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The Karmapa mystery

by Claude Arpi, Sunday Pioneer, February 6, 2011

What's the truth behind the allegations against Ugyen Trinley Dorje? Is the 17th Karmapa a victim of high intrigue in his monastery?

Dhramsala, India -- It has not been easy to be Ugyen Trinley Dorje, the 17th Karmapa. The previous Karmapa, the 16th of the lineage, who had taken refuge in Sikkim in 1959, was one of the most revered Lamas of his generation. A great yogi, he impressed all those who approached him.

When he passed away in 1981, he left his monastery of Rumtek in Sikkim, as well as hundreds of Dharma Centres in India and abroad, in the hands of four regents who were to provide spiritual guidance to the Karmapa’s followers. When Situ Rinpoche, one of the regents, discovered a ‘letter of prediction’ said to have been written by the old Karmapa prophesying his rebirth in eastern Tibet and giving the time of birth and the name of his parents, a dispute erupted between Situ and another regent, Shamar, who was bidding for someone else.

The bitterness between the Rumtek regents took an ugly turn in 1992-93, when a petition was filed in the Sikkim High Court praying for an injunction to stop the recognition of the 17th Karmapa. More infighting was reported in 1994, when Shamar enthroned his candidate, Thagye Dorjee.

In the meantime, after conducting the necessary tests, the Dalai Lama gave his seal of approval to Ugyen Trinley Dorje, the boy found by Situ. Soon after, the Communist leadership in Beijing also decided to recognise the boy still living in Tibet. It was the first time in the history of the Communist regime that a ‘reincarnation’ (or ‘Living Buddha’ for Beijing) was officially recognised.

The issue got further complicated in January 2000 when the 15-year-old Karmapa unexpectedly reached Dharamsala after crossing several Himalayan passes in the midst of winter. At that time, many believed that he had been ‘planted’ by the Chinese intelligence agencies to create confusion over the ‘Sikkim issue’ (Beijing agreed to ‘recognise’ the State as a part of India only in 2003). Probably fuelled by the Shamar group, suspicions have remained since then in the minds of a few Indian officials.

On January 26, the story took a new twist when Rs 1 crore in cash was found in a vehicle intercepted in Una district of Himachal Pradesh. A Dharamsala-based businessman KP Bhardwaj was arrested for an alleged illegal land deal. Subsequently, the Himachal Pradesh Police seized Rs 5 crore in foreign and Indian currency (including some Chinese Yuans) from a room of the Gyuto Monastery, the seat of Ugyen Trinley Dorje, near Dharamsala.

The Office of the Lama confirmed the seizure: “This sum represents unsolicited donations that have been made by the followers of His Holiness the Karmapa from around the world to enable the substantial social and spiritual programmes of the Karma Kagyu order.” It was further explained: “The Karmae Garchen Trust has sought to purchase land and build a new residence and monastery since 2007. When the Trust identified suitable land in 2010, it informed the office of the District Collector of Dharamsala and sought their approval to proceed with the purchase.”

A ‘no-objection certificate’ from the Town and Country Planning Department of the Himachal Pradesh Government was apparently obtained. The problem is that it is difficult for non-State subjects to ‘legally’ purchase land in the area. It is probably why Mr PK Dhumal, the Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister raised the Karmapa issue with the Prime Minister during the recent Chief Ministers’ Conference on Internal Security: “I have asked the Prime Minister and the Home Minister to clarify whether the Tibetans are our guests or refugees.”

According to the Office of the Karmapa, an application was sent in 2002 to the Home Ministry for an account under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act; unfortunately it has not been granted as yet. Karmapa, a bright and intelligent young Lama, is today entangled in two issues: The large amount of foreign currency found in his monastery and the fact that he has been accused of being a Chinese ‘agent’.

The second accusation seems unwarranted, but has unfortunately been going around. As many monks still come from Tibet, there could be some moles reporting the moves of the young Lama to China, but it does not mean that he is an agent or influenced by such people. There is also the possibility of the other postulant to the Karmapas’ throne having informers inside the Lama’s establishment. Who tipped off the police about the ‘unaccounted’ cash?

But if one looks deeper into the issue, who is benefitting from all these charges (frivolous for spying and probably right for poor accounting)? It is the Chinese Government. The last thing Beijing wants today is to see the Dalai Lama designate a ‘spiritual’ successor before he leaves this world. Beijing has been planning for decades for the Dalai Lama’s succession.

The leadership in Beijing did not foresee that the boy had his own mind and that he would escape to India and take refuge close to the Dalai Lama. Now if the Dalai Lama would tomorrow nominate two or three ‘spiritual’ regents, it would be a great blow for Beijing; their plans to have a docile ‘Living Buddha’ in their hands (like their present puppet Panchen Lama) would be completely spoiled.

It is, therefore, clear that China is the first to benefit from the present messy situation in Dharamsala, particularly from the not-properly-accounted-for cash recovered from the Gyuto monastery. It is probably why the Dalai Lama has said that in the interest of all, a proper inquiry should be conducted. And if necessary, rectifications should be made.

In the meantime, a Tibetan delegation met the Chief Minister who asked them to stop their demonstrations in favour of the Karmapa: “The agencies are doing their job and should instead be cooperated with to find the truth,” said Mr Dhumal. But the time has perhaps come for his Government to find a solution to 50-year-old presence of some 30,000 Tibetans who should be able to enjoy the same facilities as other Himachalis, provided they abide by national and local laws.

The Karmapa’s immediate task is to concentrate his energy in educating his monks about the intricacies of Indian laws and to be fastidious about the financial administration of his monastery. This is crucial if he wants to clear the doubts raised by security agencies. He should not hesitate to ask either the Union or the State Government to bring to his notice any wrong-doings by his followers or staff and he should himself take severe action if such things occur. Let us hope also that he continues his wonderful work on the conservation of the environment of the Himalayas.

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