Tibetan monk's HK trip shows Buddhism's divisions

Feb 19, 2009

Category: Trinley Thaye Dorje

A recent visit to Hong Kong by a monk claiming to be one of Tibetan Buddhism's most important leaders has highlighted the ancient power struggles that lurk within the peace-preaching religion.

Earlier this month, advertisements appeared in the city's Standard newspaper announcing the visit of Trinley Thaye Dorje who says he is the 17th Karmapa, a reincarnation of Tibetan Buddhism's third highest deity.

Days later, ads in the rival South China Morning Post announced events that would go ahead "with the blessing of His Holiness 17th Karmapa," and showed a photograph of a different monk -- Ogyen Trinley Dorje, generally recognised as the true Karmapa.

"Although His Holiness will not be able to come to Hong Kong... he sends his blessings all the way from India," the SCMP ad said.

Ogyen Trinley Dorje fled Tibet in 1999 by diving out of monastery window after the Chinese authorities refused to allow his teachers to visit from India.

He now lives in the Indian hill town of Dharamshala, base of the Tibetan government-in-exile, where his movements are tightly controlled by Indian authorities.

Any visit to China would be virtually unimaginable for him following his high-profile and controversial departure.

Even Hong Kong, which has its own immigration laws, is likely to be off-limits as authorities fear offending their communist masters in Beijing, who are sensitive about criticism over their 60-year rule of Tibet and well-documented human rights abuses there.

Thubten Samphel, spokesman for the Tibetan government-in-exile, said there was no doubt who was the "authentic" Karmapa.

"If you lined up the two side-by-side and asked the Tibetan people who they would prefer to receive a blessing from, they would line up in front of (Ogyen Trinley Dorje)," he told AFP by phone.

Robbie Barnett, an expert in Tibetan Buddhism at Columbia University in New York, said Trinley Thaye Dorje's claim to the Karmapa title, based on the declaration of a few senior Tibetans, was extremely tenuous.

"This is like a tiny group of cardinals putting out their own pope and declaring war within the Church," he said.

The religion has a long history of disputes over reincarnation, although they have waned under strong leadership from the Dalai Lama, said Barnett.

"These disputes are almost inevitable because of the vast amounts of money and power and political interests that are involved for these people who are recognised," he said.

The dispute over the "real" Panchen Lama, Tibetan Buddhism's second most powerful figure, is the best known rift in the religion, seen by outsiders as the ultimate pacifist ideology but which has been riven by rivalries between sects for centuries.

After the death in 1989 of the 10th Panchen Lama, the Dalai Lama and Beijing -- insisting on control of major religious decisions -- announced different choices for the 11th reincarnation.

The Dalai's choice, then aged six, suddenly disappeared, and many Tibetans and observers believe he and his family were kidnapped by Beijing.

The Chinese government denies the Dalai Lama's choice is in detention, but regularly parades its own candidate the legitimate Panchen.

The dispute over the Karmapa does not now involve the Chinese communists as both monks now live in India.

During his Hong Kong visit, Trinley Thaye Dorje insisted he had been properly chosen in an arcane process that includes divine guidance to identify a reincarnation.

"The conflict is a very unfortunate dispute. It should have never taken place," he said in an interview.

He was keen to avoid controversy, despite the spotlight on the Tibet issue in the year following deadly violence that erupted in Tibetan parts of China last March and amid tightened security leading up to the anniversary.

Asked if he had a responsibility to highlight the plight of Tibetans in China, he said: "I do what I can from the religious (and spiritual side). There are many others who are doing their part.

"I very much feel for everyone, not just the Tibetans. (So many people) are in great, great difficulty, in all kinds of problems," he said.

China has ruled Tibet since 1951, after sending in troops the previous year to "liberate" the Himalayan region from what they call a Buddhist theocracy.

Many Tibetans insist they do not want Chinese rule and say widespread political and religious repression triggered last year's anti-Chinese riots.

Tibet's government-in-exile says more than 200 Tibetans were killed and about 1,000 hurt in the subsequent crackdown. China has reported killing one Tibetan "insurgent" and says "rioters" were responsible for 21 deaths.

The rioting came on the anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising that was quashed with deadly force -- the Tibetan government-in-exile says the Chinese army killed 87,000 people -- and led to the Dalai Lama fleeing his homeland.

Despite questions about his legitimacy, Trinley Thaye Dorje's Hong Kong visit appeared to be well supported. He was welcomed at the airport by hundreds of people and his seminars at the city's exhibition centre attracted thousands.

Barnett said that for many Tibetans, the precise lineage of senior monks is not important. "Tibetans think there must be something good in someone if they have been put in this position."

Thubten Samphel agreed, adding that although such disputes were a "distraction" they had long been part of Tibetan life.

"It is for people to make up their mind. We cannot say you are right or you are wrong," he said. 



Karmapa Symposium

Thaye Dorje Urgyen Dorje

Articles and News Reports


News from Enlightened Heart RSS © Enlightened Heart 2015
Home | Introduction | Karmapa Symposium | Karma Kagyu Lineage | Aspirations | Events | Contact | Sitemap