamar Rinpoche was a monk so overcome by greed that he lured the Gurkha army into attacking a monastery for its treasure." [5]

Lea Terhune echoed this view in Karmapa: The Politics of Reincarnation: "The Gurkhas had been spoiling for a fight with Tibet. In this they were helped by the Shamarpa, who is credited by historians with instigating the Gurkha War with alluring descriptions of the riches at the Panchen Lama's monastery, Tashilhunpo, and egging on the Gurkha king." [6] Later, we will see how McGirk and Terhune worked as colleagues in New Delhi in the 1990s, so it would not be surprising that they shared the same interpretation of Tibetan history. In this case, their views appear to derive from the well-known history of Tibet by former Lhasa official Tsepon W.D. Shakabpa, whom we met in chapter 3, where we discussed his biased account of the fifth Dalai lama's rise to temporal power in the seventeenth century.

In his book, Shakabpa blamed the tenth Shamarpa for starting the Tibet-Gorkha war. After the Dalai lama's government intervened to prevent the Nepali Gorkhas from conquering Sikkim, Shakabpa wrote:

The Gurkhas were annoyed at the Tibetan interference and were looking for an excuse to attack Tibet. An excuse was found in the controversy over the third Panchen Lama's personal property, which was being claimed by the Panchen's two brothers, Drungpa Trulku and Shamar Trulku; the latter was the ninth [sic] Red Hat Kar-ma-pa Lama named Chosdrup Gyatso. Shamar Trulku hoped to use Gurkha backing for his claim to the Panchen Lama's property in the Tashilhunpo monastery; while the Gurkhas wanted to use his claim as a pretext for invading Tibet. [7]

Shakabpa's interpretation of the Shamarpa's role in the Tibet-Gorkha War has been disseminated widely. Yet, as in the case of Shakabpa's account of the rivalry between the Karma Kagyu and the Gelugpa that led to the Dalai Lama's ascension to power in 1642, his story of the tenth Shamarpa does not agree with standard Tibetan historical sources of the period. [8] These sources show that Shakabpa is too easy on the Tibetan government of the time and too hard on the tenth Shamarpa. This is not surprising, considering that Shakabpa was a minister of the old Lhasa government, since the seventeenth century the historic enemy of the Shamarpas.

Tibetan chroniclers -- especially a general named Dhoring who led Tibetan forces in the Gorkha War and provided an eyewitness account of the major players involved -- are much more sympathetic to the tenth Shamarpa. These historians explain that while trying to claim his portion of a family inheritance, the tenth Shamarpa unwittingly became a pawn in a conflict between Central Tibet and its overlord China on the one hand, and Nepal and the British in India on the other. The outcome would have disastrous effects for the future of the Shamarpa line.

In the past, the Shamars and Karmapas sometimes appeared in the same family, as the fifth Shamarpa had predicted. As we have seen, the current Shamar is the nephew of the sixteenth Karmapa. However, in the eighteenth century, the Shamarpa took birth in the family of the second most powerful lama of the Dalai Lama's Gelug school, adding an unusual political twist. The tenth Shamarpa Mipham Chodrup Gyatso was born in 1742 in Tsang province as the half-brother of the third Panchen Lama Lobsang Palden Yeshe (1737-80). The Shamarpa was thirty-eight years old when his half-brother, age forty-three, died of smallpox while on a visit to the Qianlong emperor in Beijing in 1780. The emperor gave a substantial sum of silver coins as a condolence to one of the Panchen's brothers, known as the Drungpa Hutogatu, to distribute to the Panchen's family. The tenth Shamarpa and the Drungpa clashed about these funds.

The Shamarpa argued that the bequest was intended for the Panchen Lama's family, and as a half-brother of the late Panchen Lama, the Shamarpa claimed a portion of the emperor's gift. But the Drungpa refused to share the Chinese funds, saying they were intended for the Panchen Lama's Gelugpa order. Perhaps fearing that this position would not stand up in court, the Drungpa, who like the Panchen was a lama of the Gelugpa order, enlisted allies in the Lhasa government. We have seen how the Gelugpas came to enjoy government patronage after the fifth Dalai Lama took power in Lhasa in the seventeenth century. By the 1780s, government preference for the Gelugpa over the other religious schools had become established practice.

The Drungpa found a willing ear in the regent Ngawang Tsultrim, who had refused to relinquish effective control over the government after the eighth Dalai Lama Jampal Gyatso (1758-1804) reached adulthood in the late 1770s. Regent Ngawang apparently saw in the dispute between the Drungpa and the Shamarpa a pretext to accomplish three long-cherished political goals: to extend the power of the Gelugpa school further over its old rival the Karma Kagyu; to settle a long-running trade dispute with Nepal, where Shamar had powerful supporters; and to assert Tibetan autonomy against Nepal's patrons, the British East India Company's administration of India, which had been trying to establish trading posts inside Tibet. The Tibetans and their Chinese overlords feared that trade relations with the East India Company would open Tibet to British interference and perhaps even colonization.

The Qianlong emperor was particularly nervous about European encroachment on his empire, of which he considered Tibet to be a part. Qianlong is known in the West as the Chinese ruler who rebuffed Britain's commercial overtures in 1793, only a year after the Gorkha War, arrogantly informing King George III's envoy Lord George Macartney that the British had nothing to sell that the Chinese wanted to buy. Fifty years later, Anglo-Chinese tension would explode into the Opium War of the 1840s. In the late eighteenth century, as this tension began to grow, Qianlong was as eager to exclude the British from Tibet as he was to keep them out of the port cities of southeastern China.

The Shamarpa had great influence in the kingdom of Nepal. In the early years of their partnership, the Karmapa and Shamarpa had divided Tibet into geographical spheres of responsibility. The Karmapa would teach Buddhism in eastern Tibet, while the Shamarpa would cover the south. Historically, this southern region included Tibet's neighbor Nepal. Over the centuries, the Shamarpas gained thousands of followers there, and the Shamarpas came to serve as spiritual advisors to prominent noble clans and even to the royal family. Shamarpa influence in Nepal continued even after the invading Hindu Gorkhas overthrew the Malla kings of the Kathmandu valley and consolidated their power over the formerly Buddhist kingdom in 1769.

In Lhasa in the early 1790s, Regent Ngawang convinced important Central Tibetan officials and, more importantly, the Chinese Amban, the de facto ruler of Tibet, that the tenth Shamarpa was about to betray Tibet to Nepal and to the Gorkhas' British allies. The regent claimed that the Shamarpa had invited Gorkha forces to cross into Tibet, first to help him claim the wealth of the Panchen Lama and then to go on to Lhasa to pillage the city and force on Tibet a trade agreement favorable to Nepal. The regent was able to make these charges stick at the Dalai Lama's court and a warrant was put out for the Shamarpa's arrest. To escape capture and likely torture and execution without trial in Lhasa, as was Tibetan custom at the time, the tenth Shamarpa fled for safety to Nepal in 1791.

Nepal's King Prithi Narayanan Shah gave the Shamarpa political asylum -- and, to preempt a Tibetan invasion, he sent an expeditionary force across his northern border and into Tibet. Meeting little resistance from the small, poorly trained Tibetan army, the Gorkhas advanced towards Lhasa and prepared to take the city. To avert the capture of their capital, the Tibetans were required to call on the Chinese for help. It response, the Qianlong emperor sent thirteen thousand troops to join a Tibetan force as large as ten thousand to halt the Gorkha advance. The imperial army arrived just in time to prevent a total Tibetan rout, and the Gorkhas were turned back and put on the defensive.

Meanwhile, Regent Ngawang Tsultrim died in Lhasa. Karma Kagyu lamas said that their school's protector deity, Mahakala, had punished the regent for his attack on the Shamarpa. The regent was succeeded by his deputy Tenpai Gonpo Kundeling, who continued to sideline the Dalai Lama as his predecessor had. On his own initiative, the new regent concluded the war, with terms to his own advantage.

With Lhasa no longer under threat of being sacked by Gorkha cavalry, and with the power of the Shamarpas broken in Tibet, the regent could make use of the property of the maligned Red Hat Karmapa. Tenpai Gonpo confiscated the Shamarpa's monastic seat at Yangpachen and put it under the control of the large Gelugpa monastery Ganden, one of the powerful Three Seats. Dozens of other Shamarpa monasteries were forcibly converted to the Gelugpa order by official mandate. Regent Tenpai Gonpo personally took possession of the tenth Shamar Rinpoche's residence in Lhasa and turned it into a police court and lockup, where accused prisoners were subjected to physical mutilation and other tortures. [9] The regent then convinced the Qianlong emperor to issue a decree that forever after Shamar Rinpoche was prohibited from reincarnating in Tibet. The Lhasa government would enforce this distinctive punishment for the following two centuries.

The tenth Shamarpa died in 1792 in Nepal. Historians have speculated that he was poisoned by either the Nepalis or by Tibetan agents. But the current Shamar told me that his predecessor decided to transfer his consciousness out of his body through the practice of phowa -- essentially bringing on his own death -- to escape capture and torture by the Chinese. His body was cremated in Nepal, but this did not stop the victorious Qianlong emperor from demanding the the Nepalis hand over the ashes and charred pieces of bone, and taking them back to Beijing to undergo a ritual punishment as a warning for others, according to Qing dynasty custom.

Back in Tibet, the Shamar labrang was dissolved and the people and property attached to the Shamarpa under Tibet's feudal system were taken by the government or distributed to various Gelugpa and Karma Kagyu lamas. In light of the Lhasa government ban, no Karmapa could recognize or associate with a Shamarpa on an official basis. To avoid military reprisals against Karma Kagyu monasteries from the government of Central Tibet, the Karmapa observed the ban in public. In private, however, the Karmapas continued to recognize successive reincarnations of the Shamarpas for the next century and a half. [10]

-- Buddha's Not Smiling, by Erik D. Curren
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Re: Buddha's Not Smiling: Uncovering Corruption at the Heart

Postby admin » Sun Dec 04, 2016 12:46 am


Thanks to Ed Worthy for his detailed comments and suggestions on my manuscript. Thanks to Karine Le Pajolec, Harrison Pemberton, and Thule Jug of Vienna Dharma Photos for use of photographs. Thanks also to others who helped in various ways along the way: Terry Burt, Derek Hanger, Brett and Amanda Hood, Carol Gerhardt, Jay Landman, Hannah Nydahl, Harrison Pemberton, and Stephanie Yang. I am grateful to Gerry Stowers for her friendship and support during the process of revising my manuscript and producing this book. All errors are solely the responsibility of the author.
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Re: Buddha's Not Smiling: Uncovering Corruption at the Heart

Postby admin » Sun Dec 04, 2016 12:47 am


The Karmapa


The spiritual leader of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism until his death. He led the Karma Kagyu lamas; escape from Chinese forces in 1959 and established his headquarters in exile at Rumtek monastery in Sikkim, now a state of northeastern India.

The Candidates for 17th Karmapa


Recognized by Tai Situ and supported by both the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government. Born of a nomad family in eastern Tibet, he was enthroned in Tibet in 1992 and resettled in 2000 in Himachal Pradesh state in northwestern India.


Recognized by Shamar Rinpoche. He was born in Lhasa, escaped Tibet in 1994, and is now completing his education in Kalimpong in the Himalaya foothills of northeastern India.

Supporters of Ogyen Trinley


The spiritual leader of the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism and the political leader of the Tibetan people living in exile. Since winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, he has become the international face of human rights, nonviolence, and Buddhist teachings. He is based at Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh state, located in the Himalayan foothills of northwestern India.


The third-ranking spiritual leader of the Karma Kagyu school. Tai Situ is the primary supporter of Ogyen Trinley and originally presented the boy on the basis of a prediction letter that became the subject of dispute. He served on the Council of Regents and then on the Karmapa Search Committee at Rumtek. His monastic seat is located in Bir, in Himachal Pradesh in northwestern India.


The fifth-ranking lama in the Karma Kagyu hierarchy. He is the second main supporter of Ogyen Trinley after Tai Situ. He served on the Council of Regents and then on the Karmapa Search Committee at Rumtek. He is based in India's northeastern state of Sikkim, near the sixteenth Karmapa's monastery at Rumtek.


The abbot of Rumtek monastery in Sikkim and head philosophy teacher there until he left to establish his own monasteries in 1975.


Assistant secretary of Rumtek monastery until dismissed in 1988. A layman, he was married to the sister of Thrangu Rinpoche until his death in 2005.


The aide of Tai Situ. With a Swiss follower, he runs the Rokpa Foundation, dedicated to relief work in the Himalayan countries. He is based in Scotland.


Chief minister of India's northeastern state of Sikkim during the years 1979-84 and 1985-1994.

Supporters of Thaye Dorje


Traditionally known as the "Red-Hat Karmapa," the Shamarpas are the second-ranking spiritual leaders in the Karma Kagyu school. The current Shamar is the primary supporter of Thaye Dorje and is based in Kalimpong, in northeastern India. He served on the Council of Regents and then on the Karmapa Search Committee at Rumtek.


General secretary of the Karmapa's administration from 1983 until his death in 1997.


The elder brother of Shamar Rinpoche. Since the mid-1970s he has run two large monasteries established by the sixteenth Karmapa in France.


The abbot of Rumtek from 1978 until the monastery was taken over by followers of Karmapa candidate Ogyen Trinley in 1993.He is now based in New Delhi.


A Danish couple who became some of the first Western students of the sixteenth Karmapa and went on to start more than four hundred Buddhist centers in Europe and throughout the West.
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Re: Buddha's Not Smiling: Uncovering Corruption at the Heart

Postby admin » Sun Dec 04, 2016 12:50 am


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Re: Buddha's Not Smiling: Uncovering Corruption at the Heart

Postby admin » Sun Dec 04, 2016 12:52 am


This book is about corruption in Tibetan Buddhism, but not about sex scandals. We have already seen discussions about Buddhist teachers, particularly well known Zen masters and Tibetan lamas, having romantic affairs with their students, especially those from Western countries. [1] This is nothing new, and it afflicts Buddhism as it does all other major religions. Here, I do not touch on this topic.

Instead, I explore a type of corruption that I believe is much more insidious, and whose exposure can be of much greater benefit to people seeking to find meaning in their lives through a spiritual path, or just trying to understand the massive phenomenon that Tibetan Buddhism has become in the past thirty years. This book is a history of a dispute among the highest lamas with roots centuries in the past and a present of deep shame. It is a dispute over the identity of a lama called the Karmapa.

I have been a student of Buddhism for a decade. I was inspired by this ancient path's time-tested methods to escape suffering, and by the example of compassionate living offered by Tibetan lamas. A few years ago, when I first heard how spiritual leaders who stand for love, peace, and nonviolence had behaved in this dispute I was shocked and disillusioned. Were Tibetan lamas just hypocrites and charlatans? If this was so, I would have been ready to give up Buddhism altogether. The only way I could remain was to discover the facts for myself.

So that's what I set out to do. In the process, I discovered a dark side to some Tibetan lamas. But I also developed a confidence in the basic teachings of a spiritual tradition that was more mature, based on my own 'investigation, rather than merely on hopeful faith. I believe that this journey did me much good, and helped me grow intellectually and spiritually. I hope the reader will take much the same journey in these pages, and discover some of the same benefit along the way.

For the past three years, I have been a student of one of the main lamas involved in the controversy, Shamar Rinpoche. Thus I cannot claim to be a disinterested outsider. Shamar even suggested that I write this book. Four books have already come out in the last few years sympathetic to the views of his opponents. [2] These books raised many questions for me about the purity of Tibetan Buddhism, and I am sure they raised the same questions for many others. So it seemed only fair to investigate Shamar's claims and give him a chance to tell his story. The following pages try to disentangle the many knots in the web of claims, counterclaims, and outright deceptions that have come to enshroud the topic of the Karmapa today.

Two young men are at the center of our story, and both of them claim to be the Karmapa. The four most recent books on the subject all refer to one of the young men as "the Karmapa" while calling the other by his enthronement name, the equivalent of a personal name. Here, I begin from the premise of an authentic controversy, so I do not presume to know which candidate is the genuine reincarnate. Accordingly, I do not call either candidate "the Karmapa." Instead, I refer to each young lama by his enthronement name. I hope this will make for a fairer presentation that is also clearer for the reader.

I would like to invite you, the reader, to make your own judgment on the specific issue of this book -- the story of the Karmapa. Considering the evidence, whom do you believe and whom do you trust! After that, it may be fruitful to consider how this connects to your attitude about Tibetan Buddhism and spiritual teachers in general. finally, if you follow a spiritual tradition, or if you know someone who does, then I encourage you to meditate on what it means to follow a spiritual teacher with maturity, as an intelligent person in the modern world. Is it possible to balance faith and logical thinking! Does rationality conflict with faith, or can rationality enrich faith! When should we just believe, and when should we ask questions!

If you can prove any of my claims wrong please contact me directly, I will correct them in future editions.
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Re: Buddha's Not Smiling: Uncovering Corruption at the Heart

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Reincarnating Lamas

Near the beginning of Martin Scorsese's 1997 film Kundun, a search party from Lhasa arrives at a small village in the dusty northeastern borderlands between Tibet and China. The time is the late 1930s. The visitors are looking for a boy who they think might be the reincarnation of the thirteenth Dalai Lama Thubten Gyatso (1876•1933), who died a few years earlier.

Before his death, the Tibetan leader had left a letter, written in an obscure poetic style, indicating the family and place of his rebirth. Following their late lama's instructions, and consulting intelligence reports, the Dalai Lama's administration in Lhasa had put together a list of likely boys -- candidates for the Dalai Lama's reincarnation.

Now, the Lhasa lamas have come to a remote province to investigate one of these boys, the son of a peasant family. Disguised as traders, they have not divulged the purpose of their mission to the small boy or to his parents. The lamas have brought personal items of the deceased Dalai Lama to test the boy. Inside the family's rustic. house, they spread these items out on a table and mix them together with newer, fancier versions of each object.

The parents bring in their boy and the disguised lamas invite him to choose "his" belongings -- those which belonged to the thirteenth Dalai Lama. Unprompted, the boy correctly chooses the Dalai Lama's rosary, ritual drum, and walking stick, leaving the more attractive, newer ones on the table. The boy has passed the test: he is the genuine reincarnation of the thirteenth Dalai Lama. Convinced, the lamas prostrate to the boy, and address him as "Kundun," a title of respect for the Tibetan leader.

Buddhists everywhere believe that humans and all other beings die and then are reborn again and again in endless reincarnations, until they reach the state of enlightenment. Enlightenment, or nirvana, is the end of all suffering and the goal of Buddhism. Buddhists believe that enlightenment is reached by developing perfect wisdom and compassion through following the Noble Eightfold Path of correct view, goal, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and meditation.

Siddhartha Gautama, a prince of the Shakya clan that ruled one of the small kingdoms in the Himalayan foothills of northern India in the sixth century B.C., set the example when he renounced palace life and took to the road as a wandering ascetic. After years of fruitless practices, one day the young man sat down on a pile of grass under a large leafy tree by the Naranjana River. He determined not to rise from his seat until he surmounted all craving, thus liberating himself from the need to be reborn again in the physical world. He meditated through the night, resisted all the blandishments and threats of Mara, the lord of death, and as the sun rose, the young man reached enlightenment, thus becoming the Buddha or Enlightened One.

Known as Shakyamuni or the Sage of the Shakyas, the Buddha spent the next forty years traveling around northern India, giving sermons on the way out of suffering, and gaining disciples. He formed a community of monks, and later, an order of nuns, creating the Buddhist sangha of ordained practitioners. As needed, the Buddha came up with rules to ensure the harmony of the sangha, and his disciples codified these as the Vinaya. At age eighty, he died at Kushinagara, giving a final teaching on the impermanence of all beings and things, including the Buddha himself. After his death, the Buddha's disciples carried on the work of the monastic sangha and passed along the Buddha's teachings as the sutras.

After a couple of centuries, Buddhism began to divide into three main approaches, or paths. Much like Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christianity, each path of Buddhism is defined by its religious practice as well as by the geographical areas it came to occupy.

The Theravada, or "Teaching of the Elders," developed out of one of the early Buddhist schools of India, and taught the value of ascetic monastic practice in order to become an arhat, a "worthy one" who has freed him- or herself from all worldly craving and from the endless cycle of birth and death known as samsara. Theravada Buddhism can be traced to the third century B.C. and is found today in the nations of south and Southeast Asia, including Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Burma.

Some early Buddhists criticized a focus on one's own salvation, not explicitly thinking of others, as inherently selfish and dubbed it the Hinayana or "Narrow Path." As an alternative, in the first century B.C. teachers began to present the Mahayana or "Great Path," in which altruism became the path to enlightenment. Mahayana practitioners sought to become bodhisattvas, beings whose every thought, word, and deed was dedicated to saving all beings from suffering. Today, the Mahayana is found in East Asian countries including China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.

The path of the bodhisattva was said to be a sure path to enlightenment, but was also said to take millions of lifetimes to achieve. In the middle of the first millennium A.D., adepts in north and northwestern India came upon a more powerful approach, one they said could bring enlightenment in one lifetime, the Vajrayana, or "Diamond Path." Vajrayana or Tantric practitioners sought to save themselves and all beings by realizing the enlightened qualities in their own cravings and illusions. Indian missionaries brought this supercharged version of the Mahayana over the Himalayas to Tibet beginning in the eighth century.

While all Buddhists believe in rebirth, only in the Himalayas did people come to believe that their highest spiritual teachers consciously chose to return to teach their students, lifetime after lifetime.

According to Vajrayana belief, after death, these teachers were reborn as reincarnate lamas, or tulkus, whose boundless compassion led them to postpone the bliss of enlightenment until all living beings would be liberated as well. The tulku is the Himalayan embodiment of the Mahayana ideal of the bodhisattva, but the tulku system is found in no other branch of Buddhism and in no other major religion. It is unique to Vajrayana Buddhism, and since its origin in the thirteenth century, the tulku ideal has been an important source of power, purity, and authenticity in the Diamond Path.

One practical advantage of the tulku system at its inception was to take politics out of deciding who would lead a monastery after its last leader's death. Previously, in Tibet, powerful aristocratic patrons would use their influence to get one of their sons appointed to lead a monastery. This effectively put the cloisters under the control of local landowners and warlords and made the religious centers subject to the rivalry of competing families. These families involved lamas in their political conflicts and disrupted the monasteries' spiritual work. The tulku system promised to solve this problem. Over eight centuries that followed, reincarnate lamas became the bedrock of Tibetan religion and the foundation of the largest monastic system on earth.

The First Tulku of Tibet

Today, in Tibetan Buddhism, there are hundreds of lamas reputed to be tulkus. The Dalai Lama -- the current incarnation Tenzin Gyatso is the fourteenth of his line -- is the most famous tulku of Tibet. But he and his thirteen predecessors were not the first lamas said to take rebirth intentionally to continue their work as bodhisattvas. The first tulku of Tibet was a lama known as the Karmapa.

In the twelfth century, the first Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa predicted that he would return to teach his students and manage his monastery in his next lifetime. And sure enough, when Dusum Khyenpa died, his students located a boy who showed signs that he was the reincarnation of the Karmapa. The boy was named Karma Pakshi and when he was old enough, he inherited control over the Karmapa's cloister and his activities. From then on, the Karmapa's monastery was relatively free of control by local noble families. Being able to choose their own leader, the Karmapa's lamas became masters of their own destiny.

Impressed by the success of this system, other monasteries copied it as a means to choose their own top lamas. Thus, over a period of a couple centuries, power shifted in Tibet from land-owning families to the lamas. who managed the most powerful monasteries. The most revered tulkus attracted donations and students, developing monastic empires and political power of their own. As tulkus became major political leaders in their regions, lama-rule in Tibet reached its apex. In the late fourteenth century, nearly three centuries after the first Karmapa, the Dalai Lamas would appear. Two centuries after that, in 1642, the fifth Dalai Lama would take over the throne of central Tibet from a dynasty of secular kings.

Outsiders might think that tulkus were always chosen according to set procedures laid down to ensure the accuracy of the result -- that the child located would be the genuine reincarnation of the dead master, as in the scene from the movie Kundun. But in Tibetan history, tulku searches were not always conducted in such a pure way. Because reincarnating lamas inherited great wealth and power from their predecessors they became the center of many political disputes.

Tulkus were often recognized based on non-religious factors. Sometimes monastic officials wanted a child from a powerful local noble family to give their cloister more political clout. Other times, they wanted a child from a lower-class family that would have little leverage to influence the child's upbringing. In yet other situations, the desires of the monastic officials took second place to external politics. A local warlord, the Chinese emperor, or even the Dalai Lama's government in Lhasa might try to impose its choice of tulku on a monastery for political reasons.

Only the strongest monastic administrations had the ability to resist such external pressures, and the Karmapa's monastery was one of these. Sixteen Karmapas were recognized by the Karmapa's own monastery without participation from outsiders. Only in one instance, when the sixteenth Karmapa was recognized in the 19205, did the Tibetan government of the thirteenth Dalai Lama try to intervene in choosing a Karmapa. In that case, as we will see later, the government ultimately had to back down.

When the highest lamas fled Tibet along with nearly a hundred thousand refugees from Chinese rule in 1959, the lamas reestablished their monasteries in exile. The sixteenth Karmapa built the monastery of Rumtek in the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Sikkim, which became a state of India in 1975.

After the sixteenth Karmapa died in 1981, the lamas who ran Rumtek clashed with other lamas from the Karmapa's Karma Kagyu school of Buddhism over finding his reincarnation, the seventeenth Karmapa. In 1992, two high-ranking lamas enthroned a boy of their choosing in Tibet against the wishes of the previous Karmapa's administration at Rumtek. To his credit, this boy had powerful friends and enjoyed the support of the Dalai Lama and, surprisingly, the Chinese government as well. But this was not enough to convince the administration of Rumtek to accept him. So, with the help of local state police and paramilitary forces, the two renegade lamas and their followers took over the monastery in 1993, replaced the administration with their own people, and then proclaimed their boy the new Karmapa.

In response, the lama who had been in control of Rumtek but was ousted in 1993 installed his own boy in India the following year. Thus there came to be two Karmapa candidates, two boys taking their places in a struggle to control the largest school of Tibetan Buddhism that has continued to the present day.

Loyalty vs. Religious Freedom

The dispute over the identity of the Karmapa is a bewildering mix of religion, geopolitics, and infighting among exiled Tibetan lamas. It is a complex story, not easy to untangle from the outside. For outsiders, the story is troubling from the beginning. It shows Tibetan lamas in a very negative light. It also shows Tibetans disagreeing with the Dalai Lama. We are used to hearing the Dalai Lama described as the "spiritual leader of Tibet." Given that, do the claims of the Tibetans who dispute his selection of the Karmapa have any merit? And, if so, should their story affect the way we view the Dalai Lama?

Since the first Dalai Lama appeared, his successors have been the effective leaders of the Gelug, one of the five religious schools of Tibet. [1] Starting in 1642, the Dalai Lamas were also the political rulers of the central provinces of the huge area now called Tibet, an area I will refer to as Central Tibet. This gave the Dalai Lamas a mix of religious and political authority that has been difficult for historians to sort out. Were the Dalai Lamas the recognized leaders of all the religious groups of Tibet? And is the current Dalai Lama the religious leader of all Tibetans today? His supporters say yes. But many Tibetans disagree. They hold that the four religious schools outside of the Dalai Lama's own Gelug governed themselves autonomously back in Tibet -- and that they continue to run their own affairs today, without reference to the authority of the Dalai Lama.

In 1959 the Dalai Lama fled Tibet for exile to India and he took his government ministers with him. Ever since, he and his officials have run an exile government in India whose main goal has been to regain influence in Tibet. Until the late eighties, the Dalai Lama demanded independence for his people from China. After that goal came to seem unattainable, he moderated his demand to autonomy for Tibetans within China. Over nearly half a century living in the free world, the Dalai Lama has learned much about the grim realities of geopolitics. He has also imbibed concepts such as human rights and religious freedom. These ideas were unknown in old Tibet, yet the Dalai Lama has skillfully adopted these modern concepts in his own quest to gain more freedom for Tibetans.

"When we demand the rights and freedoms we so cherish we should also be aware of our responsibilities. If we accept that others have an equal right to peace and happiness as ourselves, do we not have a responsibility to help those in need?" the Dalai Lama asked in a speech at the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993. "The rich diversity of cultures and religions should help to strengthen the fundamental human rights in all communities. Because underlying this diversity are fundamental principles that bind us all as members of the same human family. Diversity and traditions can never justify the violations of human rights." [2]

In perhaps his biggest challenge, the Dalai Lama has had to walk a fine line to maintain his integrity as a Buddhist lama while also running an exile government. As there are chauvinists of Chinese nationalism, or of any other group's attempts to advance itself, so there are chauvinists of Tibetan nationalism. And as there is dissent among any group, so Tibetans in exile hold a range of views on how best to advance Tibetan nationalism and preserve Tibetan Buddhism.

Some exiled Tibetans fear that Tibetan religion will die without a Tibetan national state to actively promote the Tibetan language along with Tibet's distinctive culture and customs. These Tibetans are most likely to argue that Buddhism should serve politics, and that bringing Tibetans together into a coherent, united people is more important than ensuring that the variety of lineages and practices of Tibetan religion can flourish in the contemporary world. For many Tibetans, loyalty to the Dalai Lama effectively trumps religious freedom, though they might not put it so bluntly. Instead, they might speak of "unity" -- how important it is to unify all Tibetans behind the Dalai Lama.

Yet other Tibetans feel that Buddhism can live on in Chinese Tibet as long as there can be a separation of church and state. Still others see a bright future for Buddhism in the world outside of Tibet. In our exploration of the Karmapa issue, we will meet Tibetans and outsiders who embrace each of these views. We will also consider the purpose of Tibetan Buddhism. Important questions arise: Should religion bring all Tibetans together and promote a free Tibet and world peace in general? Or does religion have another purpose, to help people reach their individual happiness through their own faith and diligence, irrespective of race, culture, and language?

Digging up Skeletons

Sometimes Tibetans and their foreign supporters tend to project an image of old Tibet and Tibetan exiles today as relatively free of sectarian strife. This is understandable, since a positive image has gone a long way towards creating worldwide interest in the Tibetan cause, interest that other refugee groups have not been able to garner for themselves. "Unity of the Church is ideally and practically valued in exile, and great efforts are made by the Tibetan (exile) government to display unity, especially through the Private and Information Offices (of the Dalai Lama in India)." [3] Criticisms, whether from Tibetans or outsiders, are often strongly rejected as harmful to the cause of Tibetan unity and thus, of Tibetan freedom and human rights in China.

Many writers have discussed the problems of Tibet under the Chinese and the Tibetan freedom movement that arose in response. Our story is more concerned with how politics within the Tibetan community has affected Buddhism. However much we may sympathize with the Dalai Lama or the plight of the Tibetan people under Chinese rule, we should not be too quick to smooth over serious conflicts among the leading Tibetan lamas themselves.

This book explores the Karmapa controversy as a case study of the corruption that has infected Tibetan Buddhism in-exile, as normal human emotions have been unleashed without the traditional strictures of life in Tibet to restrain them. It is a story of spiritual leaders involved in violence, deceit, murder -- and even litigation. Should this story affect how the world views Tibetan Buddhism?

Tibetan lamas boast that they have passed down an unbroken lineage of oral teachings from Shakyamuni Buddha in the fifth century B.C. to the current day. Thus, Tibetans claim that theirs is perhaps the purest form of Buddhism, having been isolated behind their Himalayan wall from corrupting, modernizing influences well into the twentieth century. But does the shocking history of the Karmapa fight belie this claim? Indeed, considering the corruption that the controversy reveals among the lamas, is it possible that Tibetan Buddhism is rotten to the core? To find out, I made my way to the main scene of the Karmapa controversy over a period of years by a circuitous route.

First, I walked the streets of Lhasa, the ancient capital of Tibet and the holy city of Vajrayana Buddhism, the religion of the Himalayas. There I learned how seamlessly and cozily religion, commerce, and politics have always wrapped every Tibetan from birth until death. The great monasteries of Lhasa, once masters over thousands of acres of fields and hundreds of peasants and herders -- each cloister now a mere shell for tourists, manned by a skeleton crew of show-monks -- showed me how much power the lamas had exerted in old Tibet. The new roads, shops, and military bases of the last four decades showed me how strong the Chinese grip on Tibetan life is today.

Afterwards, in India, I started to Uncover the truth about the controversy over the reincarnation of the Karmapa. I discovered that the version that the Dalai Lama's supporters have told to Westerners was an incomplete story at best. In New Delhi, I toured a Buddhist school that had been attacked to support the Dalai Lama's Karmapa candidate. I learned how Buddhist converts from the United States and Europe had played key roles on both sides of that attack. In the old British hill town of Kalimpong I met the other young man who claimed the title of Karmapa -- not the Dalai Lama's choice. I found that he had an interest in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, the science of black holes, and the film versions of The Lord of the Rings.

I also learned about an investigation that had been conducted by a team of journalists from four Asian countries that revealed the deepest, darkest secret of the whole Karmapa affair. [4] This team had put together a film in the early days of handheld video cameras that documented a covert operation involving the Karmapa, Chinese state security, and perhaps even the American CIA. It would take more than a year to track down the filmmaker, who turned up in Bangkok, and get a copy of this remarkable film.

The Flight of a Karmapa - A Quest For The Mystic Crown, Directed by Yoichi Shimatsu

Finally, I entered the disenchanted kingdom of Sikkim and made my way to the Karmapa's headquarters in exile: Rumtek monastery. For decades, Sikkim was a flash point for border tension between nuclear-armed rivals India and China, and until recently it had been nearly off limits to foreigners. I questioned monks who lived at Rumtek now and those who had left as a result of the dispute over the seventeenth Karmapa. They were helpful, but they knew only a handful of "facts" about the Karmapa dispute, most of them untrue. It was not until I started digging through old newspapers, legal documents, and manifestoes written by both sides in the dispute -- scattered on three continents and all over the Internet -- that the story behind the Karmapa issue slowly emerged.

A volume put out in New Delhi in 1996 detailed a meeting where ordinary monks and Buddhist devotees testified to their experiences before and after the dispute became violent. [5] Their voices spoke with heartbreaking poignancy of betrayal, fear, and loss that was only made bearable by deep religious faith.

A decision by a court in Sikkim revealed the depth of distrust that had developed between high lamas who had been raised together as children under the eye of the previous Karmapa. [6] An affidavit in another case, this time in far-away New Zealand, raised serious questions about the historical claims of the Dalai Lama's candidate. [7] A memoir of a Tibetan general from the eighteenth century painted a picture of sectarian religious conflict in old Tibet as brutal and bigoted as anything from the European Reformation and its bloody wars of religion. [8] Tibetans are not proud of this history, and it is largely unknown to followers of Tibetan Buddhism in the West. But this legacy of conflict remains alive to today's high lamas and to the politicians of the Tibetan exile government of the Dalai Lama.

The main players in this drama are two young men, each claiming to be one of the highest masters in Tibetan Buddhism, and each with a compelling story. But the two boys are not the only characters in this behind-the-scenes tale of religion, politics, violence, and greed. They are surrounded by people with stories as vivid and compelling as their own: the previous incarnation of the Karmapa, who ruled over Rumtek as a jolly autocrat until his death in 1981; his nephew Shamar Rinpoche, whose previous reincarnations were banned by the Tibetan government and who, in his current lifetime, became an amateur attorney, taking the case for Rumtek all the way to the Indian Supreme Court; Tai Situ Rinpoche, the first Tibetan lama to win a Grammy Award and Shamar's ambitious rival for dominance at Rumtek, who brought in hree governments to make the case for his boy; and of course the Dalai Lama, an international celebrity and a presence always in the background at Rumtek.

Surprisingly, all these men, born in the medieval society that was Tibet before 1959 and raised as monks in a rarefied world of butter-lamps, sacred chanting, and mandarin protocol, had become cosmopolitans at ease with adoring foreign devotees from Hong Kong to London, from Biarritz to Beverly Hills. Most of them were used to dealing with, and sometimes manipulating, the international press as well.

Another irony: The principal lamas of Tibetan Buddhism fled from the Chinese occupation of their homeland in 1959. Yet, a couple of decades later, many of them had begun to shuttle back and forth between China and "exile," restoring their monasteries in Tibet and helping to revitalize Buddhism there. The line between enemy and friend began to blur considerably in politics as played by Tibetan lamas.

Buddha's Not Smiling is the anatomy of a crisis. Buddhism, and particularly its Tibetan variety, has begun to spread long, leafy branches out into the West, placing our spiritual landscape under its expanding shadow. But if we dig beneath the topsoil, do we find that its roots are infected with incurable rot? As Buddhism is now the fastest growing major religion in the West, so the Tibetan variety, known as the Vajrayana, has become Buddhism's most popular path. [9] In turn, of the five religious schools of Tibet, the most widespread is the Karma Kagyu, whose leader is the Karmapa. The dispute behind his recognition exposes deep corruption at the heart of Tibetan Buddhism today.

The Chinese Communists tried to destroy the practice of Buddhism in Tibet. But confronted with the stubborn piety of the Tibetan people, the Communists failed. For more than a decade; the battle for Rumtek has raised rancor among supposedly compassionate Tibetan lamas and their students. It has led allegedly non-violent Buddhists to insult, to denounce, and to physically attack each other. Will the lamas, living in exile, now kill off Buddhism themselves, finishing the job that the Chinese started?
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Re: Buddha's Not Smiling: Uncovering Corruption at the Heart

Postby admin » Sun Dec 04, 2016 12:58 am

Chapter 1: Bayonets to Rumtek

This story begins with a violent attack on a Buddhist monastery. It is a scene that could have been replayed hundreds of times in Tibet after the Chinese took full control in 1959. Government officials, soldiers, and police enter the cloister. The officials demand the keys to the main temple, with its huge Buddha statue, a thousand smaller statues, and images of saints and sages painted by the great masters of centuries past. A mob of hundreds of angry local people shouts at the monks. Women beat the monks and try to pull off their red and yellow robes. Police and local bullies herd the monks into the monastery kitchen. There, the bullies and police line the monks up and force them to hold large knives. The police shoot photographs to create a bogus criminal file for each monk.

At gunpoint, officers order the monks to perform prostrations in front of a photograph of a boy-lama. The lama was approved by the government and was supposed to be the reincarnation of a famous lama who died a decade earlier. The leaders of the crowd continue to occupy the monastery. They give the monks three days to sign a statement saying that the boy-lama is their true leader. Afterwards, those who do not sign are thrown out by bullies. The monks have no time to collect their things and find themselves out in the woods with no other possessions than their torn and bloody robes. Some villagers curse and harass them. Others, at great risk to themselves, feed and shelter the hungry, tired monks.

Yes, the scene described above could have happened in occupied Tibet. But in this case, it did not. Shockingly, this drama took place in a free country, India, the very haven to which nearly a hundred thousand Tibetans had fled for safety in 1959.

Nothing in this scene makes sense. The monastery was not in Tibet; it was located in the tiny state of Sikkim nestled among the high peaks and valleys of the eastern Himalayas in India. The government officials who entered the monastery were not Communist cadres. from Lhasa or Beijing; they were appointees of the democratically elected state government of Sikkim. The angry mob was not seeking revenge for centuries of supposed class oppression; its members were dozens of local Buddhist families whose devotion had led them to the monastery for a religious ceremony. The police and soldiers were not crack troops of the People's Liberation Army brought in from faraway areas in China; they were young men from the local community, and many of them were Buddhists.

Perhaps most confusingly -- because this monastery was not in China -- the boy-lama in the photograph was indeed approved by the Communist Chinese government, like so many figurehead lamas in occupied Tibet since 1959. But unlike these lamas, the boy was also approved by the local state government, in India. India is a secular nation, whose constitution guarantees freedom to all religions while prohibiting government interference in spiritual matters. Yet, the local state government had most decidedly interfered at the monastery. The leader of this government was a Hindu. But many of his officials were Buddhists.

Finally, the biggest enigma of all.

The boy-lama was also approved by the Dalai Lama.

What Did the Dalai Lama Know?

The monastery is called Rumtek. It was attacked in August 1993 by supporters of the boy in the photograph. And, to the Dalai Lama, as to the Chinese government and the state government of Sikkim, the boy was one of the highest lamas of Tibetan Buddhism. To his supporters, he was the Karmapa. His name was Ogyen Trinley Dorje.

Normally, the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government agree on very little. But in the case of this boy, they both agreed that not only should he be the head of Rumtek monastery; as the Karmapa, the boy would also lead the particular sect of Tibetan Buddhism -- the largest one worldwide, with two million or more devotees -- which had its headquarters at Rumtek monastery.

To most Tibetans, whether living inside China or in exile, the Dalai Lama embodies their aspirations for national identity. For centuries back in Tibet, the Dalai Lamas were known as the spiritual leaders of Tibet. After the current Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 and even more so after he won the Nobel Peace Prize thirty years later, the exiled high lama has become known worldwide as the moral and spiritual leader of all Tibetans.

So, if the Dalai Lama had recognized the boy, why did it require Sikkimese soldiers and police, and a mob of angry local devotees, to try to make the monks at Rumtek accept the boy in the photograph as the Karmapa? Even then, most of the monks would rather fight than switch, at least figuratively speaking. Clearly, the word of the Dalai Lama, even when backed up with armed force, was not enough to legitimize the boy-lama for the monks of the Karmapa at Rumtek.

The monks insisted that they were loyal to the Dalai Lama. They also said that they had nothing against the boy in the photograph. But they objected, respectfully, that the boy was not recognized as Karmapa by traditional means, and that the Dalai Lama had no right to choose their leader. The monks claimed that the Tibetan exile leader had overstepped his authority in trying to choose a leader for their group. Neither his political role nor his position as a lama in his own Gelug tradition entitled him to choose the Karmapa, who is the leader of a different tradition, known as the Karma Kagyu.

In history, the Karmapas originated nearly three centuries before the Dalai Lamas. The monks said that their own lamas have always chosen the Karmapa without help from the Dalai Lama and the government he led in Tibet until 1959, and in exile ever since. It was thus for eight centuries in Tibet and the monks did not see why things should be any different in exile.

The Case of Dorje Shugden

Outsiders are used to thinking of Tibetans as united in solidarity behind the Dalai Lama on all issues, whether spiritual or political. How could they not be? We know the Tibetan leader for his gentle manner and engaging laughter, his patience and goodwill in the face of overwhelming power, and his generosity in spreading Buddhist teachings on nonviolence and compassion around the world.

But some Tibetans in exile have disagreed with the Dalai Lama on religious matters. The most famous example may be the dispute over worship of the tantric protector deity Dorje Shugden. "A Dharma Protector is an emanation of a Buddha or a Bodhisattva whose main functions are to avert the inner and outer obstacles that prevent practitioners from gaining spiritual realizations, and to arrange all the necessary conditions for their practice," say Dorje Shugden devotees. "In Tibet, every monastery had its own Dharma Protector, but the tradition did not begin in Tibet; the Mahayanists of ancient India also relied upon Dharma Protectors to eliminate hindrances and to fulfill their spiritual wishes." [1] As in practices for other dharma protectors, Shugden worship involves various rituals including chanted liturgies, ritual offerings, and visualizations.

And like other wrathful deities or dharma protectors, Shugden is scary, but with a purpose. "His round yellow hat represents the view of Nagarjuna, and the wisdom sword in his right hand teaches us to sever ignorance, the root of samsara, with the sharp blade of Nagarjuna's view... Dorje Shugden rides a snow lion, the symbol of the four fearlessnesses of a Buddha, and has a jewel-spitting mongoose perched on his left arm, symbolizing his power to bestow wealth on those who put their trust in him ... His wrathful expression indicates that he destroys ignorance, the real enemy of all living beings, by blessing them with great wisdom; and also that he destroys the obstacles of pure Dharma practitioners." [2] Nagarjuna was an Indian philosopher of the second or third century A.D. whose views on Buddhism were influential in Tibet.

Since the sixteenth century, monks in the Dalai Lama's own Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism have performed rituals calling on the fearsome figure of Dorje Shugden to protect their spiritual practice and help them in worldly matters. The current Dalai Lama learned these practices from his junior tutor before fleeing Tibet in 1959. But beginning in 1976, the Tibetan exile leader started to discourage his people from supplicating Shugden, saying in part, that such practice would be harmful to the Nyingma order. Historically, Shugden practice was popular among lamas of the Gelug school ("Yellow Hats") who resisted mixing their school's philosophy and practice with those of other Buddhist schools, particularly the original Buddhism of Tibet, the Nyingma, as a traditional prayer to Shugden shows:

Praise to you, violent god of the Yellow Hat teachings,
Who reduces to particles of dust
Great beings, high officials and ordinary people
Who pollute and corrupt the Gelug doctrine. [3]

In exile; the Dalai Lama has said, all Tibetans need to unite in a common front against the Chinese. Shugden practice could be an obstacle to such unity, as it could alienate followers of schools outside the Gelugpa, particularly the Nyingma. Indeed, lamas of other schools often look cautiously on those who also follow Dorje Shugden, fearing that they might be Gelugpachauvinists. Therefore, on March 7, 1996, the Dalai Lama's exile government in India decreed a ban on Shugden practice. Of course, this writ did not carry the force of law, since India guarantees religious freedom in its constitution. But, like a Papal Bull among followers of the Catholic Church, the Dalai Lama's decree carried weight among Buddhist Tibetans, whenever they resided. After the ban, loyalists to the Dalai Lama echoed their leader in denouncing Shugden practice.

Longtime Shugden followers have denied that their tradition discriminates against the Nyingma or other Tibetan religious traditions. They took the ban as a blow to their religious freedom and the prelude to persecution. "I felt the ground slipping under my feet," said Kundeling Rinpoche (Rinpoche is a title of respect for high lamas), a leading Shugden practitioner. when he heard of the ban while traveling in Europe. "What followed was even more shocking -- the persecution of and propaganda against respected masters of the Dorje Shugden spiritual practice." An Indian reporter concluded that the ban had unleashed a backlash among Tibetans in exile. "Not only was Shugden worship forbidden by the Dalai Lama," the reporter wrote, "Shugden followers were subjected to a witch-hunt that has been well documented in the international media. The German television program 'Panorama' and the Swiss '10 Vor 10' have documented the human rights abuses by the Dalai Lama's administration -- the violence and even death threats against the practitioners of this particular Buddhist tradition and their ostracism." [4]

Another prominent Gelugpa lama practicing Dorje Shugden, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, moved to England in 1977 and started his own organization, the New Kadampa Tradition, which developed a significant following among Westerners. In 1996, when the Dalai Lama banned Shugden practice, the New Kadampa broke off from the Dalai Lama's leadership and began to protest against the ban. Since then, on at least one occasion, the group was able to muster a large crowd of Westerners in monk's robes to protest at Heathrow airport when the Dalai Lama flew into London.

The Karmapa Controversy

Unlike the dispute over Dorje Shugden, which has seen news articles examining both sides of the Dalai Lama's ban, few writers outside of India have seriously investigated the dispute over the identity of the current Karmapa. The four books published in 2003 and 2004 on the Karmapa have all supported the boy chosen by the Dalai Lama without questioning the basic assumption of the Tibetan leader's position -- namely, that he has the authority to choose the Karmapa. This has prevented these writers from paying enough attention to the most dramatic events of the controversy, particularly the violent takeover of the Karmapa's Rumtek monastery in 1993.

The Karmapa story can be confusing, and it is difficult to find the facts buried in the mountains of rhetoric built by each side in the controversy. In general, Western journalists tend to rely on one main source for information and analysis about Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Laina himself. In the case of the Karmapa controversy, faced with the daunting task of understanding Tibetan religious politics and sectarian rivalries, it is understandable that writers would seek clarity from a trusted source. As a result, many have allowed themselves to be guided by the Dalai Lama's press office on the complex issue.

While this has simplified research for reporters, relying on the Dalai Lama's administration for information about the Karmapa has prevented writers from getting the full story, for one simple reason. In this particular case, the Dalai Lama is not an impartial arbiter of a dispute among two groups of Tibetan lamas. Instead, as in the ban on Dorje Shugden, the Tibetan leader is a party himself to the dispute, since he has given his official support to one of the candidates for the position of seventeenth Karmapa.

The Tibetan leader's word has been sufficient evidence for many writers outside of India to declare the controversy dead. If the Dalai Lama has recognized one boy as the Karmapa, then what need of further discussion? Surely, the lamas who persist in supporting the other boy, known as Trinley Thaye Dorje, must have little merit to their case. Accordingly, hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles published in the West, along with the four recent hooks, have accepted Ogyen Trinley as the Karmapa. Though writers often cite other reasons, their primary rationale for accepting the one candidate over the other is usually that the Dalai Lama has recognized him.

Yet, in India, where most exiled Tibetans live, the controversy continues to rage. Interestingly, the Indian press has accorded credence to both Karmapa candidates. This book will examine press coverage of various events in the Karmapa story to highlight the contrast between Indian and Western reporting. This may encourage us to question the accuracy of the information that we in the West have received about Tibetan Buddhism in general.

To further highlight the difference between opinion in India and in the West on the Karmapa, the Indian government has shown suspicion of the Dalai Lama's candidate Ogyen Trinley, restricting his travels and limiting what his chief supporter in the Karma Kagyu, Tai Situ Rinpoche, can say about the controversy.

Meanwhile, the other Karmapa candidate Thaye Dorje has been able to travel freely in India and abroad. And after lamas involved in the dispute began to bring cases to the Indian court system, particularly in a property rights suit over Rumtek monastery filed by Thaye Dorje's supporters, judges have mostly ruled in favor of Thaye Dorje's party. If anything, opinion in India, both official and unofficial, appears to be running in favor of Thaye Dorje over the Dalai Lama's choice Ogyen Trinley. The important exception is Sikkim, where, as we will see, Rumtek monastery is located and where Ogyen Trinley enjoys significant support among leading families and in the local press.

The Dalai Lama's main rival on the Karmapa issue, Shamar Rinpoche, agrees with the followers of Dorje Shugden that there is a problem of religious freedom among exiled Tibetans. "The Dalai Lama asks that Tibetans have religious freedom in China," Shamar told me, "but unfortunately, His Holiness has not respected the religious freedom of Tibetans in exile to follow the traditions of their own religious lineages." Yet, Shamar has resisted allying himself with the advocates for Dorje Shugden, since he is uncomfortable with their high-profile and often acrimonious protests against the Dalai Lama. "I have always supported His Holiness Dalai Lama in every way, on freedom for Tibet, on spreading Buddhism around the world, and on human rights," Shamar said. "Only on one issue do I disagree with the Dalai Lama: choosing the reincarnation of the Karmapa."

Born in 1952, Shamar is the fourteenth incarnation in a line of tulkus going back to the thirteenth century. The first Shamarpa Drakpa Sengye (1283-1349) was a student of the third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje (1284-1339). For the next ten centuries, the Karmapa and Shamarpa worked as a team, one often recognizing the incarnations of the other. Their partnership was enshrined in parallel titles, based on the color of the identical ceremonial miters each lama wore: The Black Hat Karmapa (Karmapa) and the Red Hat Karmapa (Shamarpa).

The Shamarpas suffered an unusual setback to their line in the eighteenth century, when in the wake of a war between Tibet and Nepal, the Chinese emperor and the Dalai Lama's government blamed Shamar for the hostilities and imposed a bizarre punishment: an official ban on his future incarnations. This meant that Shamarpas could only reincarnate in secret until the ban expired with the demise of the government of Central Tibet in 1959.

The current Shamar is. the nephew of the sixteenth Karmapa and was raised by the Karma Kagyu leader at Rumtek monastery in the sixties and seventies. He managed Rumtek until 1993, when supporters of Ogyen Trinley took over. Since then, Shamar has led the remaining officials of the sixteenth Karmapa's administration in court battles and publicity campaigns in India to try to regain the monastery.

Unlike Shugden advocates, Shamar has kept a low profile outside of the Himalayas. Though he is one of the highest reincarnate lamas of Tibet, most outsiders who follow Tibetan Buddhism probably would not recognize his name. However, journalists sympathetic to the Dalai Lama do know Shamar, and they have criticized him strongly. Three of the four books published about the Karmapa in 2003 and 2004 discuss the controversy (the other one is a biography of Ogyen Trinley), and all three books criticize Shamar for standing in the way of Ogyen Trinley taking his rightful place as seventeenth Karmapa.

Jeffery Paine, himself an author of a book on Tibetan Buddhism, summed up the perspective of this group of writers in the Washington Post in 2004. Paine noted that Shamar is the lama who all the recent books on the Karmapa portray as "doing the Tibetan cause harm in order to secure the profits from the Karmapa's holdings for himself." [5] This is a strong charge, and Paine said that he hoped it was not true. To see for ourselves, it is necessary to go beyond the books already published on the Karmapa issue. The Karmapa's property was actually held by a legal trust, not by Shamar personally. Indeed, this trust would later sue Tai Situ himself for illegally taking over the Karmapa's property, just the opposite of what the books mentioned by Paine claim.

Why Does Shamar Fight?

Does Shamar deserve this criticism? Has he acted improperly as his critics allege? Or, as he claims, has he defended the integrity of the office of the Karmapa and the purity of the Karma Kagyu lineage as was the duty of the Shamarpa, at risk to his reputation and even to his personal safety? Is he fit to recognize the seventeenth Karmapa? This book will examine his actions as well as his views as a way to understand the Karmapa controversy and corruption in Tibetan Buddhism. Without Shamar to oppose the Dalai Lama's candidate, there would be no Karmapa controversy, so understanding Shamar's motives is crucial. Therefore, we will hear from him many times throughout our investigation.

Here, let us begin with the basic issue of the Karmapa controversy: If the Dalai Lama has chosen the Karmapa already, why does Shamar insist on opposing him?

"I believe that the Karma Kagyu should be able to choose its own spiritual leader in the traditional way," Shamar told me. "Ogyen Trinley was not chosen the way the Karmapa should have been, but through political interference from the Tibetan exile government of the Dalai Lama, the government of China, and many others. All the other religious schools of Tibet are able to choose their leaders on their own. Why can't we choose ours? His Holiness Dalai Lama is putting politics before religion in this case.

"Because his devotees in foreign countries are not in the habit of questioning his actions, they support His Holiness Dalai Lama in this case. I call such followers 'package believers.' They follow the Dalai Lama because he is a Buddhist teacher and leader of Tibetans, so that is all they need to know. They just accept the whole package without investigating for themselves whether what His Holiness does is really right in this case. For example, if I had a house, and the Dalai Lama wanted to take it for himself, these package believers among his devotees would say that I am wrong to protect my property or even to complain, and that he is right to take it.

"I understand when Tibetans feel this way; their livelihood may depend on being on good terms with the Tibetan exile administration in India. Maybe they would lose their job if they questioned the Dalai Lama's right to choose the Karmapa. But for people around the world, this is an unhealthy development in Buddhism. If one man is so admired around the world that he can do anything he wants without fair scrutiny, then he is effectively a dictator. There is no oversight. And, if the Karma Kagyu school cannot choose its own leader, does this set a precedent for the other religious schools of Tibet? Will the Dalai Lama choose their leaders too?"

To outsiders, this may seem like strong language for a Tibetan lama to use to describe the man who is perhaps the world's most revered spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. At this point, perhaps it is best to keep an open mind. Later, we will have the chance to place Shamar's criticism in context as we learn how he has acted in the course of the Karmapa dispute.

For now, let us consider Shamar's main premise, as he explains it: "Dharma is about thinking for yourself. It is not about automatically following a teacher in all things, no matter how respected that teacher may be. More than anyone else, Buddhists should respect other people's rights -- their human rights and their religious freedom."
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Re: Buddha's Not Smiling: Uncovering Corruption at the Heart

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Chapter 2: The Place of Power

A Cloister of Ghosts

I had mixed feelings about going to Rumtek, the exile monastery of the Karmapas, in October 2004. I knew that in the sixties and seventies, Rumtek had been the functioning headquarters of the Karma Kagyu. Then, the sixteenth Karmapa had set the tone. Some recent visitors have reported that Rumtek remains a place of great activity. "That Rumtek is an active, living monastery is immediately apparent," Australian novelist Gaby Naher wrote after her visit in October 2003. [1]

According to the current Rumtek management, the monastery is a bustling place of religious activity. [2] One hundred and fifty monks rise at five o'clock in the morning daily to memorize Buddhist texts; study Tibetan and English; learn to make ritual offerings known as torma or play musical instruments; and perform tantric ritual ceremonies. Students at the monk's college regularly study the Kangyur and Tengyur, respectively, the scriptures and traditional commentaries of the Buddhist canon. At special times in the year, the Rumtek monks celebrate festivals including Losar, the Tibetan new year; the Buddha's birthday (when they recite one hundred million mantras); and the Yarney, the summer rainy season retreat. The monks also perform a ceremony on June 26 of each year -- Karmapa candidate Ogyen Trinley's birthday -- beseeching him to live a long life for the benefit of his students and all sentient beings.

But lamas who lived at Rumtek before the monastery changed hands in 1993 told me a different story. They said that after the takeover, the school has operated only sporadically and that monks' discipline has become lax. They claimed that many monks stayed on at Rumtek just for free room and board. They warned me that the monastery had "lost its blessing" and had become desanctified due to the misdeeds of its new management.

For an outsider, if this were true, what would it feel like? Would the monastery seem like a government office where employees suffer their shifts in sullen silence, their eyes on the clock for quitting time? Or would it be more like a Sunday school run by a den of thieves, with clerical robes covering powerful physiques and a hint of back-room nastiness?

I thought that it was possible that the warnings I had received about Rumtek were exaggerated. I did not imagine that the monastery would be managed by local thugs running a floating mahjong game in a secret room behind the altar. Could a Tibetan monastery in India really be so bad? At least the monks there were safely out of Chinese control and could live free of government restrictions or influence. Surely, they would be engaged in the traditional activities of a Buddhist cloister in a free country. They would be performing ancient rituals, studying scripture, and teaching each other the sublime philosophy of Shakyamuni Buddha, the way to end all suffering for all beings for all time. Even if this was done amateurishly, or without much school spirit, I could not imagine how it would be bad.

Yet, the notion of "blessing" being present or absent nagged at me. I wondered how much of the grandeur of the late Karmapa's reign remained at the monastery he built. To find out, I made the trip into Sikkim with Harrison Pemberton, an American philosophy professor.

A Kingdom Disenchanted

We entered Sikkim through the town of Rangpo, coming up from West Bengal. Sikkim is India's second-smallest state, larger than Rhode Island but smaller than Connecticut and with a population of about half a million. At a couple of tourist offices just over the state line, we arranged for the permit that all foreigners need to enter the former Buddhist kingdom.

Only in 2005, a year after our visit and thirty years after India annexed Sikkim in 1975, did India's northern neighbor China officially recognize that the place was legally a state of India. To signify this, before 2005, Chinese maps continued to depict an independent Sikkim. China's attitude made the Indians nervous about who entered the state. Indeed, after fighting two border wars with China in the sixties, the Indians still consider all the states along the line of the Himalayas to be sensitive for national defense, and they like to monitor and limit foreign visitors, to keep out spies or agents provocateurs.

The Indians had good reason to be nervous. In the sixties, the Indian army clashed with the Chinese in the Chumbi Valley, just a few dozen miles from Rumtek. The military restricted access to the whole area and tourists could only visit Sikkim for a few days after obtaining a special permit. In the last few years, as tensions with China have decreased, the government has relaxed its restrictions. Today tourists can easily visit Sikkim for a couple of weeks with a free pass granted in a few minutes at the state line. But India still keeps a close eye on threats to its peaceful control of Sikkim, foreign and domestic.

Once inside Sikkim most travelers to Rumtek pass through the state capital Gangtok. Disappointingly for the visitor, the town's traditional mountain architecture has mostly given way to gimcrack concrete boxes built in the seventies and eighties. Yet, the otherwise charmless city of 50,000 at an elevation of 5,480 feet is notable not only for its spectacular views over the steep valley of the Rangit River, but also for its cleanliness.

In an attempt to win the hearts and minds of the Sikkimese after annexation, the Indian government has lavished subsidies on the local administration and tax breaks on businesses. This has given Sikkim, which competes with the neighboring kingdom of Bhutan for the tourist slogan "the Switzerland of the Himalayas," a prosperous feel missing in the areas of India and Nepal that also border it. Gangtok, like other towns in Sikkim, boasts newly paved streets with sidewalks, spacious shops, and a conspicuous absence of street-people and beggars.

From Gangtok, the drive to Rumtek takes about forty-five minutes on steep, winding roads in reasonably good repair by Indian standards. Like the main highway connecting Sikkim with the rest of India, most local roads in Sikkim also benefit from generous support by the Indian central government. This creates jobs and keeps Sikkimese drivers happy, perhaps buying some loyalty for India. But New Delhi also views good mountain roads as part of its military deterrent near the contested frontier with China. India makes it clear that it can speed troops and equipment into defensive positions along the Sikkimese-Tibetan border on a few hours' notice.

Approaching the Stronghold

Arriving from the capital, the tiny hamlet of Rumtek lay just outside the monastery. There we saw Tibetan restaurants offering mamas (dumplings) and thukpa (thick meat and noodle soup) at low prices even for India, along with modest guest houses and gift shops selling film and curios. As in Gangtok, many shops sported oval window decals picturing Ogyen Trinley with the Dalai Lama, calling on the Indian government to let the Karmapa go to Rumtek. "To the locals," Gaby Naher wrote in her book on the Karmapa after seeing these stickers, "or so it seems, the Karmapa is the closest thing to a local hero cum Hollywood star they have." [3]

Yet, it was clear that not everyone was a member of the young lama's fan club. The decals were conspicuously absent from other shops, showing a continued schism in the village. Some of the houses had new tin roofs, while others had roofs covered in rust. We learned that the new roofs were purchased by supporters of Ogyen Trinley, with money they had received from the Rokpa Trust of Switzerland. Rokpa, a two-million-dollar charity, was founded in the 1980s by Akong Rinpoche and run by Akong's student Lea Weiler, a former actress in Switzerland. In late 1991, a year and a half before the takeover of Rumtek, Rokpa began distributing monthly payments to sponsor families in the village as well as monks in the monastery, according to monks living at Rumtek at the time.

The bringer of this largesse, Akong Rinpoche, was recognized as the second incarnation of a ngakpa, or lay tantric practitioner, from a small village temple in eastern Tibet. In the sixties, Akong worked at a school for Tibetan lamas in New Delhi set up by the Englishwoman Frieda Bedi, who would later become a nun at Rumtek under the name Gelongma Palmo. One of the students at the school was Chogyam Trungpa, with whom Akong developed a friendship. Later, Akong became Trungpa's attendant, and accompanied Trungpa to England when he received a scholarship to Oxford in 1963.

Afterwards, the two remained in the United Kingdom and founded the Samye Ling Tibetan Center in Scotland in 1967. After a falling out with Akong in the late sixties, Trungpa left for the United States in 1970, leaving Akong in charge at Samye Ling. In the seventies, Akong became close to Tai Situ, the third-ranking Karma Kagyu lama and a dynamic, ambitious leader. In the eighties, Akong served as Situ's representative in China.

The Rokpa payments were welcomed at Rumtek but they came with strings attached. Akong made it clear that the recipients were to be prepared to help Situ Rinpoche in the future. When the time came to take sides in the Karmapa controversy, families and monks who did not support Situ's Karmapa candidate Ogyen Trinley were cut off.

From the village, we entered the Rumtek complex. Like a medieval stronghold, the seventy-five-acre compound had two thick walls and two entrance gates. The inner wall surrounded the monastery proper. forming a courtyard around the main temple, topped by the residence of the sixteenth Karmapa. Behind was the shedra, or monk's college. Up the hill was an isolated building for monks to perform the traditional closed retreat of three years, three months, three weeks, and three days. Polite guards, on loan from the Archeological Survey of India, patrolled the grounds and, at the end of the path, ran a metal detector at the entrance to the main courtyard. We noted a couple dozen guards in all parts of the monastery. Perhaps the security would not have met the standards of Washington Dulles or London Heathrow airports, and if a visitor wanted to smuggle in equipment for mischief he could probably do so without too much ingenuity.

But we were not used to seeing monasteries in India with metal-detectors or armed guards of any kind. We wondered who the guards were trying to protect from whom? "They were trying to stop the monks from burning down the monastery," Shamar Rinpoche later told us. Since Shamar and the late Karmapa's monks had been kicked out of the monastery eleven years earlier by some of those same monks we saw at Rumtek. we would have taken his opinion with a grain of salt, had we not seen for ourselves how the monks at Rumtek now appeared to live. Near the front gate was the monastery's administrative office. It was locked and empty. Was this where Gyaltsab Rinpoche, the lama in charge of Rumtek for the past ten years, was supposed to work? Gyaltsab is one of the highest reincarnate lamas in the Karma Kagyu, and one of the major players in the Karmapa dispute. Two of his earlier incarnations who lived in the seventeenth century had official roles as regents of the Karmapa's monastery at Tsurphu near Lhasa, and gyaltsab means "regent" in Tibetan. But subsequent incarnations had no administrative role at the Karmapa's monastery until the current twelfth Gyaltsab. born in 1954, took over in 1993 from the administration that had run the monastery since the sixteenth Karmapa's death in 1981. When the sixteenth Karmapa moved his seat from Tsurphu in Tibet to Rumtek in Sikkim, he made an arrangement to manage the monastery after his death. In 1962, a group of families who accompanied the Karmapa from Tibet collected 2.5 million Indian rupees (about $525,000) as a donation for the Karmapa to apply towards construction of Rumtek and his other activities. On the advice of his disciples active in the Gangtok business community, to safeguard these funds, the Karmapa put them into a legal trust. In order to form the group under Indian law, the Karmapa signed the original title deed for the Karmapa Charitable Trust at New Delhi's diplomatic mission to the still independent kingdom of Sikkim.

Though not specifically written with Tibetan lamas in mind, Indian law contains a provision for "charitable trusts" that allows reincarnate lamas to safeguard their assets in the period between their death and the time when their reincarnation reaches age twenty- one. The sixteenth Karmapa established the registered office of his trust at the Calcutta residence of Ashok Chand Burman, an Indian industrialist and devotee. The Karmapa himself was the sole trustee, and he appointed seven laymen to the trust's board, including Burman and the two top Rumtek secretaries at the time, Damchoe Yongdu and the Karmapa's nineteen-year-old nephew Topga Rinpoche.

Originally the trust board consisted solely of laymen, but in the 1980s Shamar and two of the highest ranking Karma Kagyu lamas, Tai Situ and Jamgon Kongtrul, joined the group to replace members who had died or resigned. The Karmapa Trust ran Rumtek until the monastery changed management in 1993 and the Trust was evicted from its office on the monastery grounds.

After 1993, for a brief period Tai Situ Rinpoche ran the monastery together with Gyaltsab Rinpoche, until the Indian government banned Situ from reentering India on national security grounds in August 1994. The ban was the culmination of a decade-long Indian intelligence investigation of Tai Situ's activities in China, which I will discuss in more detail later in the book. With Situ gone, Gyaltsab took charge at Rumtek. In 1998, the Karmapa Trust launched a court battle to regain control of Rumtek. Gyaltsab represented Ogyen Trinley's followers in the case, and for several years claimed that he spoke for the Karmapa's labrang, or monastic administration.

Traditionally in Tibet, monastic labrangs were fiercely independent. The Karmapa, Shamar, Tai Situ, and Gyaltsab all had separate labrangs, run as their own monastic corporations (though Shamar's was disbanded in 1792 as punishment by the government of Central Tibet, as we will see in chapter 7). Each lama lived at his own monastery rather than at the monastery of the Karmapa. In exile, each lama kept his labrang. But, in a break with traditional practice, the sixteenth Karmapa invited several high lamas to live at Rumtek for a period as children instead of being raised by their own labrangs at their own monasteries. In exile, these child-lamas did not yet have their own monasteries, and the Karmapa hoped that raising them at Rumtek would provide them with the qualifications -- tantric empowerments given by the Karmapa himself -- and valuable personal contacts to help the young lamas succeed in the future.

Gyaltsab Rinpoche was one of these lamas, and he moved out of Rumtek in the 1980s to establish his own monastery. He paid occasional visits to Rumtek in the late eighties and early nineties, but he only returned to live at the monastery in 1993, after he and Situ took over the cloister. Recently, Gyaltsab has distanced himself from the monastery's management. Lawyers for the Karmapa Trust surmise that Gyaltsab may be worried that if valuables are found to be missing from Rumtek in the futute, he could be held responsible in court. For whatever reason, recently he officially retracted an earlier claim that the Gyaltsabs were traditionally part of the Karmapa's labrang. But according to the monks living at Rumtek when we visited, Gyaltsab was still supposed to be in charge at the monastery.

We asked about Gyaltsab, but monks told us he wasn't living at Rumtek. They said he had his own monastery at Ralang, a four-hour jeep drive away. Did Gyaltsab Rinpoche come to Rumtek much? The monks said no, he has his own monastery, "Rumtek is for the Karmapa." Who was running Rumtek, then? The monks couldn't say, they just repeated that Rumtek was the Karmapa's monastery. But since neither Karmapa candidate has been allowed to take control of Rumtek or even visit the monastery (New Delhi has banned Orgyen Trinley from Sikkim; Thaye Dorje's status is unclear, but he has not tried to enter the state), we wondered if anyone was really in charge, or if the cloister was sailing aimlessly into perhaps dangerous waters, a ship without a captain?

Inside the front gate, we entered a large dusty courtyard. Monks' cells formed its perimeter, and many of their windows featured the oval decals seen in Gangtok and in the village featuring Ogyen Trinley with the Dalai Lama. We thought that the stickers indicated a politicization of the monastery that probably would not have sat well with the late sixteenth Karmapa, who took a dim view of lama politicking in general.

But when we visited Rumtek, sectarian politics seemed to be a higher priority than facilities maintenance. We did not have to look hard to see large patches of peeling paint and brown stains on the walls from water seepage and mold. Some of the window panes in the monks' rooms were cracked or shattered. We climbed up to the walkway on the roof of the monks' rooms, overlooking the courtyard. On the roof was a butterlamp sheet It also had broken windows, and its corrugated iron roof was riddled with holes from rust. Next to the shed was a building listed on the map as a VIP Gallery. The dust on its half-built cinder-block walls indicated that it had been under construction for some time.

From the roof, we observed the courtyard at mid-morning. Dozens of monks loitered in the sun, and few appeared to be engaged in religious activity of any kind. At other monasteries, we were used to seeing young monks practicing debate. Tibetan monastic debate is an intellectual contest with an athletic component that makes it very photogenic. One monk stands while his opponent is seated. When the standing monk makes a point, offering, for example, a proof that "all beings have Buddha nature," he will slide his right hand over his left, almost taunting his opponent, as if to say "ha!" But there were no monks debating at Rumtek when we visited.

We were also used to monks poring over the long pages of pechas, loose-leaf books of rectangular pages printed on wooden blocks with scripture or ceremonies in Tibetan. But at Rumtek, there were no pecha books in evidence. The younger monks sat in small groups on the dusty concrete veranda in front of their rooms. The boys giggled and seemed to tease each other. The teenagers appeared more somber, quietly talking. Stern-faced adult monks leisurely crossed the courtyard, occasionally stopping to bark at a group of young monks, apparently not in any hurry to transact their daily business.

An ornate temple stood at the center of the courtyard. Unlike the other buildings in the courtyard, the temple exterior was freshly painted and scrubbed. Inside was a cavernous shrine room with seats for the monastic sangha, or monk's body, a giant golden Buddha in front, and ritual items all around. One thousand smaller Buddha statues occupied shelves near the altar. The shrine room was free of political decals, and appeared to be preserved well as a sacred space. An eight- or ten-year-old monk ushered us in to make a circuit clockwise around the room. Silk costumes for the "lama dances," ritual plays put on by the monks as part of the liturgical calendar, were draped over some thrones against the left wall.

A throne in the center of the room held a large framed photograph of Ogyen Trinley, dressed in the traditional silks of the Karmapa. Behind, on the altar, leaned two smaller portraits of the Dalai Lama. Until Ogyen Trinley's supporters gained control of Rumtek, portraits of the Dalai Lama, for centuries head of the government of Central Tibet but not a member of the Karma Kagyu school, had never been displayed at the Karmapa's monastery.

Above the shrine room sat the quarters of the sixteenth Karmapa, with a golden roof. It was not open to the public, but we could see from the ground, and from the roof on top of the monks' rooms, that it was a large suite of rooms offering a panoramic view of the monastery grounds. The exterior was plated liberally in gold and it shone brilliantly in the clear Himalayan sun. There, the sixteenth Karmapa lived until his death in 1981, though he traveled a great deal in his later years.

We then left the main monastery area, passing through a door manned by Indian guards, and out towards the Nalanda Institute, the monk's school. In a grassy area in front of the gate to the school, a couple of monks teased a young cowherd, kicking clods of dirt at him and laughing. The large modern building, perhaps five floors high, abutted a hillside. Though it was October, school was not in session, and the classrooms and offices were empty. The only monks in the area were three solidly-built men in their early twenties who sat on the school's front steps and glared at us in an unscholarly way.

Finally, we went to see the famous Golden Srupa, a traditional Tibetan pagoda holding the cremation relics of the sixteenth Karmapa. It took about an hour to find a monk in his fifties with the authority to ask the Indian guard at the entrance to the stupa-chamber to unlock the door. The monk ushered us into a dark hallway, and then, through another door, to the room with the stupa itself. A glass wall separated the stupa from a small area where another, younger monk sold maps and postcards. The older monk unlocked the glass door, and moved us into the stupa area. At his urging, we jogged once around the stupa, and then back out the glass door.

That was it. Twenty seconds and one athletic circumambulation were all that we were allowed with the Golden Stupa of the sixteenth Karmapa. We bought a map and some postcards and then made our way outside.

A City on a Hill

Apparently, it was not always like this at Rumtek. When the sixteenth Karmapa led the Karma Kagyu lamas out of Tibet in 1959, his first priority was to preserve the teachings of his school for future generations. He founded three main institutions at Rumtek, operating on a single campus, like other monasteries in the Tibetan tradition, but on a larger scale than at any other Cloister established in exile at the time.

The first was the monastery proper, with a main temple for performing ceremonies and quarters for more than two hundred monks. Here the Karmapa gave the principal tantric empowerments -- ceremonies preliminary to starting a Vajrayana ritual practice -- of the Karma Kagyu to monks and lay people alike, and the monks' community regularly performed the pujas, or worship ceremonies of the Karma Kagyu liturgy. They invoked the wrathful deity Mahakala to protect the lineage, the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara to help all beings live with compassion, and other figures of the mystical Vajrayana pantheon, each bringing a particular spiritual benefit to the local community of devotees and to all living beings.

Among Tibetan monasteries in exile, Rumtek had a reputation in the Karmapa's time for a high standard of discipline. Its monks were expected to adhere to their vows, particularly those relating to chastity, which were not well enforced at some other cloisters.

The second main facility at Rumtek was the shedra, or monks' school, known as the Nalanda Institute. There monks studied the traditional Eight reat Treatises that the eighth Karmapa Mikyo Dorje established in the sixteenth century as the Karma Kagyu philosophical curriculum. These treasured books covered the subjects. of the Madhyamaka (philosophy of the "middle way" between realism and nihilism); the Prajnaparamita (the supreme wisdom of shunyata or openness); the Vinaya (rules for ethical living); the Abhidharma (higher logic), the Buddhist theory of perception; and the philosophy of Buddhist tantra expounded by ancient Indian pandits. The institute's day began at four o'clock in the morning and continued until about ten at night, six days a week for a challenging nine-year course of studies.

Khenpo Chodrak Tenphel Rinpoche was the head teacher at the school and the abbot of Rumtek from the mid-1970s until supporters of Ogyen Trinley took over the monastery in 1993. Now in his late fifties, Chodrak is one of the ranking scholars of the Karma Kagyu. He is also a distant relative of the late sixteenth Karmapa, and thus of Shamar Rinpoche as well. Ever since the takeover, Chodrak has been based in New Delhi, at the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute (KlBl), a school set up to help students mostly from Europe, the Americas, and eastern Asia study the classic texts of the Karma Kagyu tradition in translation. When he is not at KlBI, Chodrak travels to dharma centers around the world that are loyal to Shamar Rinpoche. He is usually accompanied by his interpreter of two decades, a Swedish devotee named Anne Ekselius.

Chodrak remembers the monk's school at Rumtek when he was in charge. "For all those years, until 1992, the Nalanda Institute functioned very well. Every year our students went for sixweeks to three major Gelugpa institutes of learning reestablished in exile, Sera, Drepung, and Ganden. in order to debate and exchange views. The Nalanda Institute in Rumtek had a very good reputation as a center for higher Buddhist studies." [4] Among lamas, the educated logicians of the Dalai Lama's Gelug school, known as geshes, are considered some of the most formidable debaters of the Tibetan tradition.

From the early 1970s through 1993 a total of twenty-eight students graduated with the degree of khenpo, equivalent to a Ph.D. or doctor of divinity. Most of these students went on to teach Buddhist philosophy in India or abroad.

The last component of the Rumtek complex was the Samten Yi Wang Ling retreat center. Isolated from the other buildings at Rumtek, here monks performed the traditional long Tibetan meditation retreat. Retreatants would enter as a class of sixteen or seventeen monks and complete their days together, which were even longer than those of the shedra monks. Seven days a week the retreat center program began at three o'clock in the morning and concluded at eleven at night.

The program focused on realizing meditative power through a deep connection between body and mind, and sleep deprivation was a part of the training. Monks spent every night sitting up in wooden meditation boxes, yielding a light sleep considered ideal for the meditation practice of dream yoga, or lucid dreaming. The monks starred their retreat with the Ngondro, four preliminary practices to prepare them for higher meditations. Then they learned various tantric visualization pujas -- Dorje Phagmo, Khorlo Demchog, and Gyalwa Gyamtso -- along with the Six Yogas of Naropa. After completing a retreat, monks would preach and perform pujas. Like the shedra graduates, retreat lamas worked both in India and abroad.

Foreigners at Rumtek

The three main components of Rumtek, the monastery. the shedra, and the retreat center, drew monks from all over the Himalayas and other parts of Asia to practice and study Buddhism under the sixteenth Karmapa. It was difficult for foreigners to visit during the seventies and eighties as a result of first Sikkimese and then Indian government security restrictions in Sikkim, but those who did get one of the coveted Sikkimese visas or Indian permits and. managed to reach Rumtek express an abiding awe at the scale of activity under the Karmapa's benevolent dictatorship.

Ole and Hannah Nydahl were two of the first Westerners to visit Rumtek and become students of the sixteenth Karmapa. The Danish couple met the sixteenth Karmapa in Kathmandu in the late sixties. Beginning in the early 1970s with a single dharma center in Copenhagen, where they hosted the Dalai Lama on his first visit to Europe, the Nydahls have founded a network of more than four hundred Diamond Way Buddhist centers around the world.

A staunch partisan of Shamar, Ole Nydahl has been a lightning rod for controversy, criticized by followers of Ogyen Trinley for his flamboyant style of Buddhist preaching and for his unconventional personal life. Ole is a tall, fit man in his sixties with a blond buzz-cut that gives him the look of a Teutonic action hero. His energy comes out in his charismatic, vernacular teaching style, a frenetic schedule of world travel, and a fondness for extreme sports. It took him months to recover from a near fatal skydiving accident in 2003.

"His was an overpowering 'love bomb' approach," wrote Lea Terhune in Karmapa: The Politics of Reincarnation, "with whiff of the con artist about it, but his warm and friendly energy often neutralized negative perceptions of his character." [5]

Whatever Terhune and other Westerners who knew Ole Nydahl thought of him, it is clear that the sixteenth Karmapa placed great trust in the Nydahls and had a special, close relationship with Ole in particular. For his part, Ole Nydahl has credited the Karmapa with reforming him from a boxer and casual marijuana dealer into a devoted, if unconventional, student and teacher of Buddhism. In the late sixties, Ole Nydahl was a short-tempered street-fighter from Copenhagen who had gotten into buying hashish in Nepal and selling it back home in Denmark. Shamar told me the story of how the Nydahls, in Nepal on one of their supply expeditions, first met the sixteenth Karmapa in Kathmandu in 1969.

"Hippies from the West flooded into Kathmandu. Nepali traders brought all kinds of Tibetan goods from Lhasa and were selling them in Kathmandu, especially clothing. So we used to see hippie women wearing men's lama robes and hippie men wearing a Tibetan women's chuba. They were smoking a lot of marijuana. Among them one young man and young girl wearing jackets and strange-looking canteens from Afghanistan always came to the top of our monastery on Swayambhu hill, where many people were waiting. The woman did not talk much but the man was a big, smiling man who shook hands with everybody. He squeezed their hands hard and people screamed. This couple was Hannah and Ole, and they always came to Swayambhu at that time. Whenever His Holiness Karmapa came out and saw them there, he would joke with Ole, shake hands and then pull away and scream, as if Ole had broken his hand. He was always playing with him.

"After some weeks, a friendship developed between His Holiness Karmapa and the Danish man. Ole would help Gyalwa Karmapa walk down the long narrow staircases from the top of the hill, holding his hand. A very strong boy he was. Then it happened that this hippie boy was always there helping His Holiness, because he was a fat man and the stairs were all long and narrow and tricky. It naturally developed that Ole would be there to assist him.

"One day His Holiness did a very dangerous thing. On the east side of Swayambhu there is a long stone staircase, very steep. Karmapa and people started walking down. Gyalwa Karmapa was very naive. All of a sudden, he just jumped up on Ole's back. If Ole fell, both of them would start rolling down head over heels on the stone steps. When everybody saw this, they screamed. They were looking on very scared. But men, with His Holiness Karmapa on his pack, Ole managed to keep his balance. His legs were shaking, but Ole started to carry Karmapa down the hundreds of steps carved into the hillside. The crowd started cheering the blond boy. After that, all the Nepali and Tibetan Buddhist people in Kathmandu started to like Ole."

The Nydahls first visited Rumtek in 1970 when they were in their early twenties. They spent the next few years shuttling back and forth between Rumtek and Europe. In the summer of 1973, Ole requested and received authorization from the sixteenth Karmapa to give the Buddhist refuge vow to his students in Europe, thus allowing them to officially become Buddhists. In 1974, the sixteenth Karmapa stayed at the Nydahls' Copenhagen center. During the seventies, Ole and Hannah returned to Rumtek with hundreds of European visitors to receive initiations from the Karmapa and study with his lamas. They brought donations of clothing and money.

In his characteristically ebullient style, Ole Nydahl has rhapsodized on his time at Rumtek during the time of the sixteenth Karmapa: "Actually, if anything was ever holy, it was Rumtek. I can tell you that on the way to Rumtek, you would often have two black birds flying in front of you the whole way; they would stop till you came closer and then they would fly on again. Your dreams would be prophetic, there would be a blessing there, there would be a power there that you cannot express in words. You would come in, you would see H.R the sixteenth Karmapa. You would see a man who could laugh so that you could hear it five houses away. You'd see a house of power, something you'd never seen before." [6]

In 1983, in his capacity as regent of the Karmapa's administration and after consulting with Kalu Rinpoche, an elderly and venerated lama of the Karma Kagyu, Shamar gave Ole the title of "lama." By this time, the Nydahls had founded dozens of dharma centers and Ole was busy giving presentations to large audiences in his native Denmark and in neighboring West Germany. But Shamar was not close to Ole during this period, and he often criticized the Dane for his habit of giving "blessings" by touching the tops of students' heads, a practice traditionally reserved for only the highest lamas.

Meanwhile, Hannah Nydahl kept a much lower profile than her husband. A tall, slim woman in her fifties, Hannah speaks half a dozen languages, including Tibetan. For three decades, she has helped Ole open dharma centers. She has also served as an interpreter for prominent lamas on foreign teaching tours, including Shamar, Jamgon Kongtrul, and Gyaltsab. Hannah contrasted her visits to Rumtek in the early seventies to her last visit there in 1995, when she tried to visit the stupa housing the ashes of the sixteenth Karmapa.

"In the early days, as outsiders, Rumtek felt like a very powerful place and a very strong place because of the sixteenth Karmapa' s presence. He had people visiting nonstop, Indian generals, Sikkimese politicians, and many others. They respected him a lot. They were also doing pujas inside of their huge shrine room. We learned many things; we practiced as much as we could. In the old days. the sixteenth Karmapa kept quire strict discipline. Compared to other exile monasteries, there was a high standard at Rumtek. He had the monastery, the shedra, and the retreat place. You could see that the people who were trained there when they came out were quite well educated. I think all that is gone now.

"I tried to visit again in 1995. I wanted to go to the sixteenth Karmapa's stupa. Rumtek had already changed a lot. It was terrible. Actually, there was, one' time when I came alone, it was a big story, and some monks didn't allow me to come up to the place where the stupa of the late Karmapa is. They tried to block me from going up there. How could they stop me from visiting the Karmapa's stupa? So I had to go to the office and get an escort. You couldn't recognize the place, the whole atmosphere was gone, and it was rather depressing.

"Back in the seventies, the Karmapa used his influence in Sikkim to extend our visas. We took the refuge to become Buddhists and a genyen vow to observe ethics for lay people; we took them both in a ceremony where he prepared everything just for the two of us. We even shaved our heads for it. That's how strong it was for us. We just gave ourselves to him without knowing what it really meant. It was very uncomfortable; we had to kneel for an hour because he did it in the old way, very slowly, without leaving anything out. After that, he let us come to see him again and again. He also sent different lamas to explain things to us.

"There were not many foreigners in the seventies. There was this British nun Gelongma Palmo. She used to be married to a Sikh, and was called Frieda Bedi. She ran the school for young Tibetan lamas in New Delhi where Chogyam Trungpa was a student, before he went to Oxford. She was very proper, very British, and very kind. She would translate sometimes for the Karmapa and the other lamas since she knew some Tibetan. [7]

"Ole and I started leading group trips to Rumtek after 1975. The lamas were all quite poor at that time: We were not rich either, we had a very small travel budget, but we got to know everybody. So later, we could du some good for the monks and others who lived at Rumtek. We used to come in big groups nearly every year, starting with 50 and going up to 108 people. We would bring a lot of second-hand clothes, all kinds of things they could use. We felt like we had become a part of Rumtek."

For the Nydahls and other outsiders who visited Rumtek in the seventies and eighties, the monastery was the center of their Buddhist world. Under the benevolent dictatorship of the sixteenth Karmapa, the Karma Kagyu lineage had been successfully replanted there into the soil of exile. But the ghosts of a turbulent past continued to haunt the cloister. Unknown to the Karmapa, lamas and lay officials alike inside Rumtek were starting to establish relations with outsiders that would bring violence and discord to the Karmapa's cloister. To understand the threats to Rumtek that loomed in the seventies, we must travel back a thousand years into the Tibetan past.

History lives in certain parts of the world more than in others. Forward-looking places like New York or Los Angeles may display a casual apathy for history and an impatience with those who nurse grievances from the past. But this cannot be said for the American South, for example. There, blacks and whites of all backgrounds mention the War Between the States as if it was fought last month. Southerners sometimes seem to speak of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson as if they had personally glimpsed them galloping down Main Street on the way to their armies. Icons like the Stars and Bars still inspire strong emotions as today's Southerners battle to reconcile their present with their past.

We have seen a stronger resurrection of feuds of centuries past in places like Bosnia, Chechnya, Afghanistan, and Iraq. In the Balkans, a battle between Serbs and Muslims in the fourteenth century becomes a battle cry for today. The writer Christopher Hitchens has even opined that Osama bin Laden planned the 9/11 terrorist attacks to commemorate the defeat of the Ottoman Turkish armies outside the gates of Vienna by combined Christian forces under Jan Sobieski and Charles, Duke of Lorraine, on September 11, 1683. [8] Of course, this date carried little resonance for office workers in the Twin Towers or the Pentagon, but was known to many in the Moslem world -- thus showing that Al Qaeda's "message" in the attacks was meant perhaps more for the home audience than for its victims in the United States.

As we cannot understand the conflict between the West and extremists in the Moslem world without some knowledge of history as it is seen in the Middle East, so we cannot understand Tibetans today without understanding some of their history. In particular, the sectarian and regional rifts found in the Tibetan exile community today have deep roots in the past. They go back half a millennium or more to the age when lamas contended with each other through force of arms for political rule in Tibet.
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Chapter 3: An Ancient Rivalry

Religious Schools Compete to Rule

Religious conflict was commonplace in old Tibet. In a violent battle for supremacy, the original religion of Tibet, Bon, was replaced as the dominant faith in Tibet by Buddhism after its arrival from India in the eighth century. [1] Beginning in the eleventh century, Tibetan Buddhism developed four schools that shared many beliefs but ran their own monasteries and passed down their own lineages of oral teachings: the Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu, and Gelug. Over the centuries, Bon continued to maintain followers and incorporated many Buddhist elements, effectively evolving into a fifth school of the Vajrayana. Devotees of each school respected the tenets and historic masters of the other schools and frequently took teachings from lamas of different schools. But it would be naive to believe that these schools coexisted peacefully under an official regime of religious tolerance.

Though Tibetan culture was imbued with Buddhism at every level, history belies the Shangri-La image of Tibetan lamas and their followers living together in mutual tolerance and non-violent goodwill. Indeed, the situation was quite different. Old Tibet was much more like Europe during the religious wars of the Counter Reformation than a neighborhood in Berkeley, California where synagogue, mosque, church, and dharma center make cozy neighbors. During the European religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, forces of Protestant kings and princes fought armies of Catholic rulers or troops of the Church itself. Likewise, for hundreds of years in Tibet, lay followers of each religious school sometimes clashed with each other for control of the government of Central Tibet or rule over provincial areas. Lamas often had to defend their monasteries and other landholdings from supporters of the other schools.

Tibet before the Chinese invasion was not a unified country under a single government. Instead, like medieval France or Italy, it was a large area inhabited by people loosely connected by language, customs, and religion but ruled by local aristocrats or religious leaders. For the last few centuries, until 1959, Tibet consisted of three main areas, Central Tibet, Amdo, and Kham. As we have seen, Central Tibet was governed since the seventeenth century by the Dalai Lamas from their capital at Lhasa, and it included the provinces of U and Tsang plus the dry areas of western Tibet. Aside from Lhasa, its major city was Shigatse, on the Tsangpo River. The Tibet Autonomous Region created by the Chinese in the 1960s corresponds approximately to the area claimed by the old Central Tibetan government.

Amdo occupied the borderlands with China in the northeast, and was a sparsely populated area of grassland and desert. Here, the current Dalai Lama was born in 1935 to a family of subsistence farmers, and his early childhood was rustic, as depicted in the film Kundun. Nomads thrived in Amdo's lonely expanses. Today, Amdo is divided between the Chinese provinces of Gansu and Qinghai.

Finally, Kham was sandwiched between Central Tibet in the west and both the nation of Burma and the Chinese province of Sichuan in the east. For centuries its dozens of small feudal principalities were ruled by local kings and nobles who fiercely guarded their independence from each other -- and from the Dalai Lamas and the Chinese emperors as well. Three great rivers emerge from their high mountain sources and pass through the lush, tree-covered gorges of Kham to water the fertile plains of Southeast Asia: the Yangtse, the Mekong, and the Salween. Verdant valleys nestled between haughty peaks hosted a rich farming area that gave Tibet its greatest warriors, bandits, and saints. For centuries Kham was the stronghold of the Karma Kagyu, hundreds of miles and a world apart from the Dalai Lama's capital at Lhasa. In the 1950s and 60s the Chinese incorporated most of Kham into the provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan.

Much of Tibetan history is the story of how the rulers of Central Tibet tried to extend their rule into the border areas of Amdo and Kham, or how the different religious schools of the Tibetan plateau came to rule the central provinces of U and Tsang. After the Bon kings began to convert to Buddhism in the ninth century, each of the four Buddhist schools controlled the government of Central Tibet, one after the other in succession. The sects either ruled directly, with their chief lama sitting on the throne, or indirectly, serving as priests to secular kings. And while some schools proved to be kinder, more tolerant rulers than others, each school used its political influence against its religious rivals from time to time.

The oldest school of Tibetan Buddhism is the Nyingma, or "First Wave" school, deriving from the original Buddhism brought by the Indian missionary Padmasambhava in the eighth century. He opened Tibet's first Buddhist monastery, Samye, in 779 A.D. The Nyingma is known for its homeless ascetics and "crazy yogis" who perform advanced tantric practices in caves and wander the countryside giving blessings though the lineage also boasts significant monasteries. Modern lamas including Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Sogyal Rinpoche, and the American Lama Surya Das have made the Nyingma teaching of Dzogchen, an advanced form of meditation, well known in the West.

The earliest Buddhist lamas of Tibet, whose lineages later became the Nyingma school, exercised strong influence on the dynastic families that produced the first royal patrons of Buddhism in Tibet, the three "Dharma Kings" Songsten Gampo, Trisong Detsen, and Ralpachen. These kings worked to spread Buddhism and, at times, to repress the native Bon religion on behalf of Buddhist lamas during the often turbulent period of early Tibetan Buddhism.

Three hundred years after Buddhism first came to Tibet, three Sarma, or "Second Wave" schools appeared. The first of these was the Sakya school. In 1073, Khon Konchog Gyalpo founded Sakya monastery and the Tibetan Buddhist school of the same name. Perhaps the least-known Tibetan Buddhist school in the West, the Sakyas are renowned among Tibetans for their advanced scholarship of Buddhist philosophy and formidable skill in dialectics and debate.

A non-celibate order, the Sakyas pass along their succession from father to son or uncle to nephew. The Sakyas were the first lamas to make fruitful contact with the Mongols, who would prove so important in Tibetan history. In 1247 Kunga Gyaltsen, known as the Sakya Pandita for his knowledge of Sanskrit, met with the Mongol Prince Godan at his camp north of Tibet in the region of Lake Koko Nor, located in the present-day province of Gansu in northwestern China. Godan summoned the Sakya lama to preach to his people and, since the lama was also the most powerful political leader in Tibet, to surrender his country to Mongol rule and thus save it from a devastating invasion. For this the Sakya Pandita went down in history as a wise statesman.

Despite his role in history, to Tibetans the Sakya Pandita is less famous as a shrewd political leader than as an accomplished spiritual master, scholar, and man of letters. He is the author of the Sakya Lekshe, a handbook of ethical behavior for lay people that became a perennial classic, held up as a model of elegant Tibetan prose style. [2] The Sakya Pandita became the spiritual advisor of the Mongol chieftain.

A few years later, in 1251, Prince Godan appointed the Sakya Pandita's seventeen-year-old nephew Phagpa as Mongol viceroy of Tibet. Standing out in the country's history, Phagpa came to be known for his religious tolerance. Later, when Kublai Khan became Great Khan, he asked Phagpa to create an alphabet for the vast Eurasian empire of the Mongols, then at its peak, stretching from Russia to southern China. He also urged Phagpa to merge the other schools of Tibetan Buddhism into the Sakya school. However, as Tibetan historian Tsepon W.D. Shakabpa has written, "Phagpa insisted that the other sects be allowed to practice Buddhism in their own way. This brought Phagpa the support of many of the Tibetan priest-chieftains; however, the presence of several different sects in Tibet was to weaken the power of the Sakya ruling family in the years that followed." [3] For more than a century the Sakya lamas ruled Tibet as agents of the Mongols until replaced by followers of the Kagyu school.

Meanwhile, back to the eleventh century -- around the time Kon Konchog Gyalpo founded Sakya monastery and a century before the Sakyas would take over the Tibetan government -- the Kagyu or Oral Transmission school began in Tibet. The founder of the school, a stoutly built householder named Marpa the Translator, brought the teachings of the famously unconventional Indian yogis Tilopa and Naropa over the Himalayas from India. Marpa's most gifted student, Milarepa, became the greatest yogi of Tibet. A murderer who later devoted himself to ascetic practice in caves, Milarepa authored hundreds of songs that became classics of Tibetan literature.

The largest of the so-called "four great and eight lesser" sub-schools of the Kagyu, the Karma Kagyu, began when the first Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa founded Tsurphu monastery in 1185. The school became known for the inspirational power of its most advanced teachers, principally the Karmapas. The next chapter discusses the origin of the Karmapas, and their most famous ritual object, the Vajra Mukut or Black Crown of enlightened action.

The Gelug school was the last of the four major schools of Buddhism to appear in Tibet. A charismatic scholar and preacher named Tsongkhapa founded the Gelugpas in the early fifteenth century. His successors as head of the school became the Dalai Lamas, and they, in turn, with Mongol assistance, came to rule over the government of Central Tibet in the seventeenth century, just as the Sakya lama Phagpa had done three centuries earlier. The rise of the Gelugpas led to a political rivalry between them and the Karma Kagyu school of the Karmapas that would last five hundred years and continue after the lamas went into exile in 1959.

This rivalry forms the background for the current Karmapa controversy, so we will learn more about it later in this chapter. Now, let us return to the Middle Ages and see how the Kagyu school came to rule Central Tibet and how they set the country on the path towards becoming a modern nation-state.

The Kagyu Takes its Turn

While four reincarnations of Karmapas built up the Karma Kagyu school, the Sakyas continued to rule the government of Central Tibet. At the time of the fourth Karmapa Rolpe Dorje (1340-83), Sakya rule ended and secular kings under the tutelage of the Kagyu school seized power. When the Mongol Yuan dynasty began to wane in China, the Mongols were no longer able to support their surrogates, the Sakya lamas, in Tibet. Knowing that Mongol cavalry would not ride to the rescue if the Sakya Lama were attacked, various subordinates began to contend for the throne.

The last of these, Wangtson, came to power by murdering his predecessor in 1358. He was never able to consolidate his hold on power, and later the same year he was overthrown in turn by a regional governor named Jangchup Gyaltsen. In a vain attempt to preserve the appearance of imperial rule over Tibet, the last Yuan emperor Shundi hastily conferred approval on Jangchup's coup and awarded him the imperial title Tai Situ (He should not be confused with the Tai Situ Rinpoche of the Karma Kagyu; "Tai Situ" was a common title in the imperial bureaucracy, equivalent to "chief secretary.") Jangchup Gyaltsen's line became the Pagmotru dynasty, the first of three royal dynasties to rule under the tutelage of the Kagyu school. The Pagmotru ruled until 1435. Afterwards, four kings of the Rinpung dynasty ruled in succession from 1435 to 1565, followed by three Tsangpa kings who ruled from 1565 until 1642. The Tsangpa kings were followers not only of the Kagyu school, but were personal devotees of the Karmapas. Playing a careful game of diplomacy with the deposed but still troublesome Mongols as well as with the new Ming dynasty (1368-1644) rulers in China, these kings governed Tibet relatively free from foreign control. Under the influence of the Kagyu school, Tibet enjoyed a three-hundred-year window of independence and peace between two periods of domination by the Mongols.

The Gelugpas Rise and Struggle for Power with the Kagyus

As we saw earlier, the last Buddhist school to appear in Tibet was the Gelug order of the Dalai Lamas. Tsongkhapa (1357-1419) was a skillful debater and charismatic preacher who lived at the same time as the fifth Karmapa Deshin Shegpa of the Kagyu school. Tsongkhapa founded the Gelug school when he established the Monlam Chemno, or Great Prayer Festival, in Lhasa in 1409. Known informally as the "Yellow Hats," the Gelugpas were famous for their skill at scholarship and debate, like the masters of the Sakya school.

But unlike the Sakyas, the Gelugpas placed great emphasis on celibate monastic life. Many writers have claimed that the Gelugpas were a reforming school of Buddhism, seeking to clean up the lax morality said to have infected the other schools. By analogy, the Gelug rise would be like the Protestant Reformation in Europe a century earlier, and Tsongkhapa would be Tibet's Martin Luther. [4] Other historians have disagreed, however, claiming that Tsongkhapa and the early Dalai Lamas placed no special emphasis on monastic discipline compared to the other religious schools. In any event, under Tsongkhapa's dynamic leadership, the Gelug school grew in political influence and established large monasteries in Central Tibet that began to rival those of the Karma Kagyu.

Tibetan historian Shakabpa has claimed that the popularity of Tsongkhapa, the first Dalai Lamas, and other Gelugpa teachers threatened the dominance of the Kagyu. [5] In response, the Tibetan royal governments who followed the Kagyu suppressed the rising Gelugpas to protect the Kagyu from spiritual competition.

The major traditional histories of Tibet, including the fifth Dalai Lama's own account of these years, contradict this claim. [6] During Tsongkhapa's lifetime, the Pagmotru dynasty of kings, patrons of the Kagyu school, ruled Central Tibet. The Pagmotru kings were succeeded by the Rinpung dynasty in 1435, whose kings followed the Kagyu school as their predecessors had, and in addition took the Karmapa as their personal spiritual advisor, as we have seen. The fourth Shamarpa Chokyi Drakpa Yeshe Pal Zangpo (1453- 1524) even served a term of four years as regent during the minority of one of the Rinpung kings, and was known by the royal title Chen Nga initiated by the Pagmotru kings.

Near the end of the fifteenth century, monks from a nearby Gelugpa monastery sacked a temple that the seventh Karmapa Chodrag Gyatso (1454-1506) had begun in Lhasa. This angered the Rinpung king. In response, in 1498 the king forbade the Yellow Hats from participating in the annual Monlam prayer festival that their own founder had inaugurated ninety years earlier.

Meanwhile, a Gelugpa lama who was an energetic evangelist, Sonam Gyatso, attracted the attention of the Turned Mongol chief Altan Khan. After the fall in 1368 of the Mongol Yuan dynasty, which controlled both China and Tibet, the Mongols split up into numerous warring bands. Their leaders competed with each other to seek influence among the nations of Inner Asia, including Tibet. There, Mongol leaders adopted prominent lamas as their spiritual advisors. In 1578 Altan invited Sonam to his camp to preach. There, he offered the lama the title Dalai, "Ocean" in Mongolian, and gave the patronage of his Mongols to Sonam Gyatso's Gelugpa order. Retroactively, the lama's two previous incarnations were recognized as Sonam's predecessors, making Sonam Gyatso (1543-1588) the third Dalai Lama.

When the grandson of Altan Khan was recognized as the fourth Dalai Lama Yonten Gyatso (1589-1617), the alliance between Altan's band of Mongols and the Gelugpas was complete. Altan's forces pledged to defend the Gelugpas against any enemies that might arise in Tibet.
The first Dalai Lama had established a monastery near the royal capital of Shigatse, but later Dalai Lamas settled in Lhasa and established three monasteries in and around the city that became some of the largest and most powerful in the world: Drepung, Sera, and Ganden. These monasteries came to be known collectively as "The Three Seats." They would exert enormous political power over the government of Central Tibet in the coming centuries.

When the Dalai Lama settled in Lhasa, the Gelugpas became involved in regional politics, which escalated the tension between the Gelugpas and the Kagyus. While the Dalai Lama on the one hand, and the Karmapa and Shamarpa on the other, apparently tried to maintain cordial relations, their supporters -- monks, regional rulers, and dueling bands of Mongols -- found numerous occasions to clash. Under the rule of the three Tsangpa kings (1565-1642) this tension reached a boiling point.

The Dalai Lama Seizes Power

Under the previous dynasty, the Rinpung, the central government had become weak. This allowed regional rulers, particularly the depas or warlords of various states, to gain a high level of autonomy. Local leaders waged continuous low-grade warfare for decades with their neighbors for larger and larger holdings.

When he assumed the throne, the second Tsangpa king, Karma Phuntsok Namgyal (ruled 1611-21) sought to end this fighting by uniting the petty states of Central Tibet under a strong central government. He developed a plan for "Unification under One White [Benevolent] Law" that in many ways was ahead of its time. [7] The plan called for a federal system where cabinet departments at the national level would implement policy for defense, agriculture, education, and taxation. Numerous small states would be united for mutual defense and free trade.

King Phuntsok Namgyal upgraded his army and began a campaign, through force of arms and diplomacy, to unite the duchies of Central Tibet one by one into a single, larger Tsangpa state. He succeeded brilliantly and by the end of his campaign, only the city of Lhasa, under the rule of Kyichod Depa Apel, the Duke of Lhasa, resisted incorporation into the new unified Tibetan kingdom. The duke wanted to avoid paying taxes to the Tsangpa king and saw no benefit for himself to joining a larger Tibetan state.

To defend his autonomy, in 1616 Duke Kyichod Apel made an alliance with Drepung and Sera monasteries, which by this time had thousands of monks each. These included hundreds of specially trained dopdops or "fighting monks" who were skilled in Tibet's native martial arts and served as private armies for each cloister. By this alliance, the duke particularly hoped to gain the support of Mongol bands that patronized Gelugpa lamas. According to the fifth Dalai Lama, Apel made a gift of a large statue of Avalokiteshvara to the Turned Mongol chief Tai Gi. [8]

The statue was a national treasure of Tibet, brought from India centuries earlier by King Songsten Gampo for his personal devotional practice. Apel's family had acquired it earlier through questionable means from the Potala Palace. The Lhasa Duke presented it to the Mongol chief to forge an alliance with Tai Gi and enlist his band of Mongols for an attack on the Tsangpa king. Perhaps this would have been something like, for example, Confederate President Jefferson Davis capturing the Liberty Bell and giving it to the British to induce them to attack the North during the Civil War.

The treacherous duke was successful, and with his new Mongol allies, he and his successors in the Kyichod family fought the King of Tsang for the next two decades. This war of attrition took a hard toll on the Tsangpa kingdom as it did on the duke's own small realm.

Finally, after years of alternating victories and defeats, Duke Kyichod's successor Sonam Namgyal saw his chance to free himself of the Kyichod family's old foe by invading the heartland of Tsang itself. The duke gained ambitious advisors of the fifth Dalai Lama as his allies. He convinced them that the Tsangpa king was about to send a massive force against the main Gelug monasteries; if the monasteries did not act quickly, the Gelugpas would be wiped out. Tibetan historians say that the duke's claim was false, and that the Tsangpa king was not planning an attack on the Gelugpa monasteries. But the duke's word carried the day with Gelugpa leaders and their Mongol allies, who were eager to fight.

The Dalai Lama's minister Sonam Chopel was particularly eager for war and he invited the Qoshot Mongols under Gushri Khan to attack Tsangpa forces before getting the Dalai Lama's approval, as the Dalai Lama describes in his own Autobiography. Interestingly, the Dalai Lama seemed to take an exceptionally respectful and deferential tone with his minister, who effectively controlled the government of the young lama-king:

At the time, there were many rumors that the king (Gushri Khan) had already left Tibet and returned to his homeland. Others said that he would soon arrive with new cavalry. Zhalngo [respectful title for minister Sonam Chopel) told me that "the Tsangpa lord and his ministers have always distrusted the Gelugpa in the past and have always tried to harm us. If we remain neutral in this conflict, then Ganden Phodrang people [those of the Dalai Lama's labrang] will say that we are siding with the Tsangpa. Now, when we have the opportunity to do so, if we do not take the chance to liberate ourselves from the Tsangpa lord with the help of the king, then we will never get free of oppressive Tsangpa rule. Therefore, I have already sent a message to the king with the messenger Gendun Thondup asking him to attack the Tsangpa lord."

"That was a rash act," I replied. "It would be better for us if the Mongols just withdraw from Tibet. It would be best to intercept the Mongols at Damjung [before reaching Tsang] and stop the outbreak of war. If you yourself do not find it convenient to do so, then I would be willing to go myself. Stopping the king would be good in every way -- for our reputation and for our future success."

Then, Zhalngo asked me to do a mo [prediction]. I threw the three dice of Palden Lhamo Dmagzorma (deity of war). The result was that war against the Tsangpa would indeed bring us success in the short run, but that this war would ultimately be harmful for the future of Tibet.

"Well, good," Zhalngo said. "There is really no problem then. If we are successful now, that is enough. What happens long after we are dead is not our concern."

In this way, Zhalngo would not allow me to stop the war. [9]

After the hasty action of his short-sighted minister, the Dalai Lama appeared to have no choice. Since war with Tsang had begun, he had to ask for Gushri Khan's help to win it, or else face retribution from the Tsangpa king that may have threatened the future of the Gelugpa. Thus, reluctantly, the fifth Dalai Lama sent his own plea to Gushri to invade Central Tibet and drive all Tsangpa forces from the area around Lhasa. The Mongol chief answered his lama's call and sent cavalry against Tsangpa forces. In 1638, the Mongols routed the Tsangpa army and secured Lhasa and the surrounding province of U. They placed the Dalai Lama on the throne as Mongol viceroy.

Having gained control of Lhasa, the Dalai Lama was now ready to stop the war. But his Mongol allies were not. So, yet again against the Gelug leader's wishes but at the urging of his zealous prime minister, Sonam Chopel, the Mongol armies escalated the conflict.

In 1642, Mongols overthrew the Tsangpa ruler Karma Tenkyong Wangpo (heir to King Phuntsok Namgyal, who nearly united Tibet into one centralized nation-state, as we have seen) and went on to forcibly convert nearly a thousand Nyingma and Karma Kagyu monasteries throughout Central Tibet to the Gelugpa school. The Mongols killed seven thousand monks and beheaded many of their abbots. [10] Gushri Khan proclaimed himself king of all Central Tibet and, as before, he made the fifth Dalai Lama his viceroy. The new administration became known as the "Ganden Phodrang," -- named after the Dalai lama's residence at Drepung monastery -- thus signifying the identity of the government in Lhasa and the Gelugpa school.

Using the pretext of a revolt in Tsang later in the year, Gushri Khan executed the Tsangpa king, and forced the tenth Karmapa to flee to Yunnan province in China. The Karmapa's monastic seat at Tsurphu was not converted to the Gelugpa order, but the new government decreed that the monastery could ordain no more than three monks per year. As Tibetan historian Dawa Norbu put it, "When the Dalai Lamas came to power in the seventeenth century they began to expand their own sect, Gelugpa, using the state power at their disposal and often converting other sects, especially the Kagyupa monasteries, to their own sect." [11]

The Karmapa had the chance to retaliate, but he apparently decided against violence. The aged fifth Tai Situ Chokyi Gyaltsen Palsang (1586-1657) offered to bring about his own death so that he could be reborn as a prince of the newly installed Chinese Qing dynasty; then, he could grow up to lead a Chinese invasion of Tibet that would restore the power of the Karma Kagyu. The Karmapa rejected Situ's offer, saying that "everyone knows me as the man who won't even hurt a bug."

The king of nearby Li Jiang also offered his forces to aid the Karmapa, but he rejected the king's offer as well. "Now is the time of the Kali Yug, the age of darkness," the tenth Karmapa said. "In Tibet, the only dharma left is superficial teachings, so it is not worth your trouble to save it."

Later, historians, scholars, and even the fifth Dalai Lama himself would criticize Sonam Chopel and the other self-serving officials who stoked this avoidable conflict into flames of war. Yet, once he had ascended the throne in Lhasa, the Dalai Lama had to continue fighting to consolidate his rule.

The current Dalai Lama has made himself an internationally famous spokesman for nonviolence. But the example of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama shows that nonviolence was not always the policy of his predecessors, After a dozen years as ruler of Central Tibet, in 1660 the Dalai Lama was faced with a rebellion in Tsang province, not yet pacified and still the stronghold of the Karma Kagyu. The Gelugpa leader again called on his Mongol patron Gushri Khan, this time to put down the insurgency in Tsang. In a passage that may sound to modern ears more like that other Mongol Khan, Genghis, than an emanation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, the Dalai Lama called for harsh retribution towards the rebels against his rule:

[Of those in] the band of enemies who have despoiled the duties entrusted to them;
Make the male lines like trees that have had their roots cut;
Make the female lines like brooks that have dried up in winter;
Make the children and grandchildren like eggs smashed against rocks;
Make the servants and followers like heaps of grass consumed by fire;
Make their dominion like a lamp whose oil has been exhausted;
In short, annihilate any traces of them, even their names. [12]

In a few months, Gushri Khan quelled the unrest in Tsang and helped the Dalai Lama establish the Gelugpa as the undisputed spiritual and temporal rulers of Central Tibet. This marked the beginning of four hundred years of political rule by a religious leader, and the definitive end of the dream of the Tsangpa kings to transform Tibet into a unified secular state.

Until at least the early twentieth century, the Dalai Lama's government would hold an annual commemoration of its defeat of Tsang. In the 1920s Sir Charles Bell, a British diplomat who spent nineteen years in Tibet and became close to the thirteenth Dalai Lama, witnessed this ceremony, where three men from Tsang province were compelled to climb to the roof of one of the buildings at the Dalai Lama's Potala Palace in Lhasa. Then, they slid down a rope two hundred and fifty feet long into a courtyard. "This annual event, provided and paid for the by Lhasan Government, refers to Gushri's defeat of the King of Tsang, and is intended to prevent the Tsang province from ever gaining power again." [13]

After the fall of Tsangpa rule, Karma Kagyu followers retreated to Kham in eastern Tibet, out of the control of the Dalai lama's new hostile government. There, they reestablished their activities at such imposing monasteries as Palpung, the seat of the Tai Situs.

Meantime, after the Karmapa fled -- eluding the Mongol forces, according to tradition, through miraculous means -- the fifth Dalai Lama put his cousin, the fifth Gyaltsab Drakpa Choyang (1618-58), in charge of Tsurphu. Thus, the Dalai Lama signaled that he would not forcibly convert the Karmapa's seat into a Gelugpa monastery, as he had done with other Karma Kagyu cloisters. With Gyaltsab as regent, Tsurphu would remain in safe-keeping for the Karmapa's return.

The fifth Gyaltsab died in 1658. While in exile, the Karmapa, one of two who lived as a married householder, recognized the sixth Gyaltsab Norbu Zangpo (1659-98) and adopted him as his own son. When the Karmapa returned from thirty years of exile in the 1670s and resumed control at Tsurphu, he removed Gyaltsab from the Tsurphu labrang and gave him his own administration. Since that time, the Gyaltsabs have run their own labrang and have had no official responsibilities in the Karmapa's administration. A later Gyaltsab, in the nineteenth century, would even sue the Karmapa's labrang over a property rights dispute, a suit which would only end after the Chinese invasion of Tibet in the 1950s. Thus we see a historical precedent for high Karma Kagyu lamas taking each other to court over property, as they would in India in the case over Rumtek monastery in the 1990s.

The Karmapa's followers never regained the power they had lost to the Gelugpa in 1642. The two schools continued as rivals for centuries to come. In the following centuries there remained a close tie between the Dalai Lama's government and his own Buddhist sect. The new Lhasa government used its power to expand the Dalai Lama's school at the expense of the Kagyu and the other two Buddhist schools, the Nyingma and Sakya, as well as the Bon, the original pre-Buddhist religion of Tibet.

But some powerful Gelugpa lamas, especially the second-ranking master of the school, the Panchen Lamas, contended with the government as well. The ninth Panchen Lama Chokyi Nyima (1883-1937) quarreled with the thirteenth Dalai Lama over Lhasa's tax bite on the Panchen's monastery Tashilhunpo and its attached estates. The conflict led the Panchen to flee Tibet in 1923 and set up a "Field Headquarters" in eastern Tibet from which he feuded with the Dalai Lama and his government until his death in 1937. [14] At that point, Lhasa again quarreled with the Panchen's administration when each side supported a different candidate as the tenth Panchen Lama.

Sixty years later, finding the next Panchen (the eleventh) Would create trouble for the current Dalai Lama as well. The tenth Panchen, overweight and stressed from a lifetime of persecution by the Chinese, died in January 1989 at his home in Shigarse, the old Tsang royal capital, at age fifty-three. Both the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government were eager to rind his successor, since the next Panchen stood to become the highest-profile spiritual leader for Tibetans once the Dalai Lama would die. In addition, the next Panchen would probably recognize the next Dalai Lama, as many of his predecessors had done. The stakes to control the lama were thus very high and each side feared being sidelined by the other in announcing the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama.

In the early 1990s the Dalai Lama and the Panchen's administration -- who were on the same side this time -- carefully worked out a secret agreement with the Chinese to recognize the incarnation of the eleventh Panchen Lama together. Then, in 1995, the agreement collapsed. On May 14, the Dalai Lama announced his own choice, six-year-old Gendun Chokyi Nyima, without giving prior notice to Beijing or to officials of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), the Chinese government of Tibet in Lhasa. The Chinese were furious. Within days, they whisked the boy off to house arrest in Beijing and started a crackdown on the Panchen's monastery. At the end of November of the same year, Beijing and TAR officials held a lot-draw in the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa to choose their own Panchen, Gyalrsen Norbu, the son of a Communist Party cadre.

The troubled history of the Panchen Lamas shows how the highest lamas contended with the Dalai Lamas for political power in old Tibet, and how in recent decades, lamas became pawns in the struggle between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese for control of hearts and minds in Tibet. We will encounter both of these themes in the rivalry between the Gelugpas and the Karma Kagyus that underpins our story. Later, we will see how this conflict played out in a contest between the Dalai Lama's government and the Shamarpa at the end of the eighteenth century. But first, we will return to the early days of the Karma Kagyu, before the dawn of the Gelug. There, we will find the origin of the Karmapas, the first tulkus of Tibet.
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Chapter 4: The Origins of the Karmapas

The First Reincarnate Lama of Tibet

Who was the lama whom the Great Fifth Dalai Lama and his massive monasteries so feared nearly four centuries ago? What was the source of his power?

The Dalai Lama may be the best known incarnate lama in Tibetan Buddhism, but as we have seen, the Dalai Lamas did not initiate the tulku system, the unique custom of lamas returning life after life to teach their students. Instead, it was the Karmapas. The first Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa appeared at the dawn of the twelfth century, in 1110, nearly three hundred years before the first Dalai Lama, Gendun Truppa, was born at the end of the fourteenth century, in 1391.

As the first of his line, Dusum Khyenpa (1l10-94) set the example for all Karmapas to follow. Buddhism teaches that the highest bodhisattvas can choose their own rebirth, and Tibetan legend says that Dusum Khyenpa chose to be born in a family that could support his spiritual activity. He was born in the Male Iron Tiger Year of the Tibetan calendar (1110) in the small village of Ratag, located in the Treshod mountain range in Kham. His parents were not ordinary Khampas, but advanced spiritual practitioners.

His father Gompa Dorje Gon was a devotee of the fearsome tantric deity Yamantaka, the Lord of Death, and his mother Gangcham Mingdren was a "natural yogini" -- a female adept who took up tantric practices without prior training. The boy received tantric initiations and instructions from both his mother and father. "Obtaining miraculous powers he made a clear imprint of his hand and foot on a rock," a classic sign of his spiritual attainment. [1]

Modern people can approach such stories simply as fairy tales, as revealing metaphors, or as occurrences that cannot be explained by the scientific laws of today but may reveal their truth to future investigations. Perhaps because they recognize a continuum between physical and ethereal phenomena; Tibetans have always found the existence of miracles uncontroversial, but still impressive. Apropos of the power of such stories, Picasso once said, "Art is the lie that tells the truth." Might myth or miracle work the same way?

Dusum Khyenpa was a remarkable and gifted child. At an early age he began studying with the greatest teachers of the day. Perhaps his most important teacher was Gampopa, the principal disciple of the cave yogi and poet Milarepa. After studying with dozens of teachers and mastering tantric rituals, at age thirty Dusum Khyenpa had an intuition that he should study with Gampopa, so he traveled to Gampopa's Oak Lha monastery to seek out the great master.

Originally a physician and a layman, Gampopa became a monk after his medical powers were unable to save the life of his wife and infant child. Gampopa took vows in the Kadampa school, the predecessor of the Gelug order of the Dalai Lamas (not to be confused with the New Kadampa Tradition of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso founded in England in 1977). There, Gampopa learned the graduated path to enlightenment, or Lam Rim, of the Kadampas. Later, Gampopa recorded the Kadampa approach in his book, The Jewel Ornament of Liberation, which became one of the most popular step-by-step guidebooks to the Buddhist path in Tibet.

At their first meeting, the new arrival presented his destined lama with a khata ceremonial scarf. In response, Gampopa jumped right into teachings on the graduated path to enlightenment. Thus began Dusum Khyenpa's training under Gampopa. Later, the lama gave his student tantric teachings and meditation instruction. For years, Dusum Khyenpa meditated under the guidance of Gampopa, and it soon became clear that, out of the master's hundreds of disciples, Dusum Khyenpa was the most accomplished.

Finally, after years of steady progress, Gampopa instructed his student to enter a period of intense meditation to push him along the last bit of the Buddhist path and into realization. For nine months he went into a shamatha, or mental-calming meditation, retreat. During his retreat, according to legend, "he never unfolded his hands long enough for the perspiration on them to dry."

Gampopa then recognized him as his most gifted student -- out of hundreds of disciples -- and started Dusum Khyenpa on his final stage to enlightenment, vipashyana, or insight meditation. After three years of insight meditation, Gampopa told him, "you have severed your bond with phenomenal existence. Now you will not return to samsara." [2] With his blessing, Gampopa sent his student to practice at Kampo Gangra in Kham and told him he would reach full enlightenment there.

But before he could carry out his lama's instructions, Dusum Khyenpa got involved in other projects, and was not able to return to Oak Lha monastery until he got news of his teacher's death years later. There, he met one of Gampopa's other main students, Pomdrakpa Sonam Dorje, from whom the eight "minor" lineages of the Kagyu school would derive. He begged Dusum Khyenpa not to go to Kham to meditate even though Gampopa had told him to do so, because it would shorten Dusum Khyenpa's life. The first Karmapa thanked Pomdrakpa for his advice, but replied that regardless of what he did, he would still live to age eighty-four, as a prophecy had foretold.

Accordingly, at age fifty, he made the trip to Kampo Gangra to practice Mahamudra -- the highest meditation of the Kagyu lineage -- and there he gained enlightenment. His liberation was celebrated by the dakinis, Buddhist angels, who made him a gift of a crown made from their hair. This Black Crown is said to always be present above the heads of all the Karmapas, though only visible to those with exceptional insight.

Dusum Khyenpa stayed at Kampo Gangra for eighteen years, and his reputation for spiritual realization spread around Tibet, earning him the title Knower of the Three Times for his ability to transcend time and grasp the reality behind events' in the past, present, and future. The Kashmiri pandit Sakyasri, traveling in Tibet, declared that Dusum Khyenpa was the Man of Buddha Activity or Karmapa prophesied in the Samadhi Raja Sutra, said to have been pronounced by Shakyamuni Buddha sixteen hundred years earlier.

The first Karmapa began setting up the infrastructure for future Karmapas. He founded three monasteries that would become important Karma Kagyu centers, including the seat of the Karmapas at Tsurphu near Lhasa. The abbot of the monastery at Bodh Gaya in India, the site of Shakyamuni Buddha's enlightenment, sent a conch shell to Tsurphu as recognition of the Karmapa's spiritual attainment.

In addition, Dusum Khyenpa established the pattern for the future activity of the Karmapas. He obtained the patronage of powerful regional kings and rulers. He made peace between warring regions. He healed the sick and helped the blind to see. He commissioned copies of Buddhist scriptures to be published and distributed. He cultivated a group of senior students to pass on the oral teachings he had received from his own teachers -- particularly the lineage of the Mahamudra, the highest teaching of the Karma Kagyu school -- and to find the next Karmapa. Finally, Dusum Khyenpa even predicted his own death and rebirth.

On the morning of the third day of the new year, Dusum Khyenpa gave his students his last sermon. Then, sitting up, he gazed into the sky and entered into meditation. He died at noon. At his funeral, good omens appeared in the local area and relics charged with spiritual power emerged from his funeral pyre: his charred heart, representing his compassion; his tongue, standing for his teaching; and pieces of bone inscribed with letters of sacred syllables.

Like many high lamas, future Karmapas would also leave relics after their deaths. In the twentieth century, the sixteenth Karmapa's funeral pyre would yield up a charred-heart relic during his obsequies at Rumtek in 1981. The ownership of this relic would create tension between Tai Situ and the administration of the sixteenth Karmapa, as we will see in chapter 8.

Almost ten years after Dusum Khyenpa's death, his main student Pomdrakpa went on to recognize a boy prodigy born in 1204 at Chilay Tsakto in eastern Tibet as the second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi. Thus Pomdrakpa retroactively established Dusum Khyenpa as the first incarnation of the Karmapa line by making Karma Pakshi the first reincarnate master in Tibet. After this, tulkus followed in all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

The Karmapa and the Emperor

Dusum Khyenpa was followed by the second Karmapa Karma Pakshi (1204-83) and then by seven hundred years of Karmapas who lived in Tibet. Each of these Karmapas is revered by Karma Kagyu devotees, but a few of them particularly stand out in history. One of these is the fifth Karmapa Deshin Shegpa (1384-1415), who became at age twenty-three the guru of a Chinese emperor.

To ensure peace on the frontiers of the Chinese empire, since the Later Han dynasty (25-220 A.D.) successive emperors encouraged or compelled chieftains of neighboring states -- from Korea to Burma to Mongolia and Tibet -- to undertake "tribute" missions to the imperial court. The historical significance of these missions has been a matter of dispute between Chinese and Tibetan historians ever since the 1950s.

To the Chinese, when a representative of a neighboring nation made a tribute mission to the imperial capital, it signaled that the envoy was placing his people in submission to the will of the Son of Heaven. Modem Chinese historians say that' visits by lamas -- powerful secular rulers of Central Tibet or other Tibetan states, in addition to their religious roles -- effectively placed Tibet under the control of the emperors, and thus of their heirs, the Communist rulers of China. Tibetans reject this view. They say that visits by various lamas to the imperial court had no political significance. Instead, they were pilgrimages by a priest to his patron. In the Tibetan view, it was the lama, rather than the emperor, who was the superior. [3]

In any event, both Chinese and Tibetans agree that successive emperors hoped to gain political influence in Tibet and to take religious teachings from the most powerful lamas. After the fall of the Sakya rulers in Central Tibet in 1358 and of the Yuan dynasty in China ten years later, the Ming emperors (1368-1644) sought to establish relations with leading Tibetan lamas who might fill the power vacuum left by the Sakya Lamas. In particular, the emperors hoped the Tibetans would intercede with their patrons, the troublesome Mongols, to reduce their raids on Chinese imperial outposts in the northwest borderlands.

Hearing of the fifth Karmapa's great spiritual power and corresponding political influence in Central Tibet and in the kingdoms of the border areas in the east, in 1405 the third Ming ruler, Chengzu (1403-24, also known as Yongle) invited the fifth Karmapa to visit the imperial court. The twenty-one-year-old Karmapa accepted this invitation, and arrived at the Ming capital Nanjing after a two-year journey. At the gates of the city the emperor himself welcomed the Karmapa, and placed him on an elephant as a sign of respect. The Karmapa gave two weeks of teachings to Chengzu's court, and performed miracles that the emperor ordered to be recorded on large silk scrolls. When he returned to Tibet the Karmapa brought one of these scrolls back to Tsurphu, where it reportedly still remains, an invaluable resource for historians.

According to historical accounts, the emperor and his court developed great devotion for the Karmapa. Chengzu offered to make the Karmapa head of all Buddhists in Tibet -- the same offer that Kublai Khan had made to the Sakya Pandita's nephew Phagpa 150 years earlier. The emperor was ready to send his armies all over Tibet to compel monasteries of other sects to join the Karmapa's school. He explained that cavalry was already mobilized in the west, ready to move at his command.

How sincere was the emperor? Perhaps he had already planned to invade Tibet merely to extend imperial influence there and had just offered this explanation to the Karmapa as a pretext. In any event, Deshin Shegpa was not tempted by Chengzu's offer. Just as the Sakya ruler Phagpa had refused to let Kublai Khan subdue the other sects of Buddhism in favor of the Sakyas in the thirteenth century, so the Karmapa politely declined the emperor's offer to make the Karma Kagyu supreme by force of Chinese arms.

In his refusal, given hundreds of years before the concept of religious freedom would appear, the Karmapa gave his imperial patron a lesson in the value of spiritual diversity. The Karmapa explained that he had no ambition to rule all sects because this would block the spread of Buddhism: "One sect cannot bring order to the lives of all types of people. It is not beneficial to think of converting all sects into one. Each individual sect is especially constituted so as to accomplish a particular aspect of good activity." [4] The emperor was disappointed, but he understood that the Karmapa would not accept his gift or fall into his trap, whichever this offer was. Later, despite pressure from a council of ministers eager for war, Chengzu gave the order to withdraw the troops massed at the Tibetan frontier.

The Black Crown of Enlightened Action

The legend behind the Black Crown, known as the Vajra Mukut, shows its importance for the Karmapas. The fifth Karmapa Deshin Shegpa remained in China and, according to legend, emperor Chengzu attended the religious rituals he conducted with great enthusiasm. At one ceremony held at the imperial court, Chengzu observed the ethereal Black Crown over Karmapa's head. He realized that he was only able to see the crown through the power of his devotion and his fortunate karma, but that to others less blessed the crown was invisible.

Shamar had heard this story many times as a child at Rumtek, and he explained that "this Ming emperor was not any kind of bodhisattva. He was not even one of the best rulers of China. But he had the potential for awareness, which was realized only when he met the Karmapa. He said to Karmapa, 'Whenever you perform a ceremony of blessing, you always appear to me in an unusual way. Your body seems to be in the form of Vajradhara and you are wearing a kind of black turban or crown on your head.''' [5]

Vajradhara is a meditational deity who is the source of the Mahamudra. As we have seen, from the time of the first Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa all his successors were said to have an ethereal Black Crown hovering over their heads, visible only to those of high spiritual attainment. The first four Karmapas manifested this Black Crown only to those who had the spiritual potential to see it.

The Karmapa responded that when a great bodhisattva is teaching in human, or nirmanakaya form, his body can also be simultaneously manifested in sambhogakaya, or ethereal form. Deshin Shegpa explained that the first Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa was such an emanation of that ethereal Buddha for our physical world. Many eons in the past, in a previous life as a cave-meditator he himself attained the eighth bodhisattva level, or bhumi (out of ten levels total). Traditionally, miracles and auspicious signs follow such a feat. On that occasion, a hundred thousand dakinis cut their black hair and offered it to the cave yogi as a prize. The dakinis wove their black hair into a crown that they placed on the future Karmapa's head, in a kind of enthronement ceremony that made him the king of their realm.

Pleased by this story, Chengzu offered the Karmapa another gift. To allow others to witness the ethereal Black Crown, the emperor offered to make a replica in physical form. Again, it is likely that the emperor's motives were a mixture of the spiritual and the political, and that if the Karmapa accepted a costly gift from the emperor it would be a sign of fealty from vassal to lord, and from Tibet to China.

The emperor asked, "If I make a similar crown and offer it to you, can you give the blessing of the Buddhas of the ethereal realms to all beings in our physical world?"

Deshin Shegpa responded, "Yes, the bodhisattva's blessing depends on his having attained the wish paramita -- that whatever he wishes for the benefit of sentient beings will come true -- so this can be."

Pleased that he had found a gift the Karmapa would accept, the same day the emperor commissioned skilled craftsmen to make a crown woven of black brocade and lavished with gold. The crown was studded with sapphires surmounted by a unique ruby the size of a human finger tip. The eight-inch-high Vajra Mukut would become one of the most famous material objects in Tibetan Buddhism. When it was completed, the emperor presented the crown to Deshin Shegpa. Using this imperial gift, Deshin Shegpa developed the Black Crown ceremony that ever since his time has become an integral part of the spiritual activity of the Karmapas.

Karma-pai zwa nag (Fig. t). "The black (fairy) hat of the Kar-ma-pa." This hat was conferred upon the reverend Rang-'byun rDorje (Vajra Svayambhu) by the five classes of witches (Dakkini) when he coerced them into granting him the Siddhi — power of flying in the air. Each of the Dakkinis contributed a hair from their tresses, and plaited these to form this hat. Whoever wears it can fly through the air. It is kept as a relic at Sa-kya monastery, and only worn in state, or when a wealthy votary comes to the shrine. On such occasions a monk on either side holds the hat to prevent it from carrying off the wearer.

-- The Buddhism of Tibet, or Lamaism With Its Mystic Cults, Symbolism and Mythology, and in its Relation to Indian Buddhism, by Laurence Austine Waddell, M.B., F.L.S., F.R.G.S.

In this ceremony, the Karmapa is seated on a throne in full lotus position. He begins to meditate and quickly enters a state of deep concentration or samadhi. An attendant hands him the Black Crown, and the Karmapa places it on his own head. Legend says that if the Karmapa does not hold the crown down with his hands, it will flyaway, so great is its spiritual power. Once wearing the crown, the Karmapa then manifests as an emanation of the Buddha in ethereal, sambhogakaya form, while still remaining in his current physical body.

From the fifteenth century through the seventeenth century, the Karmapas used emperor Chengzu's crown for the Black Crown ceremony. Then, in the seventeenth century, after the fifth Dalai Lama took over the government of Central Tibet from the Tsangpa king, the Karmapa took refuge with the king of Li Jiang, a vassal state of China bordering on Burma, as we have seen.

Since the Karmapa had left the original crown behind when he fled Tsurphu, the Li Jiang king offered a duplicate Vajra Mukut. From then until 1959, the Karmapas traveled with this less valuable crown, leaving the original at Tsurphu for safekeeping. When the sixteenth Karmapa fled Tsurphu in 1959 -- unlike in the seventeenth century -- he made sure to bring along the original crown, the one presented in the fifteenth century by Chengzu to the fifth Karmapa Deshin Shegpa. He had to leave the duplicate crown presented by the king of Li Jiang back at Tsurphu.

When Rumtek was completed in 1966, the Karmapa deposited Chengzu's crown, along with the other valuables he had brought from Tibet, into the reliquary there. Later, after Tai Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches took over management of Rumtek in 1993, some would claim that there was confusion over whether the crown at Rumtek was the original or the later duplicate. "No one is certain today which Black Crown was brought out" of Tibet, since most of the Karmapa's valuables had to be left at Tsurphu, Lea Terhune wrote in her 2004 book Karmapa: The Politics of Reincamation. [6] In his book The Dance of 17 Lives published later the same year, Mick Brown repeated much the same claim: "It is not known which crown the 16th Karmapa brought with him when he fled from Tibet into Sikkim in 1959." [7]

Despite doubts by Brown and Terhune, the Tsurphu officials who helped the Karmapa crate up his valuables for transport in 1959 say that they made sure to bring the older crown, given by the emperor Chengzu to Deshin Shegpa in the fifteenth century, leaving the newer one from the seventeenth century behind.

Lekshe Drayan was the younger brother of Rumtek's first general secretary, Damchoe Yongdu. Since their family had provided secretaries to the Karmapa's labrang for generations in Tibet, Lekshe and another brother followed Damchoe in entering the family business, and both served as assistant secretaries at Tsurphu. Lekshe related his experience with the Black Crown in an affidavit he planned to submit to the District Court in Sikkim in 2005. He provided me with an advance copy, written when he was seventy-eight years old.

When the sixteenth Karmapa escaped from Tibet in 1959, along with my two brothers and other staff of the Karmapa, I helped pack his valuables at Tsurphu. This included the Vajra Crown as well as the most important movable statues, silks, paintings, and other ritual items of value that the sixteenth Karmapa wanted to take into exile. The newer crown was dark blue, while the older crown was much darker, a true black tone. The ruby on the older crown was much larger. Because he could not bring both crowns, and because the older crown was more precious, the sixteenth Karmapa decided to bring the older crown along in exile and leave the newer crown behind at Tsurphu.

The authenticity of the Black Crown at Rumtek has become another point of contention between followers of Ogyen Trinley, particularly Tai Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches, and Shamar. "I wonder where these writers Lea Terhune and Mick Brown could have heard that there is confusion about the crown," Shamar told me. "The Rumtek administration had no confusion; we knew for certain that the late Karmapa had brought the more valuable crown from Tibet. These writers' claims are suspicious. Maybe someone is spreading false rumors about the crown to confuse people. Did something happen to the Black Crown after Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches took over Rumtek in 1993?"

To determine the crown's status, Shamar has called on the Indian court system to conduct an inspection at Rumtek, over the objections of Situ, Gyaltsab, and their supporters. A later chapter deals with the dispute over the crown and the court battles to have it inspected.

Though the Vajra Mukut has been revered by Tibetans for six centuries, it was not known to the world until the sixteenth Karmapa began performing the Black Crown ceremony around Asia and in the West during the 1970s. We have seen how he packed the crown and left Tibet for exile in India, hoping to save the Karma Kagyu lineage from extinction at the hands of the Chinese Communists. We have also seen how Karma Kagyu supporters clashed with the government of Central Tibet for four hundred years before the Chinese invasion. Now, let us explore how sectarian politics followed the Karmapa into exile, posing a threat to the Karma Kagyu greater than any it had faced in the past, and even greater than the threat from Chinese Communism.
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