Tibet Information Network
17 March, 1994
Unrest broke out amongst supporters of rival Tibetan religious factions during a ceremony in Delhi today, 17 March. Bricks and bottles were thrown, wounding several people during the incident, which arose from a apparent challenge to the Dalai Lama's authority amongst Tibetan Buddhists.
The challenge was issued by a Tibetan lama known as Shamar Rimpoche when he presented at the ceremony a 10 year old child named Tenzin Khyentse, whom he announced this morning was the 17th incarnation of the Karmapa. The 16th Karmapa, head of the Kagyupa school of Tibetan Buddhism and one of the four leading Tibetan lamas, died in November 1981.
The announcement is likely to lead to political tension, because the Dalai Lama declared another child, Urgyen Thinley, as the 17th Karmapa two years ago. Urgyen Thinley has been recognised as the legitimate re-incarnation by most other leading lamas, as well as by the Chinese authorities in Beijing.
About 400 people attended this morning's ceremony at the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute in Mehrauli, New Delhi, most of them western followers of Shamar, who has a strong following in Denmark and Germany.
About 100 Tibetans from the refugee community in Delhi, including monks, staged a demonstration outside the Institute, carrying banners describing Shamar as "a disgrace to our religion" and proclaiming support for the child Urgyen Thinley, who was formally enthroned as the 17th Karmapa in Lhasa in September 1992.
Bricks were thrown by protestors on both sides, and one Westerner was hurt and taken to hospital when he was pushed over, hitting his head on the pavement. Less than a dozen police were on duty when the protest began, but were able to hold back the demonstrators.
"Somebody started people pushing the gates in and then someone was hurling a brick and people were throwing bottles from the top of the building inside", said one eye-witness, who described the demonstrators as quietening down after about 30 minutes when police reinforcements arrived. "I don't think any of the Tibetans there were really serious about violence. The monks were, most of them, trying to keep people quiet, but there were monks throwing bricks as well," she added.
Shamar's arch-rival in the dispute, a senior lama called Situ Rimpoche who first identified Urgyen Thinley as the Karmapa, issued a statement from Delhi today saying he was ashamed of the violence used by his supporters. But he has already been accused by Shamar of inciting the protest.
Other lamas have used less orthodox methods to dissuade Shamar from mounting his challenge, including citing 18th century poetry as proof of Situ's choice.
In that area, with rocky mountains, by a tree,
Is the Seventeenth of the Incarnation Rosary
Sitting together with Kenting Tai Situ-pa,
Their minds merged as one,
goes a verse quoted by one distinguished lama in an open letter last month. The 18th century poet "foresaw the Seventeenth sitting together with Situ and not with Shamar. Furthermore, when I saw the comment that "their minds merged as one", I gained irreversible certainty. There is no way I can accept your insistent commands", wrote Thrangu Tulku, a lama based in Nepal, in the letter rejecting Shamar's claim.
Indian Newspaper Campaign
The incident has been overshadowed in political significance by a pro-Shamar campaign being waged by a leading Indian newspaper, the Indian Express. Yesterday the paper carried another in a three month series of front page articles in effect vilifying the child recognised by the Dalai Lama, and describing those supporting that child as "China-linked".
The newspaper has run detailed personal attacks on six individuals, including two westerners, whom it depicts as Chinese agents opposed to Shamar Rimpoche. The articles quoted liberally from internal Indian government memos, suggesting official involvement in the campaign.
The dispute could damage the standing of the Dalai Lama, whom Shamar described, in a recent speech in Malaysia, as "more concerned with his own position than with Kagyupa matters". Shamar refused today to say where his child candidate had come from, apparently to deflect rumours that he had received help from the Chinese or Indian governments in bringing the boy from Tibet.
The dispute comes on the eve of a controversial conference due to open in New Delhi tomorrow. The three day forum, organised by 106 Indian MPs, plans to urge India to call for a dialogue between the Chinese and the exile Tibetans. The organisers last week accused the Indian government of "sabotage" by deliberately delaying issuing visas to foreign MPs planning to attend the meeting.