Recently, HH Dalai Lama visited Gangtok, the capital city of the state of Sikkim in northeastern India. Gangtok is only a couple hours drive from Rumtek, the monastery that the sixteenth Karmapa built as his seat-in-exile in the early 1960s. His monks were violently expelled from Rumtek on a tragic day in August, 1993. Since then, they have been living in their own exile, doing their best to study and practice Buddhism in trying conditions, waiting for the day when they will be restored to their rightful monastic home. In the past few years, we have won significant legal victories to regain Rumtek, and I am hopeful that the day the late Karmapa’s monks return to their cloister is now closer than ever.
However, in the meantime, various politicians and lamas have continued to make public statements about who they think should occupy Rumtek. The Statesman newspaper, published in Siliguri, India, reported on April 25 that HH Dalai Lama made such a statement when he was in Gangtok. “It is totally up to the government of India to consider allowing the Karmapa [Ogyen Trinley] to visit Rumtek,” the paper quoted His Holiness as saying. “I personally feel that he should be allowed to visit Rumtek.” People who attended this speech do not remember hearing these words. Perhaps His Holiness was misquoted? Or perhaps he told this to the reporter in private, before or after the speech?
In any event, elsewhere His Holiness has made comments about the identity of the seventeenth Karmapa and who should go to Rumtek. I will reiterate that I respect His Holiness for his work on behalf of the Tibetan people to enjoy the human rights and religious freedom they deserve. However, I feel obliged to reply to His Holiness’ comments on the Karmapa. If HH Dalai Lama can demonstrate in a court of law that he has legitimate authority over the Karmapa’s administration, or labrang,then I will accept his judgment about who should occupy Rumtek. HH Dalai Lama should show that he has authority over the labrang of the late sixteenth Karmapa and also of the fifteen Karmapas who came before him. If he can demonstrate such authority in court, I will defer to him on this issue.
But if His Holiness is merely using his immense popularity in the Himalayas, in India , and around the world in an attempt to usurp control over the Karmapa Labrang, then I must respectfully reject his opinion about Rumtek. I realize that HH Dalai Lama wants to unite the Tibetan people to work for their freedom. But that is no reason to trample on the human rights and religious freedom of Buddhist believers. As our cause is just, so we should respect human rights in all situations, not only when it is convenient for us to do so.
All leaders, no matter how virtuous, must have limits on their power. Many popular, charismatic leaders in the past have used popularity and prestige to set themselves up as dictators. Perhaps these leaders had good intentions and hoped that by increasing their own power they could accomplish more good in the world. But in the end, absolute rule has always led to suffering.
I hope and pray that His Holiness will not act like such a dictator, and that he will not use mass support to claim authority over the Karmapa that he does not have and to trample the religious freedom of Karma Kagyu believers.
By HH Shamar Rinpoche
Kalimpong, India, April 26, 2005