Rumtek Controversy Revived JAC Challenges Shamarpa's claims

Mar 3, 2000

Category: Urgyen Trinley Dorje

GANGTOK: Tension at Rumtek had been at an ebb for the past couple of years, but controversy over who merits to be at the helm of Kagyupa affairs as the XVIIth Karmapa came to fore again with the arrival in Dharamsala of Ogyen Trinley Dorje, the candidate blessed by the Tibetan spiritual and titular head, the Dalai Lama. Just as the excitement over his escape from Tsurphu monastery in Chinese occupied Tibet died down, the tussle to control the Kagyu order of Tibetan Buddhism started with Shamar Rinpoche, a regent of Rumtek monastery, reinstating his demands to place his candidate, Thaye Dorje, as the XVIIth Karmapa. In fact, the Shamarpa has gone as far as to allege that Ogyen Trinley Dorje was part of a Chinese ploy to steal away the sacred Black Hat from Rumtek monastery. Adding more confusion is the entry of a new claimant to the seat in the form of Dawa Sangpo Dorjee who has challenged the other two contenders to a showdown of "power" to decide who takes over from the XVIth Gyalwa Karmapa.

Of the three, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, commands the most acceptance primarily because he is the one accepted by the Dalai Lama, whose word is considered final by all practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism. Contesting Shamar Rinpoche’s claims is the Joint Action Committee of All Sikkim Buddhist Organisations headed by Kunzang Sherab as President. In a Press release issued on 9 January, shortly after Shamar Rinpoche went on air with his allegations, the JAC has replied to comments made by the former in an interview given to Star News a day earlier. First, the JAC has challenged Shamarpa’s introduction as the second in line in the Karma Kagyu school, stating that it is the Gyaltsab Rinpoche who is in fact the traditional caretaker of the Karmapa seat. The Press release points out that the name Gyaltsab itself means ‘caretaker’ while further informing that the lineage of Shamarpa was discontinued in Tibet for he "frequently created trouble in the religious order".

Shamar Rinpoche had also alleged that Ogyen Trinley Dorje was a Chinese "appointee", to which the JAC points out that recognition first came from the Dalai Lama and has also alleged that even Shamar Rinpoche had earlier, in a letter dated 17 June, 1992, accepted the Dalai Lama’s choice. In fact, the JAC has turned the Chinese angle on Shamar Rinpoche by alleging that it was in fact his candidate, Thaye Dorje, who was "Chinese". The JAC has alleged that he was brought from China and that a Bhutanese passport was procured through "personal contacts in Bhutan".

The JAC even turns around Shamar Rinpoche’s allegation that Ogyen Trinley’s "escape" was a Chinese ploy to take away the sacred Black Hat and instruments of the Karmapa. "This statement is absurd," JAC states while adding that what Shamarpa was in fact doing was "spewing out" the statements issued by the Chinese. JAC believes that the Karmapa was forced to flee from his traditional seat at Tsurphu monastery in light of the growing religious repression by Chinese in Tibet and their refusal to allow the Karmapa to meet his teachers for religious training.

Further, the JAC challenges Shamar Rinpoche’s recent statement that there can be two Karmapas by pointing out that "never in history of the Karmapa tradition has there ever been more than one Karmapa". The JAC Press release also writes off Shamarpa’s observation that whoever has possession of the Black Hat can be recognised as the Karmapa by maintaining there would be absolute anarchy if that be the case.

The JAC, which represents some nineteen Buddhist organisations, has also met the Chief Minister with their request to pressure the Government of India to allow Ogyen Trinley Dorje to come to Rumtek and take over as the head of the Karma Kagyu order. While the Chief Minister is reported to have assured all support for their request, the Chief Secretary was recently quoted to have said that the State would do "whatever the Centre directed.

While the religious contentions continue within the Kagyupa fold and is dragged through reams of newsprint all over the world, it is the Government of India which is being forced into sleepless nights over the latest development. On the one hand is the humanitarian concern and worldwide support to grant the Karmapa political asylum and on the other there is pressure from China to send him back.

Officials in the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, when contacted by WR in Dharamsala, confirmed that the Dalai Lama, taking time out from his two and a half month long retreat to meet concerned officials over the weekend, had made a "personal appeal" to the Foreign Ministry to grant political asylum to the Karmapa. While the Indian Foreign Ministry continues to maintain that it has not received any "formal request" for the Karmapa’s political asylum, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhu Bangzao, "advised India to keep relations between the two neighbours in mind when dealing with the Karmapa, but stopped short of saying India should deny him asylum", a 12 January issue of New York Times reported. Bangzao, is also reported to have reminded India of its recognition of Chinese sovereignty over Tibet and a "commitment" to prevent the Dalai Lama from engaging in political activity from Indian territory.

International pressure on India comes in the form of the American Assistant Secretary of State with special responsibility for Tibet, Julia Taft. Although both sides deny that Ms. Taft’s visit has anything to do with the Karmapa issue, it is a lame excuse given the fact that she is presently in Dharamsala, staying a lodge run by the Dalai Lama’s brother. Officials in her entourage were quoted by the London-based, Telegraph, as saying, "India has a long and distinguished record of granting refuge to Tibetans fleeing Chinese rule and we see no reason why this honourable record should change in relation to the Karmapa." American Foreign Ministry officials have already announced that USA would grant sanctuary to the Karmapa if India refused, while adding that they "considered" an Indian refusal "highly unlikely".

In the middle of this international drama, the 14-year-old Karmapa, on Wednesday, met his devotees at the Gyuto monastery some 10kms from Dharamsala where he is presently housed for security reasons. The Karmapa is also reported to have expressed his happiness that the Tibetan community and others are making efforts to help him. The Karmapa is presently recuperating at the monastery with his principal teacher and devotee, the Tai Situ Rinpoche, sources inform.

An easy way out for India, point out observers, would be to look the other way while the Karmapa slipped into Rumtek. Once this was done, it would be "fait accompli". China would think twice before pressurising India to act since by doing so it would recognising Sikkim as a part of India, something it has not done for the past twenty-five years that Sikkim has been a part of the Indian union. How the Centre finally reacts is still to be seen, as for the religion, it would be best if the government stepped out of the picture and let religious leaders sort out the confusion.



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