Twist in the tale - the Rumtek monastery, Sikkim

Dec 22, 2000

Category: Dalai Lama

For the Dalai Lama, life is synonymous with struggle. Having battled the 'executive' in his homeland for years, the temporal head of the Tibetans has now been dragged into a 'judicial' matter in his land of exile, India . The controversial case: the six year old dispute over the selection of the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa to head Sikkim's Rumtek monastery.

A Delhi court has issued a 'show-cause’ notice to the Central Bureau of lnvestigation (CBI) on the basis of a complaint against the Dalai Lama and six others for 'conspiring' to 'dismember' Sikkim from India and 'aligning' it with the Tibetan 'autonomous' region of China. Early in October, Delhi chief metropolitan magistrate (CMM) Prem Kumar, directed the CBI to file a formal reply on the matter after the investigating agency submitted that a special leave petition (SLP) on a similar nature was pending in the Supreme Court.

The court's directive to the agency was in response to a complaint filed by, [Shree] Narayan Singh, a member of the Rumtek monastery. Singh has accused the Dalai Lama, former Sikkim chief minister and Sikkim Sangram Parishad (SSP) supremo Nar Bahadu rBhandari, controversial Buddhist monk (formerly a regent at Rumtek) Tai Situ Rinpoche, Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche. Gyalo Thondup, Kunsang Sherab and Sonam Topden of conspiring to 'dismember" Sikkim from India.

The complainant alleged that the seven 'suspects' were misusing religion for subversive Chinese propaganda and urged the Delhi court to summon the 'confidential' report prepared by the then Sikkim chief secretary, K. Sreedhar Rao, in May 1997, to expose the conspiracy, as well as the role of the Dalai Lama and the other monks. And take 'appropriate’ action against them.

Bitter personal rivalries and an intense power struggle have transformed the richest monastery in the country (and one of the richest in the world) into a hot-bed of political activity. Rumtek, the 250-year-old monastery, 24 kms from Gangtok, is the headquarters of the Kagyupa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. The Kagyupa sect has its origins in Tibet in the early 12th century. It is also known as the 'Black Hat' sect. As the legend goes, after the first Karmapa spent many years meditating in a cave, tens of thousands of fairies came to congratulate him and each offered him a ‘strand of hair’. These strands were woven together into a 'Black Hat'. The hat is passed down from one Kannapa to another.

Since the death of the 16th Gyalwa Kannapa in 1981, Rumtek has been without a head. The Karmapa apparently left behind no clues about his heir apparent - paving the path for a succession drama which is yet to be resolved. In 1992, four monks Samar Rinpoche, Tai Situ Rinpoche, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and Tsurpu Gyaltsab Rinpoche, who were looking after the monastery and searching for the 'chosen one’, split into two groups. The one led by Tai Situ and Tsurpu Gyaltsab identified nine-year-old Tibet-born Ogyen Thinley Dorjee as the reincarnation of the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa. But the other faction. led by Samar Rinpoche, opposed this view. They insisted that 11 –year-old India-born Thinley Thai Dorjee was the rightful heir to the Dharma Throne of the Rumtek monastery.

According to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the Gyalwa Karmapa leaves behind a ‘letter of prediction' about his own reincarnation. After his death this letter is "traced' and “deciphered'”. Based on this. the new Karmapa is tracked down and identified. Then, a report is sent to the Dalai Lama for his approval. After the completion of several religious and social rituals. the Dalai Lama gives his seal of approval, known as the Buktan Rinpoche.

After Ogyen Thinley Dorjee was 'identified', Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche set out for Tibet to bring the boy to Rumtek. Rinpoche, however, was killed in a car accident on the way to Siliguri in April 1992. But the Dalai Lama had given his seal of approval to Ogyen Dorjee.

On 27 June, 1992. the Chinese authorities proclaimed Ogyen Thinley Dorjee as the 17th Gyalwa Kamupa. In September that year, nine-year-old Dorjee was 'consecrated' on the Dharma Throne of the Kagyupa sect at the Tsurphu monastery, by the Chinese authorities.

But this did not bring the curtains down on the succession saga at Rumtek, which is presently under the vigil of the Sikkim Armed Police. Central intervention in the affairs of the monastery became necessary after the rivalry between Tai Situ Rinpoche and Samar Rinpoche took a violent turn. Paramilitary forces were deployed inside the Ghompa complex, and both the monks were barred from entering the complex. The Government of lndia branded Tai Situ Rinpoche 'anti-national’ and banned his entry into India in August 1994. The ban was revoked in April this year, only to be clamped again, under pressure from the CBI and RAW [Research & Analysis Wing]. But Tai Situ Rinpoche is now allowed to travel to all parts of India, except Sikkim, Jammu and Kashmir and the north-eastern states. [Neither is he allowed to visit Darjeeling district and he must seek the permission of the CBI before going anywhere.]

In his complaint, [Shree] Narayan Singh alleged that the 'recognition' of the Sino-Tibetan boy as the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa was based on fabricated evidence and so, while the Chinese government had recognised the boy as the next Karmapa, the Indian government had not done so. Singh further alleged that Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche's death in a car accident was an act of 'sabotage’, and had not been probed properly. The then CM Nar Bahadur Bhandari had, apparently, brought his 'personal mechanic' from Delhi to Siliguri in April 1992 to 'maintain' the German made BMW car owned by the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa [actually Jamgon Rinpoche himself]. It was during this period, on 26 April, 1992, that this car, carrying the Rinpoche and three others, had crashed.

The Buddhist community in Sikkim has been pressurising the Pawan Kumar Chamling-led Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) government to help bring the 17th Gyalwa Kannapa from Tibet to Sikkim. A delegation led by the state public works department minister, Thinley Tshering Bhutia, recently urged the CM to ask the Centre to immediately lift the ‘ban' imposed on Tai Situ Rinpoche from entering Sikkim.

In September this year, Chamling met the Rinpoche in New Delhi, where he reiterated that his government would not 'interfere’ in the religious affairs of Rumtek. He also assured the controversial Buddhist monk that he would request the Centre to bring the 17th reincarnated Gyalwa Karmapa from Tsurphu in Tibet. And the current court case is being viewed as a desperate bid by the Samar Rinpoche faction to prevent Ogyen Thinley Dodee from taking over as the head of Rumtek.

The Rumtek controversy is a very sensitive socio-political issue in Sikkim and ruling governments have to handle it with a lot of care. Ask Nar Bahadur Bhandari. One of the factors that toppled the SSP government was his alleged 'anti-Bhutia-Lepcha' stance.

The state bureaucracy. too, is keeping a close watch on the proceedings. Observed a senior bureaucrat: 'Given Dalai Lama's background. it is unthinkable that he could ever work against Indian interests... The case is nothing but a ploy to drum up cheap publicity... an attempt by anti-establishment groups to keep the issue on the boil for as along as possible.'

G. Chhetri/Gangtok.



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