New book on Karmapa lineage fuels controversy

Apr 1, 2000

Category: Karmapa History

A new book predicting four more ''Karmapas'' after the present 17th reincarnation of the supreme head of the Kagyu sect has given a new twist to the decade-long row over the succession controversy to the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism's head: The Gyalwa Karmapa Lama title.

Titled as ''Karmapa- the Sacred Prophecy'', the book records memories of famous 19th century Tibetan ''Terton'' or master treasure revealer, Chogyur Dechen Ligpa, who was granted in his lifetime a ''prophetic vision'' of all the reincarnations of the Karmapas ending the lineage with the 21st reincarnation. The book says the Karma Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism will also witness a tremendous increase in disciples and activities in the years to come.

Translated into English for the first time by the New York-based pro-Tai Situ Rimpoche Kagyu Thubten Choling Monastery following the dramatic escape of the teenaged 17th Karmapa Lama, Ugyen Thinley Dorjee, from Tibet's Tsurphu monastery in January early this year, the book has fuelled criticism from the rival Rumtek monks at Gangtok. In his foreword to the book, the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, welcomes the publication of the book containing the previous accounts of sixteen Karmapas and the earlier Kagyu masters as well as Chogyur Lingpa's prophecy concerning the twenty-one Karmapas. Quoting the Terton's vision, the book says there would be ''tremendous increase'' in disciples and activities of the 18th Karmapa, while those of the 19th incarnation would extend '' eastward to the shores of the oceans.''

The 20th Karmapa would abide ''by the 12 principles of spiritual practice of simplicity'', while the last Karmapa in the Kagyu lineage will travel ''extensively''. Whereever he goes he will be venerated by great beings, who will touch the crowns of their heads to his feet,'' the book says. The pro-Tai Situ Rimpoche monks (The Tai Situpa is one of the four Rumtek regents advocating Ugyen Trinley Dorjee's candidature for the coveted Karmapa title) cherish the ''prophecy'' as a sacred document, indicating the ''qualities and activities'' of future Karmapas.

The pro-Shamar Rimpoche, another Rumtek regent, opposed to Ugyen Thinley Dorjee maintains that the translated book has deliberately misinterpreted the relations between the Shamarpa lineage and the Karmapas. The other faction, led by Kunzig Shamarpa, however, opposed the view. They insisted that another eleven-year-old Tibet-born boy, Thinley Thaye Dorje, was the rightful heir to the coveted post of the prestigious temple's ''Dharma Throne'' at Rumtek DCC.

The president of the Joint Action Committee (JAC) of All Sikkim Buddhist Organisation, a pro-Situ Rimpoche camp, spearheading the campaign to install the Ugyen Thinley Dorjee at the Rumtek Dharma Chakra Centre, Kunzang Sherab told UNI, ''The Lingpa's prophecy are absolutely correct. When the highest of the high Tibetan Buddhist masters have prophesised such, who are we laymen to contradict? More then the prophecy, we are concerned on the early enthronement of the 17th Karmapa at Rumtek.'' Sherab, a former Sikkim bureaucrat said, ''The prophecy correctly depicts the Kagyu lineage. Chogyur Lingpa, who was born in 1829 in eastern Tibet during the lifetime of the 14th Karmapa, Tegchog Dorjee, was believed to have incarnated 12 times as Terton.''

JAC secretary, Kunzang Topden echoing Sherab's views added, '' We lay people have not really given much thought about prophecy of future reincarnations. What we are more concerned about is the present Karmapa.'' Meanwhile, the Denzong Nag-Ten Sung-Kyob Tsogpa (DNST) a Sikkimese Buddhist Organisation, opposed to the JAC, has said the New York-based pro-Situ Rimpoche monastery has deliberately tempered with the prophecy of the Karmapas.

DNST's publicity secretary, Yeshey Jungey told UNI, ''We do not dispute the prophecy of the Lingpa. The relation between the Karamapa and the Kunzig Shamarpa (Rimpoche) has been deliberately distorted. While the book depicts that the 17th incarnation 'is said to have a unity in mind' with the Tai Situpa (Rimpoche). The book does not dwell upon the close relations between successive Karmapas and the Shamarpa, who is second in hierarchy in the Karma Kagyu lineage. The book is just a propaganda exercise by the Tai Situpa (Rimpoche).'' Not to be deterred the JAC maintains that the ''Terton revealed 37 collections of teachings hidden in different places and 'received' a multitude of profound transmissions through visions of his former lives.'' Sherab says, ''The Terton visions as depicted in the book on the 15th and 16th Karmapas were believed to be correct.

So why not those on the 17th incarnation?'' According to the book, Chogyur Lingpa described his visions to Karmai Khenchen Rinchen Tarjay, the supreme Abbot of the Karma Monastery, who painted those on silk. The Terton's disciples also committed his oral descriptions of the vision to writing and later printed in woodblock. Photographs of those 19th century woodblock texts and the silk painting are glossily reproduced in the book.

While the Dalai Lama in his foreword says that the Kagyu tradition whose origin lie particularly in the teachings of the great Indian Buddhist master, Tilopa and Naropa, is of the major traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. And the readers will join me in offering prayers that the present young incarnation of Gyalwang Karmapa will be able to fulfil his studies and training as his illustrious predecessors have done.''



Karmapa Symposium

Thaye Dorje Urgyen Dorje

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