Tibetan Buddhism's new Karmapa to hold prayers for quake victims

Nov 2, 1999

Category: Trinley Thaye Dorje

A major dispute within Tibetan Buddhism is set to hit the island when one of the two reincarnations of the late Karmapa -- a Tibetan spiritual leader said to rank second only to the Dalai Lama in importance -- visits Taipei on Saturday.

More than 64 Taiwanese lawmakers, including speaker Wang Jin-pyng, has endorsed the first Taiwan trip by Thayi Dorje and asked him to conduct prayers for the deceased victims of the Sept. 21 earthquake.

The bespectacled 16-year, who is based in Western India, lies at the center of a bitter religious dispute that has intrigued and divided the Buddhist world for more than a decade.

The Dalai Lama, the final arbiter of spiritual and political matters in Tibet, has approved the 14-year old Ugen Thinley Dorje, who is based in Tibet, as the official reincarnation of Karmapa, who died in 1981.

The Dalai Lama's representatives in Taipei refused to make any official comment on the trip, but reiterated the official stance of the Tibetan government. "We know that the Dalai Lama has said that we recognize the one that is now in Tibet," says Kunga Tashi, an official of the Dalai Lama's Cultural and Religious Foundation, the Tibetan leader's de facto embassy liaison office in Taipei.

That brings into question the authenticity of Thayi Dorje, recognized by Shamarpa Rinpoche, a nephew of the previous Karmapa, and another key leader of the Kagyudpa lineage.

During his three-week stay in Taipei, he will conduct two prayer ceremonies for earthquake victims in Taipei and will have a dialogue with Taiwanese university students next week.

Lopon Rinpoche, a Taiwanese monk and head of the Karma Kagyud Monastery in Tainan who is one of the organizers of the visit, however, sees nothing wrong in having two reincarnations and appeals for rationality from the Taiwanese followers of Tibetan Buddhism.

"We feel very helpless (about the local press questioning Thayi Dorje's legitimacy)," he says. "It is not bad if we have two Karmapas -- one for the communist world and one for the free world."

Other organizers are also requesting Taiwanese citizens to iron out the petty sectarian disputes to jointly work to help the souls of more than 2,400 deceased earthquake victims rest in peace.

"I have no idea about this disagreement," said Legislator Cheng Yung-chin, who helped mobilize more than 60 legislators to welcome the visiting monk.

"The important thing is whether or not he has the conviction to help the victims." The welcoming gesture is purely based on a "respect" for the lofty position of Karmapa in Tibet, he said.

>When China invaded Tibet in 1959, the 16th Karmapa escaped to Bhutan, eventually settling in Sikkim, India, where he built a new monastery in Rumtek, a place which has now become one of the most important centers of Buddhist studies in India.

Before passing a way in 1981 in Chicago, Karmapa traveled extensively throughout Europe and North America, where he ran more than 100 religious centers.

Taiwan has a highly active Tibetan Buddhist community numbering some 100,000. Taiwanese followers from the opposing camp -- while refusing to launch an outright condemnation of the trip -- are far from quiet.

"We don't have anything to do with this trip," said Chen Su-nu, a staff at Hwa Yue Foundation, a Buddhist Foundation and key Taiwan sponsor for 17th Karmapa based in Tibet, run by former defense minister Chen Lu-an. "This is, I think, different from the one that is in our videotape on Karmapa."

The Buddhist world is no stranger to controversy with opposing factions, often installing their own reincarnations of high-ranking lamas.

In 1995, Beijing installed its own reincarnation of the Panchen Lama and put the one chosen by the Dalai Lama, the 10-year old Gedun Choekyi Nyima, under house arrest, thus creating the world's youngest political prisoner.



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