Lama's escape revives rival succession claims

Jan 10, 2000

Category: Urgyen Trinley Dorje

GANGTOK, JANUARY 10: The dramatic escape of Tibet's third-highest ranking religious leader the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, from China last week, has surprised the Buddhist community.

The 14-year-old's flight along with four monks and his elder sister from the eight-century-old Tsurphu monastery on the outskirts of Lhasa has renewed rivalry over the succession of the reincarnated head of Sikkim's Rumtek monastery.

Rumtek is the headquarters-in exile of Tibetan Buddhism's most prominent sect, the Karma Kargyu school.

Shamarpa Rinpoche is a regent monk of the Rumtek monastery belonging to the sect but supporter of a rival claimant to the Karmapa title. He has described the defection of Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje as a ``political ploy in agreement with the Chinese government.''

This has angered the Buddhist community in the Himalayan state where the Karma Kargyu School has its seat-in exile. The joint action committee (JAC) of the All Sikkim Buddhist Organisation comprising 37 Buddhist associations in the Statein a release here on Monday strongly criticised Rinpoche's claims that he is the second in line in the Karma Kargyu School.

The JAC, which has been spearheading the movement to bring the Karmapa to Rumtek said, ``Shamarpa has never in the history of the Karma Kargyu tradition been considered the second in line after the Karmapa.''The JAC pointed out that the lineage of the Shamarpa had been done away with as he had frequently created trouble in the religious order. It is Gyaltsab Rinpoche who is the traditional `caretaker' of the Karmapa seat, it said.

The committee said that it was only after fleeing from Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule that the late 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje sought permission and recognition from the Dalai Lama to reinstate the present Shamarpa. The Shamarpa owes his legitimacy to the recognition granted by the Dalai Lama.

The Buddhist bodies have strongly criticised the Shamarpa's allegation that Ogyen Trinley Dorje was a Chinese appointee. They clarified that the 17th reincarnation of the Karmapa, was first given the seal of approval ``Bhuktham Rinpoche'' by the Dalai Lama on June seven, 1992 and he was thereafter recognised by the Chinese authorities. The Chinese proclaimed Ogyen Trinley Dorjee as the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa only on June 27, 1992. In September that year, nine-year-old Dorjee was ``consecrated'' on the ``dharma throne'' of the Kargyupa sect at Tsurphu monastery near Lhasa by the Chinese authorities.

Incidentally, the 17th Karmapa is the first leading `Tulku' or reincarnation of a holy person to be officially recognised by modern Chinese state.Since the death of the 16th Karmapa, who had established the Kargyupa sect's seat-in exile at Rumtek in 1959, the sect popularly known as the "Black Hat" had been without a head and a bitter row for succession ensued between two rival camps within the sect.

In 1992, four monk regents of the Rumtek monastery, Shamarpa Rinpoche, Tai-Situ Rinpoche, Jamgon Rinpoche and Tsurphu Gyaltsab Rinpoche,who were looking after the affairs of one of the world's richest monasteries, began searching for the ``letter of prediction'' which is traditionally left behind by a Karmapa naming his successor.

The group split as the 16th Karmapa apparently left behind no tell-tale clue.While Tai-Situ Rinpoche and Gyaltsab Rinpoche identified nine-year-old Tibet-born Ogyen Trinley Dorje as the reincarnation of the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa. The other faction, led by Shamarpa Rinpoche opposed the view. They insisted that 11-year-old India born Thinley Thai Dorje was the rightful here to the coveted post of the temple, the "dharma throne" at Rumtek.

Meanwhile, a large delegation of Buddhist organisations including representatives from the JAC, called on Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Chamling on Monday.

In a memorandum, the body urged the Sikkim government for its support and active participation in approaching the Centre to grant ``refugee status'' to the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa and take all steps for the early return of theKarmapa to his seat at Rumtek.

Chamling while assuring the delegation of his Government's commitment to the Buddhist community in the State, said that he would take up the matter with the Centre and bring the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje to the Rumtek Dharma Chakra Centre. The Chief Minister also confirmed that the issue of installing the Karmapa on the Karma Kargyupa dharma throne was his party's commitment duly recorded in the SDF election manifesto.

A separate delegation of the JAC also called on Sikkim Governor Chaudhury Randhir Singh at the Raj Bhawan and submitted a similar memorandum.



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