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Karmapa controversy

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[[File:Karmapa Urgyen Trinley Dorje1.jpg|thumb|180px|Ogyen Trinley Dorje)] [[File:Trinley Thaye Dorje.jpg|155px|thumb|Trinley Thaye Dorje)] The recognition of the Seventeenth Karmapa, the head of the Karma Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism, has been the subject of controversy. Since the death of the sixteenth Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, in 1981, two candidates have been put forward:

Both have already been enthroned as 17th Karmapa, and both independently have been performing ceremonial duties in the role of a Karmapa. They have not met, though both have expressed a willingness and desire to meet. The situation has led to deep division among Kagyu followers all over the world. As one academic expert in the field testified in court, while the recognition of Ogyen Trinley "appears to have been accepted by a majority of Karma Kagyu monasteries and lamas, there remains a substantial minority of monasteries and lamas who have not accepted Ogyen Trinley as Karmapa. In particular, these include the Shamar Rinpoche, who historically has been the person most directly involved in the process of recognition." It is difficult to produce an objective description of the events because the most important developments are known only from conflicting accounts by those involved.

The Karmapa lineage is the most ancient tulku lineage in Tibetan Buddhism, predating the Dalai Lama lineage by more than two centuries. The lineage is an important one as the Karmapa is traditionally the head of the Karma Kagyu school.


Recognition of the Karmapa

As with any other lineage of tulkus, the question of recognizing the new incarnation is crucial. Sometimes, all concerned parties are sure that a particular child is indeed the new incarnation of that particular master. Such agreement was not the case with the 8th, 10th, and 12th Karmapas (each of which was resolved). A dispute has happened again in the case of the 17th Karmapa.

Karmapas have often been self-recognizing. That means that many incarnations (at least seven out of sixteen) claimed very early in life to be Karmapa, recognizing associates and colleagues of the previous incarnation. Also, each Karmapa has left indications leading to his next rebirth, often in the form of a letter. In such letters, indications regarding the location and parentage of the next incarnation were included, though usually in a poetic form that is difficult to decipher. However, the closest associates of the previous incarnation play a crucial role in the process of recognizing the next Karmapa. After all, it is they who have been closely associated with the previous incarnation and will have to raise and teach the new one.

The process of recognition has involved several different lamas since the first recognition in the early 13th century. Geoffrey Samuel writes that, "From the late 14th century onwards until the 1790s, the primary responsibility for recognising and enthroning the Karmapa normally belong to the Shamarpa." The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Karmapas were recognised by individual followers of the early Karmapas, rather than by any tulku. The Shamarpa recognised the 5th, 6th, 9th (together with Tai Situ), 10th, 11th, and (via a search party) 12th Karmapas. Tai Situ recognised the 8th, 9th (together with the Shamarpa), 14th, and (together with Jamgon Kongtrul) 16th Karmapas. Gyaltsab Rinpoche recognised the 7th and 13th Karmapas, and the 15th Karmapa was recognised by the 9th Drukchen of the Drukpa Kagyu.

In the 1790s, shortly before the recognition of the 14th Karmapa, the Tibetan government in Lhasa banned the Shamarpa from reincarnating as a result of alleged political intrigues. The Karmapa continued to recognize reincarnations of the Shamarpa, but they of necessity lived in secret and were not available to recognise the Karmapas. This ban became irrelevant when the Dalai Lama and the Karmapa both fled Tibet in the late 1950s. The ban was formally lifted in 1963.

Samuel points out that, in the cases of the 7th and 13th Karmapas, the Shamarpa of that time had died at around the same time as the previous Karmapa, meaning that there was no adult Shamarpa available to take part in the recognition. Thus, Samuel argues that "the only real exception" to the Shamarpa's preeminent role, prior to his banning, was in the recognition of the 8th Karmapa in 1506. Tai Situ has been the next most actively involved in recognising Karmapas, including two of the three recognised between 1790 and 1963.

Split recognition of the current Karmapa

Of the two 17th Karmapas, Ogyen Trinley Dorje has been recognized by Situ Rinpoche and Gyaltsab Rinpoche. In July 1992, both asked the Office of the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala to confirm their recognition. The 14th Dalai Lama confirmed the recognition of Ogyen Trinley Dorje. His recognition of Ogyen Trinley Dorje as the Karmapa is, in part, attributed to a dream he had of Ogyen Trinley Dorje's birthplace. As stated by the Dalai Laman this dream he saw a valley at a higher latitude with multiple streams and other features. Then, in the dream, a voice with no form or body said that this was the place the Karmapa was born. It has been pointed out that according to tradition the Dalai Lama does not have any role in the recognition process of the Karmapa or within the Karma Kagyu school in general. However, it can also be argued that as indicated by the fact the 15th Karmapa was appointed by the 9th Druckchen Rinpoche of the Drukpa Kagyu school, respected high teachers from other lineages have been relied upon to confirm recognitions. Nonetheless, responding to the Dalai Lama's role in the process, in February 1997, Shamar Rinpoche stated:

This amounts to a medieval dictatorial command and I understand that this is the approach that you desire. But it is completely unacceptable to me … Therefore, my final request to the Private Office of the Dalai Lama is that [it] does not involve His Holiness's name in this problematic issue … with respect to our lineage it is up to us, who are part of that lineage, to achieve its aims … you ought to be cautious in your undertakings!

A different interpretation of the role of the Dalai Lama in the recognition process was provided by the 9th Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, a senior Karma Kagyu teacher, when he stated: 'All the highly realized monks of the Vajrayana Buddhism, like H.H. the Dalai Lama. Sakya Trizin and many other compassionate religious practitioners, have in their wisdom said that Urgyen Trinley Dorje of Tibet is the 17th Karmapa.' In other words, the Dalai Lama's part in the process is considered by some to be legitimate because of his level of realization. Similarly, Thrangu Rinpoche's statement also suggests that it can be considered significant that Sakya Trizin (head of the Sakya school) and the recently deceased head of the Nyingma school, Mindroling Trichen Rinpoche recognized Ogyen Trinley Dorje as the reincarnation of the 16th Karmapa, and composed long-life prayers for him.

Other major teachers of the Karma Kagyu lineage (e.g. the 7th Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, the 9th Thrangu Rinpoche, the 7th Mingyur Rinpoche, and the 9th Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche) also hold Ogyen Trinley Dorje to be the 17th Karmapa.

For the government of the People's Republic of China, Ogyen Trinley Dorje is the 17th Karmapa.

The first born Karmapa, Trinley Thaye Dorje, has been recognized by Shamar Rinpoche (regarded by some as the senior lama in the Karma Kagyu hierarchy just below the Karmapa), Lama Jigme Rinpoche, Topga Yulgyal Rinpoche, Lopon Tsechu Rinpoche, Sherab Gyaltsen Rinpoche, the Venerable Khenchen Rinpoche Drupon Trinley Paljor, and the Fourth Trungram Gyaltrul Rinpoche.

Beru Khentse Rinpoche holds a distinct minority view, saying he believes both Karmapas are legitimate. He states "it is possible that there can be two Karmapas in order to benefit sentient beings because the Karmapa can manifest in many different forms" and writes that the 14th Karmapa highlighted that "in many universes a hundred million Karmapas have manifested. The Karmapa is also the Buddha's emanation, thus until all the thousand Buddhas have come and their doctrine is not diminishing, my activity of the Karmapa emanations will not end."

Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche said that "as far as my father [i.e., Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche) was concerned, they were both to be respected and perceived with pure appreciation."

For followers on both sides of this controversy, the issue is painful. Both sides pray that the rightful Karmapa may be able to do his dharmic duties and teachings. Ole Nydahl, founder of Diamond Way Buddhism and supporter of Trinley Thaye Dorje, has said that the spiritual realization of the Karmapas and their worthiness as reincarnations will be shown clearly by their future actions.

Ogyen Trinley Dorje

See also: Ogyen Trinley Dorje

Ogyen Trinley Dorje was born in 1985 to a nomadic family in eastern Tibet. At age seven, he was formally enthroned at Tsurphu Monastery, the traditional seat of the Karmapas in Tibet. In late December 1999, he eluded his communist Chinese minders, who prevented him from undertaking most of his traditional studies and teaching activities, and escaped over the Himalaya mountains to exile in India. He celebrated his twenty-first birthday on June 26, 2006. He has since 2002 hosted and lectured in the Kagyu Monlam Chemno, a major prayer activities gathering held in Bodhgaya every year end in which major Kagyu masters and lamas participate.

Circumstances leading to candidacy

After the death of the 16th Karmapa, Shamar Rinpoche, Tai Situ Rinpoche, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, and Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche agreed to form a council of regents to take joint responsibility for the spiritual affairs of the Karma Kagyu lineage, alternating as the regent for the Karmapa every three years. This regency was, however, dissolved by mutual consent in 1984 having only functioned for three years after the 16th Karmapa's death.

Supporters of Ogyen Trinley Dorje claim that his birth and parentage are consistent with the prediction by Chogyur Lingpa, who, it is claimed, had prophetic visions of various events in the lives of the 14th through the 21st Karmapas. Many believe that Lingpa's statement that the minds of Tai Situpa and Karmapa "are inseparably joined as one" refers to the 17th Karmapa and the current Tai Situ Rinpoche. "The description ... is meant to show there is disagreement in this reincarnation and the mind of the 17th Karmapa and the mind of Tai Situ Rinpoche are inseparable from each other," explains the Kagyu Lama Thrangu Rinpoche, who is one of Ogyen Trinley Dorje's tutors. Although according to Thrangu Rinpoche the 16th Karmapa left two letters specifying a rebirth in Tibet, it is yet another prediction document, hidden in a locket and given to Tai Situpa, that has prompted criticism from the rival claimant's camp. Supporters of Thaye Dorje have contended that Tai Situ Rinpoche fabricated this letter; to date he has refused requests to have it scientifically analyzed, claiming this would be a violation of a sacred object.

It has been argued, however, that this prediction was already fulfilled with the 16th Karmapa who, in a sense, was the 17th. This is supported by Chogyur Lingpa's life story, where he explains that one Karmapa died too early to be enthroned, and that as to Chogyur Lingpa's view, he needs to be included when enumerating the Karmapas. As Chogyur Lingpa is also the source of the prediction, the argument has, according to supporters of Thaye Dorje, persuasive force and means that the described event of the prediction took place between the then Karmapa and Situpa during the life of the 16th Karmapa. The counter-argument is that, if the prophecy refers to the relationship between Karmapa Ranjung Rigpe Dorje (commonly called the 16th Karmapa) and the 12th Tai Situ Rinpoche, then that would make the 12th Tai Situpa the principal disciple (or Heart Son) of the previous Karmapa, the 42nd member of the Kagyu Golden Rosary, and the final authority on the recognition of the next Karmapa.

In January 1981, nine months before his death, the 12th Tai Situpa claims that the 16th Karmapa gave him an amulet with a yellow brocade cover, telling him, "This is your protection amulet. In the future, it will confer great benefit." Although Tai Situpa wore the locket on a gold chain for about a year after the Karmapa's death, he moved it to a side pocket, not realizing its significance or that it contained a message. Tai Situpa claims that he followed an intuition to open the amulet in 1989 and found the third prediction letter, inside an envelope marked "Open in the Metal Horse Year." This letter said that the Karmapa was to be reborn "to the north, in the east of the land of snow," and when interpreted at the March 1992 meeting of the council of the four regents, was taken to mean that he would be reborn in a specific valley in eastern Tibet. The letter is reproduced on the Kagyu Office website, and reads in part:

From here to the north [in] the east of [the Land of] Snow
Is a country where divine thunder spontaneously blazes.
[In] a beautiful nomad's place with the sign of a cow,
The method is Döndrub and the wisdom is Lolaga.
[Born in] the year of the one used for the earth
[With] the miraculous, far-reaching sound of the white one:
[This] is the one known as Karmapa.

Ogyen Trinley Dorje's mother's name is Loga; his father's name is Karma Döndrub Tashi, a name given to him by the 16th Karmapa. Both of Ogyen Trinley Dorje's parents' names were similar to the names in the letter produced by Tai Situpa. According to Michele Martin, the letter was interpreted to mean he would be "born ... in the area of Lhathok, which translates as 'divine (lha) thunder (thog).' The name of the remote nomadic community where Ogyen Trinley Dorje was born is Bagor, of which ba means 'cow.' The next line indicates his parents, where the masculine principle method refers to his father Döndrub, and the feminine principle wisdom refers to his mother Lolaga. The one used for the earth points to an animal that plows, and Ogyen Trinley Dorje was born in the year of the Wood Ox (1985). The far-reaching sound of the white one indicates the sound of the conch shell that is said to have miraculously resounded in the sky for hours after Ogyen Trinley's birth."

On May 22, 1992, one month before his seventh birthday, Ogyen Trinley Dorje was discovered near Bagor, Lhathok, in Eastern Tibet. According to the Kagyu official website:

After consideration of the evidence and additional meetings with Their Eminences Tai Situ Rinpoche, Tsurphu Gyaltsab Rinpoche and Shamar Rinpoche, His Holiness the Dalai Lama granted the Buktham Rinpoche, the official notification of the Dalai Lama's approval of the identity of His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa.

On September 27, 1992, Ogyen Trinley Dorje was formally enthroned at Tsurphu Monastery in Tibet, the traditional seat of the Karmapas, in a ceremony attended by 20,000 people. He lived in Tsurphu another seven years. In late 1999, 14-year-old Ogyen Trinley Dorje decided that the restrictions placed on him by the PRC government at Tsurphu limited his ability to teach his disciples and receive teachings from lineage masters. He made a daring escape over the Himalayas in the middle of winter, evading Chinese authorities and making his way through Nepal and on to Dharamsala, India, arriving on January 5, 2000.

Analysts have speculated that this retreat to India was predicted by the 16th Karmapa in his 1940 work entitled "A Song":

In the springtime, a cuckoo comes as a guest.
In the fall when the harvest ripens,
it knows where to go:
Its only thought is travel to the east of India.
In the lofty land of Tibet, the inhabitants, high and low,
And in particular, you, Tai Situ, the Lord and
Protector Maitreya,
Who remains above the crown of our head,
May your activities, like the sun and moon set in space,
Be continuous, stable, and without hindrance.
I pray that we meet again and again.

According to interpretation, the "spring...cuckoo" is equated to the cuckoo that landed on the tent where Ogyen Trinley Dorje was born - one of the miraculous signs said to have accompanied his birth. The "fall...harvest" is interpreted as Ogyen Trinley Dorje's adult travel "east" to "India." Above all, the supplication to Tai Situ Rinpoche and the prayer to "meet again and again" strongly suggests to his supporters that he is indeed the legitimate tulku, should the letter be authentic.

Trinley Thaye Dorje

See also: Trinley Thaye Dorje
Trinley Thaye Dorje

Thaye Dorje was born on 6 May 1983 in Lhasa, Tibet. His father is Mipham Rinpoche, the reincarnation of a very important lama of the Nyingma school.

At age eleven, he was formally enthroned at the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute in New Delhi.

Circumstances leading to candidacy

In October 1986 Chobgye Tri Rinpoche, senior Sakya master and head of one of the three Sakya lineages, contacted the Shamarpa and informed him about a dream he had had and about a relative of his from Lhasa who brought a picture of a child who reportedly and repeatedly announced that he was the Karmapa. In 1988 Lopon Tsechu Rinpoche was sent to obtain more information about the child.

Later an unnamed lama was sent to meet with the family and the boy without revealing the real purpose of his visit. Upon meeting with the emissary the boy promptly said "You were sent here for me." This along with other evidence convinced the Shamarpa that the boy was indeed the reincarnation of the late 16th Karmapa.

In March 1994, Thaye Dorje escaped with his family from Tibet and travelled to New Delhi where he was formally recognized during a welcoming ceremony. He took monastic ordination from Chobgye Tri Rinpoche and is at present undergoing a very intensive education under the guidance of Shamar Rinpoche, also studying under teachers such as Prof. Sempa Dorje, Khenpo Chödrak Rinpoche and others. Fluent in English, he also travels extensively in the East and the West to give lectures.

Thaye Dorje's supporters claim that the Shamarpa is fully authorised to recognise the Karmapa, and therefore no additional recognition is required or even valid.

Karma Pakshi, the 2nd Karmapa, predicted "future Karmapas shall manifest in two Nirmanakaya forms." The 3rd Karmapa recognized the 1st Shamarpa as the fulfillment of this prophecy, giving the Shamar incarnates a special relationship with the Karmapas. This is supported among others by old Kagyu literature where one frequently finds the expression of the 2 Karmapas, black and red hat. Also, when referring to former reincarnation of the Shamarpa, these are often called Karmapa and can only differentiated from former Karmapa reincarnations by their name.

Supporters of Thaye Dorje accuse Tai Situpa of forging the letter ostensibly written by the 16th Karmapa and hidden in a locket, containing clues about his new incarnation. They have requested that the letter be verified by independent experts including forensic document examiners. Tai Situ has thus far refused to allow this claiming it would be a violation of a sacred object.

Well aware of Chogyur Lingpa's predictions about the 17th Karmapas, supporters of Thaye Dorje suggest the prediction was already fulfilled with the 16th Karmapa, who actually was the 17th, even though only 16 had been officially enthroned. This claim may sound odd, but is supported by Chogyur Lingpa's life story, where he explains that one Karmapa died too early to be enthroned, and that as to Chogyur Lingpa's view, he needs to be included when listing the Karmapas.

Although followers of Ogyen Trinley Dorje point out that he was the only candidate enthroned in Tibet, both claimants were born in Tibet and so the prediction about the return to Tibet within these two letters is fulfilled by both claimants.

As has been verified in the context of a law case in New Zealand by Prof. Geoffrey Samuel, the Dalai Lama's recognition is not necessary for the Karmapas. At the same time, Tomek Lehnert's book claims the Dalai Lama was tricked into recognizing Ogyen Trinley by Tai Situpa who told him that all four Kagyu regents agreed he was the right candidate.

Dawa Sangpo Dorje

There have been other claimants to the title who are less well known or widely supported. One such person is Dawa Sangpo Dorje, who was born in Mangan in north Sikkim in 1977 (before the death of the 16th Karmapa) and subsequently resided in Damthang in South Sikkim. As recently as December 2003 he requested the opportunity to prove his "supernatural power" to the Dalai Lama.

Recent developments

[[Image:Rumtek monastery.jpg|220px|right|thumb|Rumtek Monastery)] Control of Rumtek Monastery, which was the seat of the 16th Karmapa in exile, has been the subject of a legal contest. In 1961 the 16th Karmapa established the Karmapa Charitable Trust. Ogyen Trinley's followers claimed that the trust was solely established for the sake of seeing to the welfare of the Karmapa's followers, providing funds for the maintenance of the monastery, and for the monks' medical fees, but that administration of the monastery was the responsibility of the Tsurphu Labrang. The Indian Supreme Court is currently considering a related case.

According to both the official Shamarpa website and an official Ogyen Trinley Dorje website, Ogyen Trinley Dorje met with the Shamarpa in the Oberoi International Hotel in New Delhi on 9 January 2007. Ogyen Trinley Dorje had mentioned his desire to meet the Shamarpa, and requested Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche arrange a personal meeting with him. The Shamarpa had declined the first invitation in 2005, which was received by telephone call from Drikung Chetsang Rinpoche, because to have accepted it "at that time would invite unwarranted suspicions from the India government upon himself." According to Dawa Tsering, spokesperson for the administration of Shamar Rinpoche, "He (Urgyen Trinley Dorje) was confident that this meeting would bring peace in the Kagyu School in general and thus help in flourishing Buddha Dharma. This meeting has created a basis to re-unite all in the Dharma Sangha. Therefore, such an initiative should be appreciated by all."

In 2008 there were numerous speculations that Ogyen Trinley Dorje may become the successor of the Dalai Lama (but not as Dalai Lama).

According to the message of International Karma Kagyu Buddhist Organization published on "To underscore his willingness to be supportive, Shamar Rinpoche even provided the necessary help for Ugyen Trinlay Dorje to obtain Indian government's approval for his recent visit to the U.S., though at the same time maintaining the stance that Thrinlay Thaye Dorje is the traditional Karmapa."

The Dalai Lama and Shamar Rinpoche met on the 13th of August, 2010 at the Dalai Lama's residence to discuss ways of ending the controversy. Shamarpa wrote, "Although this matter is not easily resolved, since it is connected to the politics of China and India as well, with His Holiness Dalai Lama's blessing and support I am confident that there will be an amicable solution, which will be beneficial for the Karma Kagyü lineage, as well as for Tibetan Buddhism in general."

In February 2011, Ogyen Trinley Dorje was accused of being a Chinese spy by elements of the government of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, due in part to the fact that $1 million cash was found in his monastery, part of it in Chinese yuan. (The Chinese government had recognized Ogyen Trinley Dorje as "the first reincarnated Living Buddha confirmed and approved by the Central Government of the People's Republic of China after the peaceful liberation of Tibet in 1951," which is in itself unusual since the Chinese government is secular, Communist and has previously denied reincarnation.) However, in March 2011, the Indian central government stated that the funds found in Karmapa's possession were legitimate donations, and released some of the travel restrictions on Ogyen Trinley Dorje, allowing him to travel out of Dharamsala.


Wikipedia:Karmapa controversy